Posts Tagged ‘Crawford Notch’

Mt. Willard

Even though Fall colors won’t be at their peak for another 3 weeks, we decided to hike to the top of Mt. Willard, which has a panoramic view of Crawford Notch on the New Hampshire side of the White Mountains.

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The climb is labeled “moderate.”  At 1.6 miles each way, it only take a little more than an hour to reach the top if you are in average condition, and is certainly suitable for families with small children.  The hike can really be divided into thirds:  the first third the grade is moderately steep; the second third the grade is gentle, with lots of rocks; and the third and final stage (just when the kids will start complaining) suddenly becomes nearly level and very easy.  The granite viewing ledge is expansive, as is the magnificent view.  You can see the train tracks reaching far into Crawford Notch that are serviced by the Conway Scenic Railroad, and perhaps the Willey House far into the distance if the day is really clear. The Willeys were a homesteading family that met a tragic end in 1826.  You can read about it here

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After the hike, our pup Truman was quite tired out.  He fell asleep on the way home while sticking his head out of our car’s window, his ears blowing wildly in the breeze.

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Frankenstein Cliffs and Arethusa Falls

20140907_155042_resizedIn the past 6 years in the White Mountains, I have seen many beautiful days.  But Sunday, September 7, was the most beautiful day I can ever remember.  The day before, it was hot, humid, rainy and gloomy.   On Saturday night, the temperature dropped to 41 degrees, a hint that autumn is on the way.  But on Sunday, the morning was cool, the sun shone brightly, and the sky was utterly clear.  I honestly don’t ever recall such clarity.  Visibility was well over 100 miles.   Mt. Washington was pristine, with the weather station towers clearly visible from miles away.  Not even a trace of haze.

It was perfect hiking weather, with a high of 72.  Unfortunately we’ve been rather lazy lately so we aren’t in the best of shape.  I didn’t want to try something overly ambitious, but still sought a bit of a challenge.  It had been more than 10 years, but we had hiked a 5.5 loop hike up to Frankenstein Cliffs and over to Arethusa Falls on several occasions, and we decided it was worth doing again.

Arethusa Falls, about 200′ high, is located in Crawford Notch. It is a relatively easy and extraordinarily popular 3 mile round-trip hike from the parking lot off of Rte. 302.  (An alternative side trail along Bemis Brook adds .5 miles to this number, but although the Bemis Brook Trail has a steep section, it is a much prettier route than the Arethusa Falls Trail and I recommend it.)

 

If you magnify the picture you may be able to see people at the base of the falls.  This will give you an idea of scale - the falls are much larger than they appear in the photo.

If you magnify the picture you may be able to see people at the base of the falls. This will give you an idea of scale – the falls are much larger than they appear in the photo.

The Frankenstein Cliffs trail, which ascends to the top of the cliffs from the other side of the same parking lot, is a bit more challenging and therefore not as popular, but the steep ascent is well worth the effort when you get to the top and take in the view.  Even so, both trails have experienced extreme overuse and now the trail is VERY badly eroded.  What this means is that the magnificent views from Frankenstein Cliffs and the gorgeous waterfall at Arethusa Falls are still just as wonderful as ever, but the trail is an absolute misery of exposed tree roots and boulder hopping for almost the entire 5.5 mile loop.  By the end of the day, my knees were really feeling their age.

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The gorgeous view on a clear day from Frankenstein Cliffs in Crawford Notch, NH. This thumbnail image is definitely worth clicking to enlarge

Although previously I would have rated Arethusa Falls and Frankenstein Cliffs hikes “not to be missed,” the truth is, there are literally hundreds of wonderful alternative hikes in the White Mountains and the heavy erosion made the hike less enjoyable than I remembered from the past.  Also, while the falls are beautiful and it’s possible to go for a dip at the base of the falls, the rocks are slippery and not really suitable or safe for young children.  It pains me to say that there are probably better choices than Arethusa Falls for kids, especially since this hike was a favorite of ours; but trust me, children will enjoy Step Falls in Grafton Notch, or even the tourist-heavy Diana’s Baths outside of Conway, much more.  That said, we felt a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day and felt blessed that we were able to enjoy our beautiful surroundings in a meaningful way.

Snapshots of the Mind

Six years ago I was camping in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire, in the White Mountains.  It had been a perfect day and as it drew to a close I walked about a mile from the campsite to a remote part of the Saco River.  I tore off my rugged hiking boots and sweaty socks and soaked my poor, tired feet in the ice-cold river.  I was in a gorge with no other people nearby.  The sky was deep blue, the trees were thick and the water from the river reflected off the sheer rock sides of the cliffs above.

Although we really had no idea that our lives were about to change dramatically in a few years, it occurred to me, thinking deep thoughts as I am prone to do in these mountains, that our elderly parents would someday be depending on us in ways that I couldn’t fathom, and that the luxury of things like time away and excursions to the White Mountains would only be a fantasy in the future.  Rather than be saddened by this thought, I instead made a conscious effort to study the scene before me in minute detail.  When I felt I could commit the water, the rocks, the cliffs, the trees, the blue of the sky and the clean smell of the air to memory, I closed my eyes.  Concentrating hard, I whispered to myself, “Click!” and photographed the scene in my mind.  I knew that no matter what happened in the future, I could go back to this picture consciously stored in my brain and recall this scene, which was mine and mine alone.

I have used this technique often.  These mental snapshots aren’t solely about beautiful places, but are always sensual moments – the moment of the birth of one of my children, or even the smell of melted chocolate.  In the midst of travail I can willfully transport myself back to a moment in my personal history that was especially wonderful.  I have taught this trick to others, as well.

This past summer, in the midst of an unrelenting heat wave of 102 degrees (very hot for Maine!), I drove 10 minutes from my home to 307-acre Kewaydin Lake.

Kewaydin Lake on an autumn day

You can go just about anywhere on the lake and not see anyone else, despite the many lake-front summer cabins that dot the edges.  The water is cold and pure, and so clean and clear that one can see tens of feet below the surface.  Usually the water is so cold that you can’t swim without turning blue, but because of the above-mentioned heat wave, the water was warmer than usual yet still cold enough to be refreshing.  The utter calm, the sound of the water lapping at the edges, the consistency of my stroke, the deep blue sky and the mountainous backdrop were a nirvana for the soul.

Virginia Lake, a short distance from Kewaydin Lake

Once again, I consciously memorized every possible detail of my surroundings as well as my feeling of quiet euphoria:  “Click!”

The shoreline of Virginia Lake

Even now during the bleaker days of autumn, I return in my mind to that day.  I don’t just “see” it; I feel it.  This is but one aspect of my goal to live consciously and conscientiously.  And I cannot help but smile.

This beautiful stream connects Virginia Lake to Kewaydin Lake