Outdoor adventures: No need to table this opportunity

  • The ledges of Table Mountain serve up striking views. The mountain, in Bartlett, N.H., is reached along the Attitash Trail off Bear Notch Road. (Marty Basch photograph)

Special to the Valley News
Saturday, June 15, 2019

There was no maitre d’ or sommelier, yet the glorious tableside Alpine view would have been worthy of both.

Frankly, even if a sommelier emerged from the woods to offer advice, it would have been best to decline. Valet parking was unavailable from the perch, and we would’ve had to hike — or stumble depending, upon the wine steward’s suggestion — for about two miles back to the car.

Reservations? No, we didn’t make them. No need. On a midweek early June day, my wife and I seemingly had the whole mountain to ourselves for a basic brown-bag lunch washed down with a 2019 tap water blend. The meal was made even more enjoyable by the light breeze that kept away the unwanted and annoying buzzing brigades of black flies and mosquitoes that followed us in the woods.

Where does one get such a coveted Alpine table for two?

Why, on Table Mountain in Bartlett’s Bear Notch.

Bear Notch, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, is the mountain pass between 3,220-foot Bear Mountain and 2,980-foot Bartlett Haystack. The heavily canopied, seasonally open Bear Notch Road traverses the gap between the winding Kancamagus Highway in the south and slumbering Bartlett village to its north. The scenic roadway is a fine drive for motorists, particularly in fall, and a nice challenge for hill-loving road bicyclists. When mountain biking was in its early stages in the Mount Washington Valley, many trails sprouted from the road.

The notch is also home to the nearly 6,000-acre Bartlett Experimental Forest, an outdoor laboratory established in the early 1930s to study the growing and cultivation of trees — silviculture — and Northern hardwoods management. With elevations in the forest ranging between 680 and 3,000 feet, portions of 2,675-foot Table Mountain are included in the hilly terrain.

Table Mountain sits to the east of Bear Mountain and is home to a series of south-facing ledges towering over the Kanc, offering lovely looks at the White Mountain National Forest.

The unsung, low-trafficked peak provides long-ranging vistas of the rugged Sandwich Range and more due to a little fire that burned portions of Table Mountain in autumn 1984.

The late-morning, easy-to-moderate, 3.8-mile roundtrip trek up Table along Attitash Trail on a mostly sunny spring morning with temperatures forecast to hit the low 60s began from a small trailhead parking area about three miles south of Bartlett village. Attitash Trail runs about 7.2 miles from Bear Notch Road to the Moat Mountain Trail, which crosses over the popular Moat Mountain ridge.

The yellow-blazed pathway starts off painlessly enough and uses a series of old logging roads with various white and red wild flowers providing dashes of color in the lushly green woods. For the initial jaunt a pleasant companion, aside from my wife, was the rushing Louisville Brook first introduced as a trickle to be crossed over several times and later, at about a half mile into the hike, as a rushing cascade over a string of hard rock shelves. A side path led to a closer look above the chilled waters at the bottom of a steep embankment. No doubt those waters would attract intrepid swimming-hole seekers during August’s dog days.

After saying goodbye to Louie — only to say hey again on the way down — the trail led through a pleasant hemlock grove. Occasional weathered stone steps were appreciated. Giant boulders commanded attention. It was clear by the cut pine branches on the ground that trail work had been done relatively recently.

The pathway toughened a bit as it crested the saddle between Table Mountain and Bear Mountain. Soon, the first tiny marbles of loose gravel appeared, foreshadowing a few steep pitches that made for a handful of cautious steps both on the ascent and later descent.

But those steps also led to the first of those breakout ledges with commanding looks at hulking Bear Mountain next door and other peaks. Each of the ledges had their own pleasing flavors. With that in mind, we did something of a ledge crawl, stopping at each one for something to eat or drink.

The fare might not have been fancy, but it certainly fit the mood as hunger is often the best cook, especially on those sky-high hard-rock tables available with a modest effort and no reservations necessary.

Marty Basch can be reached at marty.basch@gmail.com.