On our nineteenth day of the trip, October 14, we broke camp early and caught a ride out of the White Mountains with Andy. The original plan had been to walk from the Squam Mountains through Plymouth and to Cardigan Mountain on our own, but the prospect of a twenty-plus mile road walk had long since lost its appeal. Better to spend our time in the mountains than on roads. So we wound up in Bristol, where we stuck out our thumbs for a hitch to AMC’s Cardigan Lodge.
After arriving and setting up our tarps at the campsite, we set off for the mountain. The sky was sunny with a few fluffy clouds cruising by overhead, but the air was frosty. This would be the trend for the next several days, with the temperature dropping like a rock and staying there for this entire section of the trip. According to weather.com’s records, the low temperatures for this section were between 20 and 30 degrees.
Because it had snowed only a day earlier, Cardigan’s summit ridge looked like it probably does in the middle of February. The bald top was thick with ice and snow, and we had to duck behind the few trees or other obstacles to avoid the stinging wind. Despite the conditions, there were plenty of people on the mountain, getting in one of the last good autumn hikes of the year. The views were tremendous, again, and we got to finish the day by resting in the Cardigan Lodge library, reading thirty- to sixty-year old issues of Appalachia. How amazing it must have been to be a part of the AMC when things that now seem so common and mundane were new and exciting. I found articles that described the first New Hampshire 4000 Footers Diretissima, and the original construction of Mizpah Hut, as well as several other fascinating articles.
After another freezing night (30 degrees according to weather.com) we headed out in the morning on what seems to be a seldom-used trail to Knowle’s Four Corners, plenty south of Cardigan Mountain. From the middle-of-nowhere trailhead, we walked on small dirt roads to Route 4, then hitched to Danbury and then to New London. Our ride to New London turned out to be a Long Trail hiker who’d hiked with Nancy for a while last summer, and her husband worked at the Colby-Sawyer College dining hall. Good luck prevailed again, and we were able to spend some time at the dining hall, filling up on town food. From there, we met Jason, whom I’d contacted before the trip for a place to stay in New London. We got pizza, discussed hiking and outdoor gear, and eventually wound up sleeping on his porch.
On Friday morning, after yet another cold night, Jason drove us to the base of Mount Sunapee (skipping the Sunapee-Ragged-Kearsarge Greenway section was a last-minute decision, but turned out to be a good one) where we got back on the trail. It seemed like we had been off the trail for a while, though it had only been two days of skipping around.
We walked up Sunapee, our feet crunching through iced mud, and began what would be one of the unexpected highlights of the trip. The Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway turned out to be one of the most beautiful trails I’ve ever walked on. Most of it was pretty easy, and there were shelters at every campsite, but the scenery and choice of paths was incredible. Even where the trail had to follow roads or walk close to houses, it stayed mostly on little-used back roads, mostly unpaved, and went by houses that seemed perfectly at home in the deep woods. Best of all, we had perfect weather for most of the trail.
Our first day was mostly spent on the southern ridge of Mt Sunapee, then dropping down into the town of Washington, where we camped at an old shelter near the road. It was absolutely freezing all day (I don’t think it got above 40 degrees until late afternoon), so we had to keep moving constantly, but the views we got along the way were spectacular. We were beginning to catch up with the fall colors, so what had been far past peak in the White Mountains was now only a little past peak. Since almost all of our surroundings were lower in elevation, there were more deciduous trees, so views were almost entirely blazing color.
Along the way we saw the last moose of our trip, which makes seven if you count the two we saw on the car ride to the Canadian border. Only one moose anywhere besides on the Cohos Trail. Yet we didn’t get a single picture of the big beasts.
Another frigid night, another early morning to try for a very long day. We saw some thick frost in the morning, but by midday we were perfectly warm and basking in the sunlight. And what a day it was! The Greenway continued to be gorgeous, with unexpected views from the tiny peaks of Jackson Hill, Hubbard Hill, and Pitcher Mountain. If we had been earlier in the season, we might have stopped for hours on any of those hills– all of them were covered with blueberry patches that could have supplied the entire county. We could see Monadnock dominating the horizon from each of the hills.
After Pitcher Mountain we stuck to the lowlands, but still had some pretty scenery in the Andorra Forest, then through the less wild regions to the south. The trail went by quickly, except for one small setback– a section of trail flooded by beavers! We had passed about a dozen such sections earlier in the trip, including one this same day, but this one was the worst of the bunch. Gary and I each took a different route to avoid sloshing through knee-deep water, but both of us ended up with wet feet anyway, as well as a few scratches and scrapes from pushing through dense brush.
We ended the day (our longest on the entire trip at just over 25 miles) at the last shelter on the Greenway, excited for a zero day at my grandmother’s house the next day after some fine views from Monadnock. Once again, New Hampshire had a final surprise for us.
In the morning, as we got to the last road crossing before Monadnock, a light snow began to fall. Sure enough, before long the trail was coated in a thin but consistent layer of snow. As we continued up, the snow got thicker and more slippery. Just like on the Appalachian Trail, the blazes going up Monadnock were white, so following them became very tricky. As we broke out of the tree cover, we were blasted with wind so strong that it became nearly impossible to walk– Monadnock is scarcely over 3100 feet tall, but its summit is surprisingly similar to the 4000-Footers throughout New England, all of which are much further north.
The last hundred feet or so to the summit were so windy that we had to stumble like drunks to the top, then hide behind a boulder to get our bearings. We took the wrong trail down at first, and had to re-summit the mountain and head back down the correct trail. From the park headquarters, we hitched a ride with some nice weekend-hikers from Boston, and made our way to my grandmother’s house. The snow continued to fall throughout the day, but by afternoon it had become a wet, sticky mess.
We relaxed indoors, utterly relieved to be dry, warm, and well-fed. One zero day, and then we would soon be out of New Hampshire.