Ossipee — October 25, 2008 — The beauty of the environment this time of year is both astonishing and fleeting. Local people see the foliage in the midst of their daily lives, and if they have past experience getting out in nature, many feel a strong attraction to do so now.
Yet the days go by, and life’s demands tend to keep people busy. When can you take a walk on the wild side? Maybe the definition of such a walk can be changed to fit your schedule. It doesn’t have to be an expeditious day hike up a 4000 footer. It can be a walk in the woods.
Last Monday, my friend and I decided to take an evening stroll up to a viewpoint in the Ossipee Range. Though the evening was well along already, a few things made our walk work. I had climbed the Mount Roberts Trail a few times before, and knew the location of the first lookout ledge, located almost a mile up the trail. Our drive to the trailhead was only about 5 miles. We carried headlamps, for the inevitable dark descent of the trail.
As we drove along Route 171 in Moultonborough towards the Castle in the Clouds, the Ossipee Range glowed bright to our left. We took a left on the road up towards the bottling plant, and saw that it was being widened and repaved. Soon, we parked in the lot before the castle grounds gate, and began walking the tar road across the green Ossipee Park. At that altitude, we were already up in the mountains, and we felt like we were in a golden amphitheater, with the evening light striking the hills above, and the nearby maples.
We turned left at the T and hiked up past the large stable and across the field to the Mount Roberts Trail. As we entered the woods, we noted that the foliage around us glowed with the evening light. We wound up an old carriage road, came out on top of the field, and then re-entered the glowing woods.
On the upward trail, we began to notice the brighter glow of the setting sun itself through the trees to our left. But as we neared our destination, the sun had actually dipped behind the horizon, yet the sky was a deepening orange.
Finally we turned left at a small sign and short spur trail to the ledge. The sign indicated that the ledge was located on a slope above a farm where Thomas Plant– the builder of Castle in the Clouds– once grew vegetables for his family and the large crew that built the castle and grounds. That farm is still in existence today off Route 171, and is called Ledgeview Farm. It is an organic vegetable farm.
We walked out to the viewpoint, and were rewarded with an amazing view. The mountains on the horizon were a black profile against the deepening orange. To the north, beyond Red Hill, Mount Moosilaukee stood on the horizon. Across the lake to the southwest, an imposing Kearsarge South rose, its fire tower strikingly visible. In the gathering darkness beyond a muted Lake Winnipesaukee, the lights of the Weirs and Laconia were a reminder that the area was much different than when Plant built his dream castle.
We lingered and lingered in the evening light, and when we finally turned and entered the woods again, we had to put on our headlamps. The walk down was a delight, and reminiscent of previous late returns. For a while, the orange glow through the trees to our right grew unbelievably deeper in color.
Like Thoreau, I mentioned to my friend that this glow is happening all the time somewhere in the world. Also I mentioned that felt sorry for the countless people who go through life directly beneath it, yet never see it.
Note: In the Mount Washington Valley, a suggested nearby short hike for locals to see the foliage in the evening would be Foss Mountain. To get there from Conway, go south at the lights on Route 153 to Eaton. Take a left at Crystal Lake on the Brownfield Road.
Take the forth right turn on Bull Pasture Road. At the T take a right and take the second left on Foss Mountain Road. Drive up past the last houses and continue on the stepper road until the town blueberry fields begin to appear on your right. Park in the small parking lot on the left and cross the road to the short trail. Up on the saddle on the ridge, turn right to the summit.
Even though this is a very short hike, bring a headlamp or flashlight for a safe, unhurried descent.