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14 December 2012

A Two Mountain Day: Mt. Starr King and Mt. Waumbek

Doing a conventional hike to conventional destinations is rarely my first choice.  And when I do one of these conventional hikes, I'm frequently remiss about writing an account of my experience since various forums related to White Mountain hiking always have an abundance of reports about treks to these popular destinations.

There is nothing about my trek that really sets it apart from what has already been reported by others on multiple occasions.  My simplistic reason for taking a moment to write this report is merely to reinforce the idea that hiking is oftentimes just as much about the journey as it is the destination.

Many times, the "journey" is more than the hike along the trail.  The drive to/from the trailhead can also be a pleasurable component of the overall journey.  To illustrate my point, please take a look at the next photo which was taken on my way home AFTER completing my hike.  Upon seeing this vista of Mt. Starr King in my rear-view mirror while driving along Rt. 116, I just had to pull over and take a snapshot!
 Mt. Starr King as viewed from Rt. 116 near Jefferson, NH

Before continuing, here is just as a brief side note for any reader in other parts of the country who might be unfamiliar with hiking in New Hampshire.  There are 48 mountain peaks in this State which rise over 4,000 feet in elevation.  For many hikers, it's a prized goal to trek to each of these peaks.  Mt. Waumbek (4,006 ft) is one of the 4K peaks.  By using the Starr King Trail, you get a bonus mountain thrown into the adventure since this route to Mt. Waumbek also takes you over Mt. Starr King (3,907 ft).

Although it was mid-December in New Hampshire, true winter conditions were absent.  There was bare ground at the beginning of my hike.  However, there were some sporadic patches of ice along the trail here and there.  Eventually, as I gained altitude, there was a light covering of snow on the trail.  The hike required nothing special in the way of footwear.  Snowshoes were definitely unneeded.  There were a few spots where Microspikes would have provided some reassurance. However, with careful foot placement, even the use of that traction device wasn't an absolute requirement.

The next photo is a composite which shows the variety of trail conditions encountered on this hike.
 Variety of trail conditions encountered along the way to Mts. Starr King and Waumbek

The next two snapshots merely serve to show some features that are present at the summit areas of Mt. Starr King, and Mt. Waumbek.   Near the summit of Starr King is probably the most photographed fireplace in the White Mountains.  It is a remnant of a shelter that was built in the 1940s and removed in the early 1980s.
 A fireplace that was part of a shelter that once existed atop Mt. Starr King

And by comparison, shown in the next photo are less impressive features that are present at the summit of Mt. Waumbek.  There is a large cairn, and a trail sign.
 Large cairn and trail sign at summit of Mt. Waumbek

Further regarding Mt. Waumbek, there are no views of distant mountains from the summit itself.  However, thanks to a patch of downed trees, there is a nice viewpoint just about 50 yards east of the summit on the Kilkenny Ridge Trail.  Because of partial overcast conditions on the day of this hike, limited views were available from this spot (as well as from the fireplace area on Starr King).  Regardless, the next photo is a composite of two snapshots taken from the spot near the summit of Mt. Waumbek.
 Composite of two photos taken from viewpoint near Mt. Waumbek summit

Although it wasn't the best day to be viewing the high peaks in the Presidential Range, the views FROM those peaks had to have been terrific since there would have been the added dimension of an undercast cloud cover.   Perhaps the next highly-zoomed photo of Mt. Washington will illustrate my point.
 Highly-zoomed photo of Mt. Washington from Mt. Waumbek showing undercast cloud cover

Even though there were no stunning views of mountain vistas on this particular day, there was still the journey itself, which was simply delightful.  The Starr King Trail leads you through an enchanted forest which is beautiful at any time of year.  However, it takes on a special beauty when it is highlighted by snow.   The next photo is just one of many similar scenes encountered on this trek.
 One of many trailside scenes of the enchanted forest along the Starr King Trail

As noted above, the Presidential mountain range was partially obscured by clouds during my journey along the hiking trail.  However, as frequently happens, the clouds had cleared upon returning to the trailhead.  But that was okay.   Although the trail portion of my journey was over, my road journey home was just beginning.  While driving home, there was a dazzling roadside view of the Presidential Range in all its glory (next photo).
 Roadside view of Presidentials while travelling home from hike to Mts. Starr King and Waumbek

To sum it up, this conventional hike to conventional destinations was distinguished only in that it was a noteworthy example of how a hike can be as much about the journey as it is about the destination.  And, it served as a reminder that the "journey" can include travels to/from the trailhead, in addition to hiking the trails.

ADDENDUM: Added 18-Dec-2012

While looking for something else online, I happened to across the tidbit of historical information shown below.  It seemed appropriate to add it to this Blog report.


Yvon said...

John I like your photos but the last one is superb. Thanks for sharing.

1HappyHiker said...

Thank you Yvon!

The Presidential mountain range is so picturesque! The area around Jefferson provides several great spots for capturing lovely photo images. Anytime you are in that area, it is worth taking a side trip along Rt. 116 and/or Rt. 115A to enjoy the roadside views.


NeoAkela said...

That brings back some fond memories of a deep snowshoe hike up Waumbek a few years ago. There weren't any trees in the way at the blowdown patch then, but there was quite an abundance of snow!

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Chris,

Great to read that this Blog posting brought back some fond memories!

Living in Bethlehem, as we both do, it’s so easy to succumb to the “temptation” to hike to Mts. Starr King and Waumbek, especially since the trailhead is well under a 30 minute drive, and there are terrific roadside views along the way.

Let’s keep fingers crossed that we get some significant snow SOON, and that it lasts for weeks, rather than days, as seems to be the recent trend.


Summerset said...

I was contemplating another trek to these two peaks - the conditions don't look too bad. I've been hearing about this viewpoint past the summit of Waumbek, and now I'll have to check it out. Maybe once we get some snow - this is such a pretty snowshoe trek, especially between the two peaks! I have a hard time too, not pulling over on the 115A to take pictures - there is such a great view of the Presidential range from those open fields.

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Summerset,

Thanks for your comments!

Regarding the viewpoint just beyond Waumbek’s summit (as well as the viewpoint at the fireplace on Starr King), the vistas at both locations seem to be more open than I remember them being.

Off the top, I don’t recall for certain, but I think this is the first time I’ve revisited Starr King/Waumbek since the time that Marty and I met you and Cameron on the ridgeline between the two peaks.


1SlowHiker said...

I enjoyed your pictures, particularly the Presidents in undercast I was on Pierce and Ike on just such a day last winter. I haven’t done Waumbek yet, so I am glad to see that there are some good view points.
I was on Whiteface & Passaconaway that day; conditions somewhat the same except hardly any signs of snow (just lots of ice and blow-downs). I am envious of you NH residents who can “enjoy the journey” to and from the trailheads. With the short winter days I typically arrive before daylight and leave after dusk. BTW thanks again for letting me sort of copy your pseudonym. – Marvin from RI

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Marvin,

It’s great to read that you have had the good fortune of personally experiencing an undercast when you were on Pierce and Ike last winter. It is such an impressive sight, and one that remains in your memory forever!

Yes, it is indeed a blessing to live in such close proximity to the major peaks in the Whites, and I’m eternally grateful for having this good fortune.

Thanks Marvin for taking time to post your comments . . . much appreciated!


Yvon said...

I know where you have taken the photo John. I have passed there a few times. It is a good place to take nice photos and have a nice views.

1HappyHiker said...

I continue to be amazed at your knowledge about NH. You know as much about this region as the folks who actually live here! :-)


Rita Wechter said...

Beautiful photos, John. And I also appreciate the written reports of your hikes!
That photo of the "enchanted forest" is a winner. Seriously I think you could sell many of your enchanting New Hampshire woodland scenes.
About that fireplace... has anyone ever stopped and built a fire in there to take the chill off a frigid winter's day hike?

Another interesting post.
P.S. How many of the forty-eight 4,000'+ peaks have you hiked, John?

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Rita,
First of all, thank you for your generous remarks about my photos. At the risk of sounding overly modest, there are so many others out there who capture beautiful images of White Mountain scenery, and who have developed a business for selling their fine work. One of the many folks who do this is my friend Chris Whiton at

Regarding that fireplace on Mt. Starr King, I've never seen anyone gathered around a fire at that location, but then again, my visits to that location are infrequent.

And regarding your question about the NH 48 4K peaks, I have hiked to each of them. However, 10,098 other hikers have also accomplished this same feat (as of the most recent count in April 2012)!


London Accountants Lady said...

Gosh, what a beautiful place - bet it was nippy though!