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Mt. Cardigan Hike

By Mike Boisvert.

At 3,155', a crown of solid rock forms the top of Mount Cardigan near Bristol, NH. Many reports detailing hikes of Mt. Cardigan seem to have a common thread. The hikers  are short on time and Cardigan can be a short hike. Approaching from the West in the Cardigan Mountain State Forest, the West Ridge Trail will lead you to the summit and back in a quick 3 mile round trip. We were interested in more of the rewards this mountain has to offer. Our approach was from the East starting at the AMC Cardigan Lodge. Six of us hiked Mt. Cardigan together. Rick, Jim, Chris, Don, Jon and me.

We left the Cardigan Lodge lot at approximately 10:30am under overcast skies. Winds were about 10-20 mph. Manning Trail starts out as a road from the lodge area. We were hoping for some breaks of sunshine as it tried to make an appearance. Rick took the lead and set a comfortable pace. The footing was generally good for the first half of the Manning Trail.

Roughly half way to the intersection with the Duke’s Ski Trail the trail became much steeper and the fun started. To this point the hiking was easy with secure footing. We broke out of the trees and saw the firetower up on the summit of Mt. Cardigan. From here on we were faced with a great deal of ice. We also saw a few patches of snow. Chris attached Yak Tracks to his boots. With Jon in the lead he was showing everyone where the slippery spots were hiding. Nobody fell. 

Soon, we came into the bare and somewhat open ledges toward the top of Firescrew. Smooth ledge with a layer of ice presents an interesting challenge. We picked our way across the open sections to the Mowglis Trail, and Firescrew. Unfortunately, the clouds did not break and we were only able to enjoy a view that went roughly fifteen to twenty miles past Newfound Lake. Still, not bad.

When we made it to the top of Firescrew, the westerly wind was strong, at least 30 mph and perhaps more. The ledge was generally covered with a layer of rime ice and the sheltered areas had small patches of snow.

We headed off for Mt. Cardigan on the Mowglis Trail. This section is generally exposed and on the ridge which kept us in a stiff wind for the .6 miles to the tower.

We arrived at the tower on the summit of Cardigan but where was Rick? He was in the lead. He made a wrong turn but found his way back. The wind seemed to have gained a little. Of course, we didn’t hang around there for very long.

Just below the tower is a signpost marking the trails, directions, and distances. We set off on the Clark Trail for the Warden’s Cabin. There was little ice but it was steep. At the Warden’s Cabin we stopped for lunch. Three hikers and a dog walked by heading for the summit.

At PJ's ledge we found the poorly signed Hurricane Gap Trail. We decided to take a side trip to see the AMC High Cabin. Interesting place. I’d like to get a group together and take the place some weekend. 

We then headed back out to the Clark trail after negotiating an icy stretch. We took the Cathedral Forest Trail to Grand Junction. And then followed the Holt Trail out to the Cardigan Lodge.

We had a good hike and left with plenty of reason to return for more. Perhaps next time we’ll take the cabin for a couple nights and try to explore the area some more.

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