I missed the first snowfall of the season. I left town on Tuesday night for a business trip to Chicago, and missed the 2″ snowfall that arrived on Wednesday morning. So today, back at home and waking to a brilliant blue-sky day, I was eager to get outdoors. Most of the snow had melted close to home, but we chose a short hike along the Appalachian Trail to the top of Holts Ledge – home of the Dartmouth Skiway. (Things looked very different when I visited seven weeks ago!) We didn’t have to climb far before reaching an elevation with consistent snowcover. It was shallow, and crunchy from several melt-freeze cycles, but it was a wonderful taste of the winter hikes to come!
We paused at the top to enjoy the southward views across the Upper Valley and toward Mounts Cardigan and Ascutney. We then strolled over to view the activity at the top of the Dartmouth Skiway, chatting with two fellows who were tinkering with the snowmaking equipment. Only three weeks to opening day!
Halfway down the Appalachian Trail we encountered one of those wondrous effects to be seen this time of year: needle ice, where some mud froze, causing the expanding ice to crystallize and push the mud upward into the air.
I’ve been meaning to get out hiking, in the high mountains to the north – knowing that the fall colors will arrive several weeks sooner there than here. But somehow the colors snuck up faster than I expected. I went today for one of my favorite nearby hikes – to the top of Holts Ledge, the cliff-faced ridgeline on which the Dartmouth Skiway sits. The Applachian Trail rambles over this hilltop, brushing the tops of the cliffs and providing fantastic views to the south and east.
A mere five days after I went snowshoeing through winter’s glorious powder in the Kinsman Range, I went hiking with two friends … in decidedly spring conditions. Granted, Holts Ledge is much lower (elevation ~1069′ rather than 4293′) but there was much more snow at the base of the Kinsmans than there was at the summit of Holts. This week’s rain and unseasonably warm weather (close to 60º during our hike) has turned the low-elevation trails into mud, and (no doubt) the higher elevation trails are packed ice.
This section (and other low-elevation sections) of the Appalachian Trail is now basically done for the season, and should be avoided until after mud season.
Ironically, the view above is at the top of the Dartmouth Skiway… fewer than 100m from the top of the slopes. There, skiers were still happily skiing on spring-condition snow. At least there were some views, below.
Sigh, we haven’t even reached the spring equinox yet.
The Appalachian Trail passes right through the town of Lyme, where we live. It wanders through the forests, across the brooks, and over the hilly terrain of Moose Mountain, Holts Ledge, and Smarts Mountain. Last weekend I had a little time for two quick hikes along the A.T. On Saturday I scrambled up Lambert Ridge, a shoulder of Smarts Mountain, to a ledgy outcrop that has expansive views to the east. Along the way I listened to the acorns dropping from oak trees all around… and startled a chipmunk, holding one of those prized acorns in his little paws. After a brief standoff, he scampered away.
On Sunday, I returned to the area and climbed up to Holts Ledge, which has wide views to the south. Here, a chain-link fence keeps hikers away from the edge, not just for safety but to protect the endangered peregrine falcons who nest on the cliffs. This cliff is at the top of the Dartmouth Skiway, allowing a nice loop hike by strolling down the grassy ski slopes.
The amazing thing is that both of these hikes are only 15-20 minute drive from my house, and can be completed in less than an hour of hike time, so they’re a great opportunity for a break from a busy weekend. See the small gallery.
Another local hike, a repeat of a fall-colors hike I did at the end of October. Today it was chilly, as a cold front blew in and the winds whipped through the leafless trees on the slopes of Holts Ledge as I climbed the Appalachian Trail toward its ledgy summit. There was a dusting of fresh snow on the leaf litter, which crunched slightly under my feet, following the footsteps of a few others who ventured up this trail since last night’s snow flurries.
I always smile when I pass the marker at the roadside, spiked into a small tree by some DOC students a decade or more ago, and slowly becoming one with the tree.
At the top of the ridge – for this is really a ledgy ridge, not a hill with a summit – there were fine views north to Smarts Mountain and southwest to Goose Pond, as the sun nudged close to the horizon around 4pm.
Some older snow clung to the trail along the ridge, maybe an inch or two surviving the recent warm temperatures. Below you can see some snow in the brush to the right and the rocks below.
I descended via the Dartmouth Skiway “papoose” trail, with barely any snow cover, but as I walked past the base lodge I could see and hear the snow-making apparatus busily coating the trails on the Winslow side of the valley, hoping to be ready for skiers around Christmastime.
ONE OTHER THING. I’ve been for three walks lately on trails in Hanover or Lyme, and every one of them – every one – has presented me with a disgusting and surprising trailside treat: a modern ‘doggie bag’. Today, it was hanging on a trailside twig; other times it is propped carefully on a tree stump. What is it with dog owners, who think it’s better to leave a plastic-wrapped pile of dogshit in the woods instead of just letting their dog shit in the woods? I mean, what do they think the animals do in the woods? We’re not in a city park here, and there’s not a park staff who might come along and remove this trash. sheesh.
After yesterday’s brief snowfall the weather turned warm and sunny once again, allowing us a beautiful fall afternoon. This morning we woke to dense river-valley fog, so I headed across Lyme to the Dartmouth Skiway and the high point of Holts Ledge. There, well above the fog, I encountered brilliant foliage at the base and an impressive 2″ snowcover on the exposed slopes near the top. Here is one photo from the top, showing Holts Ledge at left and the peaks of Moosilauke, Cube, and Smarts left to right – but don’t miss the gallery for six other full-res photos in brilliant color.
Hike stats: distance = 5.9km gain = 353m time = 1h 37m (including photo stops)