The Doberman started barking when I rounded the corner and I hoped his owner was nearby. When he charged my legs, I stuck my hiking pole in his face and he backed off. That’s the first time I’ve felt seriously threatened by an unleashed dog in the White Mountains.
I’d been scared, really scared. The owner then turned the corner and restrained his dog. I complained about the lack of a leash in a wilderness area which was met by the typical dog owner response, “Don’t worry he’s harmless.” If he was harmless why did I have to defend myself from a charge? These owner encounters always leave a bad taste in my mouth. But what can you expect on a 52 with a View Peak on a clear Sunday afternoon?
I soon forgot the dog when I emerged above treeline on Mt Parker and saw the incredible view of Mt Washington’s southern ridges open up before me. The morning mist had burned off and I could still see lingering snowpack on Washington and the other high peaks. The leaves on the trees in the Rocky Branch watershed had just come out and were dazzling neon green. Views like this are the ultimate mood lifter for me and their effect lingers for several days after a great hike.
This was my second attempt at hiking Mt Parker, which at 3004 feet is a fairly low mountain as far as White Mountain peaks go. I’d been thwarted previously by deep snow in March and turned around rather than posthole, while wearing snowshoes (the snow was that deep.) When planning this trip, I’d been focused on the threat of lingering snow and ice on Mt Parker. So-called Spring Conditions in the White Mountains are a challenging time to plan a hike because the lingering snowpack can require carrying snowshoes and microspikes close to the Memorial Day weekend (at the end of May.)
I picked a hard route to approach the peak from, hiking in along the Mt Stanton Trail, which follows the southern end of the Montalban Ridge. I prefer hiking new trails whenever possible and I’d never been on this one before. It’s now one of my favorites in the White Mountains! Who knew?
The Mt Stanton Trail starts on Covered Bridge Road about a mile from the Covered Bridge store on Rt 302 outside of Bartlett, NH. The trail runs through open forest along a residential area before climbing steeply to Mt Stanton in 1.4 miles. From there on, it runs over open ledge to Mt Langdon, with magnificent views of the hills south of Bartlett, including North Moat Mountain. I was treated to a layer of undercast cloud when I walked over the ledge, which quickly burned off as the morning progressed. The trail is a moderate scramble over open ledge with occasional twists, turns, and dips around small cliffs and boulders – all loads of fun, with great views along the way.
At 2.1 miles, the trail comes to the summit of Mt Pickering, which has an excellent view of Iron Mountain, another 52 with a view peak, on the other side of the Rocky Branch River Valley. You really can’t appreciate the beauty or sheer size of the Rocky Branch watershed unless you see it from this vantage point. It’s also seldom hiked now that most of the Rocky Branch Trail is closed after being devastated by Hurricane Irene.
Once past Mt Pickering, the Mt Stanton Trail takes on a distinctly wilder flavor, and becomes downright difficult to follow after dipping into the col between Pickering and Mt Langdon. If you continue this way, make sure you have a friend along who’s good at finding trails amidst heavy leaf clutter and blowdowns and that you bring a map and compass in case you become lost and need to bushwhack out to a road or more obvious trail. The section between the Langdon summit to the Mt Langdon Shelter and then to Mt Parker Trail is probably the most challenging with few blazes although the reverse route back is somewhat easier to follow. Hint: Heading west, hike down the privy trail to find the trail to the Mt Stanton/Mt Parker intersection. It’s terribly marked and I only sussed it out after a few false starts.
The Mt Landgon Shelter is one of the few remaining lean-to shelters in the White Mountains, which have largely been removed or left to disintegrate with age. It’s in pretty bad shape with warped floorboards, but the roof is intact and will keep you dry in the rain. There are lots of good tent sites in the area around the shelter though, which has a very nice water source.
Speaking of water, the stream at the Mt Langdon Shelter is the only water source along the Mt Stanton Trail that I encountered. Something to consider if you are hiking past the shelter, and up the Mt Parker Trail, which is also dry until you get up to Mt Resolution.
Continuing past the shelter, I soon came to the three-way junction with the Mt Parker and Mt Langdon trails, before heading north to Mt Parker. The Mt Parker Trail is once again easy to follow, although it’s not heavily blazed either because there a considerable amount of traffic up the peak. It is relatively steep though, gaining 1400 feet of elevation in 1.8 miles, although the ascent is moderated by switchbacks.
The top of Mt Parker is largely open ledge with the best views facing north. I sat and ate lunch while admiring the views to the east, north, and west.
When planning this hike, I’d originally hoped to hike a loop, passing Parker, continuing to Mt Resolution, before heading east along the Stairs Col Trail and out the Rocky Branch Trail back to Jericho Road. This would have required a 5-6 mile road walk back to my car, which I’d scouted the evening before and decided to avoid. Jericho Road isn’t flat and it’s bordered by many homes, which usually translate into at least one unpleasant dog encounter for this road walking hiker.
Instead, I opted to hike back out the way I’d come in, pausing to camp at the Langdon Shelter for the night. I was in need of a short restorative overnight trip, where I could go to sleep with the sun and wake with the dawn, even though I’d just gotten back from an 18 day trip on the Appalachian Trail a few weeks ago.
Arriving in the mid-afternoon, this proved to be a very relaxing place to camp, especially on a Sunday night, when I had the entire shelter and campsite to myself. After eating, I read a book and went to sleep early, waking up around 3:30 am to close the front vestibule of my tent when it started raining.
The next morning I hiked out the Mt Stanton Trail back to my car and returned home, mentally refreshed and my backcountry battery re-charged.
Total Distance: 14.2 miles with approx 5000 feet of elevation gain.