Is a longer hike better? Maybe if you are gauging your fitness. But getting the most enjoyment out of a hike depends on many things, and often a moderate or easy hike really pans out in the enjoyment department.
Last week, a good friend and I met in Moultonborough for lunch and a short snowshoe afterward. She had to be back home to teach in the mid-afternoon, so we had about an hour and a half at most for the hike.
After lunch, we headed for the Ossipee Range. We took Route 109 south from Route 25 and soon bore left on Route 171. In a half mile, we turned left on Ossipee Park Road and drove 1.3 miles up to the hiker’s parking lot for the Castle in the Clouds trails.
We were going to do a 1.8-mile loop hike to the Oak Ridge Lookout. It is located in the middle of the 5,381-acre Castle in the Clouds Conservation Area owned by the Lake region Conservation Trust. At the parking lot, we were already up on the side of the circular Ossipee Range. The trails we would take would bring us further into the quiet sunlit hills.
We donned snowshoes before cutting across the wide meadow called Ossipee Park, once a central location for homesteaders on these slopes. We walked across the wide dam on the southern end of the frozen Shannon Pond on the Shannon Brook Trail.
At the far end, at a kiosk for some Lake Region Conservation Trust trails (there are 30 miles of trail in all), we bore left on the Lower Bridal Path, following a fresh set of snowshoe tracks into the woods.
Sun reflected off the snow. An occasional breeze dislodged snow from branches overhead, and we were enveloped in a blanket of crystals, causing us to blink our eyes in a pleasant mammalian sort of way. Fox tracks crossed the trail.
In a half mile at a four-way junction, we bore right on the gently rising Oak Ridge Trail. We entered a darker hemlock grove. The breeze picked up, sending more blankets of sunlit snow on us. By then, we were smiling inwardly — this was a good place to be, a good experience to share.
We approached the Oak Ridge Lookout, the white ground there was brilliantly lit up. The expansive view out over sun-lit Lake Winnapasaukee to the Belknap Range was great. On the next hill in front of us, the castle rose above trees, once home to Thomas and Olive Plant.
Soon, we continued, heading down a curving bridle road. We paused at a fallen oak tree that had been almost completely stripped of bark by a porcupine. In the winter, porcupines eat the inner bark or cambium layer of trees. They are nocturnal, eating at night and sleeping during the day, frequently denning in ledges, of which there were many in these woods.
Suddenly, we heard snowmobiles on the nearby snowmobile Corridor 19 that climbs over Mount Shaw. We took a winter bypass for hikers that avoided the snowmobile trail and came out on the lower Turtleback Mountain Trail. Soon, we were back at the kiosk by Shannon Pond.
A beautiful cold breeze caressed our faces as we crossed the meadow to our car. We had been gone for little over an hour, yet had a satisfying immersion in the wilds in the Ossipee Range.