July 29, 2012

Mount Cabot (plus Bulge and Horn)

After our trip up Mount Washington last weekend, Katy and I had been planning all week long to finish off our vacation by hiking Owl's Head and checking off one of the most elusive peaks on the NH 4000 footer list. Which day we would go would all depend on the most agreeable weather forecast of the latter half of the week. Unfortunately, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday all had similar forecasts -- cloudy, showers, thunderstorms, unsettled weather. After some debate, we finally decided we would modify our plans and hike Mount Cabot on Saturday. Mount Cabot is the northernmost 4000 footer in New Hampshire, and is off the beaten path of the typical hiking crowds in the Presidentials and Franconia Ridge. As we made the drive up early yesterday morning, the skies were cloudy but clearing, and I was anticipating this would be a simple, pleasant hike. The route we were taking was a loop hike over the top of Mount Cabot and also two lesser peaks, Bulge and Horn, which are not 4000 footers but are on the New England Hundred Highest list. I mistakenly thought that this route was about 10 miles in length, but upon closer inspection I later realized that it was about 11.5 miles instead. Given the scale and size of recent hikes that we've done, though, this miscalculation seemed to make little difference.

We arrived at the trailhead at the end of York Pond Road in Berlin, NH at about 8:15AM. The gate to the hatchery was wide open (even though the sign said it opens at 8:30AM). I had read recent reports that the gate was being left open 24 hours for the time being, but that was not too relevant for us since we would easily finish before the posted 4:00PM closing time. We geared up and headed off up the Bunnell Notch Trail under partly sunny skies with no real signs of rain. It was at this point that we quickly encountered the weeds. The first mile or so of Bunnell Notch Trail was very narrow and overgrown with three to five foot tall weeds on either side. It appeared to follow some type of old logging road that has been overtaken by the vegetation in the area. Somebody with a free afternoon and a machete could do wonders to this part of the trail. The bugs were also swarming something fierce even after we doused ourselves in bug spray. My anticipation of a simple and pleasant hike appeared to be dashed! We moved along at a quick pace until we finally reached a reprieve where the trail makes a left turn off the old logging road and into a nicely maintained trail in the woods.

At this point the trail began to really climb. We were so happy to be out of the weeds, though, that we didn't really notice. The upper sections of this trail were a much nicer walk in the woods and we made good time to the Cabot Cabin and then past it to the summit at around 10:40AM. The clouds were a little darker at this point, but still no rain. We took the requisite summit photos on the wooded peak and then continued on towards the Bulge. We seemed to reach the cairn marking the summit of the Bulge in no time at all and then pressed on to the trail junction of the spur path to the peak of the Horn where we took a right to climb this peak as well. The hike up Horn was quick but required a very tricky scramble up the final boulder to the official summit. Of all the views we got all day, the views on the Horn were definitely the best albeit under some now darker clouds in the sky. In addition, we finally encountered another hiking group on this peak who we talked to for a few minutes. They were on the same loop as us except coming from the other direction. We told them of the overgrown sections of Bunnell Notch Trail and they seemed to suggest that the lower elevations of the other side on the Unknown Pond Trail were not that bad. Hopeful news! We headed back down eager to complete the loop.

The hike down the rest of the Kilkenny Ridge Trail to the Unknown Pond was fairly uneventful. We took a right turn at the Unknown Pond to trek the final 3.3 miles back to the car. As we descended, we began to encounter short sections of overgrown trail similar to the way we started the day. I don't believe any of these sections were as bad as the first part of the Bunnell Notch Trail but the final two miles or so of the trail was definitely a walk in the weeds which made things a bit less pleasant. To make matters worse, Katy twisted her ankle in a fall and was concerned that she had sprained it. Fortunately, though, she was able to walk it off and appears to have escaped without a serious injury. We powered through this final section of the loop and actually were surprised when we arrived back at the car at 2:20PM, about 20 minutes earlier than I was estimating. We packed up and headed home, with Mount Cabot complete and in our rear view mirrors.

Most of our hikes in this 4000 footer journey have been fun adventures. I don't think that Mount Cabot left an impression on either of us as one of our favorites. It wasn't particularly strenuous, and even offered some good views and vistas; I guess it just wasn't our day. We both noted that a winter ascent may have been really nice, with some wide trail corridors (the weeds packed down by snow of course), gradual grades, and sheltered trails. Alas, though, we made it up the peak on this day and took solace in the fact that not 10 minutes after we got off the trail and began the ride home it started raining. And not only did it rain, but it rained buckets all the way home. It's probably a good thing that we decided to forego the much longer Owl's Head in favor of Mount Cabot for number 42 out of 48!

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