Peaks: Doublehead Mountain (2158'), Mt. Squam (2223'), Mt. Percival (2212'), Mt. Morgan (2200'), Mt. Webster (2076'), Mt. Livermore (1480'), Cotton Mountain (1200')
Trails: Crawford-Ridgepole Trail, Mt. Percival Trail, Mt. Morgan Trail, herd path, Cotton Mountain Trail
Mileage/time: 12.2 miles, ~2900' of gain, book time of 7:35, actual time of 8:03
New redlining miles, 12.1
Right on time, another Wednesday arrived, and another sleep deprived hike was ready to go down. More punchy than usual I (somehow) managed to get myself to the trailhead on time, and was surprised that not only was Mike not there, but Ashley showed up before him! We decided to play the "whoever arrives last drives to the start" game, just as Mike blew past the lot. He eventually turned around and we piled in for the bumpy ride up 113 and on to Sandwich Notch Road. Is there an award for worst road in New Hampshire? If so, it should go to Sandwich Notch Road. Don't get me wrong, it's in good shape for a 213 year old road... but that being said, it's a 213 year old road!
Our modest goal for the day was the curving low ridge of the Squam Range, separating the Lakes Region from the high peaks to the north and west. Never reaching much above 2200', you'd think that it would be easy, and there would be limited views. That's where you'd be wrong, on both counts. Beginning our hike, we were immediately thrust into a climb of about 800' in the span of 0.4 miles. Downed leaves lay deep on the trail, and we had some early laughs because to them. After some steep scrambling, we reached the ridge and it was now a mental game. Well, the whole day was mental for me! In short order, we reached Doublehead, and soaked in some cloudy views (but it wasn't raining!), the first of many we'd see in the course of the day. We also got our first taste of the colorful, hand routed SLA signage that directs hikers along the ridge.
|Leaning trailside rocks|
|Views from Doublehead looking east|
|That IS how far we've gone!|
Continuing westward with some scrambling up and down some steep bits, we came to our highpoint for the day, Mt. Squam. This probably had the most far reaching views of all the peaks on the ridge, with expansive views over not only Squam Lake, but also Lake Winnipesaukee, out to the Belknaps and Ossipees, and northwest to Sandwich Dome and Waterville Valley.
|Ashley looking out over the lakes|
|Tecumseh, the Osceolas, and Sandwich from Mt. Squam|
The rollicking fun kept right on coming, as the trail started to turn to the south as we approached Mt. Percival, which had more great views! After dropping our packs, Mike directed us down a section of the Mt. Percival Trail, where we lost a bunch of elevation before reaching a loop split below the summit. What lay before us was some awesome cave scrambling, unlike anything I've ever seen before, and a genuine blast. Back on the summit, we grabbed packs and pushed over to Mt. Morgan.
|Squam Lake from Mt. Percival|
|Off the cliffs and into the caves|
|The spread of Sandwich Mountain|
On Morgan, we found a Boston Museum of Science survey marker... can't say I've seen one of these before. From the summit we could see a line off to the west, clouds above, and blue sky below. That generated some excitement, especially since the sun has generally been in hiding as of late. We took a break on the near summit ledges, and surveyed the scene. For the descent, the Crawford-Ridgepole and Mt. Morgan trails coincide, and we got a look at the ladders below the ledges of Morgan... next time for sure.
|Moosilauke and the cloud line|
|Over the lakes to the Belknaps|
Several long stretches of trail followed, passing by many fine ledge viewpoints and near the summit of Mt. Webster, which we of course went out to. The sun had now come out, and the cloud line of the front continued to drop eastward toward the horizon. It felt great to be hiking in the sun, sharing the trail with two good friends. Paralleling some old stone walls down to Old Mountain Road (and discussing how many of the connecting trails we collectively needed to do... pretty much all of them!), we took a final break before heading up to Mt. Livermore.
|A fine thick (and dry) bed of moss|
|Red Hill and the Ossipees over Squam Lake|
Again pulling alongside stone walls, we ascended gently up to Livermore, where the low angle sun lit up the surrounding area in golden light. Down then slightly up again, we came toward our final summit, though it wasn't to be as peaceful as the previous six. Another in a string of bad dog owners had their two dogs out for an evening stroll, one dog was pleasant, the other was aggressive and barking. Needless to say, we didn't get to go out to the viewpoint just off the summit... and there was an epic nearly full moonrise in the lavender sky to the east. Not getting that shot! Descending through deep leaves the last 0.6 miles to the cars, we finished up without needing headlamps.
|East view from Livermore|
|A "W" you say...|
|Moonrise on the descent from Cotton Mountain|
Once down we were all pretty hungry, so Ashley followed Mike and I into Ashland, where we had a great dinner at the Common Man before parting ways. Mike and I made our way roughly back along 113 and Sandwich Notch Road, and a convenient stop at Sandwich Town Park made for a photo opportunity of the moonlit road. Dropping Mike at his truck I told him to follow me, and proceeded to make my way out to Rt. 16 via a bunch of back roads (to keep myself awake!), ending up at Chocorua Lake where another photo opportunity presented itself. Back at Mike's place, I ended up crashing out pretty quickly, exhausted indeed.
|Sandwich Notch Road by moonlight|
|Chocorua over Chocoura Lake|
Thanks Ashley and Mike for making the most of this great fall day, it's one I won't soon forget!