The Last Two Peaks: Kinsman Mountain South & North
by Amy Patenaude
Seven years ago I can easily recall how this all started. My golfing gal friends, Sharon and Sarah thought it would be fun to hike with me. We did a hike together in the Belknap Mountains over Piper, Whiteface and Swett. They seemed to like climbing up and over rocks and they kept on hiking with me.
We dropped Sharon’s car off at the Mount Kinsman Trailhead in Easton and then we drove a few minutes further south on Route 116 before taking a left up the Reel Brook Road to reach the Trailhead.
This wasn’t the easiest way to hike South and North Kinsman but I assured them it was the most beautiful route and the extra miles of hiking would be well worth it.
We shouldered our packs and headed up the trail. The trail follows old logging roads through the forest as it gradually climbs up to the Kinsman Ridge Trail. The trail adopter has taken good care of this trail and I felt badly that a big tree had fallen on the trail just above the powerline swath. The Reel Brook crossings were easily rock hop-able since the water was low. Even the usually wet flat section near the top of the trail was dry. We made good time.
The Kinsman Ridge Trail is the Appalachian Trail and we followed the white blazed trail north. When we crossed the open powerline swath the morning fog and low clouds had not dried up. We could just barely see down to Bog Pond and no further.
We descended to Eliza Brook and took the path to the campsite. The shelter is relatively new, built in 2010 to replace an old one. If we had come this way the first year they started hiking in the Whites we may have seen them piecing it together. We sat on the big log on the edge of the front of the open shelter and enjoyed a rest and a snack.
The Nobos (north bound) AT hikers have already passed by this way and in fact if they hope to make it to Katahdin this season they better be well into Maine. We took the path back to the trail and sitting at the intersection was a round man with a large backpack. We chatted a few minutes and we learned he was headed south on a flip-flop AT hike. He started in Georgia and hiked to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia and then traveled to Kathadin, Maine and is now hiking back to Harper’s Ferry.
I looked it up: Eliza Brook Shelter to Katahdin is 382 miles and Eliza Brook to the Harpers Ferry is about 780 miles.
For most of the next mile the trail follows along the bank of Eliza Brook. The sound and sight of its cascading water is a delight to experience and helps make the rugged trail feel less rough. Here we ran into a speedy young man with a much smaller pack than the fellow we had just met. He was headed south from Kathadin too and he didn’t have spare time to talk.
We crossed the brook and climbed. Soon we were near Harrington Pond, the trail was muddy and the bog bridges are either missing or underwater. I used my hiking pole to poke around to find them in a few places. The area of the pond was already in full fall scenery—the trees were colorful and the grasses had turned gold.
The AMC White Mountain Guide (the new 30th edition is now available) notes that the section of trail between Harrington Pond and South Kinsman may require extra time. Yes it does! Here the trail is steep and ledgy and requires tricky scrambling. Sharon and Sarah discussed what trails had climbs as difficult as this one. As we were nearing the top two young gals flew by us and we exchanged cheery hellos as they left us behind.
Once over the steep pitch the trail gradually climbed through scrubby trees to the open south knob of the South Peak. Here there is a big rock cairn. The map has a spot elevation on the north end of the summit but the cairn is on the south end. I guess it doesn’t really matter since we’d be going over to the north end on our way to the North Peak.
The sun was hotter and the skies were mostly clear except the Franconia Range Mountains were hidden by white clouds.
The mile between the two peaks went by quickly. Several times the phrase I can’t believe this is our last mountain on the list was spoken by Sarah and Sharon. I agreed with them. The scrambles up to the North Peak were much easier and shorter. We dropped our packs at the intersection of the path to the outlook and walked another minute up the trail where I showed them the actual North Kinsman highpoint—it’s the top of a pointy boulder on the east side of the trail. They reached up and touched it and whacked it with their hiking poles.
Triumphantly we went back and down to the outlook. They stayed on the upper ledge while I climbed down to the lower ledge to get the view down to Kinsman Pond.
We stayed here a good long time wishing the clouds would free up the vista of the nearby Franconia Ridge. Thankfully the view to Cannon Mountain was clear.
To get back it was 4 miles of downhill and of course more scrambling over big rocks and ledges. But now we were on our way home and we would celebrate when we were really done back at the car. In less than a half of a mile we turned left off the Kinsman Ridge and onto the Mt Kinsman Trail.
I don’t think we stopped once on the way down. We were slow and steady higher up and our pace quickened as the trail became more gradual down low. Below the Kendall Brook crossing there are new water bars and stone steps. We appreciate the hard work performed by the volunteer trail adopters.
Hooray! We had hiked 11.5 miles through lovely forests, along cascading brooks and over open ledges and mountaintops and now they’ve stood on top of all 48 peaks on the NH 4,000 footer list.
Sharon and Sarah posed beside the Mt Kinsman Trail sign holding a sign I had made for them and I snapped their photo. I am no artist but I did my best with colored pencils to draw an AMC 4000 footer patch for them.
I asked them why they did it.
“Because it was FUN.”
Amy Patenaude is an avid skier/outdoor enthusiast from Henniker, N.H. Readers are welcome to send comments or suggestions to her at: email@example.com.