Again with the early sunrise. Did I mention that our cottage has a wall of windows facing East?
Oh well, we’re up and on the road early again and since today’s hike is much closer, we’re on the trail by 8:15. This trail, up Mts. Tate, Black Snout and Shaw, also was recommended by Walt’s New Hampshire friends Roger and Ann. Unfortunately, we’re not in the national park, so our maps and guides are useless. We managed last night to cobble together pictures on our phones of trail maps and descriptions, which we soon learn are not as accurate as we’d like.
All my fears that were put to rest yesterday by the well-marked Mt. Willard trail come roaring back as we head up an unmarked logging road to directions that say “Take the Shaw Trail for 0.4 miles.” We come to a junction that is not mentioned in any of our trail descriptions and decide to ignore it, staying straight. We do hit another junction at about the 0.4-mile mark and consult our conflicting directions. We decide to go left. After a few hundred yards the wide logging road narrows to a pine-needle path.
Back we go and take the right fork. Another junction not listed on any of our directions. Mine say to take the “Italian Trail” and we are headed up a trail with an odd green/red blaze for quite some time before it dawns on me that red and green are colors in the Italian flag.
Despite our misgivings and missteps, we are enjoying the day, arriving at our first summit and views of Lake Winnipesaukee – until we start up the trail again. If this really was the summit of Mt. Tate, we should be picking up the blue-blazed Black Snout Trail. Instead, we are still seeing the blazes of the Italian Trail.
A little while later, we come to another rocky outcrop, even better views of Lake Winnipesaukee. Another short break to enjoy the breeze and the big lake views before we realize that we are on a false summit, again.
Onward we go until we finally hit another rocky outcrop with better views, wild blueberries and the long-awaited blue-blazed trail. There’s even a sign – unhelpful – that points back toward “Route 171” where we’ve parked. We’ve bagged our first peak of the day but the blue blazes head away from the direction we know we want to go; there are clearly mountains to our left and not to our right, where the trail leads. We start off before we turn around and see if the blue-blazed trail doesn’t also go into the woods in the opposite direction. Sure enough, it does and we are back at it.
This part of the hike gets very hard. It is just steep up. Lots of rocks. No switchbacks and no flat spots. We take a lot of short rest breaks and every time we do, I am attacked by little insects. I had applied bug spray on before we started but I start reapplying, especially to my head and neck. It’s also warmer than we expected; it had been so much cooler yesterday up in the White Mountains that we hadn’t thought that being lower and further south it would be so much warmer, but it is. Plus we keep losing the blue blazes. You’re supposed to be able to stand next to one blaze and see the next but for one reason or another – a blowdown has obscured the next blaze, the next blaze is painted on a rock instead of a tree – we keep losing the trail. Not really losing it, just needing extra time to adjust and be sure that we are on the trail.
But I’m getting nervous about what will happen once we summit Black Snout. Our maps clearly show that there are a bunch of other trails leading to other mountains in the area. If these trails are as poorly marked as what we’ve already encountered, we could be hiking up here for a lot longer than we’d planned.
We finally get to the summit of Black Snout to find a wide trail that goes in a circle left and right. Walt chooses left and it takes us to the summit, which has even better views than Mt. Tate. We have a little break and a snack before trying to find the “spur trail” to Mt. Shaw. Walt wants to head back the way we came until we came to the intersection where we came left to the summit; I persist that my directions don’t say anything about retracing our steps at this point. At my insistence, we head down what looks like an unmarked trail for about 100 yards until it ends. My apologies. Back we go to try Walt’s way.
In a short while, we come to another sign that says “Black Snout 0.4,” pointing in the direction we’ve come from, so we know we are now headed in the right direction.
Oddly, the trail from Black Snout to Shaw is wide, grassy and nearly flat; not at all what we were hiking on our way from Tate to Black Snout.
Shaw is easy to find – thanks to the fact that we are now on Castle in the Clouds Conservation lands – and has more views of the flatlands and lakes below and we have another snack. I’m still a little nervous about making a wrong turn on our way out. Even though the trails seem better marked now, I trust the maps enough to know that we’d do an extra few miles if we mistakenly get on the trail to Turtleback Mountain. It’s not that we couldn’t hike the extra miles; I’m sure we could. I just don’t like getting lost and I really hate having to do more miles than I’d planned. I already feel that between false starts and backtracking we’ve done an extra mile or so; that’s enough for one day.
Happily, there are fellow hikers on the top of Mount Shaw – did I mention that we have seen not a single person on this hike up till now? – and when asked, they confirm that they parked in the same lot we did and came up a different way than we did, a red-blazed trail, which we figure is our ticket out. It is and since I’ve already checked for the nearest soft-serve ice cream stand, our post-hike treat tradition continues.