The Kinsmans: The Epitome of "It's About the Journey, Not the Destination"
Updated: Aug 31, 2018
It's day two of my five-day hiking vacation, and with less than optimal weather my plan for which mountain (or mountains) to tackle changed a lot. At first my plan was to do Mt. Carrigain, but last night the weather started to look like it would be rainy in the morning. This peak is known for the incredible views from the elevated platform. On a good day you can see 43 of the NH 48 4,000 footers! I decided to change my plan to Mt. Cabot because I want to hike Carrigain when the viability will be good.
When I woke up at 7:00, I realized that it was too late to get all the way north and hike Cabot today. The Berlin Fish Hatchery controls the gate that leads to the trailhead, and it's only open from 8:00 to 4:00. With the hour and a half drive and the ten mile hike, I was worried about making it back in time. I soon realized that the trailhead for Mt. Kinsman Tr is only about five minutes from my parent's ski house in Sugar Hill where I'm staying, so I decided to bag both North and South Kinsman today instead.
I left the house at around 8:20 after taking Lucy out and making sure she was fed. She was still really tired from our hike yesterday, so I wasn't worried about leaving her at home by herself. After a quick drive and getting all my gear together, I hit the trail at 8:35. It was about 65 degrees and very cloudy outside, but the forecast called for partly sunny skies in the afternoon so I was hoping for the best. The Mt. Kinsman Tr was very well worn and the blazes were prominent making it impossible to get lost. My sense of direction is dismal to say the least, so I was grateful it was a very obvious trail to follow especially since I was solo.
The trail was pretty flat for the first mile or so which was a nice warm up. At the half a mile mark the trail turned onto what looked like an old logging road, so it was really wide with hardly any rocks. This is when I started to hear the familiar pitter-patter of raindrops on the birch leaves above me. There was also an eerie fog sitting on the trail making it very Harry-Potter-Forbidden-Forest feeling.
After the trail turned off of the old logging road it started to get steeper. It wasn't the obvious kind of rock staircase steep that you can see ahead of you. It was more of a gradual, sneaky steady incline that left me breathing hard but not knowing why! I thought on the ascent how great this trail would be to jog down on the way back. It was mostly hard packed dirt with some roots and small rocks, perfect for trail running! There were a few small stream crossings, but they were all very manageable. I remember thinking how little mud there was on the trail for it being rainy.
At the spur for Bald Peak about two miles in, the sneaky incline flattened out. It stayed pretty flat with a few more stream crossings for about a mile before the trail became more rocky and steep. As I neared the junction of Kinsman Ridge Tr (AT), Mt. Kinsman Tr turned into big slabs of rock with little patches of dirt in between. The rock was pretty slippery, but luckily it had stopped raining so that made it easier to get up. I finally reached the Kinsman Ridge Trail and headed south towards the summit of North Kinsman.
This section of trail was pretty steep and rocky, but there were no really scrambley sections. I was kind of disappointed because I like climbing up small scrambles, but it was probably for the best since everything was wet. I was already dreading coming back down these steep rock slabs, so I hoped the sun would come out and dry it off a little bit. No luck there. I reached the summit of North Kinsman at 10:55, but didn't stop because there was no view. I was hoping that maybe the clouds would lift in the time that it took for me to tag South Kinsman so I could see the view of Franconia Ridge.
Coming down North Kinsman and going up South wasn't bad at all. There were a few areas where the slippery rocks threatened to take my feet out from under me, but I somehow managed to stay upright. On my way I passed four northbound through hikers. They were all really friendly and it was nice to see other people since I hadn't had any human contact since the grocery store last night.
When I got to South Kinsman it was unsurprisingly socked in, so I just tagged it and started backtracking to the north peak. It was really windy up there, so I was a little bit chilly coming down. I was also wearing a sports bra because hiking in no shirt is better than hiking in a wet shirt and I hadn't put it back on since the rain stopped. In retrospect I probably should have, but I don't really get cold often so I just made sure to keep on moving.
When I got back to the north peak I took a break for lunch on the lookout. It faced East, so I thought about how nice watching the sunrise would be over Franconia Ridge. I ate my steak tip sandwich envisioning the view that was stuck behind the clouds. After the long, 20 minute lunch break I started the descent back to the car.
The slippery rocks made for a slow descent on Kinsman Ridge. Clumsy me ended up slipping and falling a couple times. Good thing I have a big butt to break my falls! It took what seemed like a long time to get to the junction with the Mt. Kinsman Tr, but I figured once I got to the hard packed dirt my pace would increase. I was wrong. The first mile and a half after getting off of the AT was really muddy at this point. I'm not sure why it seemed so much muddier on the way down, but it seemed like I was rock hopping the whole way to the junction for Bald Peak. Maybe it was slower because the rocks are more slippery on the way down. I'm not sure.
The last two miles of the trail should have been cake but ended up taking longer than necessary. It was flat or slightly downhill with not many rocks. The only danger was slipping on the roots that hide themselves in the pine needles and leaves. I jogged down the first mile but slipped on a root and rolled my ankle. This slowed me down considerable and although I walked off the pain in about fifteen minutes, I didn't want to jog and risk it happening again. It was kind of nice to take it slow for the last mile though. I definitely see more when I'm not running. I kept seeing these tiny little frogs that were about the size of a dime hopping across the trail. They were so cute!
I finally got back to the car around 2:15. I looked down at my legs and they were caked with mud. This is definitely the muddiest I've ever gotten while hiking so far! I couldn't wait to take a nice hot shower when I got home. Overall this was actually a really nice hike despite the foggy, rainy weather. Mt. Kinsman Trail was really beautiful, full of bright green moss and flowing streams.
I find that a lot of the time when I hike I'm focusing on the amazing views at the summit, but today I was reminded that it's not always about that. So today's hiking lesson is that sometimes it's about the journey, not the destination. Especially when your destination is socked in! Cliche I know, but it's still true. And now I'm off to grill steaks in the backyard while looking at the now cloudless Kinsmans mocking me in the distance.
#32 North Kinsman Mountain (4,293 ft) and #33 South Kinsman Mountain (4,358 ft) via. Mt. Kinsman Tr and Kinsman Ridge Tr [9.14 mi, 3610 ft, 5:40].
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