Smarts Mountain

Wildlife in action.

The spruce-grouse hen, startled from her nesting site, squabbled noisily across the trail as I approached. I was equally startled, as I hiked up the Appalachian Trail on a quiet weekend morning in early June. Surprisingly quiet, actually; mine was the only car in the lot at 7:30am, and I had thus far passed only one small group of hikers – southbound thru-hikers, by the looks of them. So I had been strolling easily up the trail, lost in my own thoughts, when this mother hen leapt into action and directly across the trail in front of me. Read on!

David at the viewpoint on Lambert Ridge, Smarts Mountain.

I’ve startled spruce grouse before, most often in the winter: they sleep under the fresh-fallen snow, insulated from the overnight chill, and seem to wait until the last possible moment to burst forth from the pristine powder, flapping furiously to reach the safety of the trees.

But this hen was different – she scrambled across the trail from right to left, staying close to the ground, and made a big show of it. As she headed into the brush on the left side, she made a whining sound. I suddenly realized her intent was to distract me – she was successful – and turned my gaze back to the right, whence she had come, just in time to see two small chicks flapping off in the opposite direction, seeking cover while their mother lured away this dangerous predator. Fascinating! I pulled out my phone and captured a little video, though too late for the fast-paced action at the start.

Other than for that unusual scene, it was a fairly routine – but highly pleasant – hike through the verdant forest of early summer. The skies were clear, the wind calm, the temperature just right. I had great views from the ledges of Lambert Ridge and then the summit firetower, and a fine walk down the old Ranger Trail. See the photo gallery.

Hike stats:
distance: 11.9km
time: 3h22 with stops
gain: 685m

Map of my hiking route on Smarts Mountain.

Author: dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, husband, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.

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