June 19, 2016: Mt. Carrigain (2/48)

Second 4000-footer, done! This was a tough one for me. It’s the longest hike I’ve ever done (not counting multi-day hikes when I was a teenager at summer camp) at ten miles. It was also a very hot day, especially for New Hampshire (high 80s or something like that). Plus, the bugs were absolutely awful, and Lucy and I both forgot our bug spray. (Well, I only half forgot it. I intended to bring it just in case, but in the back of my mind I was thinking, “Why bother? Even when I use it I still get eaten alive.”)

Click on any of the photos to enter the gallery and read captions.

The first two miles of the trail were as described on several websites I read – easy. Much of this section is along a picturesque brook. It didn’t look easily accessible from the trail at most places, though. Too bad, there were a couple of deeper pools that looked great for swimming! There was a big stream crossing about halfway through this easy section. A wide crossing, but not deep – there was a spot where you could just walk right through the water without it even getting up over the top of your boots. I started off the hike in short sleeves, but quickly put on a long-sleeved shirt after getting a few bug bites on my arms.

After those first two miles, though, the climb begins. It’s a nearly continuous up, up, up, and gets rockier as you go. There’s no rock scrambling/bouldering, but lots of stepping on, over, around rocks. Reaching the top of Signal Ridge, it does flatten out a bit and gets slightly less rocky. And up there, you’re rewarded with some stunning views, including the Presidential Range and Mt. Washington. As you near the end of the ridge, you can see the Carrigain summit with its lookout tower up ahead, and it looks like it’s still an incredible distance away. At this point, we had been hiking for four hours, and wondered how much longer it would take us to reach the summit. I didn’t really take note of the hike time when we reached the summit (or if I did, I forgot what it was), but I’m guessing it was no more than an hour – maybe 45 minutes.

At the summit, there were already several other hikers on and under the lookout tower. We climbed the steps, took a few quick pictures, then headed back down, intending to eat our lunch in the shade. Instead, the bugs feasted on us (well, at least me, anyway). And not just mosquitos – these evil gnats (or maybe they were black flies, I’m not sure) that bit me and actually made me bleed. I had taken off my long-sleeved shirt somewhere near the top of Signal Ridge, but put it back on at the summit of Carrigain after getting bitten some more. We headed back down, eating while hiking, since the bugs prevented us from actually stopping for a snack.

The trip back down went much faster, of course, though we slowed down a little in the very rocky sections to be safe. We were so glad when we finally reached the last two “easy” miles, and especially when we reached that glorious stream crossing! If only it had been deeper, I’d have probably dunked my whole head in there. Instead, we dunked our bandana (me) and buff (Lucy) to cool off our heads. Nothing beats a cold mountain stream on a hot day.

Those last two easy miles also seemed much longer on the way back down. “Are we there yet???” But finally, I shouted, “I see cars!” I could just barely see them through the trees. And suddenly, we were back at the trailhead.

Since we didn’t get to stop for a good snack/lunch break on the trail, we sat in the car for a little bit with the air conditioning on (mosquito-free!) and ate more of our snacks before getting back out on the road.

This is definitely one of the tougher hikes I’ve done. It’s possible I may have found it easier on a cooler day without all the bugs. I’m glad I did the hike, but it’s not one I’m planning to do again.

More information on Mt. Carrigain:

  • At 4700 feet, it’s the 13th-highest peak on the NH 48 4000-footers list.
  • The peak is located in the Pemigewasset Wilderness, but the majority of the Signal Ridge trail is in the White Mountain National Forest.
  • The 4000-footers website describes the first two miles as easy, and the last three miles as moderate.
  • The Hike New England website describes the trail as moderate/difficult, but in the trail description it refers to the first two miles as easy. I agree more with this description, but more experienced hikers used to longer distances may find it to be more moderate.
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