Last week, I had the opportunity to hike with a very good friend of mine that I don't see that often. My buddy, Daigle, is a civil engineer and has been working on location in various cities across the country, managing major construction projects for new bridges. He was home for the week between Christmas and New Year's and was nice enough to set aside some time for hiking with me.
Our original plan was to hit the Whites, but when the westward winds blew in on Wednesday, so did all the cold weather. Many of the trail condition postings mentioned that crampons should be used on the higher ledges of most peaks. Since neither of us had crampons...or were experienced winter hikers, we thought it may be wise to stick around the seacoast region where there is still no snow!
Ice on the North Mountain Trail
South Mountain from North Mountain (Looking over Middle Mountain). You can see the fire tower poking up.
Since Daigle had never been to Pawtuckaway State Park, I figured that would be a good place to spend the day. I mapped out a route that started on Reservation Road at the North Mountain Trailhead, traversed over North Mountain, down the Boulder Trail and then traversed South Mountain via the South Ridge Trail. We'd finish the complete loop by continuing on the South Ridge Trail and hiking back up Reservation Road to where we originally parked. I estimated the loop to be between 7 or 8 miles, but I still haven't had time to take the guide and actually figure the mileage out yet.
We started out early and were the first car parked on Reservation Road. The trek into the foot of North Mountain is easy and flat and goes by quickly. At the foot of North Mountain, the trail climbs the southwestern slope pretty steeply. It wasn't long before I was huffing and puffing, and realized how out of shape I was. I'm sure the loads of chocolates and pie that I consumed during the holiday season didn't help either! Due to the steep pitch, it wasn't long before the trail flattened out. We found a nice rock perch facing the east and stopped for some coffee while we tried to identify landmarks in the distance. Daigle was great at this. He quickly picked out Portsmouth and Great Bay through the binoculars.
NGS Reference Mark
Summit Cairn on North Mountain...I want to know if there is a Benchmark under this!
Very large communications reflector
After relaxing for a bit and consuming our warm beverages, we continued over North Mountain, which is a very long ridge. We finally came to the high point, which is marked with a cairn. I explored this area a bit and it wasn't long before I spotted NGS Reference Mark. I was surprised to find this because I had been up there before and never noticed it. After researching these markers, I knew there must be at least one or two more. Low and behold, I found two more. Using the triangulation of them, they were pointing directly to the cairn. So I wonder if the Benchmark was actually buried under the cairn? I am kicking myself for not digging into it to see if it was there. If it was, I wonder why someone would have burried it? Anyway, it's bugging me enough that I want to get back up there and see if I can unearth the thing. If an NGS Benchmark exists, the cairn should really be reassembled next to it!
The Devil's Den...the cave is much larger than the picture alludes!
At the north end of the mountain, we came to the large billboard like communications reflector that is painted green and faces to the north. I'm going to be honest, I have no idea if this reflector is still used today or what it is (was) used for. This thing is pretty large and is really an eyesore. I also have no clue how long it has been out there.
Descending the north slope of the mountain was pretty easy and we quickly passed the Devil's Den to our right, which is a very large cave, and Dead Pond on our left. The trail is pretty flat as we continued down the Boulder Trail and we passed a portion of Round Pond on the right and some large cliff features on our left. The trail got pretty confusing at this point, because the trail junctions on the map are covered by boating, scenic outlook and fishing markers! Daigle was able to guide us in the correct direction and we were headed up the South Ridge Trail.
Pawtuckaway Lake from the fire tower on South Mountain summit
Toward Northwood and possibly Kearsarge in the distance?
I believe (and I may be wrong), Mt. Washington poking up in the distance. Camera is really focused, which is why the quality is bad.
View to the west, Uncanoonucs and possibly Pack Monadnock?
I must say, the trails in Pawtuckaway are either flat or very steep. There doesn't seem to be any moderate grades up to these mountains! We made it to the top of South Mountain very quickly and were the only ones on the summit. We climbed the fire tower and the wind from the west pelted us pretty hard. Again, Daigle pointed out all the landmarks...Northwood, Portsmouth, the Uncanoonucs. I think we even spotted Mount Washington's white cap way off in the distance, but I can't be sure. We snapped a few shots and headed back down to find a windless, sunny spot for lunch. When we were done eating, we got moving pretty quickly as the temperature was dropping with the wind. The trek back to the truck was quick and easy. We made the loop in just 3-1/2 hours which I thought was pretty good time.
Fire Tower on the South Mountain Summit
It was definitely a fun hike. Spending time in the woods is always one of my favorite pastimes, but catching up with an old friend definitely tops that. Daigle is heading down to North Carolina for a new assignment now. Hopefully we can catch up again on another hike when he heads back home later this year.
One of Daigle's bridge projects he just finished up. Pretty amazing stuff!