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Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Fall Hike up Mount Tecumseh via Waterville Valley - New Hampshire's Smallest 48

I am so out of order.  So out of the adventure order. 

I try to blog in the sequence that I travel but sometimes life gets oh so good and I play a lot more than I can blog.  Don't get me wrong, it is a good problem to have when you are enjoying life so much in the present moment you forget to write about it in the past tense.  

So because of all my adventures, I have this sweet lovely yet daunting backlog of posts to share with you.  This one, this post could not wait.  The fall foliage is peak right now in northern New England and this has to be my favorite hike to date.  This may be the best weekend I have had in a long time.  So excuse me as I jump around, but I needed to share this amazing morning in New Hampshire with you. 

Driving Kancamagus Highway (fondly called The Kanc) has always been at the top of my fall bucket list.   Every year I say I will do it, and then October slips away and fall turns to winter and it never made it's way onto the calendar.  This is the year of no excuses so off I went on the first weekend of October to drive the Kanc.  It's getting its own post right after this one so I will save the juicy details for later.  The important part is that we were heading to New Hampshire late Saturday night, finding a spot to camp, and hiking in the morning before driving the Kanc and heading back home.  Sunday had a lot of driving, 34 miles across the Kanc followed by 274 miles back to Guilford Connecticut, so I knew the hike needed to be on the shorter side.  

I wanted a short hike, close to some camping opportunities and Kancamagus Highway.  Bonus points for great views and for being on the NH48 List (the 48 peaks that qualify for New Hampshires 4,000' club).  Mount Tecumseh was the answer I didn't know I needed.  

Tecumseh isn't really talked about in reference to New Hampshire hiking.   Let's face it, The Whites have some amazing peaks with killer views that sometimes the little guys are forgotten.  It is one of those short and steep and sweet trails, offering you a chance to climb a 48er in (relatively easy) single-digit mileage.  

There are two main ways to get to the top of New Hampshire's smallest official 48er.  They both use the Tecumseh Trail (yellow blazes) which spans from the Waterville Valley Ski Area to the summit of Mount Tecumseh and over, and onto Tripoli Road.  *SummitPost.Org does a great job of outlining the two trails

Approach 1 - Waterville Valley Ski Area, 2.5 miles to the summit, gaining 2,200'
The Tecumseh Trail from Waterville Valley (a developed ski area with its facilities on Mount Tecumseh.) is the shorter and more popular route.  You can make this a loop hike by hiking up the mountain, across the Sosman Trail (0.8 miles) and over to the Ski Area, making your way down the ski mountain to the parking lot.  

Approach 2 - Tripoli Road, 3.1 miles to the summit, gaining 2,400'
The Tecumseh Trail from Tripoli Road is longer and the less popular option.  If you are hiking between November and May, Tripoli Road is closed during the winter.  You will also need a day parking pass ($3) along Tripoli Road (there are self-service pay stations on Tripoli). 

This isn't one of those ridgeline or expansive views hike.  You are below the treeline during the entire hike up Tecumseh and the summit isn't a 360 treat.  On a clear day, you can see glimpses of the Tripyramids, Osceola, the Franconia Range with Mt. Lafayette, Moosilauke, and the Kinsmans.  On a cloudy day like this one, you can't see a damn thing from the summit.  Don't let this discourage you as the views from the ski resort more than makeup for the lack of summit view.  

If you chose to hike from Waterville Valley you can make this a loop hike, following the Tecumseh Trail up (easier to navigate) and the ski trails down (just pick any route down, ski trail maps available!)  If you do it this way, this is one of those hikes where you don't really need a summit view.  You have a pretty amazing viewpoint of the ski trails halfway up the mountain and if you chose to hike down the ski mountain like we did, you have amazing views the whole way down.  Are you planning on hiking on an overcast/cloudy day and don't want to miss the rewarding views from some of New Hampshire's higher 48ers?  Tecumseh is the perfect solution.  

A few outdoor bloggers and influencers I follow always make an important point of detailing the history and Native American culture at various hikes around the states.  It immediately seemed ridiculous that we don't always incorporate the history into our hikes (guilty as charged) so I am taking their lead and adopting this bit of information into my posts as well. 

Mount Tecumseh is named for the great Shawnee native American leader.  He tried to unite native American tribes in the early 1800s to resist the colonialists, fighting alongside the British during the War of 1812,  Tecumseh was killed in the Battle of the Thames, near Thamesville, Ontario, on October 5, 1813.

Take I-93 North to the Campton exit, Route 49 / Waterville Valley.  Follow Route 49 through the town of Campton and take a left at the sign for the Waterville Valley Ski Lodge.  Park at "Lot 1" where the trailhead starts at the end of the lot.  You will see a small opening in the woods and there will be a sign just at the edge of the woods detailing the Tecumseh Trail to the summit (yellow blazes).

We joined the group of about 10 cars at the trailhead at around 8:45 am on a cloudy Sunday morning in early October.  Rain was forecasted to roll into the area around 3pm so we left our rain gear and headed up the trail with a small daypack with water, snacks, and room to toss layers.  Fall hiking can be tricky as you can go from a puffy coat, hat and gloves to a tank top really quickly as you work your way up the mountain.  Tons of layers and room to stash them is key for any fall hike here in New England. 

We had the dogs with us, Olive oh-so-prepared, equipped in her orange reflective vest, night light, GPS and bear bell and we started working our way up the mountain.  The yellow-blazed trail starts by crossing a stream, making a steady ascent until you reach your viewpoint about a mile in.  From here, you get a glimpse of the ski mountain, Waterville Valley.  

During the first weekend of October, the foliage was in its peak and we were beside ourselves with the display of colors New Hampshire was showing off.  A hiker making his way down warned us the summit was clouded in and this would be the only view.  We soaked it in (literally, I totally ate it on some wet rocks) before continuing our way up the Tecumseh Trail.  From here, the trail gets steep as you push the final 1.5 miles to the summit.  A lot of the steep areas are improved with a natural "staircase" of rocks which is helpful... but makes you feel like you are on a neverending Stairmaster.  

We worked up a sweat, ditching coats hats and gloves before finally making it to the last push where the trail intersects (blue Sosman Trail and yellow Tecumseh Trail) to form a little loop around the summit.  We took the blue Sosman Trail the last little push, reaching a very clouded in summit with zero views.  We joked with a few fellow hikers about the amazing vista before continuing the loop down the yellow trail to make our way back down the mountain. 

We were planning on hiking up the Tecumseh Trail and down the ski mountain initially.  After a fellow hiker told us the ski trail was full of large holes and after I had taken a nice digger into the mud, we were a little unsure about the approach down.  When we reached the intersection of the Sosman Trail and the Tecumseh Trail, we said to hell with it and decided to follow the Sosman Trail over to Waterville Valley to follow the ski trails down the mountain.  This was the best decision we had made all day as we hit the ski slopes and were instantly awarded the most amazing views all around.  

The wooded Sosman trail crosses the mountain before ending at a dirt access road which eventually dumped us onto the ski trails.  We hiked down wide cleared areas banked between some of the best foliage I have ever seen.  A show of reds and yellows, deep oranges and the most beautiful golden hues, blended in with the evergreens.  Golden grasses and white flowers dotted the ski trail and the views did that silly thing where they sort of start to take your breath away. 

The lower we got down the mountain, the more the views cleared.  This was one of those hikes where the view actually got better the lower you were down the mountain.  We were finally below the clouds and the mountains were there for us to enjoy as we made our way down the ski trails.  

We made our way down blue squares and black diamonds, holding hands and following the dogs, exclaiming how lucky we were to live in a part of the world as beautiful and peaceful as this.  The dogs were in absolute heaven, navigating the expansive trails, running from here to there and everywhere in between on the wide-open trails.  We did not see a single person the entire hike down, this was a quiet beautiful hike we selfishly had to ourselves.  

This hike, that day, it was one of those "I am so lucky to be alive" kind of moments.  And when you can share them with someone who appreciates them as much as you, you really are one of the luckiest humans.  We just had these huge smiles on our faces, exclaiming to each other in excited tones about how unreal these views were.  Seeing peak foliage on a ski mountain you don't have to share with anyone besides your dogs in beautiful New Hampshire reminds you how lucky we are to live in a world with Octobers.  

October is hands down my favorite month of the year.  The bugs are gone and the temperatures are cool and the foliage here in New England is impossible to beat.  Fall is fleeting and getting out to enjoy these cooler temperatures and flashes of color before winter makes her mark is crucial.  I am so glad we ignored the threat of rain and decided to hike anyway, knowing our views would be limited and the sun would be an illusion.  We were rewarded with those ski trails to ourselves and expanses of fall colors all around us. 

Back at the trailhead, we changed out of sweaty hiking gear and made our way across Tripoli Road and over to Lincoln to start our drive along the Kanc. This was the peak of our day, anything here on out was simply a bonus.  

New Hampshire is a special place.  We walked down the mountain, discussing a future and a residence in the Granite State.  We talked about our love of the mountains and life on a lake... a life in a four-season town where we could kayak in the spring, swim in the summer,  hike in the fall, and ski in the winter.  Thanks for the memories Tecumseh, we will be back soon.  


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