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Bushwhacking Big Coolidge

Big Coolidge from Lincoln, NH
Big Coolidge Mountain towers above Lincoln, NH

I bushwhacked another New Hampshire 3000 footer on Saturday named Big Coolidge. It’s located just outside of Lincoln, NH, on the other side of the Kancamagus Highway from Loon Mountain Ski Resort. The summit is visible from downtown Lincoln, although you wouldn’t know there was a town on the other side of the mountain when you claw your way up Coolidge’s steep eastern face.

I’d been eyeing Big Coolidge and its neighbor Whaleback Mountain for the past couple months. They’re both technically trail-less peaks although there is an officially closed trail, the original Osseo Trail, which you can hike to climb Whaleback and then follow to the new Osseo Trail (or so I’ve been told).

Whaleback Mountain, from Big Coolidge
Whaleback Mountain, from Big Coolidge

Although Whaleback Mountain is a 3000 footer, it’s not on the NH 3000 footer list. South Whaleback is however, and requires a short bushwhack from the old Osseo Trail from the col between the two peaks. I didn’t make it there today: I ran out of daylight, but I’ll be back. Being near Lincoln, they’re really easy for me to get to.

Big Coolidge (3920')
Big Coolidge (3920′)

I started today’s hike up Big Coolidge at the Old Osseo Trailhead in the Clearbrook Condo Village.  The trail head is marked by these boulders (see below). I parked in one of the visitors’ spots right next to the trail entrance. As far as I can tell the condo turns a blind eye to people who park there.

Old Osseo Trail Entrance
Old Osseo Trail Entrance

The trail runs parallel to Clear Brook crossing back and forth over it. There’s a wide stream crossing fairly early on, but it is rock hoppable. There was ice on the rocks this morning, but I was able to balance myself with a large log lying across the stream.

First Stream Crossing
First Stream Crossing

The trail is marked with a yellow blaze that’s been spray-painted onto the trees. Despite being closed, the trail is still actively maintained by some of the Clearbrook Condo residents who remove blowdowns that block the trail. I spoke with one of them this morning on his way up to Whaleback.

Yellow Blazed Trail
Yellow Blazed Trail

I started my bushwhack about 1 mile up the trail right before its last major crossing over Clear Brook. I’d timed this mile, estimating that it would take me 30 minutes to hike, including a few stops along the way for photos. There’s an obvious old campsite there. I could see the summit of Big Coolidge through the trees and planned to climb to the southern side of the summit ridge because it looked a little less steep on my topographic map than further north.

The forest was quite open up to about 2200′ but the trees and brush got denser as I climbed. There were scattered areas of snow down low, but the snow got progressively deeper the higher up I went. It was quite slippery, so I put on microspikes at 2400′ but they started to ball up immediately. I left them on because they still provided better traction than barebooting.

Glacial Erratics peppered the ascent
Glacial erratics peppered the ascent. Open woods lower down.

The woods got much denser from 2500′ to 3000′ feet when the deciduous trees turned to conifers (spruce). I was able to walk around most of the blowdowns but had to put my rain shell and rain pants on because I was getting soaked by snow brushing off on my clothes. The higher I climbed the steeper the slope got and the deeper the snow. Must have been 4-5 inches deep by the time I got to the top. The people who ski Loon Mountain must be psyched about all this snow.

Hard to tell but there is a cliff behind all that wood
Hard to tell but there is a cliff behind all that wood

There are series of small cliffs from about 3000′ up to the summit at 3294′. I managed to skirt most of them to the side, although I did walk straight up a moss covered one. My route up proved to be pretty good although this was the densest bushwhack I’ve been on since climbing the West Peak of Osceola last spring. Certainly better than my descent down the northern end of the ridge which was far more difficult.

Big Coolidge Canister
Big Coolidge Canister

I made it to the summit, a 1 mile climb with 1500 feet of elevation gain in three hours. It was tough going. The canister was easy to find although it was still pretty thick up top. I was hoping that this one would be an old-time mason jar, but it’s been upgraded to PVC. I spent a while reading the register entries, which date back to 1989. The last people to hike this peak did so in October 2013, but there weren’t many.

Big Coolidge register entires going back to 1989
Big Coolidge register entires going back to 1989

The Descent

I wandered around up top looking for good views and could see the Kinsmans, Mt Cannon, The Agonies, Lincoln, Liberty, Flume, and Whaleback from between the trees although it took some tree-bashing to get  to see them. Rather than retrace my footsteps, I decided to whack down the east side of the mountain from the north end of the summit to see if I could find a more open route.

Blow-down Hell
Blow-down Hell

I didn’t and I would advise against trying to come up this way. I hit a very wide and long swath of blow downs intermingled with small spruce on this track which was challenging to get through safely in the snow. There’s very deep leaf litter here and I felt like I was plunging down into snow and leaf voids between the fallen tree trunks. Can you believe I actually enjoy this stuff?

I just grinned and kept my eye on the line of hardwoods below me, knowing that I’d make it through the spruce and into open woods eventually. Having gravity on your side makes all the difference!

I think I’m hooked on the NH 3000 footer list.

Research sources for this hike

Planning a bushwhack requires piecing together information from a variety of sources. For this hike, I used an old version of National Geographic’s TOPO! I have that still shows the route of the ‘old’ Osseo trail on it. It’s a handy DVD to own if you like to hike old historic trails. You can still buy it online or used. I also used an online mapping program called CalTopo to plot my route and print out a 24,000 scale map. It prints a mileage scale on the bottom of the map which is handy for predicting segment walking times.

I also benefited from previous trip reports and historical information from these web sites.

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8 comments

  1. Nice whack!
    You can also view the historic topos in CalTopo, using the menus in the top right corner.
    The old Osseo trail appears in the 1915-1945 coverage.

    • Saw that after I planned the trip. I have to check how good they are across the rest of the whites. Sure is an excellent planning program, though.

      • yeah, CalTopo is great. The slope angle shading layer can also be very useful for bushwhack planning. But of course it’s only as good as the topo data behind it. I was bushwhacking in Olympic Nat Park recently and the contours as well as the slope map said it was pretty flat in one area — yet I was threading my way around a series of 100′ cliffs.

      • Exactly, but I also find contour shading very useful for planning and for helping me refine my topo reaing skills. Practice, practice, practice.

  2. So bushwacking now or dead of winter which is worse? Here you still have to worry about tripping over trees and general getting soaked however in winter you have full blown spruce-traps.

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