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12 November 2014

My First Hike to Mt. Cardigan (New Hampshire)

You have never hiked to Mt. Cardigan?!  That is often the response I hear when telling someone that this mountain is "among the missing" from my list of hiking adventures.

It's completely understandable why there would be such an expression of surprise.  After all, I do hike a lot, and Mt. Cardigan consistently ranks highly on several "best hikes" lists.  Actually, there is even one list (as of the date this blog was written) which ranks Mt. Cardigan as one of the top 25 hikes in all of New England! (Click HERE to view that list.)

So what is it that makes Mount Cardigan (3,155 ft) so special?  In 1855, there was a devastating forest fire which resulted in extensive areas of alpine scrub and bare granite ledges which exist to this day.  This type of setting provides the look and feel of a "big" mountain without the distance and elevation gain involved in a "big" mountain hike.  On a clear day, it provides 360 degree panoramic views of many of the high peaks in NH, VT and a few in western ME.  And, to further add to its appeal, there is an extensive network of trails which provide a variety of hiking options that can be customized to suit a wide range of abilities and situations.

There has been no particular reason why I've put off doing this trek.  It just seems that each time I've considered doing it, there has been an interesting adventure to do that was closer to home.  For me, doing a hike to Mt. Cardigan involves a drive of about a 150 miles (round trip).  But, everything is relative.  A few of my Facebook friends routinely drive far greater distances for their hikes, and so they would have very little pity for my whining about mileage!

In early in November 2014, I finally decided to do a hike to this mountain.  My chosen route was a short and simple modified loop of about 4.8 miles.  I ascended Mt. Cardigan via the West Ridge Trail, then did a short "out and back" side trip to Firescrew Mountain via the Mowglis Trail.  For the descent back to the trailhead, I used a combination of the Clark and South Ridge Trails.
The following map shows ONLY the trails that were used for my hike.  Please be advised that there are many more trails on Mt. Cardigan in addition the ones shown here.
Map showing the trails used on my Mt. Cardigan hike
Regardless of whether you've previously hiked this mountain, or are considering doing it for the first time, I would recommend purchasing a copy of the most recent edition of the guidebook entitled "Southern New Hampshire Trail Guide".  It is published by the Appalachian Mountain Club and is available from a variety of retailers.   Contained within this book are maps and complete trail descriptions for all the trails that lead to Mt. Cardigan, as well as several pages of interesting information about this mountain.

And so, with no further ado, shown below are some snapshots taken on my first trek to Mt. Cardigan.
Approaching top of Mt. Cardigan via West Ridge Trail
Looking northward toward Mt. Moosilauke from Mt. Cardigan (Yes, that is ice you see in the foreground!)
Nearby Firescrew Mountain dominates this scene.  It was too overcast to see high peaks in Presidentials, Carters, Sandwich Range to the right (northeast) of Firescrew.
Mt. Cardigan as viewed from Firescrew Mountain (along the Mowglis Trail)
South Peak as viewed from Mt. Cardigan
Mt. Cardigan as viewed from South Peak (along the South Ridge Trail)
To sum it up, after having had such an enjoyable experience, I have a sneaking suspicion that there will be future adventures to this destination!


One Day in America said...

Hi John,

You're right about the "big mountain" feel of this hike. The expansive views and the openness of the trail remind me of some of the mountains in Colorado.
I love the picture of the cairns on the way to the top of Mt. Cardigan. Are the stones cemented together?
Do you know how Firescrew Mtn. got its name? Anything to do with the 1855 fire?
This looks like a nice hike and an enjoyable way to spend a day. (And...150 miles RT isn't too bad by my standards!)

1HappyHiker said...

Hello Rita!

As always, your comments and questions are most welcome and much appreciated!

Regarding your question about “Firescrew”, as you correctly suspected, it got its name from the flames and smoke that spiraled from this mountain during the 1855 fire. And regarding the question about the cairns on Mt. Cardigan, no cement is involved. They are simply carefully stacked stones. There is an online article about cairns that you might find interesting. To read it, you can cut and paste the link below into your web browser.

Ah! And regarding your comment about driving distance, admittedly I’ve become spoiled by the good fortune of living so very close to so many great hikes in northern NH, ME, and VT, all of which are well under a 100 miles round trip. Perhaps it’s time to do some re-thinking and expand my horizons by traveling a bit further for some of my day-trip adventures! :-)


Steve Smith said...

Glad you had a fine day for your first hike to Cardigan, John! It is indeed a terrific hiker's mountain. As Clay noted on Facebook, there are many options for interesting loop hikes on less-travelled trails on the east side. Orange (Gilman) Mountain is probably my favorite spot, with a great view of Cardigan and Firescrew. Thanks for the excellent report!


1HappyHiker said...

Hi Steve,

Thanks for your comments, and for your kind words about my report. I’ll be very eager to try a variety of loop options, as suggested by you and Clay. High on my list will be the Orange Mountain/Cardigan loop described in your June 2013 blog report (link below).