Hedgehog Mountain is a hiker's favorite


Views and history on the U.N.H. Trail



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John Compton takes in the view of the Sandwich Range Wilderness from the summit ledges of Hedgehog Mountain. Starting at a trailhead off the Kancamagus Highway, the U.N.H. Trail makes a 4.8-mile loop over this small but rewarding mountain, passing three different ledgy viewpoints along the way. (Steve Smith Photo). (click for larger version)
May 13, 2010
I will confess to a certain bias about Hedgehog. Through a cooperative AMC/Saco Ranger District program, I'm the volunteer "adopter" of the western part of the loop, from the trailhead to the main summit. Friends Keith D'Alessandro and Julie Jamison of Concord are the adopters for the longer eastern loop. (For information on trail adopting, contact Cristin Bailey at 447-5448 or cristinbailey@fs.fed.us; there are a number of trails available along the Kanc, on Mt. Chocorua, and in the Wild River area.)

Though the trailhead is fairly remote, this is a popular hike. One recent sunny Saturday the parking area, which is across from the Passaconaway Campground, was filled nearly to overflowing. Last Wednesday I ran into 11 other hikers during the course of a trail work trip — an unusually high number for a midweek day during a quiet time of the year.

Hedgehog has an interesting history. Its name comes from the ranks of spruces that bristle along its crest and give it a porcupine-like appearance. It is sometimes called the "Albany Hedgehog," so as not to be confused with the "Wonalancet Hedgehog," a summit just three miles to the south.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, summer boarders staying at "Shackford's," also known as the Passaconaway House, would sometimes climb Hedgehog. A photo and brief description of a 1904 climb appears in the book, Our Mountain Trips, Part I – 1899 to1908, edited by Ben English, Jr. of Jackson and his sister, Jane English. The group, led by the Englishes' grandparents, Walter and Ida James, had some route-finding difficulty but eventually made it to the top, where they enjoyed "a most delightful view."

In his classic 1916 book about the Albany Intervale, "Passaconaway in the White Mountains," Charles Edward Beals, Jr. wrote that Hedgehog's "scrawny cliffs present an appearance both wild and terrible" when viewed from nearby Square Ledge. Beals knew this area intimately, as his family owned a cottage, "Score–o'-Peaks," near the base of Hedgehog. At the time he was writing, the loggers of the Conway Lumber Company had just finished stripping the mountain of its forest cover; the timber was hauled out to the mills in Conway on the Swift River Railroad.

The path that once led to the summit was obliterated by the cutting, and Hedgehog was seldom visited until the Passaconaway Mountain Club reopened the trail around 1920. This small but dedicated group of trail volunteers was founded by Arthur P. Hunt and was based at the Swift River Inn, which he built after the Passaconaway House burned in 1916. At that time the trail was named the "Una Trail," in honor of Hunt's wife, Una.

The trail to Hedgehog was abandoned in the 1940s. Meanwhile, the Swift River Inn property was donated to the University of New Hampshire, which established a forestry camp at the site. When the trail was once again reopened in the 1960s under the direction of Saco District Ranger Swede Ohlson, it was named the U.N.H. Trail after the camp.

Among the students attending the U.N.H. camp in 1964, the last summer it was open, was Dave Eastman of Tamworth, whose "Country Ecology" nature columns and radio shows have been a Valley staple for many years. In an email, Dave recalled that a climb to Allen's Ledge, one of the viewpoints on Hedgehog, was "one of our first hikes to witness the area, and I will never forget that initial view when we scrambled up there. I was hooked; been back many times when I needed my spirit refreshed." Dave noted that one remaining building from the forestry camp (and before that, the inn) is the Raedke Cabin along the Kanc near the U.N.H. trailhead, which is currently available for public rental through the Saco Ranger District.

The aforementioned Allen's Ledge is the easiest of the three major viewpoints on the U.N.H. Trail to access, being just 1.1 mile and 650 feet in elevation from the trailhead along the west side of the loop. It makes a good destination for a short hike by itself. In his book, Charles Edward Beals, Jr. opined that Allen's Ledge "gives you more for your money than any other climb."

The trail starts out under tall pines, following the smooth, level bed of the old Swift River Railroad. In 0.2 mile, the west loop turns right and climbs at a moderate grade to a side path to Allen's Ledge. To see the widest view, follow the path up along the base of a rock face, then descend carefully over sloping ledges to a dramatic perch on the lower lip. The vista sweeps across the vast wooded flats of the intervale to the surrounding mountains: Paugus, Chocorua, the Moats, Bear and Tremont, with Mt. Washington in the distance.

The spot is named for Jack Allen, a true mountain man who frequented the intervale from 1873 until 1912. Allen was a guide, a hunter, an angler, a trapper and a teller of tales. According to Beals, when someone asked Allen what the rocks up on the side of Hedgehog were, he replied, "Them are called Allen's Ledge!"

From Allen's Ledge the U.N.H. Trail climbs steadily for 0.8 mile through a fine spruce forest to the summit of Hedgehog. Near the top it crosses an open area offering northern views, with a fine perspective on Mt. Washington. There are several outlooks around the ledgy summit itself. The main ledge peers east to Mt. Chocorua and south over the broad Oliverian Brook valley, with the wild bulk of Mt. Passaconaway looming close by to the southwest. Last week a wave of fresh spring green foliage was surging up the mountainsides.

A side path leads to another ledge looking northwest to Mt. Carrigain and Mt. Hancock. And a short distance down off the summit along the start of the east loop is a third viewpoint, on the right, with a vista across the Downes Brook valley to sharp-peaked Mt. Tripyramid and the rounded Sleepers.

From here, the east loop of the U.N.H. Trail makes a winding, rugged descent over and around a series of ledges, heading southwest, then swings eastward below the base of the summit cliffs. This is a wild and remote section of trail. About 0.8 mile from the summit you break out onto the first of the East Ledges. These sunny slabs are my favorite spot on the mountain, with a wide-screen panorama of the eastern Sandwich Range Wilderness.

A short tightrope stretch along a clifftop leads to the main East Ledges, where the sheer dropoff in front attracted pioneer rock climbers back in the late 1920s. This granite face still draws a few solitude-seeking climbers today.

Beyond this perch the U.N.H. Trail drops into the woods and makes a mostly moderate two-mile descent back to the trailhead, the last 0.4 mile along the old railroad grade.

The loop over Hedgehog Mountain on the U.N.H. Trail is 4.8 miles with 1,450 feet of elevation gain. A leisurely circuit of Allen's Ledge, the summit and the East Ledges is a day well spent.

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