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Mt. Cardigan

In July of 1999 the extended family was in town, so a dayhike certainly seemed in order. My father-in-law Frank; my brothers-in-law Phil and Tony; my nephews Christopher, Nicholas, and Alex; and my sons Matt and Adam were all willing participants, and all I had to do was pick the hike. Since I'd just recently purchased the newly-published AMC Guide to Southern New Hampshire, I decided I would try to find a suitable dayhike within its pages. After a bit or reading and some consultations with Phil, we settled on Mt. Cardigan, a 3,155 footer that rises up above the Connecticut River valley a few miles west of New Hampshire's Lakes region. Since Nicholas and Alex were both under ten years of age, I picked the West Ridge Trail. With a trailhead above 1900 feet, the hike up Mt. Cardigan via the West Ridge Trail offers maximum reward for minimal effort.

Friday, July 9, 1999 (3 miles). In the AMC's Guide to Southern New Hampshire, the West Ridge Trail is decribed as a traditional first hike for children in New Hampshire. We reached the trailhead at 11:30 am and decided to each lunch at the picnic tables that were present rather than haul our food up the mountain. We hit the trail at noon and began the hike to the summit. The lower section of the West Ridge Trail is very well maintained, with numerous steps built into the trail wherever things get a bit steep. At the half-mile mark, the South Ridge trail branches off to the right and provides an alternate, slightly longer path to the summit. I let a coin-flip decide which of the two youngest hikers (Nicholas and Alex) would decide which trail to use. Nicholas won the toss and picked the West Ridge Trail, so we continued via that route.

At the 1.1 mile mark, we crossed a footbridge named Cliff's Bridge. We stopped to take some pictures (yet to be developed) and then got underway again. Beyond Cliff's Bridge, the trail immediately begins to rise up out of the forest, and the forest floor gives way to long stretches of walking on solid granite. As the trees began to fall away, we were rewarded with a rather nice view of Vermont's Green Mountains to the west. Soon we were up above the trees altogether, and were walking up towards the top on the sloped granite summit dome. Mt. Cardigan is capped with a fire tower that is, apparently, still in use. The unprotected summit was quite a bit windier than the lower slopes of the mountain, but it was still warm enough to be comfortable. We spent about 45 minutes on top. The White Mountains were clearly visible to the northeast, and I believe I was able to identify Moosilauke, Franconia Ridge, the Bonds, Mt. Cannon, and the Tripyramids, among others.

Once we decided to start down, we had to pick a route. Most opted for returning via the West Ridge Trail, but Tony, along with my sons, chose the South Ridge Trail. There were few insects on the way up, and not many of them on the way down, either. This was a pleasant surprise. Other than a squirrel and a couple of chipmunks, there was almost no wildlife along the trail at all, which was not surprising given the amount of noise produced some of the younger hikers in our party.

When we reached the trailhead, Tony, Matt, and Adam were already there--they claim they took a wrong turn and ended up back on the West Ridge Trail, but I have no idea. In any case, I'm surprised it took me this many years to get around to hiking Mt. Cardigan. The views are great, the effort minimal, and the West Ridge Trail, at least, is wonderfully maintained. Everyone had a good time, the weather cooperated, none of us old farts were sore the next day, and on the way back, the kids, at least the ones in my car, slept most of the way, which was a welcome relief after all that trail chatter. I'm waiting for a nice, crisp, autumn day, and when it comes I'll be headed back to Cardigan again.

Total trip mileage, 3.0 miles.

Copyright © 1999, David Lister

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Document last modified on Friday, 19-Jan-2007 07:20:51 MST.