North & South Doublehead

A leisurely start to another day of adventuring found us back in Conway, New Hampshire; turns out the rechargeable and lithium batteries that the United States Post Office refuses to handle gave us a splendid reason to pack ourselves and a bit of gear into the Subaru and point our compass east.

Seeking out mountains, plant-based pizza, quietly tucked away bookstores and the new-ish REI Coop to intercept a few new USB rechargeable headlamps for our Long Trail thru-hike!

With both hearts and bellies full, the four of us (Ciara, Boone, Crockett and myself!) bounced over the frost-heaved back roads, passing what looked miniature A-frame alpine ski villages with street names such as Vail and Chamonix, we certainly felt transported right out of our familiar White Mountains!

Knowing that we would be keeping our pups on leash (as we normally do), we humans secretly longed for trails all our own to roam free on. No luck today, with decent wintery temps outside and predictions of clear skies – the makings of sunset were legit, we were hardly surprised to find a handful of others at the start of the trail – even several Sprinter vans gave evidence of a spectacular van-life unfolding!

Feeling like I was acquainted with minor details regarding these neighboring mountains, each weekend I repetitively saw the names of North and South Doublehead among the trail reports for our other adventures. Today though, we went into this afternoon jaunt with ideas of what the trail map looked like, how the trails themselves were laid out (which direction to travel in case we got off trail.. the usual details I’d research before a hike), but not as much history and back-story for the area as I typically prefer – and honestly, sometimes the mystery of not knowing who came before us keeps the conversation sharp, fun and lively!

Our two German Wirehaired Pointers were more than satisfied with our slow start as they both got some unscheduled, early treats for sitting calmly and behaving while we happily waited for a few other pups with their owners to pass by.

It did not take long for our breath to resemble puffing locomotives, expelling rhythmic steamy clouds step by step ascending the Doublehead Ski Trail. Footing was excellent, we climbed in Hillsound spikes as our boys ran trail-side to trail-side, darting from tree to tree sniffing possibly the most interesting smells of all time!

One couple descended, ripping past on their skis with their own pupper-dog yipping at their heels. They stopped briefly to chat and ask all about our brothers. Once they had their fill of dog-petting, we wished them a very nice sunset ski and proceeded up. Step by step we kicked our toe spikes into the freshly re-frozen terrain.

Being a moderately wide ski trail, the views rose from the horizon radiating warm hues of sun-setting behind us; before long we had an incredible view of neighboring Mount Washington greeting us, illuminated like a pastel-colored ball of gelato in the distance over Ciara’s shoulder.

Topping out on North Doublehead we stood for a brief moment in time taking in a hint of breeze through the trees. The cabin, however, was absolutely bursting at the seams with commotion – the laughter emanating from the likely owners of the remaining cars back at the base lot.

It was interesting to me that the guide books all list the North peak on the “52-With a View” list, unless we missed some crazy-epic views out back beyond the cabin, the north summit left a bit of something to be desired.

Hoping to find our mountaintop “with a view” we continued back onto the main trail once again, beginning to descend almost immediately.

From the summit of North Doublehead, we left the bustle of the cabin behind us and picked up the Old Path south which loses about 300′ in three-tenths of a mile; perhaps it was the fading daylight or it could have been the glissading descent through several inches of unconsolidated snow, but the path down to the col seemed to be a moderately steep one in these conditions!

Blasting through the next intersection, knowing that the setting sun would be greatly reduced of its color minute by minute, quick work was made on the trek over to South Doublehead. Some slight meandering and mild switchbacking gave way to incredible look-out ledges on the hikers right.

The skyline now shone with deep pinks and residual glowing nectarine hues, it was here that I think I found my happy place!

Completely unsure if I had actually reached the “high point” of South Doublehead, I consulted one of my GPS/mapping apps which indicated indeed, I had not. Actually, depending on which map you consult – you may get differing direction of where the high-point of the mountain is located; some indicate the ledges that I visited initially to be the summit point, while others continued down the New Path and onto the short spur past where the New Path swings right and down grade.

Either way, both locations had great views! I suspect that some day Ciara and I will return with our pups, a plant-based power lunch basket and in good weather sit atop these rocks and watch the hawks ride the thermals!

It was so serene and lovely up on South Doublehead.. which directs my thoughts to the namers of Iceland and Greenland; perhaps they threw the title for “52 with a view” at North knowing that it would keep the scores of hikers away from the peace and amazing vistas found at South? Not likely, but also not sure!

Capturing the final moments of color in the sky before all shone a dull grey, I began retracing steps rather hastily now. I had occasionally jogged in my Asolo mountaineering boots, while not something I like to make a habit of, they are nicely supportive for the ankles and honestly.. if a person would want to hike with 5-pound weights on their feet, these boots are a darn good option for getting that extra leg work out!

In what felt like a fraction of the duration to ascend, I saw the intersecting signage at the bottom of the final hill and without breaking stride, slammed left – back onto the Old Path which began cutting down the mountainside then continued with a swing off to the left, lessening the grade.

Up and over mounds of snow, launching myself gleefully off ledges of fresh powder with the occasional one-legged glissade for style-points, I was reminded of childhood again as I leaned into each turn, hugging the new growth saplings as I meandered each switchback. It felt amazing to gain speed and just cruise down the trail as the light grew dim, letting the cares of the impending work day slip from my thoughts.

Eyes darted from the snowy path before me to the next foot placement henceforth to the surrounding forest, side-to-side I scanned for the slightest bit of movement or glowing eyes watching this wacky hiker galloping down the mountainside in a fit of laughter! I am happy to report that not a moose nor a bear was spotted (or startled!) on my speedy descent.

A very quick half-mile was tackled before reaching the lower Y-shaped intersection where we had passed not long ago, continuing back down familiar terrain along the super solid Ski Trail. It’s always amazing to me how easy it seemed to jog down this path, possibly warmed up from the slow slog up-slope earlier or perhaps enticed by the thought of seat heat once back at the Subaru helped to hustle our trek out.

Any further to go and I think we would have been breaking out the headlamps, but as the last bit of light dwindled we slowed to a walk to complete the remaining quarter-mile or so, enjoying every last bit of trail time that we had.

Just like that.. sadly another adventure was coming to a close but (..happily for our taste buds!), not before we made a side trip to The Met in town for iced lattes and a black coffee containing several glorious shots of espresso – just the late night fuel we craved to keep eyes pried open for the two-hour drive back to our cabin.

It was a very lighthearted day, late- but perfectly timed start for an incredible sunset in the mountains, no where else we could want to be (..except maybe wrapped in an electric blanket, cozied up with each other and a good book!), great company, awesome eats, good trekkin’ – long-days are always welcome, but I am totally already looking forward to the next short-day out for us!

Interested in more of these 52-With a View sort-of jaunts? Be sure to check out my other post, a quick read all about this list of hikes.. right over.. here!

Be well, stay healthy and have happy climbs!!

– Erik


Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

  • 3.93 miles
  • 1hr 54 minutes
  • 1,988′ elevation gain
  • North Doublehead – 3,053′
  • South Doublehead – 2,939′

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