"Labor day-ing up the most grueling section of the AT" (pictures)
After an awesome hike up Huntington Ravine on 8/19 and with plans to hike Katahdin at the end of September, I figured it would be good to keep the tough hikes rolling this month in preparation. After we had hiked Kinsman North peak a couple months prior we had planned on nabbing South peak from a different trail. This is the norm for us as we don't like to rush or push a hike just to get a peak. We enjoy the different trails and taking our time to enjoy the sights on the trail. Having to work the weekend of the 25/26 we were excited to get back up North.
I had checked the weather Saturday night and it was looking alright. There was a chance of rain but that was mostly for the South. Sunday morning came however and we woke up to wet conditions. I checked the radar on the computer and there was a steady rain going through the White Mountains. I thought of staying put but we have done that in the past and it would turn out to be a beautiful day. So we headed out anyway. As we connected onto I93 in Tilton the rain picked up, sprinkling off and on and temps. were below normal. We arrived in Lincoln and it was the same story. Neither of us wanted to hike in wet conditions. It's just uncomfortable, non-enjoyable and dangerous....particularly on the trail we had chosen. I was suffering from a head cold that I woke up with anyway, so we decided to make the drive back home.
The weather for Labor Day looked spectacular so we headed that morning. As we approached the North the skies cleared and the temps. were much more mild. It was going to be a fabulous day! We missed the Reel Brook road and turned around at the campground past the Mt. Kinsman trail head parking. Back in the area where the road was supposed to be I headed up a gravel road per/ the directions in the book. This brought us up a new development area and a cul-de-sac. This wasn't it! Back on the road we found the road sign overgrown and the hiker sign facing across the street. The same strange set up as the Kinsman Mt. trail. Drivers can't see the sign when it is facing across the street! Who is doing this and why? They should be facing down the street in both directions!
We headed down the road located on a corner across from a large barn. It is a non-town maintained road. The parking area is down a little ways on the left and beyond the road looks to end at a home. The drive way up into the parking area is washed out with large boulders and would not be suitable for a car. We parked, the only vehicle in the lot and began our hike at 8:30am.
The Reel Brook trail follows several old logging roads pretty much the whole way. You make several crossing's of Reel Brook. Continuing on moderate grades with a few steeper pitches you follow under power lines and re-enter the woods on the opposite side. We quickly arrived at the Kinsman Ridge trail junction. Book time was 2 hours and we made it in 1.5 hours! I was rather surprised!
From here the Kinsman Ridge trail descends moderately and levels out at an area where you cross back under the power lines. Here there is a view across the valley to the Sandwich Range and a large marsh area. You re-enter the woods and continue the descent until you pass by the Eliza Brook shelter and cross Eliza Brook. At this point the trail begins it's arduous climbing. You climb the bank of Eliza Brook, steeply at times passing by attractive cascades and pools. We could only imagine how lovely it must be when the water is flowing better.
After crossing the brook again the trail climbs steeply through a young pine grove and climbs for what seemed like a long time until it suddenly leveled out and onto a board walk. The sky opened up and there was a large rock ledge ahead, Harrington Pond below it and the summit of South Kinsman looming beyond. The pond was mostly a mud bog with the lack of rain. But still, what a beautiful area! I spotted some sort of flower along the peat moss shoreline and had to investigate. It turned out to be hundreds of Northern Pitcher Plants. I was so excited! I had never seen one of these before!
After taking all the pictures I could we continued our hike. The next section is what the "4000 Footers" book calls one of the most grueling parts of the AT in the WMNF. And indeed it was a long, steep climb. Not the most difficult climbs we've done by any means, but I could see how it would be difficult for AT hikers with heavy packs. Some ledge scrambles were difficult and it was a long mile up. Just below the summit area you brake from tree-line and views open up across Liberty and Flume and around to the Sandwich Range and Moosilauke. We reached the summit cairn about 1:00pm. The jagged, rocky Lafayette Ridge looms behind the North knob and North peak is seen in the left foreground. The sun was shining off the rocky peaks all around us. Wow, I had 5 hours book time and we did it in 4.5 hours. Guess we have done a good job keeping the leg muscles strong this year and our lungs and hearts healthy!
The summit was rather quite, a couple was having lunch and as we explored the area for a lunch spot several other hikers were seen coming up from the North peak. We made our way back to the cairn where a man and his dog had just arrived. He asked us if we hiked Reel Brook trail. We replied "yes" and he said he had also. He said he has hiked that route 5 or so times and has never seen anyone on that trail! We get that a lot always taking the less traveled, further out trails. We walked back down to a good lunch spot then spotted a ledge area that we climbed down to, to have our lunch.
The sky had clouded over considerably and the wind was lightly pushing the cool air against us. We got cold rather quickly. With the long hike back we didn't stay long anyway. Just enough to look around and re-fuel. After a short 10 minute break we headed back down. We expected the hike down the steep sections to be slow and painful. But it actually went very well. We passed a few people on our way down and after the climb from the camp back to Reel Brook trail it was an easy, quite 3 mile walk back. We ended our day at 4:30pm. We will certainly return to these trails again! Even if it's just a hike to the pond when the water is flowing nice! Oh, and I should add that the Reel Brook trail is easy to follow and well taken care of by it's trail adopter...thank you!