The Kinsmans: A Beautiful Winter Outing Despite the Overcast Weather
It's been over a month since my last NH 48 outing and I've been going a bit crazy. I feel some combination of cabin fever and outright jealousy when I go more than a few weeks without hiking in my favorite mountains, especially when I see my friends up there taking advantage of the gorgeous weather when I'm stuck in the city. I usually try to make hiking a priority, but between graduate school, work, and taking care of my dog, driving up to the mountains for the weekend can be tough to fit in. Luckily I got an extra day off this weekend for President's day so that I could utilize my time up north!
After much discussion, Will and I chose to hike North and South Kinsman Mountains because the weather wasn't looking appropriate for above treeline travel and I was confident that Lucy was capable of joining us for the day. When approached from Mt. Kinsman Trail it's a ten mile up the gradually climbing trail. Lucy usually does really well in the winter if the conditions are appropriate for her, so I was excited for her to experience two new 4,000 footers! She was just excited to get outside and play in the snow all day.
After nice relaxed wake up, we drove the five minutes from my parent's house to the trailhead on Route 116. It wasn't plowed, but the snow in the parking lot was packed down enough for easy access. There were only a few cars in the lot when we got there, a perk of using the less traveled route. In the winter the Kinsmans are most frequently accessed by Lonesome Lake and Fishin' Jimmy Trails, especially because Lonesome Lake Hut is open through the winter with baked goods and hot tea for hikers coming through. We saw quite a few people climbing who stayed in the hut the night before.
After reading a few trail reports the day before, we opted to hike in only microspikes. There had been at least four groups of people up there on Saturday to pack out the trail, so after reading their accounts of the hike I was confident that we wouldn't need snowshoes. This being said, Will and I agreed that if we came across anything that did require snowshoes we would turn back as not to posthole and ruin the trails for our fellow hikers. Normally in the winter I would never leave my shoes behind, but with our heavy packs full of both our emergency gear and Lucy's, it was a huge weight off our shoulders.
As we started up the gentle trail I felt a wave of relief wash over me. After all of the stress of school and other obligations these past few weeks, it was great to be back in the mountains. For the past few years hiking has been my escape, never failing to mitigate my anxiety and give me something to look forward to when life in the city becomes overwhelming. As we walked up the trail I felt like I was finally back where I belong beneath the snow covered trees.
We were all excited to be hiking on this beautiful winter day. Lucy started by bounding up and down the trail with joy before settling in at a good pace that she maintained throughout the rest of the hike. It was so nice to see her love of the snow and the mountains throughout the hike, with her bouncy little steps and happy smile. Will and I chatted while we walked, happy to be out in the snow. We met a few people throughout the day, but for the majority of our time on Mt. Kinsman Trail we didn't see other hikers. I love seeing fellow hikers on the trail, but the serenity of an empty trail is something that I always crave. After a month of being in the city, the peace and quiet was definitely appreciated.
One of my favorite parts of this trail was the old logging road about a mile in. It opened up with sunlight pouring down, a change from the thick pine forest we had been trekking in up to that point. Although I love the pine and spruce trees with their subtle aromas and snowy sparkle, they can make the trail quite dark especially on an overcast day. The logging road was lined with white birch trees, so although the sky was full of clouds it felt brighter and more cheery.
After ducking back into the dense forest, we began our climb to Kinsman Ridge. It was gradual at first, with a steep final ascent to meet the ridge. As we ascended the trees became shorter and shorter, bending under the weight of the snow. There were many branches that reached out onto the trail with their small twigs encased in clear ice. As we brushed by they made a hollow clinking sound, the natural wind chimes of the forest. By the time we got to the ridge every tree was covered in a thin layer of snow turning the woods completely white. Luckily Lucy has a bright orange snow coat or her natural furry camouflage would have made her disappear into the trees.
When we got to Kinsman Ridge, we were greeted with views of Cannon Mtn and the Cannonballs. We could see the subtle ghost of Mt. Lafayette shielded by the clouds in the distance, but unfortunately the socked in skies didn't let us see it all day. As we climbed to the summit of North Kinsman we too were socked in by the clouds around us, but the luckily the visibility remained good on the trail. Traversing over to South Kinsman was fairly simple, with a small drop in elevation and the subsequent climb back up.
The summit of South Kinsman was open, so we were lucky the winds were relatively calm only blowing at about 10-15mph. It was chilly up there so we didn't stay long, but the views were unique. We were mostly socked in, but it looked like a different planet with the whole summit being completely covered in snow and rime. Many of the open summits don't collect snow in the winter because of the heavy winds blowing it away, but this one was completely covered.
After tagging the summit and taking a quick picture, we descended back the way we came, but in a very different fashion. One of my favorite parts of winter hiking is being able to butt sled on the way down! Will was an expert, glissading down the steep, winding trail. He got lots of speed making the descent much faster than the climb up. Lucy and I were less adept at the butt sledding, sliding down some steep sections but trying to stay upright for the most part. This was Lucy's least favorite part of the hike because the boots on her back feet didn't have great traction.
We made a quick stop at Bald Peak during our descent, which was just a 0.2 mile detour off of Mt. Kinsman Trail. I was hesitant because we were all pretty tired after the long hike, but the short addition was so worth it! Because it was so much lower in elevation we were under the clouds with gorgeous views to the east. It was a welcomed surprise after a long hike with very few views. We played around on the open summit for a few minutes before returning back to the trail. The rest of the descent was pretty straightforward, and by the time we got to the car we were all exhausted.
Lucy did an amazing job on this hike, conserving her energy and letting me know when she needed help. We've been battling with her back feet because they get too cold and full of snow if they're left exposed in the snow. We've used many different products, but boots have been the best solution so far. With these cold temperatures however, they accumulate ice making it necessary to switch the boots out when they get too frozen. All of this being said, Lucy was a trooper letting me adjust her boots and switch them out when necessary.
Otherwise, Lucy was her smiley, energetic self trotting up the trail but always waiting for us before she went out of sight. By the last mile of the hike I could tell she was getting really tired, but she stuck it out to the car where she immediately plopped down in her crate for a nap. This is probably the upper limit of mileage she can handle while still having fun. It's good to know because being able to complete a ten mile hike opens up so many more possibilities for us when it comes to finishing her 4,000 footers. This hike brought her to 15 of the 48, so I'm so excited to chase more summits with her in the coming months!
Last time I hiked the Kinsmans I had a similarly socked in day but this hike was totally different. Seeing these mountains change from summer to winter is really interesting because although I was in the same place a year and a half ago, it looked like a completely different summit. It makes me so excited because although I've hiked nearly every NH 4,000 footer in the summer, it's such a different experience in these winter conditions that it gives me so much to look forward to with thirty-six more winter ascents to complete. It was great to be able to bring Lucy up there, something I wouldn't have been able to do if Will weren't with us. His enthusiasm and easygoing attitude made this hike really fun and relaxing for all three of us! I fall more and more in love with the Whites every time I hike, so I'm really excited to continue to have new adventures in the mountains I call home!
North Kinsman Mtn (4,293 ft) and South Kinsman Mtn (4,358 ft) via Mt. Kinsman Tr, Kinsman Ridge Tr, and Bald Peak Spur [10.34 mi, 4245 ft, 6:55].