Sunday, November 3, 2013

Hike up Scrag

Looking west over the Mad River Valley

Motivated to get outside and be active at a time when biking is less appealing and skiing isn't yet an option, we decided to hike up Scrag Mountain this afternoon. Scrag defines the eastern edge of the Mad River Valley and is quite close to us. In fact, if we chose to walk a mile or so we could be at the base of one of the routes up the mountain.


Scrag (2,867 ft / 874 m) was once home to a fire tower and I remember visiting it when I was a kid. I remember that a couple lived there and that they had a phone, or maybe didn't have a phone but they came to town once a week to make calls and get groceries. I remember being impressed by this somewhat monastic lifestyle. At some point shortly thereafter, the tower came down--presumably because forest fires are a pretty rare event in this part of the world. The concrete piers are still in place, as well as the small cabin that I believe housed the couple. A little roaming around the interwebs revealed that the original wooden tower built in the 1930's was destroyed by lightening in 1937 and then rebuilt out of steel. That tower remained in place until the 1970's. Interestingly, I discovered that the landowner who allowed the tower to be put up intended that the mountain be called Mt. Alice in honor of his wife, but this was never written into law, so the name has continued to be known as Scrag Mountain.

I think this might be a hand colored image. It gives the impression there is a lot of flat space around the tower which is misleading. The tower footprint is about the only level spot on the summit. That's one fearless guy up there!

In the late nineties there was an ice storm that brought down countless trees at the higher elevations across northern New England and southern Quebec. The evidence of this event is slowly diminishing over time, however you can still see areas high up where wide swaths of trees are broken off about halfway up their original height. We experience this on Scrag when we hike the route that originates nearest to our home. It is quite challenging to climb because there are many many trees down across the path. In addition to the effort of climbing the mountain there is the effort of getting past the trees; you've got to climb over them, climb under them, or go around them. We've gone up that way a couple of times and I keep waiting for the trees to decay enough to make it reasonably passable, but it takes a long time for trees to rot, so lately we've opted for the southern trail to make it an easier hike.

It got snowy and colder as we climbed 

The path we took begins about 5 miles from our house at the end of Bowen Road. Much of the hike is on land that was given to the town in stages over the last twenty or so years. It is a wonderful resource and we are glad to be able to take advantage of it.

The hike is not hard, but would be a challenge for kids or old folks. It's at times a bit steep and a bit of a scramble, but it's actually a quick payoff for the effort. About halfway up there is a beaver pond --or the remains of a beaver pond-- and from this point on up you enter into a dense and enjoyable alpine hike to the summit.

The hut at the top

Every time we climb the mountain I start pontificating about how it would be cool to get a crew of folks together to do some repair and maintenance work on the old cabin. Of course I've never done more than talk, but I like the idea. Maybe I'll actually do something about it one of these days... In any case, the cabin is there and it seems that by hook or by crook there has been some work done to improve it a little. Someone has primed the interior walls and there is makeshift plastic over the windows. It isn't quite cosy, but it would certainly be a life saver if someone were in need of shelter.

The name carver

I must admit that at a younger age I actually committed a small act of vandalism upon this little hut by carving my name into one of the closet doors inside, and the evidence is still there after what must be 30 plus years. My friend Terry did the same, and his name is there too.

There's some style there in them there letters

Scrag is dear to my heart. I suspect it is the first mountain I climbed. It gave me a sense of adventure and accomplishment in my early days. I now have the perspective to see that the climb is not really that challenging, but when I was young it felt like a big deal. It's high enough that the forest is different and likely the temperature is different too. I recall climbing it numerous times with various friends growing up. 

Nancy looking east towards the White Mountains. You can see one of the concrete fire tower footings

Nancy and I climbed Scrag on one of our first trips up to Vermont together, so it holds a special place for me there as well.

From when Nancy and I climbed Scrag in 2002

With the time change and a late start we were slightly anxious to get up to the top while leaving enough time to make it back before dark. Neither of us brought a timepiece, so we used the camera timestamp as a reference. It took about 2 1/2 hours to go up and come back down.



I said to Nance that on the lower portion it felt like fall, but up around the summit it felt more like winter. There was a light dusting of snow and the small puddles and such were frozen. It was a little cooler then I was actually prepared for, but it was fine. We spent a satisfying few minutes at the top looking across the Valley, making a point not to linger too long given the approaching sunset.

I'm grateful we happen to live in the shadow of such a humble yet beautiful mountain.

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