Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Mt. Kearsarge (2930 ft.) is, along with Mt. Monadnock and Mt. Cardigan, one of the iconic mountains of southern New Hampshire. Its massive bulk dominates the countryside in the bucolic region northwest of Concord.

No one knows this mountain better than Allen Koop, who lives 10 minutes away in New London. Allen is a history prof at Dartmouth and has been a mountain man going back to his days as a hutman at Lakes in the early '60s. He gives frequent programs on the history of the huts, on the Darby Field ascent of Mt. Washington, and on his fascinating book, "Stark Decency," which recounts the story of the German POW camp located in the North Country town of Stark during WW II.

For years Allen has been urging me to come down for an insider's tour of Kearsarge, his backyard mountain. By his estimate, he has climbed it over 1,000 times (no, that's not a typo), compared to a mere 200 or so ascents of Mt. Washington.

My only climb of Kearsarge had been on 9/28/86, a day the Red Sox clinched the pennant. After my hike, I listened to the last inning of that game in my car at the Winslow State Park parking lot. In my notes, I wrote that now all had been forgiven for the Bucky bleepin' Dent horror in 1978. Little did I know of the far greater horror that awaited several weeks down the road...

Allen and I agreed that a traverse of Kearsarge was in order: up the Barlow Trail from Winslow State Park, and down the long, less-used Lincoln Trail to its trailhead on Kearsarge Valley Road. Both of these trails are fully described in the AMC Southern New Hampshire Trail Guide. About 2:00 pm we set off from the Winslow parking area, a scenic spot high on the NW side of the mountain.

The Barlow Trail, built in the late 90s, is a more moderate and pleasant route than the steep, eroded Winslow (Wilmot) Trail. After a hardwood section, and an area with some large old spruces, it winds upward through many acres of deep spruce woods with the feel of a much higher mountain.

After a couple of initial views at 1.2 miles, it crosses this fine rock shelf that Allen has dubbed "Sidewalk Ledge."

Farther up the trail swings right up a dramatic ledge with a sweeping north view.

This slab drops down to a cliff at its lower edge.

The upper reaches of this mountain have an alpine look. Allen pointed out these pretty cones on a scrub spruce.

And shortly the trail passes a small alpine bog.

Allen led us on a detour to see a bit of wreckage left from a WW II bomber crash.

As the trail winds around on the mountain's flat northern shoulder, it passes this twisted tree.

Just below the summit the Barlow Trail meets the Winslow Trail.

Might as well get this overwith - the north side of this fine rock dome summit is dominated by what might be called the "monument of shame" for the State of New Hampshire. It dwarfs the old firetower, which itself is festooned with communications dishes. About ten years ago, under what one writer called the proverbial cover of darkness, the state allowed this monstrosity to be erected by a communications company. This despite a conservation easement placed on the land when it was given to the state by the Society for the Protection of NH Forests. A thousand local residents signed a letter of protest to the state, to no avail. The Forest Society took it to court and lost. Maybe an ice storm will bring it down...

The south knob of the summit is a better place from which to enjoy the views.

An inscription in the rock here commemorates the U.S. Coastal Survey of the 1870s. In New Hampshire, this was led by Prof. E.T. Quimby of Dartmouth.

Allen enjoying the breeze on his favorite peak.

The Whites can be seen in the distance, with Ragged Mtn. closer in on the left.

This shot might be called "The Two Towers."

A cloud of black flies soon drove us off the summit. As part of his insider's tour, Allen brought us on an old trail past a beautiful bog.

Nearby was the foundation of an old summit hotel.

Before we headed down, I scrambled back up to the south knob for a final look. (Photo by Allen).

Then it was on to the 4.6 mile descent on the Lincoln Trail.

This is part of the 70-mile Sunapee-Ragged-Kearsarge Greenway (, which is marked with white trapezoid blazes.

The upper part runs across scrubby ledges with views to the south. Sunapee is the long ridge in the distance. With binoculars you can see the new wind towers on a ridge in Lempster.

The trail soon emerges on a massive ledge, one of the neatest spots on the mountain. Mt. Monadnock can be seen on the horizon to the right of Allen.

From here there's a fine view of the long Mission Ridge, which is part of the route for the auto road to Rollins State Park. The Rollins parking area can be seen on the left.

At the end of this ledge is a very steep, rocky pitch down, worthy of the Northern Presidentials.

This talus wall lurking above the trail could make one uneasy.

You pick your way down through more talus before the trail eases off.

Beyond the link with the Rollins parking area, the Lincoln Trail plunges into the forest for two miles of wonderful, secluded walking. The upper part passes through some gorgeous ferny birch glades.

Farther down, as it skirts the flank of Black Mountain, there are long stretches through open hardwood forest. The grades are mostly moderate to easy.

About two miles from the end the trail passes through a small new clearcut.

A giant oak was left as a "legacy tree."

Then the trail drops off a knob along a piney old woods road/snowmobile trail with soft footing. Here the mosquitoes began a relentless assault.

The only downside to this trail is a mile-long stretch along an unattractive gravel logging road. The constant swatting at 'skeeters made this section seem longer than it was.

We were glad to reach the last half-mile section, known as the Link, which ends the descent on a good note, leading through pretty hemlock forest sprinkled with many large glacial erratics. This Kearsarge traverse, which requires a car spot of only a few miles, is highly recommended. Thanks to Allen for a great tour of his home mountain!


  1. I just have to say hello from Wonalancet - I'm the mail person for WODC so get your checks for maps - A coincidence that I'm back in touch with a former favorite student from 30 years ago whose favorite professor has climbed with you - Allen Koop.

    Books and mountains - it doesn't get any better!

  2. Hi Nancy,

    I can see why Allen is a favorite prof - just a great guy, someone I've learned a lot from also.

    Speaking of maps, Mike Bromberg was by the other day with his new Monadnock map - another excellent production from Mr. B!