We had two days left of our Seek the Peak trip and were hoping for two more hikes. After the great day on the Baldpates on Sunday and skipping Mt Washington I had hoped for a another chance at a Presi day. We weren't up for anything huge, and Caps Ridge up Jefferson had sounded perfect. On Monday morning I checked the MWObs higher summits forecast and got a bit of bad news. What was originally another clear, sunny day had now turned sour (much the reverse of Saturday) and the summits were now forecast to be in the clouds all day. Caps Ridge would still be fun, but it seemed a shame to get up there just to be staring into a cloud. Time for the second Plan B of the weekend (and this time we had one).
I'd been figuring that after getting a Presi day on Monday we could hit Cherry Mountain on our way home on Tuesday. We hadn't been up there yet, and after catching the Presi views from Pondicherry last year I was anxious to check it out. With possible storms in the afternoon on Monday this shortish hike made a great alternative for today.
We decided to take the west approach on the Cherry Mountain Trail from Rt 115. This is the shortest (and most common) approach. John Compton (the trail adopter for the east branch of the Cherry Mountain Trail and Martha's Mile) details the different approaches HERE. Leaving the campground in the morning the weather was still nice - a bit warmer than Sunday but nowhere near the awful heat and humidity of the last week. We got to the trailhead at about 9:30 and were the only car there. We'd only see a few other people all day.
The beginning of the trail is a gentle climb on a soft path surrounded by many wildflowers. If we hadn't had a view at the summits these would have been enough to make it a great hike. I later found out from my "flower expert", Kevin Talbot, that the first sighting on the trail was probably the best - a rare Large Purple Fringed Orchid. I didn't know what I was looking at at the time - just that it was beautiful.
Purple Fringed Orchid (apparently rare)
First Indian Pipes of the day (there were many)
First views of the day (there were many of these too)
Cherry Mountain trail
The upper sections of the trail get steeper and rockier, but are still very nice. While this is still an "easy" climb, it does gain 1900' in the 1.9 miles to Mt Martha (and more than 2500' overall with Owl's Head). Making the turn at the junction with the Cherry Mountain Trail east branch the final 0.2 up to Mt Martha is on a wide path that leads to a summit with some pretty beautiful views. It takes standing on the "viewing rock" to get the full picture (and it takes a day somewhat clearer than this one), but it's worth the effort.
Upper Cherry Mountain trail
At the crossroads
Presis disappearing into the clouds from Mt Martha
The Mt Martha "viewing rock"
Old fire tower foundation on Mt Martha
Views from the back of Mt Martha
Leaving the summit of Mt Martha, the truly beautiful part of this hike begins. Martha's Mile (actually 0.8 miles) is one of the most beautiful stretches of wooded trail that you're likely to find in the Whites (it's hard to compare anything in the woods to open ridges). The only thing I can compare it to is the "enchanted forest" that we encountered on the Isolation Trail last summer. Thank you John, for taking such obviously loving care of your charge.
And what a beautiful mile it is!
Start of Martha's Mile
So much green
After the long stretch of soft paths and green surroundings there is the short, steep section up Owl's Head. One could perhaps compare it to a mini-version of the approach to the other Owl's Head, but that would be most unfair. There are one or two slightly tricky sections where one has to use the strategically placed trees to pull up over the steep rocks, but that's just part of the fun. A few minutes of this and we arrived on the summit to a muted version of what are clearly amazing views.
Starting up Owl's Head
One of the Owl's Head challenges
First Owl's Head views
Mt Martha from Owl's Head
Presis in the clouds
Below the summit ledge
Nat loves the ledges
A little Alpine Hammock promo
The skies were starting to darken and we thought we might be in for some of the thunderstorms that were forecast for the afternoon, so we headed down. On the way we noticed even more of the flora and fauna that we had missed on the way up.
More of the many Indian Pipes
By the time we got back to the car the sky was clearing again. We went back to the campground and spent a relaxing afternoon reading, listening to the birds and watching the clouds drift along the now blue sky. We had clearly made the right choice for this day (particularly since it was pouring rain by the time we got up on Tuesday morning, washing out our final potential hike). This was one of the nicest "small" hikes in recent memory, and one that we'll definitely repeat - hopefully on a crisp, clear fall (or perhaps spring) day with those incredible views on display.
Here's the interactive GPS track: http://www.gpsies.com/map.do?fileId=ffdwprmbqsaxccno
And the overview of the route