This is, the dreaded, Coyote Mountain. It is an accursed place that my husband and I stumbled upon, back in March of 2009, during a late-winter hike along Ted’s Trail*; one of several less-traveled trails leading up North Pack Monadnock in Greenfield N.H.
Encountered in the false security of daylight, this hill would seem downright laughable. An unsuspecting hiker could just pass right on by…
However, wander near toward dusk and creatures who prowl the night (hairy beasts with snarling/ snapping jaws, mange-ridden fur and glowing embers for eyes) descend. These demon-dogs have been known to rend flesh from bone, drip with rabid saliva and bay at the full blood moon!
Yeah…I totally just made that crap up.
Most of it, anyway.
That (↑) is actually just an inverted picture of an ordinary hill, on a quiet little trail, on a perfect hiking day in Southern New Hampshire. There were some coyote prints around, and the sun was low in the sky, so it was a little spooky. Sometimes, you get punchy in the forest. You’ve hiked miles on end, all hopped up on granola bars and caffeine. Maybe you’re a little dehydrated or cold. You get loopy. You start naming stuff.
“Didn’t we already pass Coyote Mountain? Twice??”
“Dear god, we’re standing in Moose Litter Box!” (Don’t ask and, yes, it IS what you think.)
Okay, well maybe you don’t name your landmarks but we do. Think of it as whistling through the graveyard. It was scary, okay?
<Enter our heroine>
Followers of our Facebook & Twitter feeds know that Iowa is our 9-year-old Australian Shepherd. Iowa LOVES to hike. She loves to protect us. She also loves her beloved ball; in an unhealthy Obsessive Compulsive Disorder way. In a dear-god-we’ve-got-to-take-that-ball-away-from-her-before-she-hurts-herself-or-someone-else way. See, Aussies love to herd and, since we don’t have sheep, the ball is her everything. She just doesn’t know when to stop. She will even throw the ball to herself (when we finally pass out from exhaustion) or has invented a neat little game where she grabs the ball between both front paws and drags it around. For hours…
Like all of us, Iowa isn’t getting any younger. After a seizure, a subsequent trip to the vet and a prescription for Puppy Prozac to control her compulsions, we decided it is in her best interest to limit ball time. Hiking, however, is good for everyone! Yay!
My husband and I often hike the Wapack Trail. It runs about twenty-one miles from Mount Watatic in Ashburnham, Massachusetts to New Hampshire’s North Pack Monadnock (2,278 feet) in Greenfield (Wa-Pack, get it?), crossing over Temple Mountain along the way. There are also seven miles of side trails including, another of our favorites, a trail to Kidder Mountain (home of the aforementioned “Moose Litter Box” which will, no doubt, make an appearance in an upcoming blog post). The Wapack Trail is tended to by a wonderful group of folks called Friends of the Wapack. This trail, itself, was the dream of Frank Robbins and Marion Davis of Rindge N.H. They made this dream a reality in 1923. On a clear day, you can spot the White Mountains, Green Mountains of Vermont and Berkshires of Massachusetts. It is also dog-on-a-leash friendly, a rarity these days.
We drove to the trail head on the south side of Old Mountain Road in Greenfield. Trail markers and signs for the Wapack National Wildlife Refuge point the way. It’s a fairly simple hike; a steady uphill climb with a just a few steeper areas. The snow and ice make it more challenging but we love winter hiking; both for exercise and the chance to spot animal tracks. Since the season is upon us, I thought I’d share one of our many cold-weather hiking experiences with you.
As soon as our boots hit the trail, Iowa was ready to go!
Until we hit the first steep bit…
Sigh…*rolls eyes*…as I was saying, there are some challenges along the way, particularly for those among us without opposable thumbs (no names mentioned).
We bravely ventured on and were rewarded with gorgeous sights and harmonic sounds beyond every pine-needle blanketed bend. Rushing snow-melt streams and roaring semi-frozen waterfalls provided frequent water breaks for Iowa. Red and grey squirrel and Eastern chipmunk sounded danger alerts to their comrades. Hide your nuts! (And berries, of course.) Choruses of birds sang us on our way. If you’re a bird watching enthusiast (and who isn’t?), you may be interested to know that a 2002 breeding season survey conducted by Wapack National Wildlife Refuge (a big, thank you, to them!) observed the following species:
- hermit thrush
- red-eyed vireo
- Canada warbler
- blackpoll warbler
- bay-breasted warbler
- black-throated blue warbler
- black-throated green warbler
- blackburnian warbler
- golden-crowned kinglet
- scarlet tanager
- rose-breasted grosbeak
- yellow-bellied sapsucker
- red-tailed hawk
- sharp-shinned hawk
- peregrine falcon
- ruffed grouse
That, my friends, is A LOT of birds. But what I remember most about that lower section of the trail was the sunlight glinting off of water, ice and snow.
Much of the Wapack Trail, and the surrounding area, consists of spruce, fir and hemlock forest peppered throughout by stands of ghostly white paper birch, sugar maple (mmmm…syrup), pine and American beech, to name a few. There are also several species of woodpecker, who are all too happy to turn these towering trees into condominium complexes.
It was an almost cloudless, crisp day and, as we climbed toward the summit, rock ledges and cliffs became more pronounced. Views started to open up of the forest, mountain ranges and countryside around us. Farms and pastures dotted the landscape. It’s said that, on a clear day, you can even see the skyline of Boston Massachusetts from certain vantage points on Pack Monadnock. To me, the coolest thing was when a doe appeared, as curious about us as we were of her.
Wildlife is abundant in this part of New Hampshire: squirrel, mouse, vole, porcupine, chipmunk, deer, moose, hare, bobcat, fox, coyote and black bear, to name a few. This is one, of many reasons, why it’s important to have your dog leashed. The temptation to chase can be irresistible, especially to a furry little girl who loves to herd. Nobody wants to get lost…and miss these views?
Soon, we reached the cairns that begin to mark the summit and added our own, carefully chosen, stones. Iowa, ever protective and no doubt feeling victorious, sniffed and scampered…scampered and sniffed; until, she decided she REALLY needed a bite of granola bar and a nap. We obliged and spent some time admiring the view, snapping photos, drinking in the silence and petting our faithful four-pawed hiker.
The sun sets fairly early, even in late winter, and skies begin to glow mauve, then dim. The hike back to the car would be a chilly one. We packed up and made our way, safely, through crunching snow, past shady wooded stands, slower moving shimmering streams and, yes, even Coyote Mountain.
Of course we all love to take expensive vacations to tropical islands and exciting far-off cities but a lot can be said for half a tank of gas, a free day, great company and a pair of hiking boots. Some of my most cherished memories have occurred on days such as this. That’s what our blog is about: family, friends, affordable adventure and creating lasting memories!
I hope you enjoyed this week’s blog post and that you’re inspired to take your own amazing day trip. Don’t be shy! Offer your thoughts and experiences with the rest of our community in the comment box below or share this post on your favorite social media platform. Don’t forget to follow us by entering your email address into the box in the sidebar above. We are spam free and will only send you updates and important information pertaining to the blog.
Until next week…
*Hike New England.com is a great source for details on Ted’s Trail