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Mt. Waumbek (#41) and Mt. Cabot (#42) – Great North Woods

We purposely avoided making plans for Labor Day weekend in favor of enjoying a spontaneous weekend of doing whatever we felt like doing, at our own pace. As nice as it is to have every other Friday off, I can tell you that a 4-day week is the same amount of work as a 5-day week, just compressed. So by the time I got home from the Sox/Yankees game at midnight on Thursday, I was extremely happy to have no plans, and just sleep in.

We got rolling pretty late on Friday, ran some errands around town, and then decided to outline a plan. The weather looked nicest Friday and Saturday, and we had been talking about when we could hike the two northernmost 4000′ peaks in New Hampshire, so why not head north? With an overnight bag packed and a reservation at the Thayers Inn in Littleton (chosen because we had previously stayed there in 2006), we were off for some adventure.

Mount Waumbek is on the Starr King Trail – Starr King was actually more scenic, but is a few hundred feet short of the magic 4000′ threshold. We made good time up driving up to Jefferson with the sun shining, roof open, and tunes playing, and made it to the trailhead in the middle of the afternoon. The trail starts up a logging road, with a fairly gradual incline for New England standards, but its wooded path didn’t offer much of a view until we got to Mt. Starr King. We enjoyed the views from this new perspective, farther north than either of us had hiked before in NH. The first shot has Cherry Pond and Mount Martha in the foreground, with the Twins (or Galehead or Garfield?) behind.

View from Starr King Trail

View #2 from Mount Starr King

We kept going past the open peak through the saddle and on to Mount Waumbek’s wooded summit. After our hikes this weekend, we think it would be really fun to do a ridge hike in the Pilot Range in this area – especially in the fall foliage season.

On the way back, we stopped at Mt. Starr King again and took a little break to check out the remains of a hut, including the fireplace/cook stove still in regular use by campers. A good place to set for a spell and soak up some sun before heading back down to the car.

Su at Starr King hut site

Compared in hindsight with the next day’s hike of Mt. Cabot, the Starr King Trail was dry and soft, with plenty of pine needles. I hiked in my Innov8 low trail shoes, which worked great to keep a light step as we cruised along. We saw some toads and flowers, and only a couple other hikers, along the way.

Route Profile for Starr King/Waumbek Hike

Then we were off to Littleton to check in and grab some dinner. We envisioned an pub-style burger at the little restaurant in the basement of the Inn, where we had eaten the last time we stayed there. It turns out there is a new restaurant called Bailiwick’s, a little more upscale, so we called it “date night” and enjoyed a tasty dinner. After salads, swordfish and steak, followed up a delicious chocolate espresso dessert, we were glad it was a very short walk upstairs to our room.

We left the option open to laze around on Saturday morning, walk around Littleton, or get in another hike before heading back to MA. When we woke up we checked the weather, which predicted cool temps but no storms around Mount Cabot. Our legs felt good after a short hike the day before, so we drove up to Mill Brook Road and set out for another hike.

It had rained overnight, though I expect this trail would be pretty wet on a normal day, as it winds along Mill Brook up to Unknown Pond. This area was a birch forest, lush and full of mushrooms, as well as goldenrod and aster-looking flowers. We saw hoof prints and guessed that a moose had been in the area earlier that morning, so we stopped to look for moose at the pond.

Beej is not a moose, though he does a good Bullwinkle impression

Su and Beej at Unknown Pond

We hiked in a cloud from the pond on up to the Bulge and the summit, so while there were no views, we enjoyed really comfortable conditions for hiking. We saw two women hiking the other way, one was in full rain jacket and pants, while I was perfectly happy in shorts and a tank top. Normally I am cold, and have a historic tendency to overdress, so I have no idea what was up with these two. I just kept going and enjoyed the cool mist that made the trail look magical, with ferns waving slightly as we walked past.

We met up with a couple and their dog at the top, who had come up from the fishery. It turns out that one of the trails up to Cabot is involved in a landowner dispute, and another goes through a gated fishery. It turns out the gate wasn’t open, so these hikers had to do an extra couple miles each way. We were very glad to have taken the northern route and avoided any drama at the trailhead.

We didn’t dawdle on the way down. We opted not to take the spur to the Horn after two guys returning said it was nothing but whiteout cloud cover. Beej was ready to get off the trail after spending 9 of the past 24 hours hiking, and I was equally happy to keep a quick pace to the car. Overall, we made the round trip in about 5.5 hours.

Runkeeper Profile of Mt Cabot hike

After skimming through the usual tourist magazines at the Inn, I finally can say that I understand the regions of New Hampshire. I’ve heard the phrases “Mount Washington Valley” and “Lakes Region” but until this weekend, didn’t really have a picture in my mind of what they are and how they fit together. Based on driving through Jefferson, Whitefield, Littleton, and Lancaster, I would say the Great North Woods feels less developed. There are still plenty of Inns and cute towns that cater to tourism, but it seems unspoiled compared with the North Conway outlet mall and Rte 16 traffic in the whites or the power boating stereotype around Lake Winnipesaukee. The Lancaster Fair was in full swing as we drove through on Saturday, with plenty of people camped out in RVs, helicopter rides, and a ferris wheel – it was definitely the place to be!

Only 6 more of the 4000′ peaks to go! Stay tuned, it may happen before the end of this year.

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