Zealand Mountain: 1 down, 47 to go!
Updated: Jun 24, 2018
Saturday marked the start of our NH 4000 footer journey! Lucy and I decided to start with Zealand Mountain because we wanted to do a familiar trail, and I have stayed at the Zealand hut a few times. Granted, it was nine years ago the last time I was there, but I remembered the path to the hut being an easy hike. I was hoping it would be an easy to moderate peak to start on. Boy was I wrong!
The day started out with an overenthusiastic pup waking up with the sun at 4:45. After an hour of trying to get a few more minutes of sleep despite my dog's excitement to get on the trail, I reluctantly got up and we departed around 6:00. We stayed at my parent's ski house in Sugar Hill where the lupine festival was in full swing, so we had to take a short detour for some pictures in the flower fields.
We arrived at the Zealand trailhead just before 7:00 and met up with some friends for the hike. It was beautiful outside, about 55 degrees with just a few clouds in the sky. Perfect for hiking! Lucy, my friend, her dog, and I made it the first 2.5 miles to Zealand hut in an hour and 40 minutes with a quick detour to see Zealand falls on the way. The trail was mostly flat with a few bridges and a slight incline just before the hut. It was just as I had fondly remembered it! The weather warmed up to about 65 degrees with cloudy skies, making it a comfortable tank top hiking temperature. We stopped for a few minutes to eat a snack on the falls by the hut. I had made some yummy trail mix with toasted almonds, dried cranberries, dark chocolate chips, and cinnamon that I munched on while Lucy got some treats. It was very quiet with only two other people there, the least busy I've ever seen the hut!
After this quick stop, we started the ascent to Zeacliff via the Twinway. It was really exciting to be on the esteemed Appalachian Trail that so many before us have thru-hiked. The trail got steep quickly so our pace slowed quite a bit. It was definitely not an easy climb with a few spots that challenged the dogs. My friend's dog Tink is smaller and more agile than Lucy so she didn't have any problems, but Lucy needed some encouragement to make it up the rockier areas. Just when we were started to get bored with the steep uphill climb, we reached the Zeacliff spur. It took us almost exactly an hour to reach Zeacliff which had a beautiful view. What an amazing reward after the tough 1.5 miles!
After the detour to Zeacliff, we got a second wind and were determined to reach the summit. The next 1.6 miles were mostly flat compared to the previous section. There were a few steep areas one with a short ladder, but the dogs made it up easily. When we reached the spur to the summit at 11:00 we were relieved. We ate some sandwiches and took some pictures of the famous sign, but other than that the summit was commonplace. It was surrounded by trees and the cairn consisted of a few rocks in the small clearing. We talked to maybe 10 people passing through to the Guyot campsite to the Bonds. It was a little bit chilly, maybe 55 degrees, but not enough to warrant adding an extra layer.
The descent back down to the trailhead felt very long. I had to carry Lucy down the ladder which was harder on the knees than I had anticipated. The stretch between Zeacliff and the hut seemed to go on forever, and once we reached the hut Lucy hit a bit of a wall energy wise. She was stubborn, laying down and not wanting to get back up. I ended up taking off her pack and had her walk down in just her cooling jacket. I could definitely tell she was exhausted, but we didn't stop because I feared that if she decided to lay down and take a nap I would have to carry her out! The flat trail back to the car seemed to stretch on forever, but after a 4 hour descent we finally made it back to the parking lot just before 3:00, leaving us with a time of 7 hours and 56 minutes. Lucy slept all the way home to Boston, which took a little longer than expected due to bike week border patrol checks in Woodstock.
Overall, our first 4000 footer was quite a journey! The hike was longer than expected and although it was flat in many sections, the sheer length of the trail made it a strenuous hike. I'll be honest and say that if I could go back I probably would have picked a shorter hike as our first peak, but nevertheless it was a good day. The weather was beautiful and spending some time outside without cell reception was much needed. It was really great to disconnect for a few hours and just take in all of the sights. The amazing views at Zeacliff alone made the long hike totally worth it!
#1: Zealand Mountain [11.2 mi, 4260 ft, 7:56] via. Zealand Trail and Twinway
See our photo album from the day here.