Outdoor Adventures: Small mountains, large rewards

  • Downes Brook is crossed while whimsical cairns watch on the way to Mount Potash. Marty Basch / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Sunday, October 08, 2017

They are both compact, ledgy sub-3,000 foot peaks offering wide-ranging White Mountain vistas from their posts in the Sandwich Range, and both are worth the hike.

Hedgehog Mountain is the smaller of the two worthwhile peaks, standing at 2,532-feet and accessed by a nearly 5-mile loop trail that has a trio of viewpoints. Potash Mountains is a bit taller at some 2,700 feet and can be reached from the northeast by a 4.4 mile out-and-back route.

Both treks begin at the same trailhead parking area across from the Passaconaway Campground, roughly in the center of the Kancamagus Highway between Lincoln and Conway.

Though the Kanc (aka Route 112) draws a large share of white-knuckled motoring leaf peepers during autumn’s peak colors, the two peaks are excellent year-round choices for outdoor adventures.

Plus, hikers will notice the blue diamond markings of winter, showing that the trails are also intertwined for a few steps with cross-country skiing in the Olivarian-Downes Brook system.

I’ve climbed both several times in different seasons and return because of their stellar mountain platforms.

The trek to Potash and its distinctive white granite summit and ledges begins on the Downes Brook Trail which crosses by an old gravel pit before venturing into the woods, where the Mt. Potash Trail takes over. There, Downes Brook rambles under the watch of whimsical cairns. Plenty of strategic stepping stones make it a painless crossing in low water, although a high water crossing can be a challenge.

Venturing under the hardwoods, the trail passes through a pleasant hemlock grove before leading to a nice outlook on its shoulder with bulky 4,043-foot Mount Passaconaway taking a commanding role on the horizon and offering a small taste of what is to come.

From there, the pathway steepens through the spruce with some rocky footing before bursting out onto the slab stage.

The slabs and summit provide outstanding looks at the rippling Whites with the peaks reaching upward to the sky. The Sandwich Range and its wilderness lay to the south. The Downes Brook Valley and its slide can be seen near the easy-to-spot triangular head of Tripyramid in the southwest, along with peaks like the sinister-sounding and trail-less Fool Killer near Waterville Valley.

Mount Washington and its Presidential Range neighbor Mount Eisenhower touch the horizon to the north while Green and Owl’s Cliffs take hold in the foreground. Wildcat and its summits, plus the three Moats (South, Middle and North), are all part of the alpine wave.

The rocky spire of Mount Chocorua sits in the eastern sky flanked by its three lovely sisters as Mount Hedgehog occupies the fore.

The spruce-filled Hedgehog is reached along a circuit that provides three major view spots during the loop on the UNH Trail, which has some history.

The rustic Radeke Cabin sits in the pines and mixed hardwoods by the Swift River about a quarter mile away from the trailhead on the Kanc. The cabin was once a summer camp for the University of New Hampshire’s School of Forestry. The U.S. Forest service purchased the cabin, opened it for year-round lodging in 1969 and named the trail after the school.

A loop outing can certainly be done either way on this trail. I like the clockwise approach because it gets some of the more moderate stuff out of the way first using switchbacks to climb the slope after a jaunt on an old logging road. The way leads to the scenic East Ledges with outstanding views to the south and east. At first, the Moat Mountains stand tall. Then, after a short scramble, it’s an outlook with Chocorua, Paugus and Passaconaway commanding the attention.

There’s still some more steeps and scrambles until reaching the summit with its ledgy panoramas out to Paugus, the Tripyramids and Osceola. There’s another spot that takes in the eastern portion of the Sandwich Range, and yet another viewpoint that looks north to peaks like Lafayette.

On the final leg of the loop, there’s an open expanse from Allen’s Ledge, named after a 19th century outdoorsman named Jack Allen. No wonder the hunter, angler and guide spent time on the mountain and its area – the vast stunning scene of majestic peaks and soothing low-lying lands shows that one doesn’t haven’t to tackle the highest of mountains for the grandest of views.