I drove up to the Great North Woods region to try and finish the few remaining 48 peaks I have left to go. Since I’ll only be around for another couple of weeks before moving to the Pacific Northwest, it’s coming down to the wire. I planned on tagging both Waumbek and Cabot on separate dayhikes.
7/5: Waumbek. You’ve been there. You know what it’s like. Another peak off the list. Should I feel some sense of accomplishment?
7/6: Horn, Bulge, Cabot. You’ve been there too. Well, maybe not to the Horn, since it’s not on “the list.” I actually enjoyed this hike because of the wide variety of birds, insects, amphibians and reptiles I came across. There were also lots of pretty wildflowers that I can’t identify, but were lovely nonetheless. I enjoyed the variety of low, muddy areas, mixed deciduous forest and dry, grassy fields that I encountered on this mellow hike. I’d recommend the Horn for it’s fun little scramble and nice views. I’d recommend the Bunnell Notch trail for the open woods and fields towards the bottom. A surprising and welcome change of scenery. Unknown Pond was also quite nice but the bugs were ferocious so I didn’t stop for long. I did leave a subtle message for Dr. Wu, since he mentioned he’d be in the area that day.
After returning to the car at 2pm, I wondered what I was doing here. Checking peaks off a list? Wait, there are too many cool routes to be done. I had looked at the map the previous night and the moniker “Devil’s Hopyard” caught my attention. I looked it up in the AMC guide, which provided a terse but intriguing description. Since it was close by, I went to check it out.
Devil’s Hopyard. The quick 1.3 mile hike out to the Devil’s Hopyard in Stark, NH was easily the highlight of my trip. It’s mild and innocent enough, until the path diverges from the Kilkenny Ridge trail. Soon, the woods take on a totally new character, becoming more dense and overgrown. The path itself changes from a wide, well trodden walkway to a series of rocks piled over gently rushing water. I wondered several times if I was even on a trail, but proceeded gingerly to see what the woods would produce next.
I thought, if I were a gnome, or elf, or faerie, that I’d definitely live here. Moss engulfed every surface of rock and tree. In a few spots, blowdown obliterated the view ahead. The forest had an eerie, mysterious character. My imagination was running wild.
Towards the terminus of the trail, you enter a magnificent gorge with a tall rock face shooting up to the left and massive, old trees towering to the right. Clamber over a few more rocks, listen to the faint sound of running water beneath, and soak in the feeling of being closed in and utterly alone in the forest. At the end of the trail you are surrounded by trees, ferns, moss and rock, all seeming to loom closer as you venture off the beaten path. I had the urge to explore here but my sense of adventure is taken over by fearful thoughts when hiking alone. I walked along the edge of the rock face just a little bit, keeping track of where the trail was at all times. This is truly an amazing place. It’s these random gems that I find on my own that I appreciate infinitely more than any standard route up a 4000-footer.
On the long return trip home I debated the merits of bagging Hale, Cannon or Tecumseh today, the three “quickies” I have left on my list. Thinking back to the experience at Devil’s Hopyard and to the long list of hikes I want to do that do not help me finish the list, I decided I’m done with it.
The 4,000 footer list was helpful in giving me a starting point from which to explore the mountains. Now that I’ve been to every corner (more or less) of the WMNF, I know where I want to go. Sometimes, I even have the urge to hike up the same mountain TWICE…by different routes, or in different seasons! Blasphemy!
I’ve met complete bozos who’ve done the list and I’ve met really interesting outdoorspeople who haven’t done the list (and vice versa). Completing the list does not inherently classify one as an accomplished person. And so, after all this musing, I figured out that I’m better off hiking the hikes I want to do rather than the ones I have to do. Waumbek and Cabot were cute, but I had no burning desire to go up there.
Besides, I can dream of conquering Hale when I come back to visit the Northeast.