Cohos Trail: Section Hiking Adventure
Hiking from Mt Franklin to Mt Monroe
A few years ago, a friend told me about a new long distance trailrunning 162 miles through New Hampshire's northern-most county, Coos, from Crawford Notch State Park in the south to Pittsburg, NH at the border w/Quebec, Canada. It's called the Cohos Trail and prides itself on its remote, wilderness experience, without the easy comfort of shelters and trail towns (there are only 2 leans-tos and one self-service cabin on the trail) so camping is the accommodation of choice. The trail is made up of a smattering of old hiking trails, newly cut trail, old railroad beds, snowmobile trails, forest roads, and a bit of paved road. While a few days of hiking resides within the more popular White Mountain National Forest (WMNF), the rest of the CT runs through the mountain ranges to the less-visited north country, making the Cohos a perfect place to travel into some real wilderness and away from the crowds.
Enticed by this new experience and the logistics it would involve, I teamed up with two other like-minded hikers, Mike & Joyce, to complete the Cohos (pronounced coe-ahss) in sections. Since we're all Volunteer Trip Leaders for the Boston Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), we agreed to run the Cohos trips as a series of AMC backpacks and long day-hike weekends. Series-hiking isn't new to either Mike and Joyce, as they have both sectioned hiked the Appalachian Trail among other long- distance trails. But was all new to me, so I jumped into action, planning four weekend trips for this summer with my new Cohos maps and guidebook by my side. We decided to travel south to north and hope to complete the trail in 8-9 weekends over the next 2 years.
Hiking Along Boot Spur, Mt Washington
Our first weekend trip was mid-June, beginning at the Cohos southern terminus on the Davis Path in Crawford Notch, NH. Our intrepid group consisted of 7 Boston area hikers, 3 women and 4 men, all eager to begin our 2-day backpack. While 1/3 of the Cohos follows already established trail networks, about 100 miles is formally known as the CT and is marked with little yellow "CT" signs. The trail also travels through some Nationally Designated Wilderness areas in the Whites, which are kept to a different, more "wild" standard than your average hiking trail: the width for the trail is cleared to be narrower, there are no blazes on trees or cairns above treeline (only signs at junctions), and the camping areas are simple, dirt clearings marked with a small, wooden signs. There are no shelters, no privys, no roads… just you and the woods.
The first day consisted of 10 mi and 4500ft+ of elevation gain, plus some additional milage on each spur path to the summit. We traveled through the Dry River Wilderness, tracing the undulating Montalban Ridge to five peaks, finishing at a height of 4004 ft on Mt Isolation. While many choose to take the more popular Rocky Branch Trail, following this long shoulder of Mt Washingtonfor more peaks, more views and more solace.
We had a minor moment of confusion along the trail as it wandered into a brushy, swampy dell, but overall this section is easy to follow despite it's wilderness designation. Meandering along the ridge throughout the day, we stopped to rest, snack and enjoy the views from each of the day's five summits: Mt Crawford, a lovely, mostly bald summit with views of the hike ahead, Mt. Resolution, named for the trailblazer, Mr.Davis, and his stern resolution to complete the path, Mt Stairs & Giant Stairs Cliffs, with its nap-able ledge and excellent breeze, Mt. Davis with its 360 views, and Mt.Isolation, which often has the largest ( if only) crowd atop due to its NH 4000-footer status.
When we reached the wilderness campsites just north of Mt. Isolation, we set up camp and were pleasantly surprised by the newly-acquired backcountry baking skills of our fellow hiker Chris. Normally a lightweight hiker, he had rushed ahead of the group carrying a heavier pack than usual, laden with fresh vegetables and a new Fry-Bake pan to experiment with making group appetizers: homemade guacamole and fresh-baked focaccia made on the spot! We were more that delighted to be his guinea pigs and snacked away at the guac and tasty bread topped with fresh tomatoes, basil and cheese. I'd say he's learned a lot already! The Fry-Bake Pan is a luxury item for sure. It works with a any outdoor stove in which the flame can be adjusted (we used a white gas MSR Whisperlite) and you can buy a kit that comes with a cover, thermometer, etc that puts the "bake" function to good use. We somehow ate our own dinners after all the fresh-made apps and shared a little chocolate brought by another. Well fed and dog tired, the group was soon snoring away in our respective tents and hammocks.
Focaccia - Play Hard, Eat Well!
The next morning Chris became a true (and much appreciated) over-achiever by his final act of baking cinnamon rolls. Everyone gobbled one down, ate their own prepared breakfasts, and set off on the second half of our two-day journey. (As I write this, the section of the CT from the Isolation Tr East crossing over the Dry River is closed due to a trail washout during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.) Due to the trail closures, we planned a 10 mile re-route for our Day 2, traversing some of the finest above-treeline hiking there is in the WMNF and rejoin the CT on the other side of the closure.
The new route took us north on the Davis Path over North Isolation, Boott Spur (a viewful, open shoulder of Mt. Washington), past the gaping cirque of Tuckerman's Ravine, and turned south to the AMC Lake of the Clouds Hut, where we gorged on the morning's lefover pancakes offered by the Hut Croo. After a brief stop, we continued south on Crawford Path, another historic and famous route to and from Mt Washington, up and over Mt Monroe, showing off its alpine flowers including Mt Avens, Diapensia, Alpine Azalea and Lapland Rosebay; to Mt Franklin, one of my favorite peaks, and finally to Mt. Eisenhower, where rejoined the CTl at the Edmunds Path. After enjoying the views from the rounded dome of Mt. Eisenhower, also the highest point of the CT, we made our way down to the parking lot where we had spotted some cars. Our group reconvened about an hour later for a post-hike meal in the town of North Woodstock, where we gorged on good eats and discussed where our upcoming Cohos section adventures would take us (and how we had a little unfinished CT business to hike someday).
I highly recommend giving the Cohos Trail a try, whether you want to thru hike it, section hike or day hike it. It's best stretches I am told are farther north of the White Mountain National Forest, where it is more remote, passing through less traveled country and few resupply points. The Cohos officially opened for business in 2011 and hikers have been making the thru-hike of the Cohos for several years now. To help navigate the way, the Kim Nilsen, the founder of the Cohos has published an excellent guidebook, maps, facebook page, web site, established a trail association and more. For further reading about the Cohos Trail and trail updates/openings/closures, check out the website. There's also a possibility of an upcoming addition to the trail by Canadian trail groups to link CT hikers with Canadian trails to go as far as the summit of Mt. Megantic in Quebec.
This post was written by Trail Ambassador Julie LePage.