I got up early on a Sunday morning in November in order to hike Mount Cabot in the northern White Mountain National Forest. I normally like to leave home early enough to arrive at the trailhead at sunrise. But the trailheads for Mount Cabot were located beyond the Berlin Fish Hatchery, which had a gate. I found information about the gate’s hours but most of it was a few years old. Not wanting to risk sitting around waiting for the gate to be opened, I left so I would arrive at 8:00 am, when the gate was supposed to open.
I got to the hatchery at 8:00 am as planned and the gate was open. I drove around York Pond and parked at the lot for the Unknown Pond Trail. There was one other car in the lot, and the weather was cold and breezy. Although the sky was mostly clear, there were clouds sitting on top of Mount Cabot. I hiked down the road to the start of the York Pond Trail. York Pond Trail and Bunnell Notch Trail were very flat for a while but with some mud, ice and water crossings over the Ammonoosuc Brook. As the trail started to climb beside the brook, I stopped to put on my microspikes.
Bunnell Notch Trail soon left the Ammonoosuc Brook and started to climb and before long hit the clouds I had seen from the parking lot. I did not see many blazes, but there was a pair of boot prints from the previous day heading toward the trailhead which I was able to follow.
I hit Kilkenney Ridge Trail which dropped in elevation and looped around the southwestern side of Mount Cabot. I passed a sign which marked the old Cabot Trail (no longer maintained) and the trail then climbed more moderately toward the summit. As the trail approached the summit it flattened out and the trees became more spaced out. Frost and snow coated the pine trees and I entered a world of white slashed with dark tree trunks.
At 10:15 am, shortly after hitting the flat sub-summit I came upon Cabot Cabin. I went inside to get out of the wind that was encroaching from the west, where there may have been a view if not for clouds.
Cabot Cabin was a quaint cabin with a kitchen area and a bunk area. The kitchen had a counter with a small sink (no plumbing), a picnic table and an area which once contained a wood stove. The bunk area had two bunk platforms with foam pads built in. There was also a hatch for access to the roof which the writing on the wall said was an excellent place to watch sunset. I had a snack, signed the log book and read its pages for too long. My hands and feet had become numb from the cold, so I had to push on.
I left Cabot Cabin and kept an eye out for the spur trail to a spring between the cabin and Cabot summit. It was listed as a trail to be Traced so I of course wanted to check it out. Unfortunately I was preoccupied with trying to warm up my hands and feet and didn’t come across it. At 10:50 am I got to the summit of Mount Cabot, which was wooded and afforded no views.
I quickly continued on the trail which descended steeply toward The Bulge, the second highest 3000 footer in New Hampshire and a New England Hundred Highest peak. There was a moderate climb to the top of The Bulge (also wooded). I arrived at 11:20 am and saw my first hiker of the day.
The Kilkenney Ridge Trail descended steeply from The Bulge and then steeply up to The Horn, another New England Hundred Highest peak. The Horn was accessed by a short spur trail with a fun rock scramble at top. I got to The Horn at 11:40 am and was impressed with the awesome views.
I ate a snack of letter-shaped cookies (which was actually a great trail snack) and stared in awe at the Altocumulus lenticularis hanging over the Presidential Range. Those UFO-shaped clouds are definitely my favorite (yes, I have a favorite cloud).
From The Horn I made the moderate but rocky descent to Unknown Pond. Along the way I encountered a group of three hikers and a dog. They were climbing their final two peaks of the New England Hundred Highest list and we stopped to talk about some of the more difficult peaks to get. I wished them well and suggested hitting The Bulge first and saving The Horn for last due to the views.
I arrived at Unknown Pond at 12:45 pm. The pond was frozen over and had a great view of The Horn standing proudly over it.
I hiked around the pond and started down the Unknown Pond Trail toward my car. Shortly after the pond I followed a spur trail into the Unknown Pond Tentsite to check it out. It had half a dozen clearings for tents, a fire pit and an outhouse. There was a spot in one of the tent sites where the snow and frost had melted away; someone had camped overnight there.
I made the gradual descent to the parking lot which was easy going but had a lot of water crossings. I had to stop a few times as my left knee was really bothering me. I wasn’t sure of the exact cause of the knee pain (aside from getting older) but I think it was a combination of wearing microspikes for many hours and tight hamstrings. About a mile from the parking lot I stretched my hamstrings and the going was a little easier.
I arrived back at my car at 2:20 pm. I didn’t know what to expect from hiking in the northern White Mountains. I hadn’t heard a lot about Cabot or Waumbek (the other nearby New England 4000 Footer), so I wasn’t expecting much. Cabot’s summit was lacking, but Cabot Cabin was interesting, Unknown Pond was beautiful and The Horn was amazing. I’ll be doing Cabot at least 11 more times (for The Grid) and I look forward to it.
Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken.
Date Hiked: 15 November 2015
Trail Conditions: ice, snow, mud
Weather: partly sunny
Wind: gusty from NW
Highest Elevation: 4170′
Elevation Gain: 3200′
Distance: 10.7 miles
Book Time: 7:00
Actual Time: 6:20
Tracing White Mountain Trails:
Bunnell Notch Trail