Well, that’s a wrap on this season of hiking. I’d love to keep on keeping on straight through winter, but ya girl doesn’t like hiking in the snow, so I’m done until the spring. Undoubtedly, I’ll start way too early in the spring and end up hiking in the snow anyway, but at least it won’t be in the deep New England winter. I’ve talked about my hikes in my monthly wrap-ups, but I wanted to actually set aside some time to go through them individually in case anyone’s curious about what it’s like to hike in the Whites!

Mt Sunapee & Lake Solitude

Height & Miles: 2726′ & 6
Location: Mountain Rd in Newbury, NH
Date & Length: 8/29 & 3:36
Route: Andrew Brook Trail (out & back)

Sunapee is one of my absolute favorite hikes & mountains, so I usually begin the season with it. I hiked it back in April, and it was way too early to start given that there was about a foot of snow up at Lake Solitude, so we ended up not continuing past that. I didn’t get to hike at all during the summer for various reasons, and since I’m mostly hiking by myself now, I wanted to start with a mountain that I knew well. I’ve hiked Sunapee probably five times now? And I’ll keep kicking off my season with it because it’s just a fantastic mountain.

The route up is relatively easy, and it’s usually a mountain that I’ll snag if I know that I have some new hikers in tow. It’s wooded the entire way, and there are a lot of streams & rivers to cross. It makes for a fun adventure trying to walk across the rocks in the rivers, and it’s a bit of a noisy mountain during the rainy season because the rivers usually have small waterfalls in them. It’s very green, and it’s just so easy to get lost in the magic of the woods around you. I often find myself just stopping to breathe in the birdsong and swaying trees.

When I arrived at the base of the mountain, it was drizzling a little, but not bad enough that I was worried. There’s a lot of treetop coverage on this hike, so I thought I’d be fine. About twenty minutes in, it started torrentially raining, and I decided to stick it out and hope it got better. There was only rain predicted for an hour, and it’d started drizzling before I arrived, so I figured it’d be a quick, fun patch of rain.

Reader: I was so wrong. This hike usually takes me maybe two hours, but only if I’m really taking my time. The rain ended up tacking an entire hour and a half on because I had to move so slow to avoid getting hurt. For the entire way up, it was just a monsoon, and while I actually had a fantastic time, I ended up with a stuffy nose and feeling pretty rundown the next day. The rain also meant that the lake was covered in mist, so though I got to see it from below, it was completely obscured from the top.

Normally, this view is absolutely stunning, and it’s one of the main reasons that I love this mountain so much. You can see the entirety of Lake Solitude from White Ledge, and even with the mist, I ended up spending a solid amount of time here. A note on White Ledge, though–I make the same mistake every single time, so here’s your warning that when you reach the signs just off of Lake Solitude, you have to go right before you bear left. I always bear left at the signs forgetting that that just leads to a trail around the lake, and I usually get almost half a mile in before I remember, so go right toward the summit, and you’ll reach a fork in the road pretty quickly. Bear left, and that’ll take you up to White Ledge.

Truthfully, I’ve only been to Sunapee’s actual summit once, and while I do recommend it just to snag it once, I vastly prefer the view from White Ledge. It’s honestly only about 100′ below the summit, but Sunapee is a ski mountain, so while there are some views, you’re mostly looking at the ski hut, the ski lines, and a lot of traffic. Thus, I like stopping at the lake for lunch and White Ledge for views before I head back down.

I’m excited for the day that I can finally do this hike during good weather and actually see the lake from the cliffs, but, until then, we’re moving on!

Mt Cardigan & Mt Gilman

Height & Miles: 3155’/2684′ & 8.4
Location: AMC Cardigan Lodge in Alexandria, NH
Date & Length: 9/12 & 5:30
Route: Woodland | Clark | Vistamont | Skyland | West Ridge | Holt-Clark Trail (loop)

I’ve done Cardigan twice already, so this was my third outing to it. My brother keeps harping on me about doing repeat hikes, but I like what I like! It’s also giving me comfort to do trails I’ve done before with other people now that I’m doing them alone. And boy, but was this a challenging way to realize that moderate hikes are much more difficult when done alone. There’s no one to hype you up when the going gets hard! I’ve done the steep side of Cardigan, too, following the South Ride Trail, and even that was easier with friends. I hadn’t quite realized on Sunapee how hard it was going to be to convince myself to keep going when all I wanted to do was be back in my bed with my cats, but wow, this is definitely something to keep in mind as I get ready to embark on my first 4000 footer alone.

This hike is absolutely stunning, though. The first two or so miles is pretty chill, just a gradual incline through the forest, and, much like Sunapee, there were many, many moments when I just stopped and stared as the trees blew all around me. Cardigan is a very windy mountain, no matter the weather or time of year you go, and even toward the base of the mountain, a lot of that wind is sending the leaves rustling. There were so many times that I just stopped to breathe and marvel at the world around me.

After that two miles, though, get your thighs ready. It’s a fairly steep incline after that, and there’s a lot of root-walking and stairs embedded to make it a bit easier. It’s still a lot of fun, though, and it makes the summit of Mt Gilman even more worth it. I love doing this as a loop, not only because it lengthens the time spent in the mountains, but because you get to see Cardigan at different points on the beginning of the hike. From Gilman, you’ve got a crystal clear view of the fire tower atop Cardigan, and though it’s a little daunting to see the steep ascent to it, especially given you’ll have to go down quite a ways before you start ascending again, it’s honestly kind of magical to pick it out through the trees as you’re circling around toward it.

Gilman was where I first realized how much I was struggling, and I had a good, long rest on the summit. I actually considered turning around and going home after I’d summited, but I ate my sandwich and drank some juice, and my sugar levels went right back up, and I was feeling like a champion after about twenty minutes. I’m definitely going to be bringing juice on my hikes from now on because I really needed that boost of sugar a couple times. And because we’re talking about it, here’s what I bring for food: peanut butter & jelly sandwich, two That’s It bars (literally only fruit ingredients!), an apple, and now juice. I also usually bring a snack of grapes or berries for the ride home.

The descent down Gilman is pretty fast, and, like a true psycho, I get a lot of joy out of switchbacks, so I was pretty hyped to go up about a mile of them. I met some wonderful hikers along the way, mostly old men, who were so excited to see an almost 30-year-old woman out by herself. They kept cheering me on, and it was just delightful.

I only spent a hot minute at the summit of Rimrock because I really just wanted to push through that last mile and a half and get to the damn summit of Cardigan. There’s a lot of rock scrambling at this point, and, if you take South Ridge Trail, it’s basically just rock climbing, but it’s a lot of fun, and the views are incredible. Cardigan is a bald peak because of a massive fire in 1855, and erosion has eliminated all possibilities of regrowth, so you’re above the tree line for that last mile and a half. It means that stopping to take a breather is kind of hard since you’re always left breathless by the view, eyyyyyyy.

A thing to remember, though: bring a winter jacket. I’ve had to wear one in both August & September at the top because it’s always windy. And by windy, I mean like you’re staggering a little if you’re not careful, and it gets real cold real fast. I took a break at the summit, but ended up putting on my jacket, and, even then, I’d have liked another layer. It’s a fantastic summit and well worth the tricky climb. A note, too, on the descent–I went back down to West Ridge because South Ridge is insane to go down, and I took it all the way down to a fork that has an orange sign that just says EAST AMC. Take this to cross over to the beginning of South Ridge, which will connect you with the Holt-Clark trail, which will bring you back down to the Lodge without having to summit Rimrock & Gilman again and create a loop.

Not gonna lie, I thought there were going to be more hikes this year, but after Cardigan tried to kill me, and my October was overrun with trips to California (which had me going look at those rocks! every few seconds anyway) and Maine, I decided to let it just stand at two. They were really amazing hikes, though, and I’ll hopefully have another hiking wrap-up in March when I go to Portugal!

Posted by:Mary Drover

she/her | yoga teacher | Tibetan Buddhism | part-time witch | full-time author | astronaut in a previous life

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