Ron Chase: Small Peaks Hike
For decades I’ve traversed the Middle and Peaked Mountains near North Conway, New Hampshire en route to higher peaks. I remember thinking they looked like interesting potential climbs and wondering if there were any hiking trails to the bald peaks. My curiosity was insufficient to motivate further investigation.
A few years ago an acquaintance I met at Pleasant Mountain in southwestern Maine recommended the Twin Peaks to me. He extolled the virtues of the trail system, their exceptional views and accessibility to the trailhead. Always looking for new mountains and trails, I resolved to explore them. My friend’s suggestion turned out to be right and I have been a frequent visitor ever since.
Located east of the bustling village of North Conway in the Mount Washington valley, the two intertwined peaks are part of a chain of small mountains known as the Green Hills. A particular draw for me are additional mountain hikes that I can hike from my home in Topsham and can easily complete in a day. This option is particularly advantageous during the shortest days of the year. Aged with poor night vision, I avoid driving in the dark whenever possible.
Needing a mountain fix in early January, I posted a Penobscot Paddle & Chowder Society hike on mid and peak mountains. My retired friend and frequent outdoorsman, Ken Gordon, quickly got involved. Since these were new heights for Ken, he wanted to take advantage of my alleged Green Hills experience, an always dubious expectation.
We met at the trailhead on Thompson Road in North Conway. A popular hike, parking is limited so it is advisable to get there early. Except for a small area, parking is prohibited on the road.
An inspection of the trail indicated the surface was hard packed snow and soft ice, ideal conditions for microspikes. In my opinion, there is no more comfortable hike than on a snowy, broken and then hardened winter trail. It creates a flat highway above an often rocky underlying base that’s gentle on joints, especially aging ones.
Initially we walked easily on a wide snowy road for a short distance to a kiosk at a trail junction. A sign said the mountain trail turns left. Pudding Pond Trail went right and Power Line Trail straight. Mountain biking is allowed on these latter trails, but we couldn’t find any trace of bike trails.
The incline was gradual as we made our way up a wide path through an impressive stand of tall red pines. The Green Hills are recognized as the habitat of an exceptional growth of red pines and pitch pines. After half a mile, we came to a major crossroads. The four-mile Black Cap Connector trail turns left. It joins Peaked Mountain and Black Cap Mountain Trails before completing a traverse to Hurricane Mountain Road. Continuing straight, Middle Mountain Trail is the shortest distance to Peaked Mountain and the only route to Middle Mountain. There is excellent signage throughout the trail system.
A narrow passage became steeper as we made steady progress on the Middle Mountain trail, adjacent to a boulder strewn stream. An area of hard ice was encountered which required careful negotiation. After passing a strategically located mounted camera to film wildlife, two Chowderheads came to a trail on the left that leads to Peaked Mountain.
Intending to summit both mountains, we persisted on the Middle Mountain Trail. Fishing to the right, we overcame several wooded ledges before turning left and scrambling over massive boulders to the partially barren peak of Middle Mountain at an elevation of 1,857 feet. The view of western Maine from the lookout was outstanding.
Back at the junction for Peaked Mountain, we turned right and hiked a short distance to the Peaked Mountain summit trail. Two elderly people not acting their age climbed the steep path to the 1,739-foot open summit. Another group was already enjoying the phenomenal view of Mount Chocorua and the Moat Range when we arrived.
We decided to take the longer loop route joining Black Cap Connector for our descent. As the upper portion contains open ledges facing Mount Washington, an exceptional panoramic view was intended. Alas George was stuck but we enjoyed a great view of Mt Kearsarge.
We were back at the Thompson Road trailhead in just over three hours. This old man had returned safe and sound before dark.
Author of “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals – New England”, Ron Chase resides in Topsham. His latest book, MAINE AL FRESCO: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine,” is now available for pre-order: Maine Al Fresco (northcountrypress.com) Visit his website at www.ronchaseoutdoors.com or he can be reached at [email protected]
Recipe: Stop throwing away your pasta water