Ossipee — January 3, 2008 — On a good snow year like this, sometimes I just want to go for a hike, and not worry about snowshoes, ice ax or crampons. If there is a packed snowmobile trail up a mountain, I will consider walking it, and have greatly enjoyed the freedom afforded by such a hike, and haven’t really minded the occasional sled roaring by.
Yet, not surprisingly, hikers on snowmobile trails are few and far between. Of course, safety is a primary concern, and you need to make yourself as visible as safely possible to snowmobilers coming around turns.
One example of such a hike in the southern part of the state is the tar road up Mount Kearsarge South in Warner. In the winter the carriage road is a popular snowmobile trail, and ends at a summer parking lot a hundred feet below the bare windy summit, with its handsome fire tower and great view.
I have done that hike a couple times, and the last time shared the summit with a couple snowmobilers, a father and son. The father was hacking constantly with a smoking cough, and the son was strongly hinting that he quit.
Not that I am trying to stereotype part of the snowmobile set. Yet on the summit of Mount Shaw (2,975 feet) in the Ossipee Range this past Wednesday, as I basked in the great blue vista seen from the summit loop of the old carriage road turned snowmobile trail, there were a few smoking amongst the five sledders parked on top. If you want to feel special, be a lone hiker on a summit full of snowmobilers. Hiking is a ruthlessly self-regulating sport when it comes to how you treat your lungs.
Other than that observation, on the half dozen times I have climbed the snowmobile trail up Mount Shaw, and having been very careful to make my presence known to sledders on the trail, I, in turn, have received courtesy and ample humor. Last year when I reached the top, I pulled out a cell phone to call my friend. One real big guy with a real big sled looked at me and asked if I had walked up there for good reception.
Of course it should be recommended that such a hike is done mid-week and at a time other than holidays, keeping your encounters to a minimum. But this week, with its holiday busyness, that happened to be the quick hike that I fit in — a three hour round trip including a good summit rest — and I was glad that I did it.
On to the Ossipee Range
I drove in the Ossipee Range midday from Route 16, and found a small nook to park my VW Golf next to where the snowmobile trail crossed a dirt road. The snowmobile trail was part of a vast New Hampshire network. Later on the summit, I would meet people who had started their sled ride in Conway, Effingham and also points west — there is a trail at a junction just below the summit that descends to Moultonboro.
Leaving snowshoes and STABIlicers in my car, I headed up the trail with a light pack. A beautiful shady stream ran by to my left. I hit a substantial opening that had been a recent logging transfer site, and then continued up the wide trail as it wound up the eastern slope of Mount Shaw. According to the Website of the Lakes Region Conservation Trust, the 40,000 acre circular Ossipee Range has the largest and least disturbed wildlife habitat in the region.
“The biodiversity of this land has been largely unaffected by human hands, to the great benefit and proliferation of the species inside its borders. Also, old growth softwoods dating back to the 1590’s have been discovered, hardwood groves exceeding 300 years of age have been catalogued, 38 natural communities described, and more than a score of species deemed endangered on a statewide or global scale.”
“Working in cooperation with the Nature Conservancy, the Appalachian Mountain Club, the New England Wildflower Society, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, and other groups, the Trust seeks to protect the remainder of the Ossipees. Their protection may be the most significant conservation project underway within 100 miles of Boston.”
A logical conclusion for myself is that there may be room for a snowmobile corridor there, but not a fancy private racetrack as well, as proposed by Club Motorsports. Society has only a limited suicidal tendency, afterall.
As I hiked up the winding white corridor into this special mountain range, the sun hid behind the mountain. It was mostly very quiet. So, I could hear snowmobiles through the trees a while before they got to me, which was an interesting phenomena. I would pause, get to the side where they would see me best, and waved as they passed. Not one refused to wave.
The trail wound up the north slope in the shade, before reaching the ridge and turning south in the sun again, for a long ascent on an old carriage road built by Plant, the creator of Castle in the Clouds. Two snowmobilers ascending behind me stopped, and the guy in the lead asked if I was alright. He had never seen a hiker on a snowmobile trail up a mountain before. I said I was fine, thanks, and asked if he was alright.
Later I passed the downhill turnoff to Moultonboro. At the junction, a sign for sledders said to beware of the groomer. Soon I was taking left-hand hairpins, and finally popped out on the summit loop. The couple who had stopped for me down below, stood by the great viewpoint. It spread from the Franconias to the west, across the vast eastern landscape, to the nearby Dan Hole Pond to the south. I named another pond directly below for them (Connor Pond), which they appreciated. Three more sleds arrived while I ate lunch.
Snowmobile traffic thinned considerably in the late afternoon, and the walk down was immensely peaceful in the changing light. Just as I reached my car, another car passed. It was Dr. Glick, my dentist, who was the only one who lived further into the range.
Ed Parsons can be reached at email@example.com