September is the quintessential month for camping. Is it because the air is dry, the temperatures are cool, and the leaves are starting to turn? No. It’s because young families are home buying school supplies, taking kids to soccer, and fighting virulent diseases in daycare centers. That leaves us old, cranky misanthropes to scour the countryside for a few good campsites.
Our most recent trip took us to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. While perhaps not as majestic as the Rockies or the Himalayas, the “Whites” are in their own way simply beautiful. Somewhat at the more northern end of the Appalachian Mountains (no disrespect to those of you in Maine), we centered our activities in and around the Northern Presidential range (Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Madison mountains).
While a hundred years ago I have climbed all these mountains, this trip was largely made in the creature comfort of our vehicle. Karen, to her credit, let me make a solo ascent up Mt. Washington – in my truck. Note: She has driven with me up this mountain several times before – in dubious weather. She is simply smarter than me.
Now I know driving up Mt. Washington is a pretty lame way to get to the top of a mountain, but I will admit that this drive will get your heart pumping. Mt. Washington has some of the worst weather in the world, and the drive is daunting – steep, narrow (as in pull in your mirrors so you can sneak past another vehicle), at the edge of dramatic thousand-foot+ drop-offs with no guard rails, and swirling clouds that can cause vertigo. And if weather moves in (it does frequently), you can lose all visibility (which we have in the past with Karen screaming at me). In other words, a perfect drive. This solo ascent was good for our marriage – a win-win, so to speak.
At almost 6,300 feet elevation, Mt. Washington is the tallest mountain in the northeast, and towers over the other mountains. Because of its’ height and being at the confluence of several jet streams, the weather on top of the mountain can change in practically zero time. According to the weather station on top of the mountain, the highest winds ever recorded by anyone were recorded at 231 mph back in 1934. It is rare that the top of Mt. Washington is clear, even though it may be a beautiful day otherwise. The clouds appear and leave in an instance, so it is rare to have a clouds-free view from the top.
Particularly when the weather gets dicey or really any time to make sure you stay on the trail, rock cairns guide hikers above tree line. Trust me – if you are hiking, these cairns are your friends.
We camped at Russell Pond, a National Forest campground near Lincoln. This is a stunning campground on a beautiful pond, with loons and owls making their distinctive calls. Think On Golden Pond. While there are no services, water is available at spigots. There is no dump station, and generators are only allowed from 6-8am and 5-7pm. The campground is located close to Lincoln and N. Woodstock, at the western end of the Kancamagus Highway. This place is one of our favorites.
If you are not of a mind to camp in a primitive campground, perhaps the Mt. Washington Hotel is more your cup of tea. We visited the hotel for lunch, and I have to say, the place is beautiful. Located directly west of the mountain, with (on a clear day) an unobstructed view of Mt. Washington, this is clearly an elegant hotel – a bit of a throw-back in time. The outside seating on the front porch or the back veranda have cushions on their seating that are to die for.
Speaking of lunch at the Mt. Washington Hotel, we had the most delicious blue cheese as part of a cheeseboard. Turns out the cheese is from Jasper Hill Farm, a local Vermont farm, perhaps an hour away. So off we trot for a little road trip to find us some of this goodness.
Now the farm is not open to the public, but they recommended The Willey’s Store in Greensboro, VT that sold their cheese, and off we go. Did I mention The Willey’s Store also sold Focal Banger and Heady Topper beer from the Alchemist? Died and gone to heaven.
On the way back, we noticed a road-side shop in West Danville, VT that sold Maple Creamee. Now as born-and-raised New Englanders, we had to admit that we had never heard of this. Well, let me just say, we won’t be driving past places that sell Maple Creamees any time soon. Kind of a maple flavored soft serve ice cream. Freaking delicious.
These are some of the treats that await you in the White Mountains but make your own list! There is so much more to see and experience; this is a real playground!