Crystal Cascade, Glen Ellis Falls, and West Rattlesnake Mountain

Fall managed to sneak up on us this year, and we don’t have the focused plan for optimal foliage viewing like we did last year. Central to that is a place to stay in New Hampshire over Columbus Day Weekend, which appears to be what everyone else had in mind this year. No hotels were available anywhere, so we decided to settle for day trips (with stops for banh mi along the way). Saturday was pretty difficult weather. It was overcast when we woke up, and the forecast was for rain in the afternoon, pretty much everywhere in NH. We put our rain gear in the car and decided to go for it.

Surprise! The leaves are at peak.

We ended up at Crystal Cascade, which is pretty far up into NH. You get to it by parking at an AMC facility (where you use the bathroom), and then walking ten whole minutes up a really easy trail. We met a lot of people coming the other way, presumably from Mt Washington. They were all in very seriously all-weather hiking gear and looked pretty excited about the dinner we saw the AMC staff preparing for. We came around the corner and found a small falls. Thinking this is what we’d come for, we settled in to take some photos.

Not bad, but certainly not the 5/5 rating we’d read about. Yen struck up a conversation with some other photographers about bracketing or some others such nonsense, so I decided to climb on up the hill to see what’s around the bend. Turns out the real waterfall was around the bend. Good thing I got bored, eh?

I found this little guy wandering around on a rock.

Back in the car, we decided there was enough daylight left to stop off at one more fall on the way back.

This one is Glen Ellis, and you have to park and walk under the road to get to it. Another extremely easy trail for this one, though you do have to climb up a few stairs on the way back up. Nothing you can’t handle!

Next morning, I asked Yen what he felt like doing. “More leaves!” Believe it or not, we got right back in the car and drove two hours back up to NH. This time we decided a view was in order because the clouds had lifted up enough to let that happen. Googling suggested West Rattlesnake Mountain for “unparalleled views” of leaves and Squam Lake. We also saw a TripAdvisor rating of five stars for this mountain… Which really should have been a warning sign.

The drive to the mountain was very pretty, meandering through little towns and farms. The directions we were following were a bit vague: “four miles past Holderness.” We kept seeing little driveways and thinking maybe that was it. Except over the next hill, we suddenly saw bright orange signs all along the road saying, “Police Notice: No Parking.” Huh? Was the fair in town? When we finally made it to the parking lot, we saw that it was full and so was the spillover lot across the road. And coming up the road opposite us was a collection of hikers trudging along the side of the road. We drove on looking for parking, but there just wasn’t any. Finally we found a lot for another mountain about a quarter mile down the road. Then we debated: should we hike someplace so popular? It certainly indicated the views would be good, but how good can any view be if you have to take it in while listening to someone’s cell phone conversation? In the end, we decided that we had made the journey and might as well go up. As we laced up our hiking boots and tucked extra water in my backpack, we began to see more bad signs. Children were tearing all over the place while paunchy dads loaded up the backpack and tried to coax them to climb in. Retirees in shiny white sneakers adjusted fanny packs as they moved past.

And things only worsened on the trail itself. It’s a very well-maintained trail and incredibly easy to climb. Sure, it’s uphill, so you’ll get a bit winded. But it’s nothing more than a staircase in the woods. And as we climbed it, we passed Southern leaf peepers with perfect manicures, coiffed ladies with poodles, a very overweight woman with a baby strapped to her chest and four more children in tow. But the final straw was when we moved off the trail so a man on crutches could tap his way by us. Yen stopped when he saw him and said, “That’s it. I’m going back.”

I know I sound like a snob with all of this, but there are reasons we spend our weekends hiking instead of wandering the malls.

The top was definitely as predicted. A young girl had staked out one of the best spots and spent the entire 20 minutes we were at the top carrying on a very loud conversation with her friend on why she (the friend) should break up with some poor boy. Other groups wandered here and there eating Fig Newtons. Dogs sniffed each other.

But the view truly was unparalleled, particularly considering how little effort we’d needed to reach it.

Near the edge and off to the side, there was a small sign marking the Pasture Trail. We decided to leave behind the crowd and the view and follow it.

We never saw another person on this trail. It climbed straight down the back of the mountain, switching back occasionally, but mainly just scaring the crap out of me. But it was nice and quiet, and this tree reminded me of Sleepy Hollow.

At the bottom, we crossed along the lake and found ourselves on Five Fingers Point, a little peninsula that sticks out into the water.

Here’s a (zoomed) view back up to where we just were.

And now we were looking at the islands we’d admired from above. Here I am considering commandeering this vessel.

Terrific spot. We did see a couple of other people, but they seemed as bent on solitude as we were. We exchanged pleasantries and all moved off to our corners.

The last little “finger” leads you to a cove and some houses with boathouses. I thought this one was just adorable.

And then Yen put the camera away. We looked at the map and considered our options. We could go back the way we came, but that would mean climbing back up West Rattlesnake. Considering the experience of going down that trail, I wasn’t very excited about that prospect. But another trail appeared to cut between West and East Rattlesnake Mountains, the Col trail. It would be longer, and we’d end up having to walk along the road a bit once we finished, but given that daylight would eventually fail along with my knees, we decided to take it.

Col begins easily and then has two very, very steep little rises to get past. The first one was extremely brutal – I had to stop twice to make it up. It’s not tall, but you’re walking straight up. After that, though, it was a very nice trail. It wanders through a variety of terrains, and even past a little beaver pond. When it finally came out onto the road, we had to walk what I’m guessing was a mile back to the car (Yen may correct me – I am notorious for overestimating distance and underestimating time). Not a bad walk at all, but there is almost no shoulder and all of those cars we’d seen parked before were now zipping along as the tired “hikers” searched for pumpkin lattes at Dunkin Donuts.

We made it in one piece, though, and headed back south. A stop off for some pho was a terrific end to the day. Tune in next week!