We debated up to the last minute (literally 10 minutes before the exit) between this and Cardigan but ultimately made the choice based on a presumably smaller crowd on a peak foliage weekend. The drive up from RI was great with very light weekend traffic. Left the house at 7:15 and was at the trailhead at 10:00. The 10 mile drive from Rt 93 to the trailhead was beautiful with much of being along the shores of Squam Lake and through pretty countryside draped in fall foliage. Parking lots were starting to fill but still plenty of space. This is a really popular spot since the lots are shared for the Morgan/Percival and Rattlesnake trailheads which are both popular fall hikes.
The weather was perfect for a fall hike. 51 degrees when we started and clouds just starting to drift into what had been a crystal blue sky all the way up. Got organized and on the trail quickly and stopped to take the customary trailhead picture. Turned on the camera and got the dreaded message - "No Card". What!!!??? My daughter borrowed my camera earlier in the week (which she isn't supposed to do). "Why'd you take my camera Jamie?". "Cause the batteries in mine were dead." "So why didn't you just put in new batteries?" "I didn't know we had any." "So does mine still have batteries?" "
The trail was beautiful with a covering of early falling maple leaves of every color. Here's a picture of the - wait no camera - grrrrr. The bottom 2/3 of the Morgan trail is gradual and an easy walk. The last 1/4 mile or so begins to get steep until reaching the fork near the top - which is where the fun begins. The left fork is the main trail while the right takes the "ladder and cliff" route up. We chose the right fork and quickly came to the base of the cliff which starts with a series of three ladders. The transition from the second to third is particularly interesting since the third one is a couple of feet to the right and above the second. There is a small toehold in the cliff that you step on while swinging over to the third ladder. Not as bad as it sounds. (Some of the trip reports that I had read made this sound death defying and it is far from that - even for an acrophobe like me). Above the ladders there is an interesting climb through a small boulder cave and then over the top of the cave and across the edge of the ledges. Fun stuff!
The views from the summit ledges of Morgan are awesome with all of Squam Lake and the mountains beyond spreading out below you and the views of the Whites to the north and Cardigan and Kearsarge to the west. From the summit of Morgan it is about a mile across the ridge line to Percival. I had expected this to be more open views but instead it is just a nice walk through the trees along the ridge.
Emerging from the trees at the summit of Percival you are again treated to the beautiful lake and mountain views in all directions. We spent quite a while here eating lunch and soaking up the sun and the views. The day had stayed pretty cloudy and there was a chilly breeze, but it felt good after getting warmed up on the hike.
There are two spurs that lead to the top of Percival similar to those at the top of Morgan. We weren't sure which was which and took the left branch going down. The upper portion was very steep and required some scrambling down the ledges and rocks (but nothing too tricky) and we thought that we must have chosen the cliff trail. A few hundred yards down though we came to the junction of the two spurs and found that we had taken the main path since the sign pointing the other way indicated "cliff/cave trail" the other way. We decided to check this out and were glad we did. Near the split the trail enters a large boulder cave through a pretty small opening. We left our packs outside and squeezed in feet first. Inside the cave opens up with probaby a 10 foot high ceiling. The exit out the other side is even smaller and we squeezed through and onto the jumble of boulders (man the size of cars) that leads up the cliffs to the summit.
After squeezing back through the cave and getting our packs we headed back down the Percival trail and across the Morgan-Percival connector to the trailhead. The way down was an easy walk - nothing too steep and hard on the knees. There are several nice stream crossings on the connector trail which is a nice way to end the day.
We were back at the car at 2:30 and now the lots were full and there were cars on both sides of the road as far as the eye could see! Definitely a popular hiking spot. Since it was early we decided to take Val's suggestion and drive out to Cardigan Orchard and were really glad we did. The drive out to Cardigan is even more scenic than it had been to Morgan. More lake shores with mountains framed behind them and pretty country roads. A jug of cider, a bag of apples and an awesome homemade apple pie in hand we headed home. Such a nice day that we may try to repeat it next weekend with a Cardigan hike.
On arriving home we discovered that our daughter's day with friends had included apple picking at a local orchard and she had come home with about 1/2 bushell of apples and another pie (at least it wasn't apple). Figures...
Since I didn't have any pictures to process and post this time I took the opportunity to convert the GPS track log and play with it in Google Earth instead. So here's some "virtual trip photos":
Complete route - Morgan Summit at top left and Pervical to the right
View over Squam Lake from summits (Percival on left, Morgan right)