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A Stairway to Stinson

Sunday, June 07, 2015
They looked like steps to nowhere. But that wasn’t right at all. At the least the steps were a stage to view the far-reaching hills, mountains and waterways. And perhaps with a stretch, they were a step back in time.

Those steps were a place to pontificate to the wind, ponder life’s meaning and share one’s thoughts to a hiking partner and spouse.

They were perfect for just perching, and perhaps wolfing down a peanut butter and banana sandwich on a cool June morning.

In a most unusual location, at least for certain steps, they were not alone on the low-lying ledgy summit. Also there were four concrete stanchions providing more vital clues as to why there were steps on the mountaintop.

Long ago, an enclosed fire tower stood atop Stinson Mountain in Rumney, N.H.

Perched in the southwestern portion of the White Mountain National Forest, Stinson sits in an area marked by the Baker and Pemigewasset rivers. The 2,900-foot peak shares a neighborhood with Carr Mountain, Rattlesnake Mountain and Mount Kineo.

Both Stinson and Carr had fire towers. Initially, a 16-foot-high wooden tower established in 1911 stood atop Stinson, according to the Forest Fire Lookout Association. It was replaced in 1927 with a roughly 30-foot steel tower that was used for 40 years before being removed in 1985.

The Carr tower was built in 1939 and operated for about 10 years before being removed in the 1960s.

The fire tower wasn’t the only human touch erected on Stinson Mountain. According to, the Stinson Mountain SkiTrail was constructed to the south of the hiking trail in 1934 and perhaps saw skiers on it for some 10 or 20 years.

The 2.3-mile long pathway had a maximum pitch of about 18 degrees and was about 1,000 vertical feet. Novices could schuss the lower part while intermediates and experts could huff it to the upper half. Under the auspices of the Civilian Conservation Corp, the trail was laid out by Winnipesaukee Ski Club’s late Gordon Langill.

Langill, of Gilford, was also instrumental in drawing up plans for cutting ski trails in the Belknap Mountain Range.

Stinson’s nomenclature dates back to the 18th century. It’s named after David Stinson, killed in 1752 by Indians after returning from a hunting trip along the Baker River. His hunting party included brothers William and John Stark, the latter later a general in the Revolutionary army and known for his famous quote, “Live free or die. Death is not the worst of evils.”

Though steeped in history, hikers of today take the 1.8-mile long Stinston Mountain Trail to the summit, on a sort of lollipop-style hike that offers up a sweet lick to those who want to venture a tad off the beaten path.

The trailhead is not far from Stinson Lake Road, reached via the dirt Lower Doetown Road. A fun early season hike, the easy-to-moderate pitch sleepily starts off as a gentle way through the wondrous ferns before teaming up with a stone wall.

The early birds stood sentry and announced our arrival, but as the nearly blazeless trail ascended, so did the difficulty slightly as the run-off from recent rains made for some slick spots and mud. But the pathway was wide and the ground spotted with neon salamanders, appearing somewhat sluggish in the morning chill.

This was also snowmobile country, as the sledding way first ran perpendicular to the hiking trail and then the two crossed paths, the walkers bearing right and meandering along switchbacks through pockets of muck to a short summit loop. Clearly the summit schist was a place frequented by moose, the droppings easy to, well, miss. A spur path, clearly popular with the moose population, led to a fine muted overlook to Stinson Lake below. Other spurs provide more glimpses.

But it was the summit and those steps that proved enchanting with its southern vistas to the towns of Rumney and Plymouth below. Tenney, Plymouth and other mountains host towering wind turbines while more ridges and ponds are soothingly au naturel.

On the descent, the snowmobile trail proved a tad more forgiving—but also wetter—than some sections of the rocky upward way. Still, we stepped up to Stinson and its surprising summit stairs.

Just watch your step.

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