*Photo taken from the window of our house in Nelson, NH after one of the recent storms.
The weekend has been wild and wooly across the nation, but we got lucky in Southern New Hampshire, at least in the Keene area. Projected snowfall was supposed to be in feet, but it all went North other than a few sugary inches. Cold temperatures are sawing into our tender flesh in the last couple of days, the kind that instantly freezes your nostrils and bites into your exposed skin as soon as you step out the door. Such days are not for hiking or outdoor play, but Michael and I got out on a trail before the storm. We had fun, but it was treacherous. I’ll explain.
For the first time since Thanksgiving, Michael and I had four whole days in a row off from work at the same time. Our plan originally was to drive up to Franconia Notch State Park, a beautiful park in the White Mountains, and home of the famous “Old Man in the Mountain.” New Hampshire prides itself on the famous profile of a man’s face (though I think it could just as easily be a woman—why not?) which can be seen from certain places below the peak. According to Wikipedia, the rock formation which made up the “Old Man” collapsed in 2003. It has since been repaired if you care to go there for a visit. You might want to wait for it to get a little warmer first; the White Mountains are known for their frighteningly bad weather. Needless to say, Michael and I are sturdy Western New Yorkers, quite familiar with snow and cold because we lived right next to the giant snow machine called Lake Erie most of our lives. Even though much of the worst snow fell to the north of us, we still saw plenty of it in Olean, and had lots of below zero weather in winter, too. We were prepared to head up to Franconia Notch despite the winter weather so we could enjoy a day trip out of town to a spot we both enjoyed when we went in 2016…and then the storm decided to make a mess of our plans.
As usual, the weather reports projected the worst possible scenarios, hyping up the amount of snow we should expect to fall, and then the wintry mix weather was supposed to hit…none of it really happened here in Southern New Hampshire. I know they saw more snow up North, but that is typical. Mountains draw weather like magnets attract iron. The weather always goes to the mountains. Either way, we realized that with such weather headed this way, we couldn’t chance the conditions of the road remaining safe for such a long day trip. From where we live in Nelson, it takes over two hours to get to Franconia Notch, and Michael does not rise early on his days off (he works nights, so early mornings are not happening for him). Thus, we knew the trip was foiled. Boo. Instead, we decided to take the same day and head out to a new trail locally so we could enjoy some new scenery. As luck would have it, we found an easy trail right in Keene in a conservancy called Drummer Hill.
I read up on the conservancy before we left to learn that there are roughly 30 miles of trails there, and that we could expect a 700-foot elevation gain from the bottom of the hill. That sounded perfect to me. I love a place with a bunch of trails to explore in a small area. It gives you a sense of variation when you go for a hike instead of always doing the same trail every time, something I loved when we were out in Nevada. Lots of conservancies and government land had trail systems running in a variety of directions, both along the desert floor and up on the peaks. Finding Drummer Hill seemed like we might have the same kind of luck, but this time in the woods. Getting there proved interesting, because the map makes it look as though you can jump right off Route 9 and go to the conservancy trailhead off Timberline Drive, but…not so much. If you head out to this trailhead, use your navigator unless you know where the trailhead is on the road. You have to drive through a mess of tangled streets to get to the trail from Route 9.
When we arrived, the entire entry point to the trail was a solid river of ice. We almost thought better of heading in, but we’re undaunted by winter conditions. Surely the ice would eventually dissipate as we got farther on the trail, we thought. Maybe it’s just an overflow from a nearby melt-off that froze at the base of the road, we imagined. Off we went with the dogs on leash, our Luna very happy indeed because the husky in her was getting to be outside in the white stuff. She loves winter and wilts in summer. Sasha, on the other hand, is made of pudding and does not love winter, but went along for the walk like a trooper. Up we went on the Old Gilsum Road Trail, which was apparently once an actual road used for vehicles. I have no idea how long ago it was turned into a conservancy, and since I never actually saw the “road” beneath the snow I don’t even know if the trail is asphalt or dirt. We had an interesting time of climbing up the hill, which never really cleared of the ice. It was several inches thick, and will take quite a bit of warm weather to melt it all. Still, we persisted for a good long time, often climbing up onto side tracks along the path to avoid some of the most slippery areas we simply couldn’t negotiate.
We saw several trails leading into the woods from the main trail we took uphill, and a few times even talked about taking one to escape the treacherous ice river. Every trail looked fun, but none of them looked much safer than the one we were already negotiating. Rather than wander off in the woods without a map, we decided to stick to the main trail to avoid getting lost. The good news is that we know it exists now, and are quite keen to go back and hike it again to explore more. In any case, we got about half an hour of uphill hiking in when we reached a spot where the trail began going downhill, and that looked even more icy than the uphill trail we took. Both of us were somewhat disappointed to not be able to enjoy the view we wanted to see from the hilltop, but it was still fun to find this little gem of a trail system so close to home. The woods of the conservancy are a surprise to discover so close to the city, and I hear nearby Goose Pond is also lovely. I expect to do lots of exploring when weather improves, though I have to admit I was disappointed by the low snow totals, and then the horribly cold temperatures. Totally ruined my plans to get out and snowshoe in the woods.
Whatever happens with weather next, I usually find time to get outside, even when it’s freezing. I walked today, though it was short because even Luna started limping from the cold. My hope is that the temps get high enough to go for a little hike in my snow shoes without getting frost bite. We’ll see. Then again, if it gets warm enough for a January thaw, maybe I can try the Drummer Hill trails again over the weekend. Whatever happens, I will get outside one way or another. My life requires time in the woods, like food for the spirit. Some people need to run, some people climb granite cliffs, I hike in the woods. Everyone has a thing they love, and I hope you all find what that is and go do it as often as possible. Life will not wait for you to fall into it when you have time. You must make the time. If today is your last day on this earth, ask yourself if you did enough of what you love to be able to leave it behind without regret. If the answer is no, I suggest you fix that. Go enjoy the world, ignore the news for a while, laugh with friends, and forget the dishes piling in the sink. The dishes will never be done, the house will never be clean, and the paperwork will always need filing. I’m not suggesting you live like a slob, but I am saying give yourself a break from the work, even if it’s not all done. You’ll never wish you spent more time working, but you will regret not going out to see what the world has to offer, and the people you could have taken with you.