Ice, ice baby. Plus moss dusted with snow, waterfalls and views to fill the soul for days.
Welcome to the time of year when hiking conditions can get tricky. As with every transition to winter for the last 44 years, I'm caught off guard and rarely prepared. Apparently, the same applies to hiking.
When I set out to meet my friend Jaime at Grafton Notch State Park, I thought I had everything I needed for a winter-ish hike: gloves, mittens, winter coat, waterproof pants, and multiple layers on top. I was fully prepared for possible wind and cold temps.
But the ice - I simply forgot to include that in my planning. I should know better by now, but clearly I am still learning. My favorite L.L. Bean micro spikes, which I absolutely love, were left at home. Jaime brought hers, but left them in the car.
Boy, did we pay for those mistakes...hiking at a pace of one mile per hour. You read it, ONE mile per hour folks. Usually, I hike at about one mile per half hour, so if you do the math, the ice doubled our hiking time. Bamboozled again, by these tricky mountains. Still, this is the reason I love hiking. It is always an adventure and really forces you to be fully present in the moment...especially when you're climbing a mountain of sheer ice.
Old Speck Mountain Trail is Maine's 4th highest mountain and 5th highest peak. It's located in Grafton Notch State Park and is part of the Mahoosuc Range of the White Mountains. The views are found along the way, as the summit is enclosed by trees...unless you're up for climbing the old fire tower.
We took the orange blazed Eyebrow Trail up, which connects with the AT. Then we took the AT the entire way down. This trail is basically a lollipop starting with the Eyebrow on the right of the loop, the A.T. on the left, and the stick leading to the summit, which is all A.T. Here's the All Trails link where you can find a map: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/maine/old-speck-mountain-trail--4
The Eyebrow is steep, so I wouldn't recommend descending this way. Still, if you're up for a little fun on your ascent, this trail includes metal rungs and cable holds to assist in the steep climb. There is also an incredible view of the valley, which you can only get from taking the Eyebrow.
You will have this view shortly before connecting with the white blazed AT, on the right, leading you to the summit. The sign for the A.T. connection is easy to miss. If you pass this sign, you will find yourself heading down the A.T. to the car. If you get to a large section of open rock with this view, you've gone too far. Turn back and look for the sign showing the intersection of the A.T. and the Eyebrow.
Shortly beyond this point, is where sheets of ice appeared. We moved slowly and enjoyed ourselves anyway, but I might suggest trying this hike in the warmer months or when it's packed with snow. Here are some pictures from our ice adventure:
Still, the moss and gorgeous woods and good company made it all worth this challenging climb. Take a look at the beauty we were surrounded by..
The summit is enclosed, so you won't have much a view unless you climb this old tower. Been there, done that. Chose not to do it this go round...especially since we were racing the setting sun.
As you make your way down, take a right at the intersection of the AT and Eyebrow trail. This will lead you down the AT to the parking lot, past this incredible waterfall.
This 7.4 mile hike took us, again, ALL day. My advice to you, be prepared for ice this time of year. Invest in some good micro spikes and warm clothing (thermals underneath everything). The weather changes rapidly with elevation. To make my point, here are two pics: one from the base of the mountain and one at the top.
Drastically different climates. Be ready for it, but don't stop hiking! Winter hiking is beyond satisfying in every way. Endless beauty, crisp air, peace. Try it and you'll understand what I'm talking about. Let me know how it goes!