Saturday, October 18, 2014

Hale and Waumbek Before the Rain - Oct. 4, 2014

Route: North Twin Trail, Firewarden's Trail
Peaks: Mount Hale (4054', NH4K)
Mileage: 7 miles
Elevation Gain: 2300ft
Book Time: 4hr 40min (actual 2hr 45min)

The weather was calling for afternoon rain starting around 3:30PM and becoming rather heavy at times, so I chose 2 peaks that I hadn't visited in 2014 (I'm closing in on my 3rd straight year doing a full round of the New Hampshire 4000-Footers), and ones that also offered minimal views and wouldn't be difficult if I did get caught in the rain. First off was Mount Hale, which I did yet again via the officially abandoned (since the 1960s I believe) Firewarden's Trail off of the North Twin Trail. I hadn't hiked this trail with leaves on the ground, which would be the case this weekend, but having been on it 3 times before, I expected little trouble following it, and this indeed turned out to be the case. Knowing the rain was coming and I was really hoping to do two hikes today without getting totally soaked, I got started a little earlier than normal and also tried to keep a quick pace going.

The Firewarden's Trail is a great trail for making good pace, even though it is about 2 miles longer round-trip than doing the Hale Brook Trail, it has moderate grades overall and easy footing. Heading down the North Twin Trail and then the herd path that bypasses the first 2 river crossings, I made the small brook crossing (easy with the low water levels) and soon made the turn up the bank on the start of the Firewarden's Trail. The landmark tree is still there, but others have marked the start of the old trail with a cairn and a few logs, making finding the start (which is really the only trick to this trail) trivial. Of course, anyone unfamiliar with the area but trying to use the herd path to get to the Twins might get misled and follow this and end up on Mount Hale instead!

The leaf-carpeted North Twin Trail. I love fall hiking!

Fall is here

Easy brook crossing on the way to the Firewarden's Trail

For the moment, finding the start of the Firewarden's Trail is easy. I wouldn't expect these markers to remain, however.

I powered up the mountain through the various switchbacks, enjoying the remnants of the fall foliage. As every other time I've been on this trail, it was extremely easy to follow and in better shape than a lot of maintained trails in the White Mountains! It looked like the previous weekend was probably the best leaf-peeping weekend in this area, as all of the hardwoods had already shed most of their leaves, and the remaining leaves were browning up. The birch glades, however, were still very nice-looking. Near the summit I ended up in a cloud and got drizzled on a little bit. With no summit views and a bit of a cold wind up top, I stopped only long enough for a few pictures and a quick snack before high-tailing it back to the car, kicking my way through the leaves for much of the time (I love swishing through the leaves). On the way down, the sun peeked out a few times here and there, giving me hope for the afternoon hike. I only saw a couple of hikers on this hike, all on the North Twin Trail and most as I was heading out. Hopefully they didn't get too wet later in the day! My total time on this 7-mile hike was an impressive (for me at least) 2hr 45minutes!

The Firewarden's Trail to Mount Hale. It's hard to believe, but this has been abandoned for over 50 years!

Birch glades on the Fire Warden's Trail

More birch glades - most leaves on the ground

The conifer section near the ridge of the Firewarden's Trail

Mount Hale. Socked in today, but there isn't a view anymore anyway.

Route: Starr King Trail
Peaks: Mount Starr King (3907', 52WAV), Mount Waumbek (4006', NH4K)
Mileage: 7.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 2800ft
Book Time: 5hr (actual 3hr 10min)

With it still well before noon, I had plenty of time to hike Mount Waumbek, and so I drove the roughly 30 minutes North to the Starr King Trail, easily finding a parking spot in the lot as many had already left for the day. Grabbing my things once again, I set off on yet another fairly gradual ascent to a 4000-footer. The Starr King Trail was also covered in a nice carpet of leaves, with some left on the trees themselves. Early on it started raining, but it only lasted for 5-10 minutes and wasn't heavy, and that turned out to be it for the rain until after I was down and gone.

The well on the Starr King Trail

The Northern Presis from Starr King

The old cabin clearing on Mount Starr King.

There isn't much to say about this trail. It climbs, never all that steeply, and with good footing overall, and eventually reaches the summit of Starr King (which is on the 52-With-a-View list), which has a limited but decent viewpoint near the summit at the old cabin clearing. I could see some decent color still in the Mount Washington Valley from this viewpoint, and I took a decent break here to snack and relax. The climbing for the day was effectively over. After heading off, it was an easy decent and short ascent to the summit of Waumbek, which is viewless but has a blowdown patch with a nice view 50 yards past the summit. After a few pictures, I was off again, determined to beat the rain back to the car. Just a little over 3 hours after having left, I was back at the car, easily my fastest visit to this mountain despite it being the second on the day! I opted to take the Cherry Mountain Road back to the Twin Mountain area, which treated me to a nice field with a great view of Cherry Mountain and its hillside in near-peak color.

Mount Waumbek summit cairn

Mount Waumbek viewpoint towards the Presidentials

Mount Deception from Waumbek

Cherry Mountain (might be Owl's Head actually) from Cherry Mountain Road


  1. The entire mountain is called Cherry Mountain, but yeah, that's the Owl's Head peak (Mt. Martha is the other).

    1. Thanks. I suspected I was actually looking at the Owl's Head sub-peak, but had no notes on exactly where I stopped to figure it out from!