Aubrey and I have been working on the New Hampshire Fire Tower Quest for the last year. The Fire Tower Quest is a series of hikes up hills and mountains in NH that at the top sits a large tower used by Fire Wardens to look out and spot potential forest fires. The NH Division of Forest at Lands maintains this hiking list and challenges hikers to visit five different Fire Towers and once they complete the task, you send in a form and will receive a patch to recognize your achievement. This is often the first hiking patch kids earn due to the ease of most hikes. Some are less than a half mile up a wide access road, others are more challenging and require more effort. Aubrey and I quickly marked off the easier ones last summer, but hit a wall when the rest were harder or further away. This spring we started up again, tackling some of the harder hikes. We finished off our list with Red Hill in Moultonborough/Holderness.
I had decided a few weeks earlier that I wanted to go camping the first weekend in June so I started planning out that trip, but held off on making any reservations to leave it open for change. Well I kept checking the weather and it was a constant back and forth partly cloudy to rain showers for the week leading up. Thursday June 1 looked promising so I decided to pack up my car so Aubrey and I could head out first thing Friday morning when I got home from work. Then the weather changed again, it switched to mostly rain but some reports still said partly sunny. I hemmed and hawed and then around 8am I decided to just go with it and finished packing up and go. My original plan was to hike Welch and Dickey in Waterville Valley, but the late start made me change my mind and decided on Red Hill Fire Tower instead. The book mileage was only 1.7 miles each way so just under 3.5 miles round trip would be much more manageable for a late start. So I thought….
We arrived at the trailhead right at noon time and quickly made our way up the trail.
We were pleased to find a bridge and cascading river flowing down the hill, Aubrey loves waterfalls, always has. We took a few pictures and kept on trucking. Just up the trail we met up with our first fellow hikers on their way down. They were surprised to see us out there, and only offered words of encouragement. I hate that I instantly go on the defensive when passing other hikers on the trail, the few others who have questioned Aubrey’s ability or my parenting choices has left a sour taste and I always want to defend our right to be on the trails, exploring just like everyone else. I don’t question the idiots who hike Monadnock in sandals and a small Poland Spring water bottle they just picked up at Mr Mikes on the drive through town, why should other hikers question us when I am carrying a pack the size most adults use for multiday backpacking trips.
We made it to the second kiosk in decent time, and explored the area a bit. It featured an old cellar hole, which Aubrey was fascinated to learn that it was a basement of an old house that is now gone. As we continued up the trail she quickly yelled for me to stop! “Mommy that sign says No Motorcycles. We can’t go!” The sign was a No Snowmobiles sign and I explained what it meant, and that it was ok for us to continue since we are not on snowmobiles. After this point she started to slow down (maybe it was because her pockets were FULL of rocks?!), but she was having fun and exploring. I was keeping an eye on the sky to make sure we were still in fair weather. I would glance at my new Garmin VivoSmart HR to check our distance.I could make out the top from the way the trees would clear, but could not see the tower. As we closed in at 1.7 miles according to both my Garmin and my GPS the tower was still nowhere in sight. I was becoming a bit stressed and annoyed. We continued onwards and upwards we had a goal. I asked Aubrey many times throughout the hike up if she wanted to continue or turn around and she always said “GO”!
Finally as my devices registered almost 2.5 miles, we made it to the top! The fire tower appeared out of nowhere and shocked me to see it. We found our way over to a picnic table by the old warden’s cabin and enjoyed a cookie that I brought. We didn’t spend too much time at the top as it had taken us nearly two hours to get up, and I could see off over the lakes the clouds rolling in. I was starting to stress that we still had another two hours to get down, almost another hour to get to the campground and then another hour to set up camp. We still had a lot to do! I hurried us along, but not to the point where Aubrey couldn’t enjoy herself. We stopped and took pictures of flowers and then made a stop at the small pool of water off the trail where Aubrey wanted to throw rock in, and then unprompted sat down and just watched the water quietly for some time. I finally had to break up her tranquil moment to get a move on as I could feel the air changing. I set a personal goal to get down in 1.5 hours so we kept trucking, and were making good time. We quickly passed the second kiosk and continued down the trail. We met up with a father daughter coming up the trail as it was starting to drizzle. The signs just below had confused them too and they wanted to make sure they are on the right path. I quickly chatted with them and explained that there is a second kiosk just ahead to map out routes but to be leary of the mileage as we were at 4.5 miles round trip. Aubrey was pulling me away since the bridge was just down the trail and she wanted to through rocks in! Just as we passed the bridge it started to POUR so quickly I took out the rain gear and we headed down the last quarter mile to the cars. I figured Aubrey would freak out when the rain came but that quickly became her favorite part of the hike and all she would talk about!
I turned off the activity tracking on my Garmin and my GPS and they both registered 5 miles. I was expecting the original acent to have been a mistake due to how slow we were moving, but even when keeping a good pace down it still tracked another 2.5 miles. I think this might be due to the fact that Aubrey has little legs and since when trails are measured, it is by adults who are pushing a wheel up the middle of the trail. So yes maybe the middle of the trail all the way up is 1.7 miles but for Aubrey and I who often zig zag up the trail we do add on more milage since her legs can not always make it up the direct middle of the trail. I am curious to find out if others have issues with tracking devices and varying distances.
I am now excited to send off our forms to the Fire Tower Quest program and get back our first hiking patches!
Hike Date- Friday June 2 2017