A Leaf Peeper's Paradise on Mt. Cabot
"And all at once, summer collapsed into fall." ~ Oscar Wilde
Mt. Cabot is the northernmost 4,000 footer in NH all the way up in Berlin. I've been putting this one off for a while now just because the drive is such a long haul and I heard the views aren't amazing. As I've come closer and closer to finishing the 48, I knew I would have to do this hike at some point but it's just been a struggle logistically to fit it into my calendar. With the long weekend ahead of me I decided that yesterday was the day to get up there and check this off the list. #40 ended up being so worth the drive and a great day all around!
My friend and I started with a semi early departure from my parent's ski house in Sugar Hill to aim for an 8:00am arrival at the Berlin Fish Hatchery. The trailhead is on the hatchery's property with a gate that's locked from 4:00pm-8:00am every day. I wanted to make sure we had time to make it out before they closed the gate, so we got there only a few minutes after it had been opened. I was surprised to see a few cars at the trailhead already, but it is a holiday weekend so it made sense. I had chosen this remote hike in the hope of avoiding crowds, so I'm guessing others had the same idea.
We got on Bunnell Notch Trail at 8:15 and started the hike up to the summit. The hike started out pretty flat but gorgeous. Although in more southern parts of NH the leaves hadn't yet changed, up there it was a mix of fire red, bright orange, and sunshiney yellow leaves. I hadn't experienced any fall hiking in NH before, so it was amazing to see how different the mountains looked with all of the fall colors.
There was one tricky stream crossing towards the beginning of the trail, maybe 3/4 of a mile into the hike. It wasn't deep but the rocks were ill-placed for hopping and they moved around a lot making it more difficult than it looked. The trail started climbing very gradually into a beautiful wooded area with a stream in sight. It was pretty muddy in some spots but easy to hop around and the foliage was pretty with every tree yielding a different shade of fall color. Bunnell Notch was beautifully uneventful for a few miles until the junction with the old Mt. Cabot Tr where it started climbing.
The trail wasn't too steep and the footing was good, so it was a nice uphill jaunt to the Cabot Cabin. On the way a viewpoint looked out over the valley and showed the beautiful fall colors that surrounded us. When we first reached it we didn't stop to look, continuing on to the summit of Mt. Cabot. There was a sign at the wooded peak which was nice because many of the 4,000 footers aren't marked, so if that was the case it would have been easy to pass right through it unknowingly. After tagging the summit we headed back to the cabin to eat lunch in the nearby clearing. I had even remembered to bring some Cabot cheese with me! The cabin was small and simple with four bunks and a small living space in the front. There was a fire ring right outside and it was quite quaint. Maybe a nice place to stay for a weekend getaway although there was no water source near it that I could see.
We had made the executive decision earlier to do this hike as an out and back because my friend and I both had a lot of school work to do so we wanted to get back. In retrospect, it probably would have been worth it to go across The Bulge and The Horn over to Unknown Pond to make it a loop seeing as it only would have added two miles. I've heard the Horn has great views too so we missed out on that. Just another reason to come back and do it again!
The hike back out was a nice and easy gradual downhill slope with lots of beautiful trees but also lots of mud. We had seen a good number of people up until this point but it was by no means busy. I'd say we crossed paths with about twenty people all day, a great departure from the holiday weekend craziness I know other mountains would have entailed.
When we got back to the car my legs were still feeling good. This was new since most of my hikes lately have been pretty long and difficult leaving me sore and limping by the end. I rolled my ankle on the way down so that pain was starting to kick in a bit. I thought ahead to my plans to hike the Tripyramids the next day wondering how that would work if my ankle was bothering me. That was a tomorrow problem though so I pushed it to the back of my mind for the long drive back to Sugar Hill. On the way home I was think about how I wished I had brought Lucy for this one. I have left her at home for many of the 4,000 footers because she doesn't have the stamina for long days on the trail and steep, rocky sections make her nervous. This would have been a great hike for her so I'll have to bring her next time! The day ended with puppy cuddles, a cozy fire, and a yummy chicken spinach pasta dinner.
#40 Mt. Cabot (4,170 ft) via. Bunnell Notch Tr [9.1 mi, 2730 ft, 5:13]
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