Member Trip report
2-Day AT Backpack: Etna to Orford (NH)
Trip Report/Photos from shep5
Martin (wildcat) and I met up on Saturday, April 22nd at a little before 8AM at the pull-out for the Appalachian Trail (AT) on Route 25A in Orford. We left a vehicle and drove south to Three Mile Road in Etna. There was a small parking lot at the AT crossing. It was mostly overcast with thick fog.
We quickly got ready and by 8:40 we were heading north along the AT. In a few minutes we crossed a brook and then meandered through the woods as we began to climb modestly towards the South Peak of Moose Mountain (2222'), which we reached by 9:30. Were it not for the fog, there would have been a view off to the west. As we began to descend the mountain, we came across the Moose Mountain Shelter in another 20 minutes, which was just off the trail. We checked it out and continued to make our way along the AT. In the col between peaks, we finally found small patches of snow and ice in the woods. It was snow-free again as we climbed up the north peak of Moose Mountain. This peak was wooded, but if it had been a nicer day, there were some ledges just off trail, which might have provided a view. Like with the South Peak, it was very foggy up on the peak. After a stopping to have a little lunch, we descended the peak and by 11:45 we crossed Goose Pond Road.
Heading further north, it wasn't long before we reached the beaver pond on Hewes Brook. There was a board walk just in front of the beaver dam and there were good views of the surrounding hills. After re-entering the woods, we began to climb towards Holts Ledge. At 12:30 we were atop the first vantage point for these sheer cliffs. Even though it was still very foggy, you could still see how steep these ledges were. As we hiked along the ridgeline, we came across an even more impressive ledge, which was even steeper. At 1:30 we arrived at a trail junction, where the AT started to descend off of these ledges (another trail continued along the ridge). The AT swung to the west of the Dartmouth Skiway. At times we could see the ski trails through the woods and by 2PM, we crossed Grafton Turnpike and re-entered the woods just a little ways down Dorchester Road. This initially passed by the Skiway pond and then meandered through the woods climbing up the hill and then descending back down towards Dorchester Road. About 10 minutes before reaching the road, we encountered a granite post with the miles to Georgia and Maine engraved on it...412 miles to Baxter Peak and 1730 miles to Springer Mountain.
After that we crossed Dorchester Road and after a short snack break we began to climb up Smarts Mountain at about 3PM. The trail climbed modestly up the rocky Lambert Ridge where we encountered the first of many open ledges in about half-an-hour. It was still overcast, but we could see the hills to our south (including the Dartmouth Skiway). As we continued to climb, there were views to the east, but after awhile, we were fogged in again. After proceeding along the ridge for awhile, the trail then descended into the woods. It was here that there was much more snow and ice on the trail...and in the woods. This continued (and increased), as we began our ascent of Smarts Mountain. The trail steepened and we reached the junction with the Ranger Trail at 5:15PM. From this point the trail continued an aggressive grade with a ladder and rebar at one point. Martin put his microspikes on for a short time here, but after awhile it was pretty manageable again without them. We reached the summit (3238') at 6PM. I checked out the fire tower quickly before making my way over to the old fire warden's cabin. The inside of the cabin was a pigsty from previous hikers and Martin was already trying to tidy the place up (there was alot of trash left inside). Before settling in, we made our way down to the spring to fill up on water. This was the trickiest part of the day's hike as the snow was deeper descending to the spring and we post-holed quite a bit. Back at the hut we started to make our dinners and got something warm to drink. It was cold and we were very tired, so after dinner it wasn't long before we were in our sleeping bags and had fallen asleep...probably by 8:30PM!
In the morning we began to stir between 6:30 and 7AM. We got our breakfasts and packed up our gear and by 8AM we headed out again. There appeared to be some sun breaking through the low-lying clouds, so we checked out the fire tower. It was covered in rime ice. I climbed up to the third landing. It was slippery and there wasn't much to see, so that's as far I went. We headed back to the AT to follow it to the north. It was obvious almost immediately that this side of the mountain hadn't seen much foot traffic. There was alot of snow and it had not been compacted. We post-holed quite a bit for the first hour or so. After that, the trail (and woods) cleared up and the skies were blue and sunny. We could see Mount Cube through the trees and it was going to be a picture-perfect day!
By 10:35 we reached the newly-built bridge over the South Branch Jacobs Brook. The bridge crossed a small-narrow gorge and it had reportedly been washed away after Hurricane Irene. It wasn't long after this that we were crossing the graded Quinttown Road. On the other side the AT immediately started a moderately aggressive climb up to a series of ledges. The ledges provided awesome views back towards Smarts Mountain and to Killington to the west. After these ledges the trail descended again before climbing up towards Mount Cube. By 11:45, we had came upon the spur trail for the Hexacuba Shelter. We decided to check it out and have our lunch there (Martin had been there before, and it was unique enough that we had to go). The shelter was a 0.2 mile climb off the AT. It was pretty cool...a six-sided shelter! We sat down and had some lunch...and a much deserved break.
After lunch we made our way back to the AT and continued our climb towards Mount Cube. It was becoming more rocky with occasional views as the trail emerged from the woods out onto open ledge in a number of spots. By 1:25PM we finally got a glimse of the peak, which lay ahead of us. We descended again for a time and then we began the final push for the summit. There was more snow and ice again in this area, but this quickly subsided as we climbed the mostly exposed peak...reaching the summit of Cube's South Peak (2909') at 1:50. We sat down to take in the views and talk with the few other hikers who were also up here. For the most part the prominent views were to the south and into Vermont to the west. At roughly 2:15 we decided to head down. It wasn't long before we reached a spur trail for the North Peak. We started to head over, but after awhile, the trail began to descend and Martin and I weren't up for the additional elevation. We returned to the AT and continued our descent off of the mountain. As this was the northern side of the mountain there was more snow and ice for about half-an-hour. It was at least packed and relatively easy to deal with. After that it was a relatively easy way down, although there were a couple of significant brook crossings and hills, which we had to climb over to get back to our car on Route 25A, which we reached at 4:15PM.
What a wonderful early-season backpack! It was awesome to share this with Martin, who had done this before and I was really glad that he suggested this. Definitely, a great way to kick off the season!
Total mileage and elevation gain: Approximately 26 miles with 7120 feet in cumulative elevation gain.
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