Outdoor Adventures: Lots of buzz by Unknown Pond
They appeared along the shores of Unknown Pond reflecting the Kilkenny region mountain called The Horn as if popping from the glossy pages of an outdoor magazine.
Dressed more for fly-fishing, complete with smart-looking vest, than hiking, they each wore shades, belted tan pants and hiking boots. One wore a wide-brimmed hat, the other a baseball cap bearing the name of a popular outdoor brand.
Instead of fly rods, they carried equipment not usually spotted on a northern New Hampshire hiking trail: long nets.
They were “the dragonfly guys.”
Seeing fellow hikers with a purpose or quest is as common as spotting a tree in these parts. There are those who like lists and those who hike the Eastern Seaboard. There are those who climb for a cause and those who hike for happiness. You’re bound to cross paths with the eclectic and eccentric, even bumping into people you know on occasion like fellow writers, photographers and even a former congressman.
The two were N.H. Fish and Game volunteers, able to combine their two passions in pursuit of surveying the state’s dragonfly population. They were part of a squadron of net-carrying citizens searching the state between 2007 and 2011 in a joint effort with New Hampshire Audubon to study dragonflies and damselflies as a way to gain a keener understanding of the species relating to conservation and environmental well-being.
They got hooked on the project and continue a relationship with the state agency. On this late-August day with GPS held high in the sky to ascertain coordinates, the pair were looking for a select bog perhaps containing a particular species near the exquisite five-acre pond (and backcountry campsites) found at the tranquil junction of the Unknown Pond and Kilkenny Ridge trails.
The dragonfly duo hiked in some 2.2 miles from the northern side of the Unknown Pond Trail off Mill Brook Road by Stark, while my wife, Jan, and I had come in from the south, taking the approach from York Pond Road near the Berlin Fish Hatchery known for its gate that’s generally shut between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m., leaving an eight-hour window for our 10-mlle roundtrip hike to the ledge-laden 3,905-foot Horn near Mount Cabot – two other hikers we saw that day were hiking that 4,000-footer – along the unkempt pathway and then up Kilkenny Ridge.
One gets a renewed appreciation for well-maintained trails along the Unknown Pond Trail as it is oft-overgrown, the morning dew spiced vegetation sometimes dwarfing us both along the rocky and wet way by the rushing brook flowing from the pond. At times, the trail seemed more like a deer path, but was generally easy to follow despite a lack of blazes and its myriad water crossings.
Clearly we were in moose country, the droppings frequent and fresh. We didn’t see any, but the biggest snake I ever saw in the Whites lay sunning itself as the dew burned away, a reminder (along with spider webs) why husbands tramp ahead of their squeamish wives.
Through a glorious birch grove with awkward bend trees, we ventured until connecting to the Kilkenny Ridge and a lovely traipse through the ferns before the serious scramble up The Horn’s summit with its stunning look at the Presidentials, Pilot Range and Mahoosucs of Maine.
It was early afternoon during our return when we came upon the dragonfly guys, their almost formal dress for the forest and nets an easy conversation starter.
The interlude was pleasant before we parted, Jan and I soon stopping by the campsites for a bite. The pair passed us in search of that bog, and that’s where we caught up again on the broken birch-filled slope with its far-reaching views.
I’m all for chatting, but when it’s time to go, vamanos. My loquacious wife is also a long good-byer and I often find myself walking during the silence at the end of a sentence, thinking it’s finished, only for her to start up again.
I ventured ahead in the now dry verdure and waited the few minutes for her to catch up, her face beaming.
Turns out the dragonfly guys also were frequent customers at the busy restaurant where Jan’s employed, and the three were talking food and libation, proving that hiking husbands should have more patience and you never know who’ll you know at Unknown Pond.
(Marty Basch can be reached through onetankaway.com.)