Trying to figure out where we want to hike is, as I’ve mentioned in other posts, a bit of work. We’re not ready to hike up in the Presidential Range, which seems to entail at least 8-mile roundtrip hikes with 3,000 feet of vertical (that’s a lot of up in 4 miles).
We pull out our White Mountain map and start looking for trails with an hour’s drive. On our drive to Hanover, I noted a Mt. Morgan that a guidebook said was a popular hike but I had ruled it out because it’s only 2.1 miles to the summit and if we’re going to hike any of the Presidentials – Mt. Washington, the highest mountain in the state being the main goal, weather permitting – than we’ve got to do more than 4-mile warm-up hikes. Now, looking at the map and doing a little more internet searching, we find that we can do a loop of 5.4 miles that summits Mt. Morgan and Mt. Percival. We’re having dinner with friends tonight, so adding in the 2 hours it will take to get to and from the trailhead, we figure the hike fits our day.
I cobbled together the trail directions from our hiking guidebook, ripping out the pages for Mt. Morgan, Mt. Percival, the Morse Trail and the Crawford-Ridgepole path because while the book recommends the loop hike, it doesn’t actually explain it in one shot. It looks pretty clear on the map and, arriving at the parking area, we find that the trail is well marked with nice wooden signs nailed to the tree. That’s a good sign. We really don’t want to spend another day wandering around mountains looking for blazes and guessing if we’re on the right track.
We head up and instantly realize that although the day is overcast, it is not as cool as we’d hoped. Actually, it’s quite humid and windless; the bugs are making their presence known. Despite the 65% humidity, we are both wearing long pants and long-sleeve shirts, opting for profuse sweating over the chance of more bug bites.
The trail is very nice, easy to follow and not as steep as Black Snout. We are pleasantly surprised that without too much effort we are at a fork at the 1.9-mile mark where, the guidebook says “From this fork an alternate route diverges left and ascends a difficult and very strenuous route through a boulder cave [not recommended in wet weather], then continues up ledges to the summit.” There’s a main trail, which is what I expect that Walt, in the lead, will opt for because at 6-foot 5, he is not a fan of boulder caves. He’s done them, many times, both in Shenendoah and last year on Huayna Picchu in Peru, but it’s not a facet of hiking he enjoys and you can’t really blame him. I often find it hard to crouch and scramble through the rocks sometimes and I’m nearly a foot shorter, not to mention a few years younger.
Anyway, I’m surprised as we stand at the foot of about 100 feet of rock stairs, he opts for the hard way up the mountain. The stairs are no problem, of course, and when we come around a curve to see three ladders bolted into the rocks, neither one of us flinches. Last year, the two of us and an 11-year-old were the only people in our party of 10 that climbed the 85-foot ladder to the platform at the top of the Bolivian jungle canopy. What can I say? We like heights and views and don’t mind working for them. Actually, far from minding the work, we enjoy it. What’s the fun of driving to the top of a mountain when you can hike it?
The ladders end at a short rock cave and we have to scramble through a fairly small hole before popping out onto more rocks and making our way up to the top. Since there’s not really much of a platform at the top of the ladders, I scramble through as Walt is making his way off the ladder so I can’t see his expression upon getting his first look of the hole he’s got to get through but I do hear a pronounced “WTF,” which makes me laugh.
“You said you wanted to come up the hard way,” I call back. “I’m thinking you might want to take your pack off and hand it to me.” As I said, I’m smaller and my pack was scraping as I came through. “On the bright side, it’s just the one spot. Once you’re through, we’re out in the open again.”
He’s a good sport about it, telling me to get my camera ready to capture him coming through the hole, because he’s not going to do it again (see below).
There are already views from these rocks and we’re still a hundred feet or so below the summit. We scramble over the beautiful granite, totally enjoying Mother Nature’s steps to the top. The views down to Squam lake are very nice and there’s no one on the mountain but us. We had waited at the bottom of the ladders for a family group but other than them, we’ve seen no one else today.
We take a break to have a snack on Mt. Morgan. I send my brother a photo with the view – he’s an avid hiker and we love to send each other pictures of our hikes.
Now we’re out on bare rocks again, headed over to Mt. Percival, which also has great views. We take a shorter break and then head down, this time skipping the boulder-cave route option on Percival. The trip down takes longer than we think it will, maybe because it’s pretty steep at the top, which slows us down. A good half mile before we find the trail that connects with the Mt. Morgan Trail that will take us back to our car, I am on the lookout. We actually stop and re-consult the map and trail directions even though we know the sign up above said we were on the Percival Trail and we haven’t seen any junctions or markers other than the yellow blazes we’ve been following.
We finally get back to the car, still in good time to get back, have a late lunch, get cleaned up and relax before we head out to dinner, which was another great time with friends. Roger and Anne have suggested a number of great hikes to us already and we pick their brains for more options, including the best route up Mt. Washington, which, weather permitting, we will tackle next week.