Spring has arrived in New Hampshire under 2500 feet, while winter conditions persist at higher elevations. After climbing some dozen 4000 footers in March, I’ve resumed working through the New Hampshire 500 Highest list with the aim of making some serious headway in April and May, mainly in Southern and Western New Hampshire, while the north country continues to thaw.
Sentinel Mountain and Mt Mist are two peaks located just outside the tiny village of Warren, New Hampshire, the smallest in terms of population, of the four towns named Warren in New Hampshire. Warren is particularly interesting because of the Redstone Rocket located in the center of town instead of a World War II artillery piece. The Redstone was the first nuclear missile developed by the United States and it makes a memorable landmark.
Sentinel and Mist are also located close to the New Hampshire Appalachian Trail, in the stretch between Hanover, NH on the VT/NH state line and Mt Moosilauke which is the first 4000 footer that northbound thru-hikers and section hikers encounter. While the AT gets much harder after Moosilauke, you can still make good time in the southwestern section.
Of these two peaks, I decided to tackle Sentinel first because it was the biggest unknown, in terms of the time required to climb and bushwhack to the summit. Mt Mist is just 200 yards off the AT, so I had a good idea how long it would take to hike.
After passing through Warren, I drove up Rt 25C to Ore Hill Rd, which is an unmaintained dirt road, and parked at a gated ATV trail that climbs up Sentinel Mountain’s shoulder along a high-tension wire swath. While heavily eroded and ice-covered, it was a lot easier to climb than tackling the Sentinel summit head-on. Energy conservation is the name of the game when hiking off-trail. The easier route is always the better route. Or usually.
If you look at a map, the marked summit of Sentinel is actually a little lower than the actual summit (marked with a bulls-eye, below), which was my intended destination. But I wanted to enter the woods a “little high” so I wouldn’t have to hike uphill as much off-trail, which is more strenuous. So I entered the woods just below height-of-land and only to discover that there was plenty of snow remaining inside the tree-line. Luckily, it wasn’t more than 6 inches deep and it was very firm underfoot, which was good because I didn’t bring any snowshoes.
I came across an old logging road that seemed like it was headed in the direction I wanted, but it soon became clear that it was taking me to the “map summit” not the actual summit I wanted. I came to a clearing where there a satellite monitoring station and a caretaker’s cabin and then vectored off in the direction of the true summit. I found it fairly quickly because I could see the landscape sloping uphill. Bushwhacking in early spring is nice because you can see the shape of the landscape before it becomes obscured by leaf cover.
I found the canister and signed in, before shooting a compass bearing back to the power line trail. The area below the summit had been heavily logged and there were many fallen trees still on the ground, but treacherously covered in snow. I followed a draw downhill but stayed high rather than descending to the debris-chocked streambed that ran through its middle. Once I arrived at the power line swath, it was a straightforward hike back down to my car.
Mt Mist is located about 1.75 miles north of Rt 25C along the Appalachian Trail. It’s another mountain where the actual highpoint is different from the one marked on most maps. But that’s a rant for another time.
I parked at the 25C trailhead and hiked uphill to height-of-land, which was about an 800-foot climb. The trail was still snow-covered and full of frozen mud, but I could bareboot it without having to resort to microspikes.
I’ve hiked this particular section of the AT something like five times, as recently as two years ago. I can still remember running into a group of hikers that last time who were there to bushwhack to the actual summit, for what I assume was the New Hampshire 500 Highest List. It was a freezing winter day and I remember thinking to myself “these people are cracked.” Two years later, it’s ironic that I was walking in their footsteps, figuratively speaking.
I shot a bearing to the summit…yes I use a compass…and headed off into the woods. The hobblebush was just budding for the year, so it was still easy to hike through the open woods. I spied an incline on the horizon that I figured was the summit and headed toward it. I found the canister, signed in, and ate a sandwich.
I shot another bearing back to the AT and then hiked back down to my car. On the way, I met John, Sue, and their Corgi, named Dylan. We’d actually passed before on my hike in but stopped for a longer chat this time. John recognized me from the headshot I put in my weekly newsletter so we caught up for a while before parting ways. He’s going to be section hiking the New Hampshire AT this year something I finished again last autumn. I was so infatuated with New Hampshire hiking after that that I never left.
While Mist was not a very challenging hike and just a short bushwhack, it was a quite pleasant hike. Somehow I know they won’t all be this easy.
Recommended Hiking Navigation Tools
I carry and use all of these navigation aids on hikes, both on-trail, and off-trail, in addition to a paper map. The most reliable tool is the compass, by far, because it only relies on the earth's magnetic field to operate. The others are also excellent, but they can generate false positives in the field and it's useful to have a compass along so you can verify the information they provide.
- Casio ProTrek Solar Powered Altimeter Watch - are you sick of changing or charging your watch's batteries? This multi-function watch is solar-powered and the watch band is replaceable. It never needs recharging and I never take it off. It has time, date, compass, temperature, altimeter, barometer, stopwatch, backlit display blah blah. I mainly use the time and the altimeter.
- Suunto M3 Declination Adjustable Compass - great compass. Set the declination and forget it. True north eliminates ever having to add or subtract degrees when going back and forth with a map and compass. I have the M3-NH (Northern Hemisphere) model. They also have an SH model and a G-model, which means it's a global compass that can be used north or south of the equator.
- GaiaGPS Navigation App - there are some things about Gaia that really annoy me, but they have a lot of different maps and map layers to help you figure out where you are in the field. I mainly use the Gaia Topo and TF Outdoors base maps with the Slope Angle and the US Roads layer, which has forest/park service roads, fire roads, some snowmobile trails, and unpaved roads. You can't carry all these maps at once unless they're available in digitized form on your phone.
- Caltopo - Caltopo doesn't have the programming staff that GaiaGPS does, but I still like it much better than Gaia's route planning tool. This is what I use on my laptop to plan and document my hikes. It's also very convenient for big picture planning especially when you're trying to block out a number of alternative routes. Caltopo also has an app, but I like Gaia's much better.
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