Hike: Dickey and Welch Mountain Loop

Hike date: 3 May 2014

Last year for Mother’s Day I took the boys camping and gave my wife a nice quiet house for the weekend. I know, it sounds selfish, but she loved it and we loved it, so I planned to do it again this year. As it turned out, she had classes the weekend of Mother’s Day, so I wouldn’t have a vehicle to take the boys camping. We went a week early instead.

The boys, my friend John and I went camping at my favorite spot, Hancock Campground on the Kancamangus Highway, which happens to be open year-round. I have camped at site 12 on the Pemigewasset River at least 5 times, and we camped there again. We left after work and we got to the campground as it was getting dark, but that didn’t diminish our moods. The boys were excited for the campfire and sleeping in the tent, and we got to see a moose shortly before the Kancamangus Pass.

After the boys had dinner, s’mores and went to bed, John and I stayed up drinking beer by the fire and gazing at the stars. John had forgotten one of his tent poles, but the weather was mild, the stars were out and it was far too early for bugs, so he settled out under the stars. As I headed into the tent I decided that there weren’t too many opportunities to sleep under the stars these days, so I dragged out my pad and bag and joined him. As I fell asleep staring at the stars, I thought of what Neil DeGrasse Tyson had said about man and stars:

Man is the only creature comfortable sleeping on his back. If you lay on your back and look up, what do you see? You see the cosmos.

In the morning I got up and meditated on a large rock in the river and then brewed up some coffee as everyone else rolled out of their sleeping bags. I underestimated how long it would take to pack up camp and we left for our hike a bit late. By the time we got to the trailhead my other friend Mike was waiting for us with his two boys. The parking lot was filling up and there was a large group just hitting the trail. We hesitated in the parking lot so we wouldn’t be right on their tails and then headed up the trail.

Pemigewasset River, looking up to Lincoln Woods

Pemigewasset River, looking up to Lincoln Woods

We hiked toward Welch Mountain first, approaching the loop counter-clock-wise. The climb was easy, which was good for the boys. At one point John said: “Oh, snake,” and reached into the brush to pull out a snake by its neck and tail. Mike and I looked at each other and decided that it was good that we hadn’t seen any rattlesnakes on adventures in Texas. John showed the boys how to handle a snake and then released it back into the woods.

Fun with snakes

Fun with snakes

Soon after, we broke out of the woods and onto a large, rounded ledge that sat below the hump of Welch Mountain. We had a clear view to the east of Sandwich Mountain and to the northeast we could see the peaks of the Tripyramids. We checked out the scenery with John’s binoculars and our different photo-taking devices and watched people hike where the ledges poked out of the trees further up Welch’s peak.

Looking up at Welch

Looking up at Welch

When it started to get crowded on the ledge we packed up and continued to hike up Welch. The hike grew more interesting the higher we got. It picked its way across bald ledge among the sparse trees. There was quite a bit of friction climbing and in a few places were we had to hand-over-hand up large rocks. The views of the surrounding mountains jumped out between trees everywhere.

Climbing up to Welch summit

Climbing up to Welch summit

As we closed in on the summit we came to a narrow crack in the rock where we had to squeeze our pack through and then climb up on top of the rock to continue. A hiker behind us told his friend that it was The Bottleneck, like on Everest (I think he meant K2).

Squeezing through the bottleneck

Squeezing through the bottleneck

We got to the summit of Welch a few hours after setting off, right about noon-time. There were a few other people on the summit, but we settled down in a bowl cut into the peak of the summit where the kids could keep out of the breeze. It had clouded up and was cool, so Mike and I pulled out our stoves. He heated up some hot chocolate for his boys, and I cooked some mac and cheese for my boys and vegan Pad Thai for myself. As we ate our lunch we gazed out at the scenery. To the northeast were the Tripyramids again and to the northwest stood the large dome of Moosilauke.

Tripyramids from Welch

Tripyramids from Welch

Moosilauke from Welch

Moosilauke from Welch

Once we had cleaned up our lunch and packed up (and I picked up some trash I saw another person throw into nearby trees), we started on our way to Dickey Mountain. The trail dropped down some ledges and into a col between the two mountains. At the low point was a six or seven foot cairn standing over a great view to the east.

Cairn in Welch and Dickey col

Cairn in Welch and Dickey col

The hike up to Dickey from the col was short. Occasionally we had a view back of Welch Mountain. I particularly liked one view I had while my youngest was using the little boy’s room. Welch Mountain was standing over the dense pine trees and the trail could be seen meandering down the slope of the mountain and again coming out of cavernous gap in the forest.

The path to Welch

The path to Welch

We reached Dickey summit but did not stay long as it was apparent that the weather was taking a turn for the worse. The rain was supposed to hold off until 4:00pm, and it was only 1:30pm, but we could see it rolling in from the west.

Rain starting to roll in

Rain starting to roll in

We headed down the trail from Dickey summit and had a view to the north of Cannon Mountain and Franconia Ridge. The arrangement of the mountains had me boggled while we were hiking. I guess I had been so enamored by Moosilauke that I had pictured us to the west of Franconia. I could definitely pick out the Cannon Balls and the cliffs of Cannon, so I couldn’t figure out why Franconia Ridge looked closer than Cannon and why Lincoln looked taller than Lafayette. Somehow it hadn’t donned on me that we were to the east of I-93 which runs down the center of Franconia Notch, even considering we arrived at the trailhead by heading east from the I-93 exit.

Cannon and Franconia ridge from Dickey

Cannon and Franconia ridge from Dickey

As we made our way down the ledges on the Dickey side of the loop it began to rain. It never rained hard, but the rocks below our feet quickly grew slick. We slowed down our pace and made sure the kids were leading by the safest route. At one point it was pretty sketchy, the top of the rounded ledge was only a few feet wide and to our left the ledge sloped down at a steep angle before dropping off a cliff. The boys didn’t seem to notice, they continued to walk and talk as we pointed them to the far right side of the ledge, but I must admit I held my breath. It would have been a non-issue in good weather but my imagination took off with the worse possible scenario in the rain.

Descending Dickey ledges in the rain

Descending Dickey ledges in the rain

Soon after the ledges the trail entered the forest and climbed easily down to the parking lot.

It was one of my favorite day hikes in the White Mountains, even considering the low elevation and high crowds. The views were amazing for 2000 footers and the variable terrain kept it interesting. More importantly, I was glad to give my wife a nice quiet weekend and the boys had a blast in the outdoors. If I pass anything on to them, I hope it is the love and respect that I have for nature.

I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.
—E.B. White

Map of Hike

Map of Hike

Stats:
Elevation: 2734′
Elevation Gain: 1650′
Distance: 4.4 miles
Book Time: 3:00
Actual Time: 5:00
Temperature: 54° F
Wind: 2 mph N
Weather: mostly cloudy, scattered showers

References:
Hancock Campground.” http://www.fs.usda.gov. United States Department of Agriculture: Forest Service. Web. 8 May 2014.
K2: The Killing Peak.” mensjournal.com. Men’s Journal LLC. Web. 13 May 2014.
Welch Mountain and Dickey Mountain Loop.” hikenewengland.com. Hike-NewEngland.com. Web. 4 May 2014.

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Hike: Burnt Meadow Mountains

Date Hiked: 27 April 2014

This spring my son turned 12 and I asked him if he’d like to start doing the New England 4000 Footers with me. With Dad being so busy with work and having little time to spare for the boys, he was quick to say yes. In a repeat of last weekend (but with my son as the subject matter), my wife suggested that I go for a hike and bring him along, as he had been grumpy lately. A friend at work had told me how nice of a hike Burnt Meadow was and I passed it every time I drove up to the White Mountains, so I decided this time we’d stop and give it a hike.

We arrived at the trailhead’s parking lot at 11am. There were a few cars in the lot and about 8 women with a couple of dogs preparing for their hike. My son and I quickly gathered our stuff and hit the Burnt Meadow Trail ahead of them. The trail climbed up to a sub peak on the ridge. It was not overly steep and the fun terrain made it pass quickly. Within a few minutes we had a view of the Saco River valley through the leafless trees.

An hour after we set off we were climbing up the ledge scramble before the North Peak. I let my son get ahead so I could take some shots of him climbing and then we hustled to the peak to enjoy some lunch before the crowd below caught up.

Slab scramble

Ledge scramble

Looking back down the Burnt Meadow Trail

Looking back down the Burnt Meadow Trail

The North Peak summit was wide and flat with some rocks and trees spread out across it. We chose a spot off the trail on some rocks facing Pleasant Mountain (which I hiked the previous week) to the north. We enjoyed lunch and talked about the little things in life; the stuff I normally don’t have the time discuss with him.

Pleasant Mountain from the North Peak

Pleasant Mountain from the North Peak

We cleaned up our lunch (and some other trash and cigarette butts) and continued on down the Burnt Meadow Trail. Soon after the peak the trail changed to the Twin Brook Trail and descended the western face of the mountain. Again, the terrain was interesting, rocky and twisting, which made the descent quick. At one point we had a good view to the northwest and where the White Mountains should have been, but it was too cloudy to see anything but their foothills.

Twin Brook Trail followed a sub ridge of Burnt Mountain and then dropped to the south side of the mountain into some thick but young forest. There were signs of heavy snows or ice storms in the past, as many of the young trees were bent over in a permanent bow toward the ground. We trudged along to the spur trail for Stone Mountain, the taller of the Burnt Meadows summits. We took the trail which switchbacked up the northern face of mountain for three quarters of a mile.

The Stone Mountain summit was very peaceful. Where there were small crowds and the distant sounds of trucks and chainsaws on the North Peak, all we found on Stone Mountain was calm and silence. My son and I followed the path to some rocks on the northwest end of the summit and sat and rested for a while. My son reviewed some of the photos he had taken. I faced the South Peak and meditated. It was one of the most peaceful moments I had experience in hiking. The absolute silence was broken only by the occasional breeze through the bare tree tops and the distant shrill of a hawk.

South Peak from Stone Mountain

South Peak from Stone Mountain

Before heading back to the trailhead we checked out an ledge overlook to the south of Stone Mountain. The view was toward Cutler Mountain and the flatter region of Maine toward the coast.

Vista from Stone Mountain

Vista from Stone Mountain

We took Stone Mountain Trail back down to the col between Stone Mountain and the North Peak of Burnt Meadow. Twin Brook Trail followed the contours of the mountain, around a ridge and back to the Burnt Meadow Trail. Along the way it crossed a few brooks and weaved through more young forests. Some gray clouds had rolled in and the scenery was startlingly stark in the different shades of gray.

Gray on gray

Gray on gray

We made it back down to the parking lot just as the large group of women and dogs were packing up to leave. They either spent quite a while on the North Peak or hiked the loop like we had but bypassed the Stone Mountain trail. I picked up some more trash from around the parking lot and then we hit the road.

My son did pretty well for his first hike while carrying his own water and food, and his first hike of the year. Hopefully by the time the snow and ice has melted off the high peaks he will have had a few more hikes under his belt and be ready for some 4000 footers.

If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it. Perhaps this is what Thoreau had in mind when he said, “the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings.”
—David Sobel

Map of Hike

Map of Hike

Stats:
Elevation: 1624′
Elevation Gain: 1870′
Distance: 5 miles
Book Time: 3:25
Actual Time: 4:25
Temperature: 45° F
Wind: 1 mph NE
Weather: cloudy

References:
BMM Trail Descriptions.” friendsofburntmeadowmountains.com. Douglas D. Ofiara & Friends of Burnt Meadow Mountains. Web. 29 April 2014.
Burnt Meadow Mountain.” alltrails.com. AllTrails, Inc. Web. 29 April 2014.