February 24th, 2014

lego me

[hike] Mt. Success (!)

If it weren’t for lists like the 52 with a view, I’d just hike Franconia Notch over and over again. It can be hard to justify driving 4 hours for little 3600’ mountains when 5000 footers are only 2 hours from home. But it’s hikes like Mt. Success that remind me these harder-to-access mountains have their own joys too. Challenging trail conditions, perfect weather, dramatic skies, good company in lucy, J, and dr_sunflare: this is why we get outside.

Mt. Success is located east of Berlin (NH) right on the border of Maine. It’s 5 miles back on an idiosyncratically-maintained logging road, so you’ll need 4 wheel drive to access it in winter. We had to park a bit down the road from the unplowed trailhead road access, adding another mile or so to the round trip distance. We started on a gentle, broken slope with temperatures in the high-30s and quickly stripped to our base layers as we warmed up. The trail gradually became steeper, eventually reaching a rocky overlook about halfway up that provided a preview of Success itself and the surrounding foothills. Above the overlook, we hit the thermocline layer above the freeze-thaw cycle so the snow became fluffier and much deeper. Though the going became tougher, we were treated to an enchanted forest of glazed trees. By the time we hit the Appalachian Trail on the ridge line, the conditions got serious.

In a replay of my Maine through-hike, the snow eventually reached above the 8’ tree clearance-height, so we lost our trail blazes and had to fight through branches that would ordinarily be over our head. There were a few missteps, but we mostly managed to keep ourselves on-trail. On the steeper parts, it could be difficult to get purchase in the waist-high powdery snow; two steps forward/one step back was common. One feature in particular was so steep that we had to remove snowshoes and just slide down. (Climbing back up it was even dicier.) With temperatures dropping, we suited up with all of our layers and hit the summit about an hour behind schedule.

The summit is a broad, flat ledge with wind-blasted ice and exposed rocks. The open alpine garden affords excellent views north to Old Speck (ME4k), east into the Mahoosucs, South to the imposing cone of Mt. Washington, and west to the foothills of Berlin. High cirrus clouds had rolled in since the overlook, creating some spectacular wispy effects before the weak sun. Rime ice coated every vertical surface. Layered ice crunched underfoot. We were insulated enough that we had some time to take photos and enjoy the scenery, but saved our lunch break for a point below treeline.

After an uneventful descent, we arrived back at the cars just in time for a bright orange, pink, and red sunset over the foothills. Winter conditions made this hill more challenging than it needed to be, but that just made the post-hike pizza even more delicious.

  • 52 with a view #42
  • 2000 ft elevation gain
  • 6-7 miles RT
  • Success Pond Road was plowed, but slushy in places. 4WD recommended.
  • Snowshoes required. Did not use microspikes.
  • Trail was broken until the last mile