Sunday, May 8, 2011

Hiking Up Indian Head - Mount Pemigewasset

I took a day off from work last week to go hiking in the Whites. Since I was heading up solo, I wanted to pick something somewhat short and easy and settled on Mount Pemigewasset, also known as Indian Head. It got its nickname from an Indian Head profile that can be made out when viewed from the south on Route 3. I took the Mount Pemigewasset Trail in and out which was about 3.4 miles total.

Hobblebush Leaves

I was checking the weather throughout the week hoping that Friday morning would yield clear skies. Accuweather.com kept saying the weather would be cloudy with a chance of sunshine, while weather.com insisted it would rain and snow all day in the Franconia Notch. I woke up to bluebird skies and couldn’t have been happier with the temperatures. Nice and mild (in the 40’s/50’s) and it was predicted to warm up to the 60’s throughout the day. The high summits forecast on the Mount Washington Observatory site did call for higher winds and gusts up to 60mph. Since these winds typically come from the west, I figured I would be okay since the trail is on the eastern slopes.

Log bridge, more dangerous than rock hopping

Pulling into the trailhead, I was pretty happy to see I was the only one there. It was a Friday, and being a weekday, I knew there was a good chance I would have the mountain to myself. I put my gear on and quickly started down the black top on the Pemi Bike Trail. The Mount Pemigewasset Trail started 150 yards up on the left. I noticed that I quickly began looking to each side of the trail. Maybe it’s instinct, but I was looking for wildflowers before I even realized that it was that time of year. Just one year prior (to the day), I had been on Mount Moosilauke and the Hobblebush flowers had bloomed. I was now hoping for the same finds on this trip.

The trail quickly crossed under Route 3, meandered through the woods a bit and then crossed under the Franconia Notch Parkway (Route 93). The trail then started climbing moderately over pretty easy terrain. The rocks were strategically placed in the trail to act as a stairway and the exposed roots were helpful for traction. I soon came upon my first Hobblebush, which the leaves still had a purple tint to them from opening recently. Unfortunately, there were no buds or flowers on this one. It’s amazing how a year prior, these plants were in full bloom. Apparently last year, the spring wildflower season came earlier than this year.

Trout Lily, opening for the day

What I think looks like the "All Seeing Eye" - Good sign for me!

As I continued on, the Trout Lilies became pretty abundant, although none were open quite yet. The trail passed over a few small brooks, all which had small foot bridges. One bridge in particular that was made from four short logs, looked rotted and slippery, and I felt it was easier and less dangerous to rock-hop the brook! The trail continued to climb through a very vast beach tree forest. Many of them had been carved with initials over the years and on one tree, I found a scar where possibly a knot formed what looked like an All Seeing Eye. Being a Freemason, this was a good sign for me that it would be a great day!

Next to a brook, warmed by the sun, I found a bed of Trout Lilies that recently opened. Their petals hadn’t completely folded back just yet and were out straight. Just above them, was a Hobblebush a bit more mature than the last, having small bead like buds on it, but no flowers just yet. The trail continued upward, and I came across three Round-Leaved Yellow Violets. Just opposite to the violets, I found some Trillium blossoms poking up, but they were not yet opened. I believe they were Purple Trilliums, but I couldn’t be certain. I was certainly bummed they were not opened for me.

Round-Leaved Yellow Violet

Purple Trillium, not open yet

At this point, the trail became pretty wet and it was apparent it was acting as a runoff for the mountain. It was also obvious that many hikers were taking a few routes around the trail to avoid the water. I did this in a couple packed down areas but tried to stay on the trail as much as possible. My newly beeswaxed Asolos kept me dry! Soon after the wetness started, I spotted the first snow of the trip. I knew that I was probably going to run into some, but was hoping I wouldn’t. The snow eventually made its way into the center of the trail almost all the way to the summit.

Just below the summit, I hit a junction with the Indian Head Trail, which contours the sourthern slopes of Mount Pemigewasset down to Route 3. Just past this junction, the sound of the westward wind started to howl and I knew my nice, warm, calm hike was going to get loud and windy, very quickly. Out of nowhere, the trail opened up to an enormous cliff. The top of it was huge and had a slight downward angle. The wind was blowing strong enough from the west that it made you pay extra close attention to your footing on this scary ledge.

Snow in the trail near the top

Ledge/Cliff on the summit

I got close to the edge of the cliff to try to see over. However, with the wind screaming and pushing on me, as well as being all by myself, I didn’t venture close enough to be able to see the bottom. It was certainly one of the more nerve racking summits I have been on. The views to the south were incredible. Off in the distance, I had a wonderful view of a still snow covered Mount Moosilauke dominating the skyline. To my right, what I believe to be South Kinsman was very close by. My friend Tom (from The Adventures of Tom and Atticus) told me to be sure to make my way to the eastern ledges where I would be awarded views of the Franconia Ridge and that’s exactly what I found.

Mount Moosilauke in the distance, snow covered and magnificent

On the eastern most ledges, I was finally sheltered from the wind, although I could still hear it. Directly in front of me was a great view of Mount Flume and Mount Liberty. When standing, through the trees, was a wonderful view of a snow covered Mount Lincoln and Mount Lafayette. Behind a blue sky, these mountains were magnificent to look at. This is where I made my picnic table and ate my lunch.

Mount Liberty and Mount Flume from the summit

After eating and relaxing for a while, I bushwhacked around the summit a bit to see if I could find a viewpoint to the north. However, it wasn’t happening. The northern portion of the summit was too thick. So, I packed up my stuff, and headed back down the way I came. The trip down was quick and I noticed that many Trout Lilies that happened to be shut on the way up were now open with curled back petals. I passed one other hiker heading up near the trailhead and found a few more cars accompanying my truck at the parking area. I’m sure these people were out biking or enjoying nature on other trails. But I must say, I was happy to have Indian Head all to myself that day.

Mount Lincoln from the summit

Mount Lafayette from the summit

After packing up the truck, I headed down Route 3 to see the Indian Head profile. I found what seemed like a rocky ledge and assumed that must be it. I got out of my truck on the side of the road and tried to make it out. Unfortunately I couldn’t. Maybe it was too far away or too high up, but I was not seeing the Indian Head profile that I had seen online and in books. So I took a few snapshots and thought maybe I would be able to see it better in the photos on the computer screen. I was right! Undoubtedly, that was the Indian Head profile and it is easy to make out in the photos.

Indian Head profile, as seen from Rt. 3

All in all, this was a fantastic day and a great hike for a solo trip. Being my second solo hike in the White Mountains, I can honestly say I like hiking with a partner more than by myself. I miss hiking with Jill and can’t wait until she can get back on the trail with me. Although, when that happens, I’ll have two hiking partners…one of which, I’ll be carrying on my back!



  1. Cool trip! Love seeing the Franconia Ridge from another view point! And with snow!

  2. Excellent report, Karl!

    I'll look forward to reading future reports of your hikes with Jill and your little "hiker-ette" strapped to your back! :)


  3. "The all seeing eye" It's good to know we're being looked after. Nice report Karl.

  4. Love the trout lily. This hike looks like a lot of fun. The snow still on the peaks gives it a certain aura and radiance. Thanks much for the post.

  5. Hey Karl, I recently hiked the same peak. Great trip report! To see the profile you pretty much have to be AT the hotel. They have a good observation tower there. Anywhere else (even from 93) and it just doesn't look right.

  6. Hi Misti - I agree. The Franconia Ridge is wonderful from all angles...it's nice to see if from other points.

    Hi John - I hope to get out this summer with the baby. We're not really sure yet how old she will need to be to take her for hikes...but were anxious to get out as a family!

    Hi Jim S - I agree and thanks!

    Hi Jeff - I'm glad you liked it. The Trout Lilies were nice to see, although I wish more flowers had been in bloom. The snow on the Franconia Ridge is definitely dramatic on a blue sky. It's a great view.

    Hi Anonymous - Yeah, that's what I figured. I saw the observation tower while driving down Rt. 3, but figured since I wasn't a guest, I wouldn't be allowed up. From Rt. 3, the profile definitely is tough to make out, but easier when looking at the photos for sure.

  7. What a great Idea...I think I should take a day off work and climb a mountain. hmmm...

  8. Nice report Karl. I love the photo of the Trout Lily! A solo walk can be good for all of us at times though...

  9. Those are some AWESOME views of the Franconia Ridge, particularly the shot of Lincoln. Very impressive! Thanks for sharing, Karl.

  10. Hi Steven - I think it's the best way to spend a day off from work! Make it a Friday, so you still have the weekend ahead of you...that's what I do!

    Hi Greg - I agree. Sometimes walking solo can clear your mind. I find this is the case on the way up. I seem to really start missing my company on the way down.

    Hi Owen - I hit the window of "no clouds" perfectly. As soon as I packed up on the summit to leave, the clouds rolled in and the views disappeared.


  11. Really awesome pictures! Definitely agree that walking solo is a great way to clear the mind and take off some stress. You also get to hike at your own pace. However the spectacular views are great to share with company. Did you encounter a lot of snow? Looks like Lincoln and Lafayette were still covered. Hopefully you didn't travel too light, as it can be chilly in the spring months up there.