Winter adventures in the woods with the family take a fair amount of consideration. Weather conditions in New Hampshire change dramatically on a dime and trail conditions become a major consideration. Finally a perfect day dawned for a family hike I’ve taken many times in summer and fall- Mount Watatic in Ashburnham, Massachusetts. This small mountain borders New Hampshire and is an important link in the Wapack Trail. I had hiked a northern portion of this trail a few weeks ago, posted in the Temple Mountain blog. Today’s adventure was an ideal trip in ideal conditions…
As much as I love grand adventures in wild places, the best winter hikes for us are close to home, with the promise of warmth and rest nearby. Our route up Mt. Watatic is just down the road, on the Massachusetts side of the mountain. Since its inception in 1923, the Friends of the Wapack and NH State Parks maintain this 21 mile trail through various NH State properties including Miller State Park, Temple Mountain, and Sheiling State Forest.
This southern section of the Wapack trail began in a parking lot with a few cars. Watatic is one of the most popular hikes in New England, very manageable for all ages, open to pets, and easily accessible from Rt. 119 on the Mass/NH border. This was another reason I chose it. We had a few inches of snow on the ground, but I knew it would be well-trampled by various hikers throughout the day. Although there were times when micro-spikes would have been great, we found our walking sticks were the most useful gear.
The trails are wide and very well marked. “Sometimes getting lost is the real adventure…” -said no one ever in a New England January!
We met a few other hikers on the Mid-State Trail, which turned after a mile toward Watatic itself on the official Wapack.
The temperature hovered just above freezing, so we were comfortable on the slow incline. There are lovely views along the route to the top, so resting often was a pleasure.
Once we broke the tree line, the wind picked up a bit. We saw some tracks of deer and various small varmints. This land was farmed for many generations, and there are remnants of buildings, orchards, and of course, stone walls along the route.
What makes winter hiking so extraordinary is the drama. Contrasts in black, dormant woods and brilliant white snow cover make familiar scenes unrecognizable. I have walked this mountain many times in warmer weather, but today all of it seemed foreign and strange.
Towards the top we were very grateful for the snow cover. Under the blanket were layers of ice which would have made the final steep inclines impassable without micro-spikes at least. With the crunchy snow on top, we had no problem making the climb.
The views from the top include the northern breadth of the Wapack Range, along Temple Mountain and Pack Monadnock (Miller State Park).
To the east the views of Massachusetts often include Boston itself on clear days.
Peaking through the pines, Mount Monadnock dominates the horizon.
We had chosen to meander up the mountain on the Mid-State Trail, so our trip down would be on the more direct Wapack. This was a steeper route, and the snow less dense, so we met with more ice than some of us wanted.
On the other hand, Aaron had come prepared in snow pants and found the downhill trip most entertaining!
We planned on three hours, timing the sunset so we could avoid the dark. Our trip down was interspersed with views of a lovely western sunset. Home before dark? Check. Ideal winter adventure.