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Basch: Classic fall hike returns classic fall views

  • Squam Lake shimmers from a Mount Morgan ledge. A 5-plus mile loop connects low-lying Mount Morgan and Mount Percival for a classic Lakes Region hike in Holderness. Marty Basch / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Published: 10/6/2019 7:31:27 PM

With the wonderful approach of colors, crisp temperatures and a return to fleece, warm hats and even gloves on occasion, fall’s glory is best experienced on a hike.

Though it may be best to seek under-the-radar excursions particularly on the weekends during these colorful times, classic hikes yield classic views and one such journey is a circuit over a couple of low-lying Lakes Region peaks.

Alas, do not be lulled into certain smugness by the numbers. Mount Morgan at 2,220 feet and Mount Percival at 2,212 feet are certainly small peaks. But there’s a steepness to the cliffy mountains, especially Percival, that can turn what might be perceived as a moderate 5-plus mile hike into a demanding undertaking that leads hikers to wooden ladders and through tight squeezes should they choose.

If hiking with a companion, honestly evaluate the relationship first. Ladders and caves can cause lasting emotional distress.

The Lakes Region’s big draws are massive bodies of water like the state’s largest lake, Lake Winnipesaukee, and smaller Squam Lake, made famous in the Henry Fonda-Katherine Hepburn classic On Golden Pond.

It’s possible to get above the water on the Squam Range, a small line of wooded mountains north of Squam Lake with peaks like Morgan and Percival with frequent views from big, open ledges that include lakes, ponds and prominent cones like Mount Chocorua.

The trails are under the auspices of the Squam Lakes Association created in 1904, an organization which promotes the protection of the lakes and surrounding areas.

This is one of those loops with preferences possibly even in both camps depending upon whether hikers’ decide to use the ladders and enter the caves. On a recent sunny late September day, my wife Jan and I opted for a clockwise loop from the Mount Morgan trailhead on Route 113 in Holderness, nearly midway between Holderness and Sandwich (across from the West Rattlesnake trailhead). About a third of a mile east is the Percival trailhead which is less busy. A trail connects the two, saving huffing it on the winding road.

Even midweek, the circuit utilizing the Mount Morgan Trail, Crawford-Ridgepole Trail, Mount Percival Trail and Morse Trail was seeing a fair share of hikers, including the four-legged kind. One was a cream-colored mixed lab named Percy who was hiking up Percival – he’s named after the Percy Peaks and Percival Baxter – for the first time with his owner, Al Sochard. Coincidentally, Al and I had met before as we share a bunch of North Country buddies.

The mount Morgan Trail begins pleasantly enough, following a wide former logging road as it increases in difficulty up the southeast side of the mountain as it comes to a trio of wooden ladders that lead to a tight squeeze through boulder caves before climbing up steep ledges. The ladders and squeeze can easily be bypassed.

Morgan’s open ledge are dazzling, the true summit much less so with its limited views. From open rock, gaze upon the island-studded Squam Lake and the Big Lake further out on the horizon with the Ossipee Mountains to the east. A fine spot for a snack or lunch, it was then time to follow the Crawford-Ridge Trail for about a mile. That trail, more than 11 miles in length, follows the spine of the Squam Range between Sandwich Notch and Cotton Mountain. For the Morgan-Percival trek, it’s got some rock knobs and blissful flat sections leading to a final scramble up to Percival’s glorious summit.

As with Morgan, the lakes shine brightly. In the north are peaks like Lafayette, Carrigan, Moosilauke. Look out to Mount Chocorua, Sandwich Dome and Paugus. Much closer is the Squam Range with mountains like The Rattlesnakes and Mount Israel.

Percival also presents hikers with a choice – boulder caves or no boulder caves – down the Mount Percival Trail. Either way has its steep parts where butt-sliding comes in handy.

After the steeps, the trail mellows out as it returns to the cover of the woods. The rocks and roots soon give way to a smooth dirt path, a onetime logging path. Stone walls are evidence that the land along the trail was a farm at some time.

The end draws near with a short stretch along the Morse Trail that leads over a wooden bridge before rejoining the Mount Morgan Trail to the parking area which closes the classic loop with classic views.




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