A Winter-Spring Hike in the Ossipee Range

Ossipee — April 7, 2007 — Sometimes you have to go looking for spring.

Last Sunday afternoon was gorgeous, yet most of the trails in the mountains were still deep in snow. We decided to go a little farther south and pick a hike with a strong southern exposure, in hopes that some elusive spring spirits might be lurking there. We picked the perfect one — the 1.1 mile Bald Knob Trail in the Ossipee Range.

When we started up the trail, a family with young children was just returning to their car from the hike. They said that there was just a spattering of snow on the trail near the top. It was bare ground most of the way.

There is no trail sign at the trailhead of this popular hike, which starts on private land, and doesn’t enter the property of the Lakes Region Conservation Trust until you are three quarters of the way to the top. But it is easy to find and begins exactly at the Moultonboro/Tuftonboro town line on NH 171.

We entered the woods on a gravel path, then bore left on the trail into a mixed forest of beech, hemlock and hop hornbeam — a forest that remained consistent all the way to the top of Bald Knob, which rises to a modest 1,801 feet above the sea. The woods were quiet, which accentuated the sound of a nearby stream, cascading down a narrow ravine. We were captivated by its alluring song, and left the trail a few times to go visit it.

Each time was well worth it. At one spot, a handsome waterfall had a hood of ice over it. At another, a musical cascade dropped down a small gorge. Seeing it, transformed the beauty of sound to the beauty of sight.

Halfway up the steepening trail, my friend pointed under a ledge and let out a soft exclamation — flowers! What a joy, to find evidence of spring under a rock. She had discovered a clump of hepatica, an exciting April bloom. The cluster of flowers were lavender, and a circle of pale yellow stamens accentuated each bloom. The large three-lobed leaves were maroon in color, and had obviously survived the winter.

We moved on — our flower radar on high — and soon we found another hepatica in a nook with white flowers. Hepatica can have white, pink, lavender or blue flowers. The plant was actually named for the striking maroon leaves, which are liver-shaped. The Latin hepatious led to hepatic, which means “relating to or resembling the liver.” The common name is liverwort.

We continued up the rocky, steep trail, past a spot where the cascading brook flowed right next to the trail, and a debris dam created a lovely pool. Behind us, the view of Lake Winnipesaukee through the bare trees had been growing more striking as we climbed. We gained a flat ridge, turned left, and reached the first substantial lookout with an unobstructed view of the lake.

The lake was covered with blinding white ice — a view that, in my opinion, was not as profound a view as in the summer, when the ever-changing blue water seems to be truly the “Smile of the Great Spirit,” as its name implies. Yet, as clouds moved in from the west on Sunday evening, tendrils of shadow and light spread across the white expanse of the lake.

We were nearing the top of Bald Knob, and walked up a shadowy ravine with snow patches, next to its rocky summit. Then, the trail turned left and climbed up a V-shaped gap in the rocks directly to the top. We walked across the old carriage road turnaround — of Castle in the Clouds origin — and out to the smooth ledges. We found a grassy nook for an early supper.

To our right, almost a mile away, sun shone off the red slate turrets of Castle in the Clouds. Behind that, the shadowy Sandwich Range marched west. On the horizon to the south, beyond the lake, was the faint outline of Mount Kearsarge in Warner. Later on, in no hurry, we descended in evening light.

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