Four humans and two dogs set out from the Unknown Pond south trailhead on Sunday to attempt Mt Cabot. We’d been talking about this hike for a while and I was looking forward to it — but hiking Willey and reading others’ recent reports, plus a heavy midweek rain, had me questioning whether we’d find dogable footing on even this far-north peak. I had fond memories of Unknown Pond from my last trip over Cabot and figured that it would be a good trip even if we only made it that far before being turned back by excessive ice.
Turns out that it was a good trip even before we reached the trail! Lilo and I were bombing up York Pond Rd to the trailhead, came around a bend, and promptly tripled my lifetime moose count:
These were smallish moose, presumably young, and seemed as confused as I felt. I stopped the car, of course, and we looked at each other. They jogged a little ways down the road. Stopped. Looked back. I crept up closer (but not too close!) and they jogged off again. We repeated this little dance for half a mile before they finally bailed off into the treeline to the right.
I love moose, you guys. I always feel personally betrayed by their absence near all those “Moose Crossing” road signs. I cannot figure out what these guys were doing in the road — I was not far behind two other members of the group, so it’s not like no one had been by yet — but I am so, so glad they waited for me.
Additional reasons to be so glad: there was no ice on trail!
There weren’t many (any?) blazes on this section of trail and I did have a few minutes of wondering if I’d led everyone boldly off in the wrong direction. There was evidence of snowshoe travel for many stretches (and some, as you can see in the pics, were beautifully broken out). Others were mostly wind-driven (though not deep) snow, but just because someone’s walked that way before doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the way that we want to go. The plentiful sidehill traverses winding along the stream matched both my memory and the book description, though, and eventual trail signs reassured me as we went.
Lilo was in great spirits. She has a good group of trail buddies at this point, but Molly gets her crazy-running like nobody else and they spent the early going zooming back and forth along the trail. They make a really funny pair. Molly is a nimble little thing who just kind of levitates over obstacles, whereas Lilo is monster-truck-meets-evil-genius; she thinks hard about things and then bulldozes ’em down. Both good hiking dogs, but a definite odd couple!
Lilo did struggle with the first water crossing. The stream was a little too wide to jump, deep enough that she very sensibly didn’t want to wade, and running hard. Humans and Molly crossed on a very narrow log to a small island (and then comfortably on rocks to the far side), but Lilo did not like it one bit and we couldn’t (even when one of the party very kindly scouted upstream while I checked out down) find her a better crossing. In retrospect, I’m not sure why I didn’t try picking her up and handing her over using her harness…I think I forgot that she had it on under her coat (and it would have been juuust enough of a reach to potentially put a human in a vulnerable position). I honestly can’t remember what convinced her — I did have the others go across first so she could watch — and it wasn’t graceful, but she did finally go.
The weather was a bit funny: not cold, but clammy, and intermittently quite windy as we approached Unknown Pond. We paused at the campsites to adjust layers — I changed into a dry shirt — before pressing on.
This approach to Cabot is never seriously steep, but it does get pretty unrelenting for a while there. The trail between Unknown Pond and the summit was less broken out (though still very reasonable) than previously. One of our crew was hiking her first winter 4,000-footer and I like weird body mechanics stuff, so we had some good chatter on the way up about the different experience of hiking in snow versus our in-season endless rock. Lilo had settled into a traveling pace by this point and was busying herself with trying to wring treats out of the guys, but I was pleased to see how frequently she not only checked in but ran back to me. She stops doing the latter when she gets tired and switches over to waiting for me to catch up to her. We reached the halfway mark of this, her longest hike to date, somewhere on that climb and I was pretty thrilled by her ongoing enthusiasm.
And the summit (and true summit, with illicit highpoint stick) at last! With obligatory Cabot cheese.
There’s not much to see from the summit itself, which is wooded, and I had opted to skip the spur trail to the Horn with Lilo; it’s a lovely lookout but would have added 0.6 miles that I didn’t think she needed on top of the 10.6 we already had planned. Besides, we were going to continue over and loop back down via the Bunnell Notch trail. And there is a section of the ridge trail that does, it turns out, have a bit of a view…
We reached the cabin shortly after.
It’s a pretty barebones structure and not significantly warmer than outside now that the sun was out and the mountain was blocking the wind, but made a nice spot to sit down and devour a proper and deeply classy hiking lunch…
The initial descent was a bit steeper, but the sticky snow held our spikes well. We did find a few 6-8′ long patches of ice and Lilo picked her way carefully along those. She was starting to show a little weariness at this point, trucking steadily along but tucking in behind me instead of contributing to the pace up front.
Bunnell Rock provided one last open view…
Still not the best at selfies:
We descended through numerous layers of forest, returned to the sidehill traverses and then mostly-flat and sometimes even muddy ground. Lilo got her groove back as we hit the flats and moved right out again.
None of the other water crossings gave her as much trouble as the first had. She could hop on the ice for most — it held the dogs, though the humans couldn’t risk it — and seemed to learn from watching Molly; she got some serious air over a few of the narrow waterways in the last few miles! We had one more than needed to be crossed on a log, but it was wider and she was very good about stepping down onto a rock next to it with me and then hopping up onto the log to pick her way across to her pals. Bravest bull!
The last stretch of trail was open and twiggy. I remember this having been muddy in September…
And this? Is typical!
With the sun out and the day nicely warming, I pulled her coat off when we reached York Pond Rd and let her be naked for the 0.1 mile back to the Unknown Pond trailhead. One of my friends did notice before I did that the coat had rubbed her tail where I’d snapped it closed, which I guess it why it’s designed to go under the tail rather than over (but that’s problematic, as previously discussed). No broken skin, but still, not great! Guess we’ll stick to the open back and only snap it closed when stopped going forward. I was otherwise thrilled to have the Hurtta back in action, even if I did have to zip-tie it on her! (No fault of the coat’s; I still haven’t replaced the buckle that got smashed.)
Lilo was asleep before we made the turn off York Pond Rd onto the main drag and still a tired puppy as of this (Monday) morning…but was back to her usual self when I got home from work and we had a nice little leg-stretch along the river.
I always worry a bit when she crashes that hard after a hike; she’s not easy on herself and I do want to be attentive to the possibility that we’ll hit her physical limits. But she behaved very similarly on Moosilauke — hiked great, finished up strong, took 24 hours to really recover — and was stronger than ever after that. So it may just be the fitting-up process, too. She did move really well on our mini-hike tonight and seemed delighted to be going down trail.
So that’s #14 for Lilo! And on to the next, whatever it may be!