This time of year, memory and desire mix. Winter has been good, and we can’t wait for the snow to thaw. But it’s important to keep the present moment in mind. Long and mild March days are also great for hiking, especially if we are blessed with snow.
Here is a reminder of great early spring hikes in the Mount Washington Valley.
The 9.5-mile Moat Traverse is a great hike for a long spring day, especially if the snow is still firm. Most prefer starting at the north end at the parking lot for Diana’s Bath off West Side Road, climbing 3196-foot North Moat and heading south to the lower Middle Moat and South Moat.
The popular 2.5-mile trail from South Moat down to Passaconaway Road is a great way to end this potentially daylong hike. Spotting a car on Dugway Road before the hike is probably the most convenient way to get back to your other vehicle at Diana’s Bath.
For a shorter 5-mile round-trip hike, climbing up to South Moat from Passaconaway Road is a highly popular hike for locals. To get to the trailhead, drive 3.2 miles down Passaconaway Road from West Side Road.
East across the valley, the 6.2-mile round-trip hike up the 3,268-foot Mount Kearsarge North is just about the perfect spring day hike. Being the most popular substantial day hike in the valley, it is always packed down quickly after a good snow.
The historic summit fire tower on the summit ledges is a great place to linger and get out of a wind. In it, you will find a logbook with many local names, many that traveled from the eastern megalopolis and a surprising number from other countries who know a good hike when they see it, and make a point of returning when in the area.
The trail parking lot for the Mount Kearsarge North Trail is conveniently located a mile and a half from Route 16 on Hurricane Mountain Road.
In the Nature Conservancy’s Green Hills Preserve, Peaked Mountain (1,739 feet) and Middle Mountain (1,857 feet) are two great spring hikes. Both are 2.1 miles to the top. The snow won’t last as long on these lower south-facing trails, so get to them soon.
To get to the trail parking lot for both, in North Conway take Artist’s Falls Road for 0.4 miles, bear right on Thompson Road and in 0.3 miles park on the right at the Pudding Pond Trail parking lot.
Walk 0.2 miles in to an information kiosk, where there are usually Nature Conservancy maps of the Green Hills available. Then turn left and take the combined Middle Mountain/Peaked Mountain Trail across the power line and into the woods. In a half-mile at a four way junction, the Peaked Mountain Trail bears left on an old road, and the Middle Mountain Trail continues straight ahead.
The new addition of the AMC White Mountain Guide has a great description of these hikes. The open ledges and sharp open summit of Peaked Mountain should not be missed. The south facing summit view from Middle Mountain is relaxing, and a great place to go with a friend.
Finally, heading to the north end of the valley in Jackson, the steep trail up the Old Path on Mount Doublehead is well worth the panoramic spring view from the summit of South Doublehead.
To get to the trailhead from the Jackson Covered Bridge, drive through town and take a right past the post office up the Five Mile Circuit Road or Route 16B. Across from the Shovel Handle, bear right past Black Mountain Ski Area and continue up Dundee Road. In 2.9 miles from the covered bridge, turn left into a parking lot at the end of a driveway.
Walk down the driveway 100 yards, then bear right on a trail. In 0.6 miles, the Old Path bears right off the Doublehead Ski Trail (which goes to the White Mountain National Forest cabin on the summit of North Doublehead). The Old Path soon gets steep, but eventually reaches the saddle and junction between the two summits. Bear right there on the New Trail and in 0.2 miles, take a spur to the right out to the great viewpoint overlooking Jackson.
For an interesting eastern viewpoint, continue past the viewpoint on the New Path and then stay straight on a bumpy spur to a partial but wild eastern view from open ledges.
In the early spring, you are often hiking in winter conditions, though the temperatures are generally milder. microspikes are recommended on firm uphill snow. Many trails will be packed, but it is good to bring snowshoes, especially on the Moat traverse.
Get a good map, and leave word where you are going and your estimated time of return.
Remember about six years ago, when we had a week of 80 degree weather in March? Later on, it was a good summer for Monarch butterflies, as it was said they had come farther north because of that early boost of warm weather. But that March, I climbed Mount Adams with a buddy.
There was no snow in the woods and the trail was solid ice. Above timberline, snowfields were so soft you sank right down to the rocks. Think of it, and appreciate the snow we have this year. And here’s an added suggestion, to think about what we can all do individually to curb climate change. Happy hiking.