NE Escapade 2: Zealand Loop in the White Mountains

Picking up where I left off in my last post about New England, Saturday morning X and I woke up early and left Manchester, NH before 8am. We were traveling north again but this time we stayed inland instead of going over to the coast. Our first stop was breakfast and groceries for our projected two days in the woods, but as we merged back on the highway we quickly realized that we would be stopping again. This time at a rest area, home of New Hampshire’s alcohol store and outlet! We grabbed the cheapest bottle of twist-cap wine they had ($7) and off we went. Our goal was to get into the White Mountains by lunchtime so we could hike a while before finding a place to camp for the night. My little bit of research the day before had found a loop hike that was 12 miles long in an area known as Zealand. It boasted a mountain summit, stream crossings, beaver dams, waterfalls, ponds, and plenty of luscious woods… we were in!

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To get to Zealand, we worked our way through numerous small towns which just added to the charm of NH for me. We found an adventure store in Lincoln that had the propane we needed for our camp burner and then enjoyed a simple lunch in Bethlehem after walking through their local farmer’s market. We got to the trailhead about 12:30pm, loaded up for the trek, paid the $6 to leave our car in its spot overnight (see green Start dot on the map above), and headed up the Hale Brook Trail. I say up because it was UP. I knew the first three miles or so of our hike would be the hardest as we climbed to the peak of Hale Mountain. But we didn’t quite realize how steep it would be. The trail was well-marked but not just a simple path and we frequently found ourselves looking up at a slope of damp boulders to scramble over. There was no rush, so we just took breaks when we needed to and enjoyed the scenery as we went.

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The trail wasn’t very crowded, in fact we only passed a handful of other hikers the entire time, which was nice. It wasn’t raining, but the trees were dripping, it was cloudy, and the ground was fairly wet around us. If the sun had been out, we would’ve been uncomfortably hot due to the incline of the slope so it wasn’t all bad. There were not many animals either, just a few birds here and there. Bears and moose are native to the White Mountains, but we never saw any on our trek. The one item we did forget was bug spray, but we’d made the executive decision at the car to push on without it. Turns out that was the right decision as neither one of us got bit on the trail. When we (finally) reached the summit of Mt. Hale we were a bit disappointed with the view, but we had figured it wouldn’t be outstanding due to the tree cover. We never got above the tree line so we could see mountains in the distance, but not any stunning panoramas.

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Crossing over the summit, we followed the Lend-A-Hand Trail back down the other side of the mountain. We were a little concerned that the descent would be just as steep and rocky as the ascent had been, but luckily that was not the case. Our path was frequently packed pine needles and we dropped gradually into the forest below. Our next destination was Zealand Hut, where hikers could reserve bunks and get a hot meal. We didn’t plan to do either, but were going to ask about campsites and planned to use their facilities to refill our water bladders. The closer we got, the more the climate changed and we were soon hiking through a bog of sorts, often on wooden planks. There were less trees and more ferns and underbrush on this section of the trail, but we were still enclosed on the mountain side. We finally arrived at the hut, dropped our packs, and walked out to the nearby waterfall to see if we could see Zeacliff Pond below. We could! After snapping some pictures and chatting with our fellow hikers (several of whom were through-hiking the Appalachian Trail) we learned where we could camp for the night. Our original plan had been to complete the 3.9 mile loop past the Zeacliff Pond and Outlook, but our energy was zapped after 6.0 miles of wet, strenuous hiking for the day. So we walked off toward Ethan Pond Trail, found the side path down to some sites in the woods and called it a day.

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There was only one other tent set up in the campsites and we were far enough from them that we never heard each other. After setting up our tent, we worked on dinner. On the menu for the night was bear-shaped mac ‘n cheese, tuna or salmon provided by Chicken of the Sea, and salt water taffy from Friday’s escapade. All of this was topped off with our bottle of Moscato from the rest area! Neither X or I had any trouble passing out that night, in fact I think we were both asleep by 9pm. We didn’t set an alarm, as we assumed the daylight would wake us. We didn’t think about the rain and the darkness of the forest though, and it was almost 9am before anyone stirred inside the tent (oops?). Luckily, we only had about 2.5 miles to hike out along Zealand Trail that morning so we passed on a hot breakfast and hit the trail after shaking out our belongings.

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Most hikers going to the Zealand Hut just hike in this 2.5 mile trail and then turn around and hike back out it, avoiding Mt. Hale altogether. Because of this, we assumed it would be a less strenuous affair and we were right. This didn’t mean that there were not dozens of stream crossings on wet rocks or that they terrain was completely flat, it wasn’t. But we managed a much faster pace, even with stopping to check out Zealand Pond and the marshes that flanked us on this section of the hike. We did pass a few more day hikers coming in while we were going out, but the trail was certainly not crowded by any standards. Once we got back to the car, we threw out wet packs in the trunk and headed east towards the Kancamagus Highway… But that’s where I’ll pick up next post so stay tuned and thanks for reading!

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: NE Escapade 3: Kancamagus to White Lake | Rays of Funshine
  2. Trackback: NE Escapade 4: Newfound Lake and MORE Lobster | Rays of Funshine

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