Alas, it’s cold outside in New England and the ground is covered in snow. As I’m not the most sure-footed goat on the mountain, my climbing adventures will have to wait until the snow clears. I yearn to climb, I yearn for the mountains . . . but, for now, all I can do it relive past adventures. The following are my top 5 favorite hikes of 2013.
1) Franconia Ridge Loop
The Franconia Ridge Loop was the most challenging, and most rewarding hike I did in 2013. After finishing this 8.9 mile trail, you’ll have a great sense of accomplishment – as well as a great ache in your muscles for the next few days! The good news is that after the soreness fades, you probably won’t get sore from any subsequent hikes you do. If the weather permits it, the 360 degree views are absolutely fantastic! I ascended via the Falling Waters Trail, which leads you along, and sometimes across, a beautiful series of waterfalls. A nice side trail leads to Shining Rock, which has an incredible view of its own.
At the top you reach Little Haystack (4,760 feet), which isn’t officially one of the NH 4,000 footers. From there you can peak bag across Mount Lincoln (5,089 feet – 7th highest of the 4,000 footers) and Mount Lafayette (5,260 feet – 6th highest, and # 4 on New England’s 50 Finest list), using part of the Appalachian Trail. After Lafayette, you can take the Old Bridle Path back down to the parking area. You will pass the Greenleaf Hut on the way down if you need to stop to use the amenities, get a snack or drink, or even a dry T-shirt. Located in the White Mountain National Forest, you’ll experience an elevation gain of around 3,900 feet, making the Franconia Range the second highest series in the White Mountains, second to only the Presidential Range.
2) Mount Osceola
At 4,340 feet, Mount Osceola is # 24 of the NH 4,000 footers, and # 41 of the New England’s Fifty Finest. Part of the White Mountain National Forest, Osceola, named after a Seminole Indian Chief, is one of seven mountains in the Sandwich Range.
I took the 3.2 mile trail-head from Tripoli Road, (which is closed in the winter) for a short, vigorous hike with a 2,060 foot elevation gain. The view at the top is only 220 degrees, but is excellent (again, if the weather is agreeable). From the summit, you can see many of the other White Mountains in the distance, including Mount Washington.
3) Mount Moosilauke
At 4,802 feet Mount Moosilauke is the 10th highest of the NH 4,000 footers, # 9 on the New England’s Finest Peaks list, and, as the westernmost of the 4,000 footers, offers hikers an incredible view, weather permitting. I ascended using the Beaver Brook Trail, which takes you along a lovely set of cascades. The first half of the hike is very steep. Around the time you leave the falls and reach the Beaver Brook Shelter, though, the grade lessens.
The path aligns with the Appalachian Trail for a while, which will bring you to the summit for a 3,100 foot elevation gain. Admittedly, I failed to notice a branching of the trail on the way down, which turned the 7.6 mile trip into a 20 mile journey in the dark of night along washed out roads, noise filled woods and a lonely stretch of highway, lifeless except for some nearby gun shots, but it made me feel like I was a character in The Goonies, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I enjoyed the entire adventure. (It also gave me a chance to use some of the supplies I lug in my pack on each trek but never before had the chance to need.)
4) Crotched Mountain
Part of the Monadnock region, Crotched Mountain is only 2,063 feet, with an elevation gain of about 760 feet, but I found this a very enjoyable hike nonetheless. From the hard to find parking lot, you can take the Gregg Trail, which is smooth, graded, and handicap accessible. This leads to a viewing platform where you can see other mountains in the Monadnock region, including Mount Monadnock itself. It’s a very pretty view, especially at sunset. A narrow path to the side is the Shannon trail, which you can take to the summit. This trail will also take you across an open field filled with wild blueberries and black berries. There is a ledge near the summit with a great view.
5) Mount Sunapee
Mount Sunapee is only 2,726 feet high, but offers a nice wooded hike, great for when the summer sun is at its strongest. I took the two mile ‘Summit Trail’ up, which meanders through the woods until you reach the top, where the path opens onto a field of sunshine and wildflowers, making this one of my favorite hikes. After a couple of hours trekking through the woods, being greeted by purple wildflowers was a delightful experience I’ve not had on any other mountain. After a 1,650 foot elevation gain, the summit offers a great view of Lake Sunapee and other mountains in the distance.