A Bird, a Peak, and a Hiker: Day of Jays (Dixville Peak), 27 MAR 2010
I originally titled this Getting High On the North Country, but finally found something approaching clever. Besides the natural kind, the only high I’d be getting was from a surprise appearance by a Coors Light.
Brian and I have been talking about this one for some time, due to the threat of a wind generator potentially closing off this peak. Finally the day arrived, and with promises of a cold start but sunny skies. We set off on the 3 hour drive north, starting yet another round of “Name That Peak” once we got past Whitefield. The plan was to use the snowmobile trail up to the summit, cutting off considerable distance from the Cohos Trail. We left Table Rock as a possibility on the way down, depending on conditions, which as always, means depending on me. Brian’s up for anything anytime. I’m lazy. You can see where this went.
We parked to the side of Rt. 26 near a steep gated jeep road after the private driveway and before the ski area turn, where we could see the snowmobile trail signs. We started at 9:30 and went for only a short distance and was presented with a dilemma. A hard right I thought would be the trail paralleling the highway. Straight ahead was pointing to the ski area, so I figured that must be right (only to be proven false). I was worried that there might be a myriad of trails and roads around here, and already this was starting to prove true (only to have this too be proven false). We arrived at the base of the ski area and no snomo trail. Well, it was a cross-country trail or a downhill trail, so we chose the former. The Balsams asks that you don’t snowshoe the cross country trails, but it appeared to be done for the season, and we had no choice. This did quickly lead to the snowmobile trail.
Here the trail got steeper, but never anything too harsh (some anticipated) butt sliding later was proven to be useless). We trudged along, enjoying a barebootable surface with only a hint of a dusting covering a rock hard surface. The ground was starting to show in spots, which is why we ran into no one else on the way up. High up, Brian said something, I turned, and views were to be had. Hmmm, I’m digging this snowmobile trail. Wide trail means better views than from a hiking trail. It was also convenient to avoid the now constant tinkle of ice coming off the trees. Upward and onward, views looking sweeter and sweeter on this cloudless day, and we finally came to the junction with the Cohos Trail on the ridge at 2700’. From here to the peak, the Cohos shares the trail with the snowmobile track. There was some punching through the boilerplate in places, but only about an inch or so. A couple of small areas had some 3-4” drifting snow, but that was unusual. The conditions were just as unbelievable when we stepped off trail in various places to check out potential viewpoints, one off the trail by about 10 feet was particularly nice.
We came to the summit loop around 11:30 and I dumped my pack at that point (which later turned out to be the wrong thing to do). We arrived to a cleared out summit, unfortunately surrounded by woods. Brian spied a few bumps here and there and indeed, we found some rather expansive views, mainly to the west and north. The Guess That Peak game resumed, both of us doing terribly as I found out later comparing pictures with Google Earth. This country is pretty new to us, so the game gets really interesting here. As it turns out, we could see a number of far off mountains (later identified as Hereford, Mudget and possibly Orford in Quebec), and some a little closer like Magalloway and the 2 Stubs up in Pittsburg. Jay Peak and I’m pretty sure what Brian correctly ID’ed as Mansfield were pretty evident by their ski areas.
Not long after we arrived, a couple of snowmobiles pulled up, coming in from the Kelsey Notch side. Some friendly hellos led to a long and pleasant exchange with a husband and wife from the area who were earlier going back and forth between going to the antique snowmobile race at the Balsams or taking a ride up for some views. They pointed out a Gray Jay who disappeared before Brian could dig out his raisins, only to reappear after he finished them. All my goodies were in my pack. Magic Words were spoken by the gentleman: “Would you guys like a beer? I’ve got a spare.” Oh, sweet, sweet nectar of the hills. Since Brian doesn’t drink, there would be no fighting over who got the spare. So I got to enjoy a cold one on the summit that I didn’t even have to hump up. The gentleman helped in pointing out peaks, clearly winning this round of Name That Peak. We talked about the way things have gone in the North Country and Down Below, none for the better in everyone’s opinion. Up north is a great place to live if you love the outdoors, with so many options in where and what you can do, but of course, the job situations up there, well, blow. We bade our goodbyes at noon, glad to have run into these nice folks, Brian spotted another viewpoint at the other end of the summit loop, and we then made our way back to the Cohos junction.
Decision time. The sign said the ski area was 2 km, and the slow, dull whirr of mental calculations went off in our heads. We looked at the map, and Table Rock suddenly looked awfully far away, along with a long roadwalk. Brian, ever the trooper, said whatever. With the 3 hour drive creeping in my head, I was thinking it’d be nice to get home while there’s still some daylight and leave Table Rock as an afterthought to some other peaks we’ve got to climb. So wimpy wimpy wimpy won out over hefty hefty hefty. I checked when I got home and it turns out the ski area isn’t even a half of a mile, the 2 km must be to the base. Argh. As we were heading down, the inside of my thigh at my hip starting bothering me again, so I didn’t feel too, too bad about this.
We followed the snowmobile trail all the way back, finding the error of my earlier ways. The snowmobile trail is within sight of and behind a very large mound of dirt to the right at the ski area base. We finished at 1:30. A great hike, the usual hilarity, beautiful views, and Brian nailed it when he said he’d recommend this only in winter to get the better vantage points.
We stopped off at Lafayette Place to see if we could spy some Fool Scout Ball folks, and ran into BobC, Wendy, Mike, Talusmonkey, Jay, Russ and the Turkey Master whose name I didn’t catch. Becca appeared on her way up for the fun. It was great to see some old faces and meet some new ones.