Sunday, February 2, 2014

Cabot Winter Wonderland - Jan 25, 2014

This was apparently the day to meet people. During the long 4-hour drive to the Berlin Fish Hatchery, I made my usual stop for a second breakfast in Lincoln, where I ran into 4 people I knew, including grid finishers Sue and Earl, who were also on their way up to hike Mount Cabot on this day. Arriving a few minutes early to the trailhead at the end of York Pond Road, I did the final gear-up while chatting with Linda, who was coming on this hike that I was leading for the NorthEast Peakbaggers Meetup group. Shortly, Chris, who I hadn’t seen in about a year, showed up to complete our small group of 3, and we were soon off on the old logging road that the York Pond Trail starts off on, having made the call to leave the snowshoes in the car based on recent trip reports.

Looking back up the York Pond Road from the trailhead

Off we go!

The temperatures were mild compared to what they have been lately, though there were occasional flakes in the air. Still, with Cabot offering very little in the way of views except from Bunnell Rock and some limited views from near the cabin, we weren’t going to miss out on much. With only an inch or two of snow on top of an icy crust, light traction (I was using my new Hillsound Trail Crampons on this hike for only the second time) was the way to go. We made fast time up the flat section of the Bunnell Notch Trail, and only slowed slightly through the mild ups and downs it does in the middle section. Somewhere in this stretch we leap-frogged Sue and Earl a couple of times before finally passing them a final time (we'd cross paths later at the cabin).

Arriving at the height-of-land where the Kilkenny Ridge Trail comes in from Mount Terrace, we headed downhill to where the old Mount Cabot Trail (the trailhead of which has been closed for over a decade due to a landowner dispute) came in, which signifies the beginning of the real climbing. Though steady, the climb never gets excessively steep, and we basically just kept climbing with a few of the usual catch-your-breath stops. The one stop we did make was at the Bunnell Rock viewpoint (sign), where we had probably the best views I have had from this spot in 3 trips now. That still isn’t saying much, but hey, Terrace Mountain was looming right in front of us, and in back was the long ridge of Mount Waumbek/Starr King. I’d never seen past Terrace from here before, it looks like on a clear day this is probably a really nice spot.

Terrace Mountain, with Starr King and Waumbek in the background
 As the trees became more and more caked in snow, transforming the woods into a winter wonderland, we knew we were getting close to the cabin, and sure enough we popped out at the cabin shortly thereafter. We made the decision to continue to the summit now, and stop back inside on the way down for a lunch break. Knowing there were at least 2, if not more, people ahead of us (there were 2 other cars in the lot besides ours and Earl’s), we figured we would be running into them shortly. And sure enough we ran into 2 guys just past the clearing near the cabin (which many people mistake for the summit, but the summit is in fact about 4/10-mile past the cabin!), and right behind them was Rachel and Isis! Rachel keeps a great blog of her trips, and Isis is her very friendly and playful dog that is getting very close to finishing the 4000-Footers of New Hampshire herself. It was great to meet them both at last after seeing so many of their adventures chronicled online.

The woods up here above the cabin are pretty open and the trail tends to get drifted badly in winter, but it was in decent shape today (it might have just been due to the 3 people and a dog ahead of us this day) and while snowshoes would have worked fine here, it would have been wasteful to haul them all the way up the mountain for this short stretch (and it wasn't that deep anyway). Those ahead of us had done a great job of route-finding right along the true trail corridor, right to the stick sign on the back of a tree that signals the actual high point of this wooded mountain. The USFS sign that usually adorns this peak (a few dozen yards from the stick sign) was gone, not sure what the deal is there. With the wind howling above the trees (not too bad in the trees where we were though), we took a few pictures and made the u-turn back to the cabin, after noting the trail continuing North to The Bulge was completely filled in (it wasn’t planned to head there anyway on this hike).

Chris taking a picture near Cabot Cabin

The stick sign marking the high point on Mount Cabot


Chris and Linda on Cabot
After a snack break at the cabin, we were getting ready to leave when Pete and Kelly and Kelly’s mom arrived too! I hadn’t seen Pete and Kelly since hiking Jefferson-Washington-Monroe with them a couple winters back when they finished their Winter New Hampshire 4000-Footers, so it was great to see them again. Like I said, this was the day to meet people. Cabot was a popular spot on this day, with probably close to 2 dozen people on that mountain which is impressive considering how far a drive it is for just about everyone, and a rather uninspiring mountain. Still, Cabot is a great winter hike and it was great to see so many people I knew or knew of on this hike.

We had a very quick exit hike, and made it back to the cars barely 5.5 hours after leaving them. With both Linda and Chris needing to drive back to Massachusetts and several inches of snow due to fall in the afternoon and evening (it was lightly snowing at this point), it was good that we finished so fast, as it allowed them several daylight hours to drive in before sunset. Both of them are now down to single digits on their Winter New Hampshire 4000-Footer lists if I am not mistaken, and it was great to hike with both of them. For me, this was my 4th time on Mount Cabot, the second in calendar winter, and it put me exactly halfway through a 4th round of the New Hampshire 4000-Footers.

Route: York Pond Trail, Bunnell Notch Trail, Kilkenny Ridge Trail
Peaks: Cabot (4170’, NH4K)
Mileage: 9.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 2900’
Book Time: 6hr 15min (actual 5hr 30min)

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