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Hiking Pawtuckaway’s South Mountain

Sunday was an absolutely gorgeous day for hiking, with temps in the mid-to-upper 70s and clear blue skies sporting fluffy white clouds with nary a hint of rain in the forecast. And that’s exactly what my friend Scott and I did.

After a couple years of talking about how we really “should” go hiking this summer, we finally stepped foot onto a path leading up to South Mountain — a small 908-footer at Pawtuckaway State Park in NH with nevertheless spectacular views and a fire tower at the top to take in the full panorama — at approximately 10:45 AM.

The trail immediately let us know we were going up and that Scott had imbibed a bit the night before, but it was nothing compared to the last six-tenths of a mile to the summit, and we quickly caught our groove. There were even some downhills and flat spots near the bottom. A good warm-up.

That first 2.4 miles was a very nice hike on a clearly-marked, wide trail thru dense woods. Along the way, we encountered a couple small ponds and a marsh full of bull frogs croaking away as well as several large and interesting boulders.

We didn’t see too many people on the way up. Just enough to reassure us, both that bears would have heard human activity (and hopefully kept away), and that we were going the right way. On the way down, however, we were the greeting committee for many late-starting groups, mountain bikers, and families, some with kids already looking tuckered out with probably a couple hours still to go at their pace.

Nearer the top, the temperature dropped instantly and refreshingly; the last .6 miles was much steeper with the trail getting skinnier and consisting more and more of big rocks. We were feeling macho (lol) and always chose to climb them versus taking any of the small, still steep, paths that went around them.

Once at the top, we took in the amazing views and kicked ourselves for having forgotten our cameras(!). A few people were scattered about the summit, but were on their way down, leaving us to head up the rickety fire tower stairs where we were the only two. That was exhilarating for someone (me) with a healthy fear of heights.

Unfortunately, the raw almonds we packed were stale, despite their expiration date of next year, but it was now a little after noon, an hour and a half into our hike, and we were craving the fuel, so we had a couple handfuls and more water while sitting in the tower and vowed to do it again soon.

The walk down was faster and easier cardio-wise, and you could tell your legs were accessing a different set of muscles. It was fun being the ones saying Hi answering questions for those just getting started on their day’s adventure. We were down by 2 PM at the latest, starving and tired, but in that good, I’ve done something way.

To our pleasant surprise, Scott’s wife and daughter were back from a day at the “beach,” also at Pawtuckaway, and lunch was just coming out of the oven: a hearty pasta meal with breaded eggplant rounds.

There was more to our day as well, but that covers the hike. Our goal this year is to hit up Mount Cardigan, which I climbed as a Boy Scout. It’s far more ambitious of a hike (3,155 feet above sea level), so we may work our way up to it while we explore what else the southern part of the state has to offer vs just jumping right in as our 2nd hike.

Southern New Hampshire Trail Guide, 3rd: AMC’s Comprehensive Guide to Hiking Trails in Southern New Hampshire, including Monadnock, Cardigan,…


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