Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan is published by William Morrow. It tells the story of my adventures with Atticus M. Finch, a little dog of some distinction. You can also find our column in the NorthCountry News.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

My Ten Favorite One Mile Sections of Trail in the White Mountains

While looking out on the deep snow in our backyard, my thoughts turned to the way the trails will look and feel when warmth returns to our mountains.  That had me thinking about some of my favorite hikes, which had me daydreaming about the trails, or sections of trails, that are my favorites.  But I wanted to whittle it down even further.   So here is something a little different:  my ten favorite one-mile stretches of trail in the White Mountains.  It was difficult to limit it to only ten, which made this list both a challenge but as fun to put together as a Christmas list.  I also have no doubt that given a certain mood on a different day, some of my choices might change.  Even as I get ready to send this off to my good editor, I am contemplating switching out a couple for others that are very special.
I’ve listed them in no specific order. 
*The first mile of the Attitash Trail heading from Bear Notch Road to Table Mountain.  The woods are enchanting – an ethereal place of fairy songs and wood nymphs.  Louisville Brook runs crystal clear next to much of the trail and you are compelled to stop and gaze into the rushing current.  At the end of a long hike, it is an excellent place to linger.  There have even been some days when our only journey consisted of walking a mile in along the brook to hear its song and wade through the cool water. 
*The mile that stretches from Little Monroe to Mount Franklin along the Crawford Path in the Southern Presidentials always reminds me of something from out west.  The high grass leans with the wind and the mountains fade off into an eternal blue heading toward various ranges to the south and west.  It’s enough to make you believe that these mountains never stop. 
*The first mile north along the Franconia Ridge Trail after the Following Waters Trail intersects with it is something that will hook you on hiking for a lifetime.  Looking toward Little Haystack is breathtaking enough, but to then walk along the ridge and see heavenly peaks and valley rising and falling is breathtaking.  You want to laugh and scream and cry and pray and shout “thank you!” all at once. 

*There is a haunting mile that stretches from the summit of Mount Starr King to summit of Waumbek.  There the wind sighs, and sometimes roars, from the north through the saddle.  What sits there are ancient trees and fallen trees and young trees and great draping ribbons of Old Man’s Beard, that moss that reminds you of the south.  To me there is no finer example of life and death existing side by side along a trail.  It is a mile of bewitchment, especially when the wind cries and wraps you in its mournful spell.
*Entering the Kate Sleeper Trail from the South Tripyramid Slide will make you feel like you’ve stumbled into fictional realm.  One where there’s a greater chance of seeing a moose than a person. That first mile you will find the allure of fallen red needles and wild green ferns and a sea of quietude.  Part of the charm of this trail is that it’s nearly always silent, other than the stir of breeze or wind, because there isn’t an easy way to get to it, or a reason to traverse it. 
*Coming off the Twinway and cresting the summit of Mount Guyot you’ll see a land of giants. These are mountains you’ve seen before, but not like this.  Not from this angle as you walk down about two tenths of a mile and then take a turn left for another eight tenths on the way to the Bonds.  This is the one trail I find myself daydreaming of the most.  Perhaps because it is a difficult place to get to at Atticus’s age and I realize we’ll most likely never walk this path together again.  I still remember the first time. My legs went weak and my heart raced.  “Such a place exists?” I exclaimed in wonder.
*Just before reaching above treeline on the Champney Falls Trail heading up Mount Chocorua, turn there is a short cut off to the left toward the Three Sisters.  It brings you out to the quiet open ledges where you most likely won’t see other hikers. (Although we only do Chocorua at times when others are not there, so we don’t worry about the attending summit throng.)  The summit horn is a stunning place to stand atop of, but to see the horn as you approach and traverse the Three Sisters above treeline is even more special.
*Officially, the trail over Mount Clay, which stands between Washington and Jefferson, is 1.2 miles, but what’s two-tenths of a mile between friends.  I’ve always liked crossing over Clay with views to the behemoths of the White Mountains such as Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison, our four highest mountains, and contrasting views down into the Great Gulf.  (Then again, there are many trails in the Northern Presidentials that could make this list.)  Hold onto yourself on a windy day!
*Heading from North Kinsman to South Kinsman along the Kinsman Ridge Trail you move through a wonderful twisted forest shaped by wicked storms and when you get closer to South Kinsman the views of Franconia Ridge and Moosilauke open up and you feel like you are walking across a moonscape.  One of my favorite views is looking back at North Kinsman (it looks as though the eastern half of the mountain has been sheared off) and how the trail runs through the woods, marvelously close to the eastern edge.  Something about the sight of it taunts my fear of heights.  (One Christmas Day Atticus and I followed moose prints along the trail, but never saw the magnificent beast.)
*Climb up the Stony Brook Trail and when you intersect the Carter-Moriah Trail on the way to Mount Moriah, you’ll notice the woods have a medieval feel to them. Pockmarked signs along the trail, boards to balance on across the mud, and then comes the expansive tiers of ledges that have you looking down as you go up.  Below is the lush Wild River Wilderness one of the quietest spaces in the mountains, and there are views to Evans Notch and into Maine in the distance, but not a sign of civilization. 
This was such an engaging exercise, I asked hiking friends Ken and Ann Stampfer to add their own ten favorite mile long sections.  Their list follows below and they have also stipulated is in no specific order.

*Bicknell Ridge Trail to upper junction with Baldface Circle Trail.
*Crawford Path from junction with Webster Cliff Trail toward Mount Eisenhower.
*Davis Path from Mount Crawford to Mount Resolution (via Mount Parker Trail).
*Garfield Ridge Trail from Skookumchuck Trail to Mount Lafayette.
*Greenleaf Trail from Greenleaf Hut to summit of Mount Lafayette.
*Gulfside Trail from Thunderstorm Junction to Madison Hut.
*Mount Guyot to West Bond via Twinway, Bondcliff, and West Bond Spur.
*Kenduskeag Trail from Rattle River Trail to Shelburne Moriah.
*Kodak Trail toward Mount Cube after Hexacuba Shelter Spur.
*Willey Range Trail from A Z Trail to Mount Field.