Time: 3.5 hours
NH 4,000 footers: Mt. Osceola & Osceola East Peak
I woke up on a June 16th to a quiet morning, my first day off in a few weeks, with nothing major that needed to be done around the house. As I debated what to do with my day, I got a burst of inspiration to go hike a mountain. Throwing on some New Balance activewear, I grabbed my 40-liter LowePro Rover backpack and threw in miscellaneous hiking gear that I thought would come in handy for a single day trip in the White Mountains. With my camera, a small tripod, a few granola bars, a liter of water, and my REI quarter-zip fleece packed into the bag (with tons of space to spare), I hopped in the car and began the 2.5 hour drive to the Kancamangus, a 34 mile scenic highway that stretches across mid-New Hampshire and winds past a handful of trailhead parking lots that lead to notable 4,000' peaks. To be honest, I didn't check the weather report before leaving the house, something that I'd expect myself to do but for some reason forgot; about an hour from the trailhead my windshield wipers kicked on as a light rain began to fall, at which point I realized I never packed a rain shell... oops!
I arrived at the Greeley Pond Trailhead parking lot at 10h45 with light rain still falling, and after a quick stretch and referencing the trailhead map, I began my hike to East Osceola's summit 5 minutes after shutting the ignition off. Per the posted sign it would be 1.3 miles to a trail split where the I would turn southwest and begin the climb to the peaks. The distance from the parking lot to the split was exactly what I needed as a warmup: gradual terrain that crossed over a few streams and one wider river, a few log bridges over swampy marsh, and otherwise typical root and rock stricken ground that is so characteristically New England. It was after crossing the first stream that I heard branches breaking behind me, turning to see a black Columbia rain shell moving through the woods a hundred feet back. As the silent hiker and I made our way further, I laughed as I recognized I had, without consciously doing so, pushed myself to maintain the quick pace I began at. It took no time at all to reach the sign at the trail split, at which point my stopping to take a picture allowed Black Columbia Jacket Guy to catch up to me. We exchanged hellos and he took the lead for the next portion of the hike. The sign had denoted 1.5 miles to the peak of East Osceola and 2.5 miles to Mt. Osceola's summit.
The trail began climbing almost immediately, though the terrain stayed more towards the dirt and roots side of things. I made it a quarter mile or so before realizing with the rain picking up, it would be worth my time to stop and pull the rain cover over my backpack earlier on than waiting until it was soaked. I lost some distance behind Black Columbia Guy, but caught up to him ten or fifteen minutes later as he stopped for a snack break. It was at this point that I asked if he was peak-bagging the 4,000-footers in New Hampshire, which he was, and we continued talking together as we moved up the mountain. The terrain became steeper by the minute, and as our conversation carried on I began utilizing my hands more and more to grip wet rocks and whatever tree trunks were possible to pull myself up the mountain. Having not climbed a mountain like that in quite a while, I definitely felt the strain on my body as I got higher up and covered the more difficult terrain. By 12h55, only an hour into my hike, the Black Columbia Jacket Guy and I reached the top of Mt. Osceola East. The completely wooded peak was adorned with a large pile of rocks against a tree denoting the 4,116-foot summit, and the worn-down trail was starting to resemble a running stream due to the volume of water falling. It was at this point, taking each other's pictures with the rock pile, that I introduced myself to Black Columbia Jacket Guy, who officially became Matt.
Informing my new friend of the time, he asked me if I was continuing on to Mt. Osceola's main peak, another mile southwest of where we currently stood. Given the rain and rocky conditions we encountered on the way up, I had been thinking against moving towards the second peak if it was to be alone, though he quickly interrupted my internal thought process by saying that he would add the mileage if I was going... with that, Matt and I moved on together, continuing conversations of work, life, hiking, and other adventures. Dropping steeply off the East Peak to the varied terrain of the ridge between the mountaintops, we came across two other hikers in head to toe rain gear, who we came to learn were the drivers of the only other vehicle in the Kancamangus trailhead parking lot. After another ten minutes or so we came to the bald face of Mt. Osceola where I was greeted with cold wind and stinging rain against my skin. I took a quick photo before ducking into the nearby trees down a short trail, taking a moment to pull out my water bottle for some hydration. We didn't linger long, turning around and heading another mile back to the East Peak and begin our descent out of the mountains.
We flew down the trail, using caution and our weight to get down the more difficult sections of terrain. As we crossed over an exposed face to the north of East Osceola, the thick cloud cover broke for a few moments exposing a beautiful view of vibrantly green trees that stood tall across the ridge before us. Carefully stepping across the wet rocks, my body was quick to remind me that my knees don't love descents as they started getting sore after just a little while; I always hike with my Black Diamond trekking poles, but had recently lent them to a friend who was doing a day hike in the Whites and asked to borrow them. Cutting back into the tree-cover the ambient temperature got warmer, and as our elevation dropped my damp shirt became a little bit more bearable as it stuck to my skin. After what seemed like no time at all, Matt and I approached the trail split sign denoting the remaining 1.3 miles to the parking lot. I mentioned my hunger, having not eaten anything while on the trail all day, and he spoke up about a favorite bar in nearby Lincoln, NH, suggesting we stop in for a burger on the way out of the mountains. We stepped foot in the trailhead shortly before 14h30, just 3.5 hours after beginning the hike, a time I was quite pleased with given the mileage and terrain covered. Hopping in our respective cars, I followed him a few miles west on the the Kancamangus to Black Mountain Burger Company where we had a quick lunch before we parted ways and I began the 130 mile drive back to Boston, satisfied with a great, albeit wet, impromptu day in the mountains, checking another 2 peaks off my list of the 48 New Hampshire 4,000-footers.
As June marches on, work winds down and I'm getting closer and closer to nearly two months of summer vacation. From the looks of it there will be a plethora of adventures throughout North America with lots of hiking and photography opportunities... but I'll fill you in on that in a week or two.
Onwards & upwards,