Morgan-Percival Loop: A Quick Hike with a Tight Squeeze Earning its Place on the Terrifying 25 List
When you think of the type of trails you would expect on the Terrifying 25 list steep scrambles and challenging headwall climbs come to mind, not short little hikes in the Lakes Region topping out at 2,212 feet of elevation. I didn't think twice about my choice to hike Mt. Morgan and Mt. Percival on a quiet weekday morning, but let me tell you it wasn't as simple as I expected. I had attempted this hike back in March, but with the deep snow we had decided against the ladder route ascending the bypass instead. It had been in the back of my brain since then, so last week I decided to return so that I could check it off of the list.
I had been in desperate need of a nice solo hike to clear my mind, but with time restrictions I was forced to do something a little shorter than my typical therapeutic escape. Usually when I'm overwhelmed it takes at least eight miles of solitude to reset my system, but since I didn't have time for a long outing I decided to pick the shortest, southernmost hike I could think of with enough stimulating features to make me feel like I had experienced a full day of hiking in just a few short hours.
After the long, traffic ridden drive up from Boston, I hit the trail at 10:00am. It was a beautiful morning, about 60 degrees and sunny. The start of Mt. Morgan trail was flat and wooded, with the pine needles padding the soles of my feet with every step. I've learned that I love the cushioned ground of the lower elevation trails, with just a few intermittent roots and rocks along the way. As I moseyed up the trail, I admired the leafy trees with narrow beams of sunshine striking the ground between them. Although the leaves are starting to change in northern NH, here they are still green and shiny, awaiting the autumn transformation sure to come in the next few weeks.
I felt myself becoming more and more relaxed, my worries being left behind with every step. Every so often there was a brisk breeze rustling the leaves above my head, and I was reminded that autumn was almost here as it danced over my exposed shoulders. "60 degrees is still tank top weather," I told myself as I picked up the pace to keep warm. I had layers in my pack but I kind of loved the slight chill in the air. After a little while of climbing the very gradually uphill sloped trail, I came to the first test of this previously mellow trail.
Just ahead were three ladders embedded in the large rock. There's a detour to go around this part of the trail, but I was feeling up for the challenge. The ladders felt pretty sturdy and were very easy to climb with only one tricky transition. Above the ladders I crouched to enter a narrow cave that stretched about ten feet back. I could see light shining through the small exit to the cave, and made it through without incident. Lucky for me my 5'2 stature makes tight spaces like these pretty easy to navigate. Reaching things on the top shelf, however is more difficult!
After the first cave it was just a quick little scramble to the summit of Mt. Morgan where I was greeted with beautiful views of the Lakes Region. It was a beautiful day, with views all the way out to the Belknaps. Looking out from the cliffs I felt so high up that I couldn't believe that the summit was only at 2,220 feet of elevation. These little mountains aren't tall enough to be considered on the 52 With a View List, but they definitely don't disappoint.
After hanging out taking in the views for a few minutes, I started the short traverse over to Mt. Percival. The terrain was rocky but easy to navigate, and I took my time going across to really enjoy the nice weather. The summit of Percival was just as nice as Morgan, but the views were a little bit less expansive. It was so quiet and serene, my favorite part about hiking during the week. Finding the route to descend Percival via the caves was a little bit challenging. When you're at the summit looking at the lakes, you have to go straight ahead, seemingly off the cliff, to be on the correct route. I double and triple checked my GPS to make sure I was going the right way.
Getting down to the cave section was a little bit tricky because there were large rocks spaced out so you kind of have to hop between them. There's a huge, flat granite slab on the left just before the caves, so I followed it before jumping down to the entrance to the first one. The picture to the right is looking down into where the entrance of the cave is. The picture below is the entrance of the cave. You go in just above the yellow blaze. It was a tight squeeze through the rock, so I pushed my pack through before shimmying by.
The cave was pretty comfortably sized, and I only had to crouch a bit to get through. There was another tight spot inside that I easily passed, but when I came to the exit I started to get worried. The hole was two feet by three feet and triangular shaped, and it was long enough so I couldn't see where I would land upon exit. With the huge gaps between the rocks, I didn't want to take off my pack and put it through first for fear that it would fall too far to be retrieved. I tried to crawl out head first, but that plan was thwarted by the shape of the rocks quickly. Then I tried to get out with my legs first, but it was too tight to get my hips through and I feared that I would get stuck.
That was when I started getting anxious. I realized that I hadn't told anyone about my hiking plans for the day and had only seen two people on the trail so if I couldn't figure out a way out I wasn't sure anyone would know where to look for me. The entrance to the cave was too tight for me to try to get back out that way. The picture to the right is the entrance to the cave from the inside looking back. Yes, you come through underneath the rock with the blazes. Yes, it's tiny.
The cave started to feel really small in that moment, the boulders seemingly closing in on me. After a few deep breaths, I decided to give it one more go before trying to call for help. This time I started with an open mind. I took off my pack and kept one hand on it, preparing to pull it through upon my exit. Then carefully laying down on my back, I twisted myself counterclockwise and pushed myself out with my hands until I was on my side with my waist at the smallest part of the exit hole. After some more shimmying I finally made my way through the tiny break in the rocks pulling my pack out behind me.
I sat there for a few minutes, thankful for the vast space around me and the sun beaming down. I had gone into this hike expecting that it would be pretty easy because it was only a few miles to relatively small mountains. Again I underestimated the whites and was humbled by my experience. The rest of the hike was as gentle as the first part, allowing me to jog the entire way back to the car. Mt. Morgan and Mt. Percival definitely earned their spot on the Terrifying 25 list in my opinion. Although it's a short hike in the Lakes Region, it shouldn't be taken lightly and I would argue that it should be treated with the same seriousness that many of the other trails on this list demand.
Mt. Morgan (2,220 ft) and Mt. Percival (2,212 ft) via. Mt. Morgan Tr, Mt. Percival Tr, and Morgan Percival Connector [5.01 mi, 1700 ft, 2:45].
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