A couple of friends and I took a day off work just before Thanksgiving to do a loop of two New England 4000 Footers in New Hampshire. The mountains of Hale and Zealand can be accessed by trailheads off Zealand Road, which is found just north of Crawford Notch. Two days prior I hiked Mount Waumbek and afterward drove up Zealand Road to confirm it was still open. There is a road status page online, but I’ve been burned by out of date government pages before.
We drove up early Tuesday morning, found the road still open and arrived at the Hale Brook Trail parking at 7:45 am. The weather was cold and cloudy and it was spitting snow. The Hale Brook Trail was a consistent, moderately steep hike up to the summit of Mount Hale, though it switchbacked through the steeper grade to alleviate the climb.
It was unusual for Zealand Road to be open so late in the year, which was due to the mild temperatures we’d been having. A side effect was that much of the trail was black ice from snow that had melted and then refroze as it ran down the path of least resistance. This made conditions pretty slick, especially when combined with the snow that was threatening to accumulate on top of it.
We got to the summit of Hale at 9:00 am at which point it was snowing in earnest though not heavily. We did not stay on the peak for long due to the cold. I stayed long enough to test the nearby rocks with my compass as I heard they were magnetic enough to throw off readings (see video below for results).
We descended Lend-a-Hand Trail toward Zealand Notch, which was an easier grade than Hale Brook Trail but the ice was becoming a traction issue with snow starting to accumulate on top of it. Lend-a-Hand Trail met the Appalachian Trail (Twinway Trail) just north of Zealand Falls Hut and soon thereafter crosses the Whitewall Brook. The brook crossing was mostly frozen over, but we had to use our trekking poles and jump in order to make it across.
From the Whitewall Brook crossing the trail climbed moderately up to Zeacliff. The going was slow as we picked our way around icy spots in the trail. At 11:45 am we made it to Zeacliff where we took in the spectacular view of Zealand Notch and Whitewall Mountain despite the snowy conditions.
We left Zeacliff and started the easy climb to Zealand Mountain. Along the way we bumped into a couple heading in the other direction. This was surprising as we saw no signs of other hikers and the direction they were coming from was the Pemigewasset Wilderness. The closest shelters were Guyot Tentsite and Galehead Hut, which was quite the haul.
The Twinway Trail climbed up and down some rocky knobs and afforded a couple of views down to Zeacliff Pond and to the southwest toward Mount Bond.
At 1:00pm we found the cairn that marked the Zealand Spur Trail and followed it to the wooded summit of Zealand Mountains. As there was not much to see, we did not stay for long.
We retraced our steps back down to Lend-a-Hand Trail intersection and continued down Twinway Trail to Zealand Falls Hut. We stopped in to check out the triple-level bunk beds and sat in the common room where the croo member had just started a fire in the wood stove. The couple we passed earlier was there and we asked about where they had hiked from. It turned out there were staying at Zealand Falls Hut for a couple of nights and had left before the snow had started which is why we didn’t see any signs of them heading up Twinway Trail.
Before we continued on I carefully stopped by Zealand Falls to check it out.
We continued down Twinway Trail (which was extremely icy below the hut) and took Zealand Trail once we looped around Zealand Pond. The route out to Zealand Road was very flat and easy going. There were a couple of bridges and boardwalks through the marshlands with nice views up to Zeacliff and Hale. Once we reached Zealand Road it was a quick walk along the dirt road back to the Hale Brook Trailhed and our car.
We got to the car at 4:30 pm just as it was starting to get dark and headed to Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery for some post-hiking refueling. When we got there we were lucky enough to get seats next to a fireplace to warm our frigid bones. Although both Hale and Zealand were wooded and not very interesting, the view from Zeacliff was definitely worth the hike.
The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.
Video of Hale and Zealand hike
Music from Free Music Archive: “Something Elated” by Broke for Free
Date Hiked: 24 November 2015
Trail Conditions: mud, black ice, light snow
Weather: mostly cloudy, flurries
Wind: W breeze
Highest Elevation: 4260′
Elevation Gain: 4250′
Distance: 13.9 miles
Book Time: 9:05
Actual Time: 8:45
Tracing White Mountains Trails:
Zealand Mountain Spur
Hale Brook Trail