Tue, Feb 27, 2024
Towards the end of the 2000-2001 winter we decided that we needed to get a hike in before the snow melted and before the tourists came back. As usual, it took forever to come up with a destination - we're always looking for someplace that we've never been before. This time, we would only have time for a day-hike, so we were also looking for someplace that we could get into and out of in a few hours without spending too much time driving behind dimwitted people on their way home (to a certain state south of NH) from a family ski trip.
So, after careful scrutiny of the White Mountain Guide, we decided that a trip up Mt. Mexico and to the Big Rock Caves would be the perfect day-trip. Mt. Mexico is a small 2000 footer in the southern Whites. It is accessible off of route 113A (near the Ferncroft parking area that we used to access Mt. Whiteface) via the Cabin Trail and the Big Rock Cave Trail. The Cabin Trail is marked with a sign on the road, but begins on an old logging road that is now the driveway of a few houses located off of the road. Parking is limited, especially when there are 5-foot snowdrifts on the side of the road. Please remember that the driveway is private property and that no parking is allowed.
The logging road is plowed and well maintained - it looked like people had been to their houses within a couple of weeks prior to our arrival. We walked the few hundred yards up to the point where the Cabin Trail diverges and climbed over the small snow bank. Within a few more yards it was time to don the snowshoes as we began breaking through the crust and sinking - this is not nearly as much fun as one might think, with all the snow filling your boots and whatnot.
From this point on, the trail was not remarkable in any way. We had picked the hike because of the low elevation of Mt. Mexico and the gradual slope of the trail for its entire length. We figured that there was no sense in trying something that would require all kinds of climbing in 6-foot drifts over icy boulders. The trail didn't disappoint, as is maintained a gradual and steady climb over the entire distance to the summit of Mt. Mexico. The day couldn't have been better, with temperatures in the low 30s and a light breeze. On this day, keeping cool during the climb was much more of a problem than staying warm. We quickly found ourselves shedding insulating layers until we had only our shells on over a long-sleeved shirt. The day was truly amazing - it stayed sunny throughout the entire hike, in spite of the "partly cloudy" forecast we had read the night before. The sky was clear and the views from the trail were incredible. One of the things we like about hiking in the winter is that there are no leaves on the trees, so the views are much better. The other thing we like is that most people stay home in the winter, because they are afraid of freezing to death. For most of them, this is probably a good thought, as Polo jeans, Nike high-tops, a Hilfiger sweatshirt, and a Fila jacket probably won't cut it on a real winter NH day, no matter how many Bud Lights you drink (apologies to the people we saw in the Yankee Smokehouse that afternoon).
Anyway, we crossed into the WMNF, and then into the Pemigewasset Wilderness. There had been some old snowshoe tracks that we had been following, but at the wilderness boundary, they stopped and turned around. From this point on we were breaking virgin trail all the way to the Big Rock Caves. The trail was easily followed, as there were prominent blue blazes all along its route. There was about 30 inches of snow on the trail, maybe a little less in some places where the sun had shone through. At this point in the season, the snow was pretty dense, so sinking wasn't much of a problem. It was definitely more granular than powder. The terrain was gently sloping and there appeared to be level ground in all directions - this is something to keep in mind in case you are looking for a campsite during the warmer months.
After the summit of Mt. Mexico (which, by the way, is awfully flat), the trail descends at a slightly steeper rate towards the Whitin Brook. The snow was more powdery here, but still pretty dense. About .1 miles before the Whitin Brook are the Big Rock Caves, which are, you guessed it, caves formed by big rocks leaning against one another. The caves are very cool, and are large enough for a couple of people to climb into. They look like they would make great shelter from a rainstorm, and they certainly were a welcome place to crawl into away from the snow. We found a small fire ring in the opening of one chamber and decided that this was a good place to eat lunch. Someone had already gone through the trouble of making a table out of some rocks, so there was a place to stack stuff as we added some layers and relaxed for a hot meal. Climbing into the caves was an interesting experience; this area would be a great place to bring kids for some summertime exploration. For us, they made a great shelter out of the breeze and off of the snow for a quick MRE lunch and some cool photos.
After an hour or so, we packed up and headed back the way we came. The day had gotten even warmer and the sun was still shining. We made it back to the truck after an easy hour hike out for our customary post-hike picture and a trip to the Yankee Smokehouse. Overall this was a great, easy hike on a perfect White Mountain late-winter day. Especially since we didn't see another person - and we barely saw signs of people, like the old tracks. Winter in the Whites is surely the best time of year if you want to avoid the crowds. Our guess is that this trail will see some heavy use in the summer, due to its ease and clear marking. It probably makes one of the best hikes for kids in the southern Whites … it's kind of nice that there is still a time when we could have the place to ourselves.
|Copyright © 1999-2008
Chris Oberg & Robert Havasy