October Break | Colonel Whipple, Cherry Mtn, Tom-Field-Willey & Arethusa Falls.
At a remarkable ten days late, I have finally written about my lovely long weekend back in New Hampshire. This was my third of four weekends straight sleeping in a wet tent and cooking dinner on a camp stove. Between midterms, getting to know our 28 students in the Mountain Leader Course, and spending numerous hours in the field with them, working on non-homework has been tough! But today, we have my World Religions teacher to thank for canceling class and allowing me to get back to Where’s Izzy.
On Friday the 13th, I traveled three long hours across the construction-laden Route 2 towards Colonel Whipple Trail, which I did not walk in completion this past April. It was a wet and gross type of cold outside and with just about three miles to walk, I tucked my inReach and my phone into the pocket of my rain jacket and started walking without a backpack. Though this quick walk was full of foliage, I wish I’d wanted until winter to complete it- the loose rocks and wet leaves were not entirely pleasurable. Nonetheless, I finished my 3.2-mile walk in exactly an hour, just in time for the round of gunshots that went off not too far from my car. Swell!
Next up, my mission to Zealand Campsite, where I planned to claim a site before Michelle arrived later in the evening. However, as many might have already pondered, the National Forest Sites close on Indigenous People’s Day… and because my school does not get non-religious holidays off, I didn’t realize it had already passed. Tough. Acting fast, I claimed a nearby facility-free site instead, then booked it up Cherry Mountain Road to meet Lucas, an Adventure Sports friend I hadn’t seen in a few months.
Thanks to my handy trail tires, I got up to the Cherry Mountain TH pretty fast and Lucas and I got going towards the peak. We were almost certain we’d see a moose in the open woods, especially on such a dreary day, but unfortunately, all we had to keep us company were some spruce grouse. Without even realizing it, we hauled- though we had no views, the hike was fantastic. The gentle switchbacks and relatively stable leaf cover allowed us to move 7.5 miles in 2.5 hours, without breaking into a run or losing breath. Funny enough, we’d both been worried the other was going to smoke us uphill.
Now done all three routes up Cherry/Martha/Owl’s Head, I would say that the Cherry Mountain Rd. TH is by far the easiest, but the TH closest to 115A is still my favorite for its terrain diversity, Martha’s Mile Ridge walk, and surprising challenge.
After Lucas and I split at the road, I journeyed back to the campsite to unroll all Michelle and I's gear and started a fire. Despite ordinarily being scared of the dark and the day’s date, I sat alone by my campfire for nearly three hours before Michelle arrived at 8 p.m. On her arrival, we ate some of my mom’s homemade cookies for dinner and eagerly began catching up on our 2-months apart. Soon enough, I faded hard- it turns out that hours upon hours in front of a campfire is just exhausting.
By morning, we’d made the well-backed decision to scrap the Bonds in favor of the one low-exposure Michelle had left for her NH48- Tom, Field, and Willey. I had done Tom and Field as a Winter hike in 2021 and Willey on its own that June, but was missing the section between Field and Willey, as well as the Beecher-Pearl Cascade Loop. Always good to combine missions!
Parking was already slim at 8:30 by the Highland Center, unsurprisingly. Michelle and I had a massively uneventful hike- complete with lots of dogs, plenty of NH48 folks, and a handful of wet leaves. I found the Beecher-Pearl Cascades loop very pleasurable, and worth adding on for non-tracers. Otherwise, the hike remained exactly as I recalled it in snowfall- simple, steep before Avalon, and then a nice coast for Field. There was a handful of muddy spots along the plateaus of the day, but nothing too remarkable.
My longest stretch of new terrain for the day, the Willey Range trail from Field to Willey, was at times a spruce car wash but for the most part a very kind roll towards the restricted outlooks atop Mt. Willey. While we enjoyed mangoes and M&M's, we looked at the cloudy skies until all of a sudden they opened up to Webster Cliffs, then the road, and lastly through the notch. The sudden view was such a surprise- and the dozens of people who quickly crowded to the outlook certainly thought so too.
Hoping to beat the crowds back to Field, we didn’t stay for long. Getting back to Field was quick, then we enjoyed a nice downhill to the base of the Mt. Tom Spur, which was oddly much easier with snow on it. Tom didn’t have anywhere near the views it had in the winter… yet another case for winter hiking this bunch!
Coming down from Tom was at times slow due to the grades mixed with the leaf litter, but we weren’t at much risk of catching darkness regardless. At the base, we were unfortunately informed of a rescue off of Avalon, which I’ve yet to read anything further of at this time.
By the close of day two, I’d consumed a few too many bricks of cheese and a few too many ciders to fathom a big hike on Sunday. This year I’ve been a lot more reasonable about egging myself with giant tracing projects- sometimes it’s better to repeat something enjoyable than complete a bunch of “must miles.” So, given Michelle had never visited Arethusa Falls, I thought it would be perfect to bag the Bemis loop I still needed but mainly focus on getting out to the 160-foot drop of Arethusa.
The parking lot was pretty empty at our 9 a.m. start and we made the wise decision to begin our hike with the Bemis loop. The loop was very rough in places but had stunning views of three cascades before rejoining with the main path. I will note, that the final leg after the sharp right turn from Bemis Brook and back up to the main trail is very steep and extremely eroded- much better to go up than down!
The main trail was, as I remembered, wide and steady. We arrived at the base of Arethusa Falls quite quickly and shared the company of a handful of families and a school group. The falls didn’t look any different than they did two years ago- much surprise to me given the amount of rain we’ve had! When we got back to the parking lot, there were no spots left and there were mobs of families from a whole array of states. Though it was just 11 a.m., I was thankful we were already done our hiking for the day- cleaning up from yet another rainy camp weekend is no small feat!
Colonel Whipple Section: 3.21 miles, 80 gain
Cherry Mountain Trail: 7.5 miles, 1302 gain
Tom-Field-Willey: 9.52 miles, 3291 gain
Bemis & Arethusa: 3.36 miles, 899 gain