12-7-19 Parsons- Mount Chocorua from the Great Hill tower

Mount Chocorua from the Great Hill tower. (ED PARSONS PHOTO)

Yesterday morning, I wanted to get outside a bit before a noon engagement. I decided to take a quick hike up to the fire tower on Great Hill in Tamworth. I never thought about writing about it until my partner suggested it later. After all, the western approach from Great Hill Road is usually only a 1-mile round trip. Is that a hike worth writing about?

Certainly it is.

We were just back from a weeklong visit to a major eastern city. We did plenty of walking there — urban walking, enjoyable in its own right, yet the opposite of mountain solitude.

My quick, solo hike up Great Hill was returning home to the mountains. With a few inches of snow, the animal tracks were phenomenal, adding that exciting winter dimension.

To get there, in Tamworth Village, I bore right up Great Hill Road right after The Barnstormers Theatre. In 2.5 miles, where Great Hill Road bears left and an unplowed section of Hemenway Road continues straight, I pulled into the plowed parking lot between them, walked back across Hemenway Road to the kiosk and the old access road up Great Hill, and started up.

After about five minutes of reflection with my eyes slanted down, I looked up to see a posse of about 20 turkeys 20 yards ahead of me on the road heading uphill. We walked at the same speed. Soon, they wised up and turned into the woods.

There were two gated side roads on the left, and I took the second one. It continued further into a camp, but in 100 feet I took a right uphill toward the tower.

The animal tracks grew numerous — a snowshoe hare leaping; the large tracks of a carnivore following it; mice scurrying from one stump to another; squirrels crossing to another tree and more.

I quickly approached the well-built Great Hill tower. Built in about 1934, it was staffed by state fire lookouts until 1974. In 1977, it was transferred to the town on the condition that it remain available for fire detection when needed.

I started up the steps and quickly stopped, seeing a splotch of blood. My quick interpretation of animal tracks was that a squirrel ran up the stairs trying to flee a fox or coyote, which caught it on the fourth step.

I continued up. In the snow on the first platform next to a modern communication repeater were some unexpected mouse tracks. Further up on the second platform were many raven tracks. It looked like just another perch on the wily bird’s rounds.

I reached the roofed-over and open-top platform, and soaked in the view found in four directions, most notably the Sandwich Range to the north.

Later to descend, I took Betty’s Path, a 0.2-mile trail that leaves the summit and heads down the west side and connects with an old road. A posse of turkeys had recently descended the path, and I felt like I was on a turkey pilgrimage route. They thinned out as the turkeys spread out to feed. But the remaining tracks suddenly stopped and disappeared.

I thought it was likely sundown the previous day and the big birds had flown into nearby trees to roost. I have only seen roosting turkeys once or twice in the past, and it is a funny sight, seeing these big birds lined up on a high limb.

I came out on the old road and bore right to complete my loop, a little more than a mile up and down. It had been a refreshing interlude, and was good to be back home in the North Country.

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