Saturday, September 15, 2018

NH MSG Section 4: Pitcher Mountain to Washington Center

Climbing out of the fog on Pitcher Mountain
The Pitcher Mountain parking lot on Rt 123 was dark and gloomy in fog and we didn't expect to be able to see anything up at the fire tower, but my husband strolled up the white-blazed service road with me to check it out. It's about 0.4 mile to the tower with an elevation gain of about 300 feet, so it's a popular place to visit, but no one was there on a foggy Saturday morning. The fog began to thin as walked, though, and when we came to a big meadow with cows, sunbeams were casting fog shadows from the trees.

Fire Tower up above the fog
By the time we got to the top, which took no time at all, we were out of the fog an there was a brilliant blue sky above us. The view was mostly clouds, though, with only the very tip of Mt. Monadnock visible to the south and a couple peaks to the north. The closer one looked like it might be Mt. Sunapee.  Maybe the other one is Mt. Kearsarge.

Looking north towards Mt. Sunapee 
The trail meanders through some very open brushy areas, popular with blueberry pickers,  before heading back into the woods. There seems to be a minimalist approach to these areas, so you'll be wading through vegetation and getting wet if there's morning dew. There is a maze of berry-picking trails through the brush and it's possible to take a wrong turn, but I had no trouble spotting the white blazes on rocks when needed.

Signed trail junction on Mt. Pitcher
Methods for markings turns in the M-S Greenway vary as you follow the trail. For much of the trail, there will be two blazes, one directly over the other, to give you a heads up. And then that will be followed by an arrow tacked to a tree or post. This is a lot better than the New Hampshire portion of the M-M Trail, which just gave you two aligned blazes but no indication which way the trail turned. But why not just use the standard offset blazes, the higher blaze indicating the direction of the turn?

A different kind of turn blaze
Another kind of turn blaze I started seeing was different but intuitive. The upper blaze formed a right angle indicating the direction of the turn. Seems like more work to paint than offset blazes, but it's pretty obvious which way the trail goes.

This is just wrong
When I finally found some standard turn blazes, they were wrong. This was at a major four-way junction. The northbound blazes indicated a left turn while an arrow tacked above them showed a right turn. It was the same coming from the opposite direction. If someone were to tamper with the arrow and remove it, the blazes would take people the wrong way. There were more standard turn blazes further down the trail, but at this point I didn't trust them.

Long gravel roadwalk through Andorra Forest
Anyhow, after Pitcher Mountain the trail heads through Andorra Forest, which is pretty big. There's a hiking trail portion through the trees and then you follow a gravel park road for a good ways up to the top, which is another cleared brushy area like the top of Pitcher Mountain. The road ends and the trail just keeps going forward through the brushy hilltop for a quite awhile.

An unexpected "MSG Half Way" sign put a big smile on my face. Yeah!

Bear been eating apples?
There were a lot of berries that looked sort of like highbush blueberries but not exactly. Chokeberries (not to be confused with chokecherries). Wondered if that might bring in the bear. Maybe I would see one. I didn't, but one had left a calling card filled with apples.

Lots of black chokeberries. May explain the bear. 
A very tall sign marked the top of Hubbard Hill, then it was a sudden transition back into the forest. Loved the contrast between the cleared hilltops and deep, dark forest.

And back into the forest
A nice trail walk and then yet another cleared hilltop, this one Jackson Hill. What a great hike.

Jackson Hill
A bit further on, a sign from 2016 explains that the trail head is being used as a logging road, but there is a blue-blazed alternative that might be more enjoyable. Decisions, decisions. The sign was two years old, so I figure the logging was probably done. I'd read about this section in the guidebook, which warned about a section that was sometimes flooded by beaver as much as 3 feet deep, also suggesting the blue-blazed alternative. This notice on the tree said the flooding problem had been resolved with the logging operations. You mean I don't get to use the water shoes??  I was almost going to take the blue route, but it said it was steeper, and the rock underfoot was wet, so I settled on the white-blazed route.

Decision, decisions
The trail soon skirted a small pond where a beaver had dropped a striped maple across the trail and had been cutting off the tips of the branches and dragging them into the water. Soon after was a small beech that had also been dropped across the trail, but the beaver wasn't eating this one.  Deer won't even eat beech unless they're starving. They can die of starvation with a belly full of beech.

Another beaver pond
I was glad I chose to stay on the main trail because on the way down I got to follow some moose tracks for a good ways. They take big steps. It was a good three feet between each walking footstep.

Moose tracks!
The logging road was still active and I passed some machinery, but it was a Saturday and no one was working. There weren't any big mudholes or tracks to walk through, which was my biggest fear. The treadway was solid. Looked to me like more than a logging road, though. More like someone was getting ready to build some houses.

Jefts Road - still a construction zone.
The spot that used to flood from beaver was still a bit flooded, with a water flowing across the road a few inches deep, but I didn't need to take my boots off.

Beaver Pond still flooding the road a bit
The logging road (called Jefts Road on the trail map) ended at Kings Road, an improved gravel road open to traffic. The trail followed this road past the "Mother Church" of the Seventh Day Adventists, a Protestant sect. There is hiker parking here and it was my original destination point, but I was making great time and texted my husband that I would head on to Washington Center.

Seventh Day Adventist Church on King Street
The trail followed the gravel road up hill and then turned onto paved Faxon Hill Road for a spell before taking a right turn past a gate into some open woods.

Finally turning off the road here
I almost missed seeing the left turn arrow taking me out of the cleared way, and the path leading from this area was pretty overgrown and hard to spot. But luck was with me this day.

Nearly missed this turn
Back into the cool, dark forest for a steady climb up Oak Hill and the first steep section since Monadnock. Kinda got used to all that easy stuff. 

Steepest part of the entire weekend
The top of Oak Hill was partly cleared and brushy. More views. I tried to get a good view of Monadnock, but couldn't quite get above the tops of the brush to see fully in that direction. Great views to the west, however.

Oak Hill
Heading north along the flat open hilltop was a delight. I would have spent more time, but got a text that my ride was in Washington Center and so I needed to pick up the pace.

Northbound down Oak Hill
The hike down was lovely, although there was one open, overgrown spot where I couldn't locate a blaze or the trail tread, so I turned on my gps unit to mark my location before meandering through the forest looking for the next blaze. Found the trail pretty quickly after that, though.

Washington Center at the General Store
Down at the bottom there should be a law that all hikers have to stop at the Washington General Store, which is hiker friendly. We sat outside at the picnic table and ate some amazing sandwiches with so many fixings you almost couldn't take a bite. They also sell M-S Greenway hats, shirts, and maps. I got the hat. And then we hopped in the car and headed home to Connecticut.

Thank you. I'll take a sandwich. And an ice cream. And a Greenway hat. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

NH MSG Section 3: Rt 9 to Rt 123 Pitcher Mtn

Fish ladder and trail walkway under Route 9
This hike started out by parking on Nye Road in Stoddard and searching out where the trail goes under Route 9 (I had crossed over the highway the day before, not realizing the trail went under the highway).  There was a huge box culvert with a fish ladder and paved sidewalk to accommodate the trail. Very cool, and I almost missed it. My civil engineer of a husband was taking photos and checking out the specs. I meant to follow the trail south to the big Rt 9 parking area where I had apparently missed some blazing just to see what I missed. Just north of the fish ladder were stepping stones leading across the stream towards the parking area, but they were flat, wet, tilted, and far apart, so I abandoned that idea. All it takes is one bad step on wet rock to end hiking for the season.

For about the next  mile, the trail follows a 4WD road gradually up the flanks of Melville Hill, about a 400-foot elevation gain. More easy walking.

Steeper parts were eroded
The steeper areas tended to have some erosion damage, while flatter areas were more pleasant to walk.  The old road finally leveled out as it skirted the heights of Dakin Hill (elev. 1940 ft)  at about elevation 1800 ft. I believe this is the big hill we saw from the Bed & Breakfast on the far side of Center Pond.

Flatter sections 
On the way down I passed by the first and only hiker of the entire 3-day trip. He had started in Nelson Center, hiked up to Fitcher Mountain, and was on his way back. And it was still morning. He said he had done the entire trail in the early 1990s when it first opened up and got lost because it wasn't well marked. He thought the trail was much improved and easy to follow now.

Club moss and mushroom
I'm on my third smart phone since first starting this accidental journey down near Long Island Sound in 2012. The camera on each one has gotten progressively better,  and at this point I don't bother lugging a big 'real' camera. The latest model can actually focus on things close up, like mushrooms, and it fits in my pocket.

Yellow Finger Coral Fungi
The old road down the north side of the hill seems wetter and steeper. There was a lot more erosion, so the trail left the worst of it, curved around to recross, then joined up with some other 4WD road that was less eroded. Need to keep an eye on the blazes here.

Zillions of Grass Spider nests at Center Pond
At the bottom of the hill, the trail turns right onto Center Pond Road. The Crider shelter is off to the west along what was apparently the former route of the trail. We were told by the innkeeper that the trail used to go along the backside of Center Pond, but the property owners shut it down and now we all get to walk down the road.

Center Pond
Shortly after reaching Center Pond Road, there was an unmarked short spur trail leading to the edge of the pond. I could see the bed & breakfast on the opposite shore. Also, there were a ridiculous number of spider webs. Mostly grass spiders. By the end of the trip I would see thousands of these nests along the ground, accented by morning dew.
Center Pond Chapel
Center Pond Road quickly turns to gravel and follows the shoreline of the pond between rows of cottages. I enjoyed checking out the buildings as I walked by. There was quite a variety. Some were upscale, others more modest, some were vintage and others modern. And then there was a sign for the Center Pond Chapel and "Free Water."

Center Pond Chapel
I expected a normal-sized church there, but instead there was an adorable 2-pew model, propped open by a cooler containing bottles of water.

Hummingbird Hill Bed & Breakfast on Center Pond Road
And then the road climbed a hill and I arrived "home": the Hummingbird Hill Bed & Breakfast. Pampered hiking at its best. Hung out for a bit until my husband got done golfing and picked up some sandwiches. We had a picnic behind the accommodations, with a view of Center Pond and the hill I just walked across.

Center Pond view, Dakin Hill beyond
After a spell, my husband drove me up to the Pitcher Mountain parking area so I could walk back to the Hummingbird.

Now going southbound for a few miles
There is something to be said for doing this little section southbound: It's all downhill.

I really enjoyed the section between Center Pond and Pitcher Mountain. No more road walking, and the trail was gorgeous.

Fir and spruce and white birch. Love the north woods. 
The north-woods character of the trail changed over to an overgrown farm featuring apple trees and apples on the trail. I bet the bear and deer hang out here.

Apples from an old apple orchard
Then there is a brushy hilltop apparently kept free of trees. Why? For blueberries? There would be more of this type of thing the next day, but this was the first section like this I'd seen since the M-M Trail. 

 Blueberry leaves with Pearly Everlasting
It was a clear day and Mt Monadnock could be seen in the distance.

The rest of the walk was lovely as the trail gradually descended through the forest down to Robinson Brook.

Smells like Christmas
The Robinson Cascades were gorgeous. All sorts of mossy rock and flowing water.

Robinson Cascades
I'm beginning to see more northern plants that don't grow in my neck of the woods. Love running into foliage that I associate with vacation trips but can't quite remember what it is. Snowberry growing into the trail was one of these.

As the trail approaches the north junction with Center Pond Road, it follows a driveway alongside a house, so close you can touch the house. There is even a greenway sign bolted to the house. This was a bit unnerving, but since I had received a heads up from the hiker I'd past earlier that day as well as the innkeeper where we were staying, it was expected. Very odd set up, though, and more markings would help.

Back at the Hummingbird Hill B&B, it was time for some swimming and kayaking on Center Pond. We took the kayaks across the pond to where I'd come out onto the shore earlier that day while hiking. Nice.

Same spot as earlier on the trail. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

NH MSG Section 2b: Brown Rd to Route 9

Brook crossing near Iron Nail Road
Another year, another fall hiking adventure! After completing the NET/M-M Trail last year at the top of Mt Monadnock and getting a taste of the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway on the way down, I spent the winter pondering over whether to continue north along this next trail. Why not? Who doesn't need an excuse to spend some time in New Hampshire?

Seaver Road (road walk)
So we booked a room at the Hummingbird Hill Bed & Breakfast (right on the trail!), drove up from Connecticut, and continued with the he-golfs while she-hikes routine.

Seaver Reservoir. Not Beaver, Seaver. 
This blog post covers most of what the M-S Greenway guidebook labels Section 2, with the exception of the Eliza Adams Gorge, completed earlier. This is a very easy section. Between Brown Road, where I got dropped off, and Route 9, the pick up point, the trail mostly follows unpaved roads of various types.

The turn towards Rosemary Trail (road walk)
Some of the roads are improved gravel roads open to general traffic, so you pass by occasional homes and cottages. Other roads are 4WD only. And some are closed to vehicular traffic. It's fast and easy along all of them.

Childs Bog along Rosemary Trail (roadway)
The trail passes by a number of scenic water features, including Childs Bog, which is clearly not a bog, but presumably was at one point.

South of Cabot Road
There was one good long stretch of non-road woodland trail north of Cabot Road. This was just full of Red Efts. It took a lot of focus to not step on them. I actually did step on one's tail. I'm so sorry. We both jumped.

Red Eft, one of dozens on the trail
The trail was well marked and easy to follow through the woods.

"Confidence blazes" along the roadways are spaced pretty far apart. After some periods of daydreaming, I had a few episodes of, "Did I miss a turn??" Going forward, looking back, no blazes in sight. Consult the map. Am I really on the road I think I'm on? Yes. Right? This must be correct. But what if there was a reroute not reflected in the map? Continue forward. And eventually I'd see a white blaze and all was good.

Cabot Road (road walk)
You definitely want a the trail map for this section with the long road walks so you know you're going to be following a particular road for half a mile and don't keep looking for the trail to suddenly turn off the road.
View along Cabot Road
With one exception, where the roads are open to traffic, they're nice, quiet strolls through the countryside, and cars rarely pass by. The scenery is woods and fields and ponds and bogs and mountains.

Field along Cabot Road
The exception is upon the approach to Nelson Center, when the trail follows paved Nelson Road for a spell. Still good scenery, but the cars are whizzing by. Trucks mostly. Construction equipment. Winter is coming.

Nelson Road (roadwalk)
Nelson Center is one of those attractive town centers full of history. There were no shops, just a collection of quaint white buildings including a church, town hall, and library. The parking lot in front of the town hall was empty and no one was about. Every so often someone drove up to a big line of mailboxes to get their mail. And then they would drive away and the town center would be silent again.

Nelson Center
They do a nice job marking the turns with arrows, including some nice ones printed on metal.

Nelson Center turn onto Log Cabin Road
Heading north from Nelson Center, you again are following a road, then a 4WD road labeled "Log Cabin Road" on the map, and then the road is blocked and it's foot traffic only on an old roadbed.

"Log Cabin Road" 
It's an easy, pleasant stroll through the woods. Another scenic pond, this one with an impressive beaver dam and bridge over the brook.

Beaver Dam along Log Cabin Road
Nice job along the trail keeping the blowdowns cleared. No idea how someone managed to cut a huge tree that was suspended about five feet above the trail. Looks like a job for professionals. And the tree trunk swung back up after it was cut, hopefully with no one standing on it at the time.

How did someone cut this??
At Route 9, the trail comes out onto a big parking lot with a sign indicating hikers can park there. That was my pickup point, but while I was waiting, I decided to cross the highway so I could start on that side the next morning. Didn't realize the trail actually goes under the highway until later that night when the innkeeper mentioned it. Almost missed one of the more unique trail features I've ever encountered hiking. I'd go back the next morning and check it out.

Route 9. 
After checking into the Hummingbird Hill B&B and going out to eat, we arrived back at the B&B and checked out their beach area on Center Pond. It was gorgeous.
Center Pond from the Hummingbird Hill B&B
It's a bit of a walk down to the shore, across a small golf course. They have a pair of kayaks that guests can use.
Checking out the beach area
Then we headed back up and watched the sunset. Nice.

Sunset over Center Pond