A Successful Northern NH Hike
The grizzled Appalachian Trail hiker with a big fat letter “I” on his baseball cap stood on the glorious, broad open North Country summit and said, “I smell laundry.”
We, deodorant-scented day hikers, smelled thru-hiker.
Odors aside, the thru-hikers (we met seven thru- and section-hikers) and day hikers shared a stunning flat ledgy stage complete with log bridges, heaths and black spruce trees in what truly is a successful northern New Hampshire hike.
Mount Success may be named for the unincorporated Coos County township in which it sits — located between Berlin and the rugged Maine border. But the 3,565-foot mountain has multiple meanings in the collective hearts of hikers.
The Mahoosuc Range peak is not only the last New Hampshire peak traversed by northbound AT hikers, but it’s the site of a 1954 plane crash shy of the summit on the south side and reachable via a narrow path and trail with rough yellow blazes off the AT (we had other plans this day).
The story goes that the twin-engine Douglas DC-3 Northeast Airlines flight 792 left Laconia bound for Berlin on Nov. 30, 1954, for a planned 35-minute flight. Snow squalls moved in around Berlin, reducing visibility to zero and closing airport.
Unable to navigate, the plane crashed into Mount Success. The seven people on board initially survived, only to have two die later that night. The remaining five were spotted and rescued on Dec. 2, when an Air Force helicopter landed on the summit.
The peak has more significance for those Nobos (northbound AT hikers). Somewhere before its summit is the 1,900-mile mark for them, the distance from their southern start at Springer Mountain, Ga.
That means they have about 300 miles to go, first navigating that daunting stretch through rugged Mahoosuc Notch, before making their way to Mount Katahdin to complete their trek.
For those who like lists, Mount Success is part of the mission compiled by the Over the Hill Hikers Club in Sandwich, N.H. — called 52 With a View — containing sub-4,000 Granite State peaks with nice vistas. It’s also on the N.H., 100 Highest list.
Of course, day hikers can enjoy the trek to the splendid alpine platform, beginning from a seemingly wild trailhead about six miles from downtown Berlin.
The drive, through sections of ATV country best suited for high-clearance vehicles, is about 5.4 miles along gravel and often wash-boarded Success Pond Road. The road then turns right on a narrow dirt road some .4 mile to a grassy trailhead for the 6.2-mile roundtrip moderate hike.
Success is one beefy mountain, with some 2,000 feet in elevation gained to its top initially through the hardwood forest on the blue-blazed pathway. The trail crosses over and follows a wash at the onset, eventually becoming slanted at spells.
Be sure to take the yellow-blazed Outlook Loop option at 1.6 miles for a splendid look at Berlin, the Presidentials and what is to come from the granite ledge Outlook.
There’s a steep bedrock section and also lots of bog bridges over wet and portioned portions. The area’s logging history comes alive with remnants of camp days including pails found along the trail before it reaches the junction with the Mahoosuc Trail and a final set thrust up to the crown.
The views really rock as Maine stands to the north and east, with the first mountains in the Pine Tree State — Mount Carlo and Goose Eye — on the rippling horizon.
There’s a look over to the Carter-Moriahs in the Granite State as well as the stoic northern Presidential range. Others ranges sprout up like Pliny, Pilot and Crescent. The stage really provides a fine look at the Great North Woods.
It’s also a neat spot for a snack, and that’s what we did as we chatted with a trio of 20-something bearded AT hikers from Virginia and New York State, psyched to be within a reachable finish of their long journey.
With a welcome breeze cooling us off, we lingered a lot longer on the mountaintop, listening to their travel tales and gazing keenly at the weathered packs and shoes that had been beaten by the miles.
Soon, they were off and we did a little summit exploration among the scattered ledges with low bushes and small, dried up blueberries. As the wind blew, the air smelled sweet atop Mount Success.