Ossipee — May 6, 2006 — Mount Shaw, 2,990 feet, is the highest mountain in the circular Ossipee Range. For many years, the rustic 3.5-mile Mount Shaw Trail has been ascended by hikers from Route 171 in Tuftonboro. In 2002, the Lakes Region Conservation Trust (LRCT) purchased 5,500 acres of the Castle in the Clouds and environs, including the summit and western flank of Mount Shaw, and the nearby lower summit known as Bald Knob.
Trails to these peaks have remained rustic. There is no trail sign at the bottom of either, yet the trailheads are easily found, and the trails are popular and fairly easy to follow. Last Saturday, I took an afternoon hike up the Mount Shaw Trail for the first time.
I had climbed the mountain many times before from the east, from the center of the Ossipee Range, either on the snowmobile trail or a scratchy bushwhack from the southeast. I was aware of the well-made old roads on the western flank, made early in the last century for the Plant estate, later to become Castle in the Clouds. On the summit itself, one of these grassy roads from the west loops around dense stunted spruce, and offers fantastic views into the heart of the White Mountains.
It can be a nice situation when a summit is owned by a conservation trust. A little selective clearing of encroaching spruce has allowed them to open up the pre-existing summit views, making them outstanding. Also, temporary trail signs have been placed at many trail junctions high on the mountain. These not only offer all trail options, but interesting descriptions as well.
On Saturday I arrived after midday at the trailhead for Mount Shaw. To get there from Conway, I drove south to West Ossipee and took a right on Route 25. In Moultonboro, across from the airport (where there is a sign for scenic flights), I took a left on Route 109. When that route veered to the right, I went straight on Route 171, and in 3.9 miles from that junction, just after Sodom Road on the right, I parked at the trail parking lot on the left. There were a few cars there —hikers who had started at a more reasonable hour for an eight-mile hike. But I was looking forward to descending in the slanting evening light of a beautiful spring day.
The lower trail soon joined the shady Field Brook. This lower section is on private property, but hikers have always been welcome to cross it. There are red paint marks on trees, but care must still be taken not to divert on the wrong side-road. If a choice presents itself, stick to the brook. You pass some striking waterfalls, and soon cross into LRCT land. The road becomes a rocky, steep trail, as you wind your way up the side of Mount Shaw.
Descending hikers passed me, and I had the mountain to myself. In 2.5 miles, I intersected with an old carriage road and took a right on it. Not all the roads on Mount Shaw were built by Plant. Way back in the 1880s and ’90s, another Massachusetts industrialist named B.F. Shaw also built some roads in the Ossipee Range. It would be interesting to find out which ones.
Hiking up the grassy road was relaxing after the steep trail. In 2.7 miles, I took a short side road to the right, three tenths of a mile out to an overlook knob called Black Snout that had a great view of Lake Winnipesaukee. One could imagine 100 years ago or so, taking an evening carriage ride out the smooth grassy road, and winding up Black Snout to the lookout.
Soon I was back on the main road to the summit of Shaw and reached it in another eight tenths of a mile. The wide view spread from the western Whites around to the north, and finally to the rocky summit of the lowly Mount Canaan, just below Mount Shaw to the south. I sat and ate a late lunch.
The hike down in the late afternoon light was the best part. Almost to my car, the low sun backlit the pastel leaves of spring, and Field Brook murmured its approval. Note: The LRCT will soon be reprinting their trail map of the Castle in the Clouds property. It will be available in local stores. Check out their Web site or call them at 279-3246.
Columnist Ed Parsons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.