Monday, February 13, 2012

Mt Cabot Deep Freeze

Between the wonderful bookends of our three day weekend in the Whites (see the previous post) we got in our long anticipated hike of Mt Cabot with Mike and Donna.  We had talked about this when we hiked with them in September and ultimately the stars aligned and put us together in Jackson for three days during their annual winter NH vacation.  Monday was the planned day since it was in the middle of our stay and didn't involve a drive to or from RI along with the hike.  Last weekend in the mountains it was more than just cold - it was by far several of the coldest days of the winter.  On Sunday the temps in the valleys were struggling to get above the single digits and Sunday night on Mt Washington the wind chills reached 70 below zero.  Definitely not a good time to be above treeline!  When we got together with Mike and Donna on Sunday afternoon to discuss the hike we debated whether it would simply be too cold and windy on Monday to try, but knowing that most of this route is in the trees and well protected it seemed pretty reasonable.  The temps were also expected to moderate a bit on Monday - the Berlin forecast said low to mid teens with just 5-10 MPH winds.  OK, it's a go!

Mike and Donna picked us up at 7:30 on Monday morning and we had a quick drive up to the Berlin Fish Hatchery.  It was snowing lightly and the wind was blowing but the forecast was for partial clearing later.  York Pond Road was snow covered and slippery and we were glad we had Mike and Donna's Subaru since my car would not have been much fun in those conditions.  We arrived at the parking lot a bit after 8:30 and were the only ones there.  We geared up as much as we could in the car to avoid a freezing start and had boots on trail at 9:00.  There was one car parked at the trailhead by the road and that was almost the only sign of life we saw all day.  

The hike out through Bunnell Notch was pretty and we weren't too bothered by the fine snow that continued to blow around us.  The trail down here was still a white paved sidewalk as had been reported for the last week or so.  We all wore our microspikes and they were perfect for most of the day.  Bare boots would probably have been just as good most of the time.

Nat, Donna and Mike bundled up and ready to go at the trailhead

Heading up Bunnell Notch Trail

Winter sculpture

Into the snowy woods

Trekking across one of the many streams

It was a quick walk through the notch and we were at the Kilkenny Ridge Trail junction.  The climbing had been just moderate but I'd still worked up enough body heat that I was down to just a base layer and a light fleece.  Amazing how warm you can feel on a very cold day!  Heading up Kilkenny Ridge things got steeper and we all dragged a bit from our lack of hiking legs.  The upper portions of the trail were more exposed to the wind and a number of spots were considerably drifted in.  We thought about changing to snowshoes but decided to just go ahead in the spikes and it was fine.  A short way up we met the two guys with the car at the trailhead already on the way down.  Not sure how early they started.  They mentioned that it was "rather cold up there".  Hmmmm.

And we came to a fork in the road...

Frosted trees on Kilkenny Ridge

Some views starting to peek through (Terrace Mountain)

Snowy corridor before the top

We arrived at Cabot Cabin a bit after 12:30.  At that point the wind had picked up and it was really good to get into some shelter a warm back up.  We had some hot tea and cocoa and ate our lunch and felt really revived.  I changed into my snowshoes (and kept them on the rest of the day) while the rest of the group opted to stick with the microspikes.  We left our packs, bundled back up to prepare for the arctic blast and headed for the summit.

Getting warm and refueling in the cabin

Jack Daniels and rosary beads left by a previous group.  Hmmm....

Icy trees on the summit ridge

The trail across the ridge was drifted in considerably.  About half way across we actually lost it for a few minutes and I had to find it with my feet by walking around until I found a spot where I didn't sink.  We got back on course and were quickly on the summit.  This was number 35 for us and 39 for Mike and Donna.  We're both nearing the finish line...

Donna heading through the porcelain trees

Blue skies ahead!

We're here!

Self portrait

Mike and Donna on #39

Nat and I on #35 (winter #4)

I look forward to following the rest of the ridge someday...

Semi group shot.  We both forgot our tripods

Mike capturing the views

Me enjoying being on the top

Donna inspects Mike's work

It was too cold to hang out for long and we soon headed back to the cabin.  Just before we reached the summit the clouds had broken and we were greeted with blue skies and sunshine.  Not sure how we've continued to be so blessed, but this is 35 of 35 summits that have been like this for us (although we've had to wait it out on a couple of occasions).  Amazing!  

Porcelain and blue

Sugar frosting

Trail across the summit ridge

Valley views peeking through

Cabot Cabin

We stopped back in the cabin to get our gear and warm up again.  When we went out Donna checked the thermometer on her pack and it read 0 degrees.  We guessed that the wind (which had now picked up even more) was blowing around 30 MPH.  Checking the tables when we got back showed that this was a wind chill of about 25 below.  Nippy!

What's that hat Mike is putting on?

Ah, that makes sense!  We should have brought some cheese along too.

Donna starting to head down

The walk down was nice and the clear skies persisted the rest of the day.  We stopped at the Bunnell Rock viewpoint and got a great look at the surrounding peaks.

Terrace Mountain

Views from Bunnell Rock

Nat heading down Kilkenny Ridge

I believe her comment here was "woooohooooo"

Heading into the blue

The walk back out through Bunnell Notch went quickly and we were back at the trailhead at 4:00.  About 2/3 of the way down we ran into a solo hiker on his way up and we stopped and chatted for a few minutes. It seemed a bit late in the day to be headed up, but he told us that he'd done Tom, Field and Willey in the morning and was now running up Mt Cabot to grab one more peak.  I asked if he was working on a SSW48 and he said yes, and was now thinking about a possible SSW67.  Oh, to have young legs again...

Trekking out through Bunnell Notch

One last stream crossing

View back to Cabot through the trees

Mike and Nat want to know what's taking Donna and I so long

Sun setting behind the mountains

On the drive back to Jackson we were treated to a spectacular sunset show - particularly through Pinkham Notch.  Not sure why we didn't think to get any photos, but I did grab this one in Gorham through the car window.

We were so glad that we decided to brave the elements and go for this hike.  The more winter hiking that Nat and I do the more we fall in love with it.  We're hoping that we can maybe squeeze another weekend or two in between now and the end of March.  Sure couldn't hope for any better than we had this trip...

Maps and aerial views of the route:


  1. Looks like a cold one! Congrats to all 4 of you on bagging another peak.. Nice to see everyone enjoying the journey together. I was just looking at the map and it's too bad there aren't more options for approaching Cabot in winter. It would be nice to include the Horn for some additional views.

  2. Great pictures. Where is the best spot to park in the winter if we want to summit Cabot? Do you have the coordinates? I believe I read in the AMC guide that the road wasn't maintaiined? Thanks. Pam

  3. Owen - thanks. Wish you could have joined us since I know this one is one your list. It was a great day. The loop over Kilkenny Ridge with the Horn and the Bulge and Unknown Pond is definitely doable in winter. 11.5 miles vs 9.6 the way we did it. We might have tried it but prior reports said that the rest of Kilkeny Ridge wasn't broken out (although it probably wouldn't have been that bad). I do want to get the othe peaks up threat some point and perhaps do an overnight at Unknown Pond. In another season though...

    Pam - the Mt Cabot trail is no longer officially maintained and the landowner had denied hiker access. Word this winter is that many people are using that trail anyway. We started from the end of York Pond Road past the Berlin Fish Hatchery. There is official parking that is plowed and maintained at the trailhead. You take York Pond Trail for 0.2 and then Bunnell Notch trail to Kilkenny Ridge (which is where the Mt Cabot trail comes in). Search Google Maps for York Pond Rd in Berlin and you'll find it.


  4. OK, now I see the loop you're talking about. I kept looking at northern access to the Unknown Pond Trail, but Mill Brook Road is closed in winter. I will definitely consider a loop from the south...hopefully getting up there in a few weeks.

  5. Congrats! Your pictures are just gorgeous! I hiked this one in March of last year and it was socked in - you certainly were blessed with great views and scenery.

  6. Thanks for the kind words Summerset. It's hard for me to believe that we've been so fortunate with weather and views as we've gone through the 4000 footers (and in general). We'd still be happy being out there otherwise, but the good days sure don't hurt!

  7. Looks like it was a chilly hike. I love all the pictures! Nice to have that cabin to warm up in on the way up and down, huh?