The word of the day was bienvenue.
My hiking honey Jan and I weren’t the only Americans on the trail during the long Victoria Day weekend in mid-May when intrepid Canadians dip down south of the friendly border to enjoy a land of cheap gasoline, tobacco, and alcohol (and no sales tax), but it seemed that way at times.
From the easy-to-recognize French that signaled Quebec hikers to the stereotypical English speakers with their “out and about” enunciations that gave them away, we were trekking ambassadors along the storied Davis Path in New Hampshire’s Crawford Notch.
The goal was the ledgy summit of Mount Crawford, a 3,119-foot peak on the Bemis Ridge in the vast Presidential Range-Dry River Wilderness. The five-mile round-trip hike isn’t easy, but has a steady footpath with copious well-appreciated stone steps for much of the way. It often is bypassed for nearby Mount Willard, a stellar low-level hike.
We even met a tough six-year-old Canadian with a broken arm (he fell off a slide chasing girls) doing the trail and some hikers looking like members of CARP, their version of AARP.
The trail is suited for hikers of all levels and is largely on the Davis Path, the third bridle path built to the summit of Mount Washington. The man behind the name of the nearly 15-mile path is Nathaniel Davis, who completed it in 1845. The trail saw use until the mid-1850s and then became overgrown and unnavigable. The story goes that the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) decided to reopen it as a footpath in 1910 but the trail was so impassable that it had to rely on the memory of one of the original workers to find some of more overgrown parts.
The AMC still maintains the route and last summer dispatched a trail crew to work on the southernmost two miles of it, the route hikers use from U.S. Route 302 in Crawford Notch to Mount Crawford. They put in loads of rock steps and replaced rotted log water bars with rock ones.
I had last climbed the mountain in June 2005 as a solo effort. But if hiking the 48 4,000-footers on the AMC’s White Mountains list with Jan (we finished that last June) has taught me anything, it is that if I am revisiting a peak with her that she hasn’t climbed, chances are we are on a mission. Though I haven’t been told officially, I have a feeling we may be on the way to hiking the “52 with a View” list complied by the Sandwich Over the Hill Hikers. The 52 peaks are all under 4,000 feet. I’ve done close to three-quarters of them. So, I’ve likely scouted many for her. Ain’t love grand.
Crawford’s grand too, the hike starting rather kindly over the handsome suspension Bemis Bridge in Hart’s Location, spanning the Saco which is also the southernmost terminus of the 162-mile Cohos Trail. The trail winds by some nearly hidden homes and soon enters the wilderness area with the steps soon beginning.
The snow had melted from the trails. The bugs weren’t out much yet. Temps were a favorable high 60s and the higher we went, a soft breeze welcomed us.
It is near the final third mile that Crawford’s glory starts with stunning vistas of rippling mountains like Attitash in the distance. Crawford Notch and the Dry River Valley were soon on display.
We were alone on the approach, but nearly as soon as we sat down to stare at the lingering snows on Mount Washington from the summit, the first of the French was spoken.
And as we’ve learned over the years, it’s best to hit the trail early. So on the way down we practiced our Canadian as we were meeting the 10 o’clockers heading to the lofty summit. Many were frequent vacationers to the White Mountains, combining their love of the outdoors with outlet shopping. They had their favorite restaurants, places to stay, etc.
They even had their favorite hikes. One patriarch of a three-generation family had already hiked Crawford before and was bringing the extended family.
Seems like a good one to check off his list too.
List or not, get to Mount Crawford.
As they say, c’est bon.
Images by Marty Basch