Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Trek Up Catamount Hill in Bear Brook State Park

Every year, my company has a Wellness Week to promote a healthy, active lifestyle for its employee’s and employee’s families. About five years back for this Wellness Week, I proposed a company hike that we have been doing ever since. We try to pick someplace local and has gentle terrain to accommodate those who don’t typically hike that much. This year, we decided on Bear Brook State Park.

Bear Brook State Park is a pretty large park, encapsulating 10,000 acres and falls in the crosshairs of four towns; Allenstown, Hooksett, Candia and Deerfield. The park welcomes many different activities such as mountain biking, camping, fishing, swimming, birdwatching and of course, hiking!

Map of route taken from PDF map on State Park Website

The route I mapped out for our group started at the north end of Bear Brook State Park off from Deerfield Road. The plan was to hike in on the One Mile Trail, hang a right onto the Catamount Trail, ascending and summiting Catamount Hill (721’) and then descending to the east (same trail over the summit). This portion of the Catamount Trail then linked to the Catamount Shortcut Trail which would exit back onto the One Mile Trail. Following this back to the parking area would provide a good length, lunchtime hike. A Bear Brook State Park trail map can be found here.

Tollbooth / Ranger Hut

The parking area is located on the north side of the Deerfield Road in Allenstown, across from a tollbooth/ranger hut. After getting packed up, we headed to the trailhead which was located on the south side of Deerfield Road, to the right of the ranger hut.

One Mile Trail

Old trail or clearing to the right of the One Mile Trail

The One Mile Trail was gated a few feet after the trailhead, but there was as heard path to the right to allow hikers, bikers, etc. through easily. The trail itself was pretty flat with a gravel base, and was really more of a woods access road or old fire road than a trail. After traveling down this road for about 0.3 miles, we came to a junction with the Catamount Trail on the right.

Beginning of the Catamount Trail

The Catamount Trail was more like a real hiking trail. It was narrow and headed uphill (Catamount Hill) with rocks and roots at your footing. Evidence that autumn is upon us, we found many red maple leaves on the trail along with many mushrooms poking up from the leaves on the ground. There were many large, very cool boulders off to the sides of the trail too. It was obvious to me that the park has done a great job with trail maintenance on the Catamount Trail as there were many steeper sections that had newer rock stairs setup as well as many new water bars.

Good trail drainage guidess

 Great trail work!

More Great Trail work!

At about 0.3 miles up (0.6 miles into the trek), the trail takes a sharp left turn and there’s a trail that runs across the Catamount Trail. This crossing trail was not marked and is not on the map. I would assume it’s the remnants of an older trail (Catamount West Trail) that I think has been abandoned, but I’ve found mention of in other trip reports online. There was also a bench setup at this location.

Saddleback Mountain in Deerfield over the trees

View over Bear Brook State Park

 Tree growing straight out of a boulder...pretty cool!

Signs that fall is here!

At about 0.5 miles up (0.8 miles into the trek), we came to some granite ledges (or small cliffs) on the left which provided a view of the rest of Bear Brook State Park as well as Saddleback Mountain in Deerfield (1,150’ high). We needed to be careful of our footing here as the ledges sloped down and slipping or falling would have most definitely resulted in a bad injury. I can imagine these are very dangerous when wet. There was also a bench setup here so it served as a great place to take a quick rest and have a snack.

 View from the summit, Belknap Mountain in the distance

Zoomed in Belknap Mountain

My daughter and I on the summit...foot summit shot!

At about 0.8 miles up (1.1 miles into the trek), we summited Catamount Hill, or at least we assumed we summited. The top is long and flat, and runs southwest to northeast. You have to use your judgment to find the high point as there are no markers pointing you to the true summit location. There’s one obvious viewpoint where there’s a lookout to the north and Belknap Mountain is visible. At this location, there’s a nice bench to enjoy the views as well as a roughly constructed kiosk. The kiosk has some pictures and a great description of the trail. The description does however mislabel Saddleback Mountain as one of the 48, 4,000-footers of NH which obviously is not correct.

 Kiosk on summit

Notice the mistake about labeling Saddleback as one of the 48-4K's

After having some lunch and searching for bugs with the kiddos, we continued on the Catamount Trail which circled down the summit on the southeastern slope. We passed a large cairn and a trail sign and headed back into the woods down a pretty steep section of trail for about 0.4 miles (1.5 miles into trek). We then came to a junction where the Catamount Shortcut Trail entered to the left and the Cascade Trail entered to the right. We continued our loop via the Catamount Shortcut Trail. In another 0.4 miles (1.9 miles into trek), we hung another left onto the One Mile Trail and headed back to the parking lot. The loop distance was approximately 2.3 miles in all.

Cairn just past the summit area before you head back into the woods

 Yellow blazes down the trail

 View of the Catamount Shortcut Trail

My daughter and I heading down the One Mile Trail on the way back to the parking lot

This hike was a great family style hike. We had flat, easy terrain. We had moderate elevation gaining terrain. Finally, we had a few steep sections too. There were two rewarding viewpoints for the effort and some great features (like boulders, mushrooms, etc.) to checkout along the way. Best of all, it was a lollipop loop hike. I love loop hikes because you’re typically not on the same trail twice. I would highly recommend checking out this hike if you have a couple hours to kill, want to get out walking the dog or go hiking with the family! 

Signage from the parking lot to the summit!

 Signage from the summit back to the parking lot!


Friday, September 18, 2015

Beautiful Day on Mount Major!

A few days ago, Jill and I had a little time to ourselves so we decided to go hiking, which is a pastime that seems rarer and rarer for us these days. Due to some time constraints, we decided to head up to a nearby mountain and one that is a staple for the people of the Seacoast/Southern region in New Hampshire, Mount Major.

Mount Major is a smaller mountain in the Belknap Range sitting about 1,786’ in elevation, but has probably the best views out of the 12 peaks in the range. It has a completely bald, granite summit which rewards hikers with 360 degree views. The best views being to the east where there’s an unmatched view of Lake Winnipesaukee on the Alton Bay side. The features of this mount include some great, but fairly easy, ledge scrambles, the remnants of a stone structure or hut on the summit that was constructed by George Phippen in 1925 and my all-time favorite on any hike…a USGS Benchmark!

 Kiosk at trailhead

First 0.3 miles of the trail was moderate

 First 0.3 miles, very eroded portion!

There are three main trails that summit Mount Major from the east, which is the most popular side to ascend from. The most traveled of these trails is the Mount Major Trail blazed in blue, which traverses and scrambles up the ledges and gives you the best views while hiking. To the north of the Mount Major Trail is the Brook Trail blazed in yellow and to the south of the Mount Major Trail is the Boulder Loop Trail blazed in orange. We had been on the Mount Major Trail many times and had descended the Boulder Loop Trail once in the past, so this time we wanted to make sure we incorporated the Brook Trail into our loop. So, traveling in a clockwise fashion, we decided to hike up the Mount Major Trail for the views and down the Brook Trail for our “red-lining” satisfaction!

Snapshot from map that is available online

The trailhead parking area is pretty large and is located on the left side (when northbound) of NH Route 11, about 4.2 miles north of Alton Bay. There’s a nice, large kiosk in the center of the parking area with a map and some information. One thing I could definitely say would be beneficial is some mileage on the maps for the kiosk and the main Belknap Range Map in general.

The Mount Major Trail, which is also part of the Belknap Range Trail, starts off on the right side of the parking lot. It begins ascending moderately and quickly splits. All the publications I read stated that the “main” trail was to the right, so we stayed on that leg. The trail was severely eroded and felt like you were hiking through a dried up, deep, narrow brook. At 0.3 miles, the leg from the left diverged back into the main trail and the trail leveled off. It remained flat and level for the next 0.4 miles.

Ledges with some glacial foot prints!

Deer rub

Upper portion of the trail

View from the viewpoint on the trail

At 0.7 miles down, the trail split again, but this time, the Mount Major Trail took a hard left and the Brook Trail continued straight. So, we took a left and started gaining some elevation. The trail at this point is pretty similar to what you’d see in the Whites…lots of rocks and boulders, roots, etc. I can say the erosion is getting pretty bad on this trail and I’m not sure if it can really be fixed at this point. It’s still easily passable, but looks like it was not well maintained years back. Whoever is doing it now is doing a great job with what they have to work with.

At 1.3 miles, Jill and I came to another split. There was a sign pointing to the left that said “Ledge Detour” on it. If you go to the left, it climbs through a wooded, rooty section. If you go to the right, you scramble over some open ledges, and get some better views. Soon after this, there’s a view point on an open ledge to the right of the trail. We checked it out, took a quick break and snapped a few shots.

After the viewpoint, we got off the trail a bit. Instead of backtracking back to the trail from the viewpoint, it looked like another trail would lead you back onto it so you didn’t have to back track. I think we messed up here, but were in good company as many people were doing the same thing. We ended up on the ledges at the top, just north of the Mount Major Trail and ascended to the summit. Again, a lot of people were doing this so I’m guessing it’s a common mistake.

 USGS Benchmark!

 Our summit shot!

 Views from the summit

Views from the summit

Views from the summit

Rod on the summit...wonder what it was for

At the top, the views were great! The sky was blue and Winnipesaukee waters looked calm. We found the USGS Benchmark (which I had missed the last two times I was up there), took our summit photo and then plopped down on the granite to relax! We were able to catch the Mount Washington Cruise ship on the waters too which was pretty cool.

After about 30 minutes of relaxing in the peace and quiet, we packed up to head down. Just then, we ran into our good friends, Pat and Kristen at the top…it’s amazing what a small world it is sometimes. If you may recall, Pat just climbed the Caps Ridge Trail with me back in July!

Mount Washington Cruise ship!

Close up!

On the summit

On the summit

After socializing a bit with our friends, we checked out the stone shack (there’s a great history on this here) and found the yellow and blue blazes (yes, they’re marked together) and descended off the summit in a western direction on the Straightback Major Link. We passed a junction for the Beaver Pond Trail on the left, and finally arrived at a junction with the Brook Trail at 0.5 miles. We took a right onto the Brook Trail where the trail was now just blazed in yellow. The funny thing here is there’s a trail sign that states it’s 2.7 miles back to the parking lot from this junction, which by everything I’ve read and what the guide publishes, makes no sense. By my calculation, it should only be 1.5-1.7 miles…so I think the trail sign is wrong here…just saying!

 Hut on the top

 Inside the hut

Inside the hut

We continued down the trail which is a pretty gentle grade. Soon, at 0.8 miles, we passed the green blazed North Straightback Link Trail on the left, which I’ve heard is a rough, sometimes difficult trail to follow. The Brook Trail then turned right and descended at an even gentler grade. It crossed the brook a couple times as well, but there was no water for it to be tricky in anyway. I’m not sure what the name of the brook is as I couldn’t find it when I researched the route. Finally, at 1.7 miles, we came to the junction where the original Mount Major Trail splits and retraced our steps the last 0.7 miles, totaling a 2.4 mile hike out. Our total mileage for the day was 3.9 miles or so.

Trail sign that I think was wrong. Should be 1.7 or 1.5 to the parking area!!!

The brook on the Brook Trail...not sure of the name

As I mentioned before, Mount Major is a staple for families, hikers, and anyone who wants to enjoy the outdoors from the flatland area. The drive seems short from all points and the hike is pretty easy for the reward you receive at the top! Also, there’s different trails to choose from which isn't always the case on the smaller mountains. If you find yourself wanting to push yourself further, the trail network from the summit to the west is pretty large as well, so you can put together many different loop variations. If you haven’t hiked Mount Major, you should definitely get it on your short list quickly! 

Trail signs on this loop...this idea of a sign collage came from Chris Dailey so wanted to give him credit as he does it on his posts! Go visit his page, he does some sick hikes! Chris Dailey Hiking the White Mountains and Adirondacks