Mt Cabot is the northernmost White Mountain 4000-footer and a 9.6 mile out and back hike with 3,000 feet of elevation gain. The last time I climbed it was on November, 4th of last year (2021). I remember that hike vividly because we got our first winter snowfall that day and the summit was covered in snow. That’s a little early for first snow in New Hampshire and my friends and I were all surprised that Jack Frost had arrived so soon.
But it’s summer now and the National Forest is starting to get more crowded with the influx of summer visitors. With afternoon thunderstorms forecast, I decided that Cabot would be safer to climb than one of the higher, above-treeline 4000-footers. Cabot is also the northernmost 4000-footer which thins out the crowd on Sundays because it’s a much longer drive home to the southern parts of New Hampshire and Massachusetts, where people live and work during the week.
The primary trailhead for my Cabot is the York Pond Trail inside the Berlin Fish Hatchery grounds. This is where they grow and nurture the trout they use to stock ponds and lakes across the state. It’s a huge but remote complex outside of Berlin that’s a good starting point for several backpacking routes. As the fish get bigger they’re housed in these long concrete tanks where you can see hundreds of them floating underwater. There must be a current in the pools, because they’re all pointed “upstream”, watching for food to float by. It’s a sight.
When I arrived there at the trailhead, there were only four other vehicles there, so I knew I’d get to experience some solitude on the hike. I do hike with other people and enjoy it, but I’m a pretty private person and enjoy my alone time. I find conversation very distracting on hikes and have a hard time remembering what I observed afterward. It’s a balance, but hiking alone gives me the opportunity to carefully observe my surroundings and helps me to remember them later. I take a lot of photos, which helps too.
The hike up to Cabot follows three trails: the York Pond Trail, the Bunnell Notch Trail, and the Kilkenny Ridge Trail for a distance of 4.8 miles with 2700 feet of elevation gain. The first part of the York Pond Trail is very short before you turn onto the Bunnell Notch Trail which climbs to 3000′. The Bunnell Notch Trail is a gradual, but persistent climb, along a very wet trail with lots of mud and many small stream crossings. The route gets much steeper when you start up the Kilkenny Ridge Trail, which switchbacks its way up to Cabot Cabin.
Cabot Cabin is a two-room shack that used to be the fire warden’s dwelling when there was firetower on Cabot. It has a table and some bunk beds inside and is maintained by a local boy scout troop. It’s visited by everyone who’s ever climbed Cabot but it’s still in surprisingly good shape despite the traffic. I once slept inside in July 2010, although I don’t think I’d do that again. It was a little sketchy and I was worried I’d get lead poisoning from all the old paint chips that had fallen off the walls and ceiling. Still, I suppose sleeping inside it is a White Mountain backpacker right of passage.
I passed the cabin on the way up and headed to the official Cabot summit which is about a quarter-mile further on when I spied a new sign for water, pointing downhill. I couldn’t believe it….there was never a sign there before, that I can remember. It marks a side path to the Cabot Spring, which is a mere trickle of water about 200′ below the ridge trail. Finding the Cabot Spring has always been a rite of passage for people redlining the White Mountain Guide (hiking all the trails), so it’s a little disappointing that it’s no longer the challenge it once was.
If you need water on Cabot, make sure you have a sponge in your pack, because the spring releases very little water and it’d be challenging to fill up a bottle without one. The trail down to the spring has been cleared but it’s a pretty steep descent. I went down to check it out anyway.
I climbed back up from the spring and summited the peak before heading back to the cabin to eat my lunch. The bugs were terrible outside the cabin on the front porch, so I sat inside where I could relax and read the log book on the table inside where people sign their names.
A lot of the hikers who’d signed the book were working on their first round of the 4000-footers, which is very popular amongst White Mountain hikers. I signed in with #435/576, as I’m now over 75% of the way through hiking the twelve rounds that make up the White Mountains 4000-footer Grid. I’ve got a lot of hiking left to finish, but it’s going by a lot faster than I would have expected. This was the 10th calendar month I’d climbed Mt Cabot and I just have 2 more climbs to go, next April and next May (when thankfully there are no bugs).
As I contemplated my return trip down the mountain, I decided to put the legs of my convertible pants back on because the bugs were so bad. You build up a huge sweat climbing the 4000-footers when it’s hot and humid as it was that day, but going down requires much less effort. Hiking down, I flew back down the mountain which I had so ponderously climbed earlier while thinking about how much I like hiking in the north country. It’s been a while since I did a serious backpack up this way and I’d like to revisit some of my favorite places once again.