The Doubleheads in Jackson, NH have always been a fascinating set of mountains for me. I’ve always wanted to hike them but can’t really recall what gave me that itch. Maybe it was just the fact that they were in Jackson. I recall the first time I was able to pinpoint them from a higher elevation. It was on the Lion Head Trail while hiking Mount Washington. They were perfectly shaped mountains. Not too pointy or too round. They looked like perfect twins in the distance…and they were in my favorite New Hampshire town!
Sign at the Doublehead Ski Trailhead
The Doubleheads, as seen from the Lion Head Trail on Mount Washington in 2011
Everyone I’ve spoken to with regards to hiking them always said the same thing, “it’s a steep hike”! How steep could it really be, though? Could it be as bad as the Flume Slide Trail or the upper portion of the Holt Trail on Cardigan? Both of those are steep, but also tough due to rock scrambling. What about Mount Tecumseh Trail? The upper portion of that trail is steep too, covered with rocks and pretty much the same scenery all the way up. I’ve been on these trails and I would have expected the Doubleheads to be similar or less trying…so how bad could it be??? Well, let me tell you, it was bad!
My buddy Alex is having a baby soon (well, his wife is, but he’s certainly involved), as well as starting a new job next week. He was able to work in a little time off before the craziness begins so I decided to recruit him to do some hiking with me. Since I hadn’t been to the Whites for a while, I chose the Doubleheads as a good candidate to reintroduce my endurance to hiking. Alex agreed it would be a good spring hike and we set a date to tackle them.
We started our trip off at one of my favorite breakfast cafes, The Big Bean Cafe in Newmarket, NH. That great breakfast energized us and we grabbed a couple of fresh smoothies for the ride (they make the best smoothies!!!). The drive was a little concerning since it was cloudy most of the way and started to rain pretty hard when we got to Conway. We were thinking we may be rained out but when we hit the trailhead, the sun started to break through the clouds.
Private Road at Trailhead Parking
Ski Trail Exiting from Private Way on Right
Our original plan was to head up the New Path which ascends South Doublehead, and it eventually meets ups with the Old Path. From there, we were going to head to the summit of North Doublehead, then backtrack to the col, and descend via the Old Path to the Doublehead Ski Trail (which welcomes hikers). From the the Doublehead Ski Trailhead, we were going to hoof it back to the New Path’s trailhead, 0.5 miles south on Dundee Road. However, when we got there, we realized the Doublehead Ski Trailhead is downhill from the New Path trailhead. Therefore, it made sense to do the loop in the reverse direction than what we had originally planned.
The parking area is at the beginning of a private road and is large enough for approximately four cars. We geared up quickly, making sure we had enough bug spray to keep the lingering black flies and mosquitoes away after the earlier rain came through. We headed down the private road for a very short distance before there was a sign for the Doublehead Ski Trail exiting on the right. The sign indicated that the trail welcomed hikers, but users of the trail should keep in mind it is a ski trail and respect it as such.
Trout Lily Buds
Right away, a few steps into the trail, I noticed my favorite wildflower in full bloom, the Hobblebush. Jim Salge once told me, (or I read on his blog, can’t recall now) that the larger flowers on the perimeter of the cluster are actually “dummy” flowers and can’t be used for pollinating. They are actually there to attract bees for the smaller flowers in the middle. This is amazing to me. Two completely different flowers budding from the same plant and one is literally just a decoy!
Toad Number 1
Toad Number 2
The Doublehead Ski Trail was pretty muddy and waterlogged, but certainly nothing that wasn’t easy to make our way through. The first 0.6 miles went by very fast as we discussed things friends discuss, while admiring Painted Trilliums, White Violets, Trout Lillies (buds, not opened yet) and some hopping toads! We finally came to a junction where the Old Path trail went right and the Doublehead Ski Trail continued left. We took some photo ops at the trail sign and then we were off again.
Here Moosy, Moosy, Moosy! Moose Print!
As soon as we got onto to the Old Path, the trail conditions changed dramatically. We went from a nice wide trail that we could hike two abreast to one that was barely wide enough for one. Also, the moderate grade we had made such great time on was GONE! This trail was steep…I mean close to straight up…and it was brutal! This steepness was consistent for 0.6 miles and did not let up until we met the junction with the New Path at the top of the ridge in the col. There, we saw the first Purple Trillium’s of the day, which made the grueling steepness worth it.
We hung a left at this junction and continued on the Old Path. It was not long before that flat, ridge walk turned into the last, very steep (again) 0.3 miles to the North Doublehead summit. Just before the summit, we did find a small cairn, where there was a small spur path to an outlook. We followed it for a few hundred feet, but the path disappeared on us, with no viewpoint in site. So, we continued onto the summit.
Doublehead Ski Cabin on the Summit of North Doublehead
Sign on the Doublehead Ski Cabin
The Old Path trail leveled off very quickly and a log cabin appeared. It was the Doublehead Cabin, built in the 1930’s around the same time that the Doublehead Ski Trail was blazed. We noticed there were some heads moving around inside and found there were a few guys from Chicago staying in the cabin for a few nights. After chatting with them for a while, we worked our way around the back of the cabin to a viewpoint to the north. We had a quick snack there while watched fast moving fog move in and out of the valleys. After just a short time, the bugs motivated us to get moving again.
View from North Doublehead Summit, with the Fog Rolling Through
Some Little Pine Cones
We headed back down to the col and continued straight onto to the New Path and toward South Doublehead. The climb was by no means as steep as what we had endured previously. 0.2 miles after the col junction, we made our way onto a fantastic ledge with wide views to the west, which spanned from Carter Notch all the way down to South Moat and Kearsarge, North. The sun had made its way out with a few lingering clouds and view was spectacular. We thought this was a perfect place to drop our packs, eat some lunch, drink some coffee and soak in the views!
Black Mountain Ski Mountain
Carter Notch Emerging from the Clouds
After a long rest, Alex and I continued south on the New Path. We soon came to a trail sign which had been knocked to the ground. It didn’t look like a junction to us, but rather a sign letting people know the mileage to the different junctions and summits. We continued straight as we thought this was still the New Path. We soon came to what we thought may have been the summit. A large cairn marked the area with good views. We continued on further and came to “another” summit with two large cairns! I recall reading in the White Mountain Guide that there was as spur path that brings you over two knobs on South Doublehead with great views. I immediately thought this must be what we were on. That lead to the next question…where did we miss the trail turnoff!!!
New Path Sign Knocked Over...This is when we started getting lost!
Cairn on first knob on South Doublehead!
View over to the Moats and Cathedral Ledge
We turned around and double backed to the trail sign that was on the ground. We continued to look around and could not find a trail. We finally looked to our west, since that’s the direction the map told us we should go and made out what “might” be a trail. However, if it was, it was not heavily used! We continued down this path for a short distance and soon found that it must be the trail.
My Buddy Alex and I on South Doublehead!
Double Cairns on the Second Knob of South Doublehead!
Look back on North Doublehead
Carter Notch Again
Remember when I said the Old Path was brutal and steep. The New Path was worse! I think it was steeper, had more slippery roots and did not have any blazes. Alex and I lost the trail multiple times. Also, it looked like it hadn’t been maintained in years, as washouts and mini-landslides had destroyed some sections. On one portion of the trail, there is a wide ledge. Heading down, it’s not clear which direction to go on the far side of the ledge. While looking around for the exit, I slipped and fell pretty hard on the slab. Again, something that I feel could have been avoided with some blazes, markers or cairns…I was very annoyed at this point.
Fire Tower on Kearsarge, North
Washed out New Path Trail
Historical Stonewall near the bottom of the New Path
After an extremely difficult and painful (literally) descent, Alex and I made it to the point where the terrain leveled off. It was finally easy going…but then, we had to dodge dog poop!!! Apparently, and this is just a suspicion on my part since we heard dogs barking form nearby dwellings, someone in the area must routinely walk there dog on the lower portion of the trail. This was not just one occurrence. We had to dodge twenty or more I would say. Needless to say, the New Path was not all that enjoyable for a descent. We did finally make it to Dundee Road, from which we headed back to the car for a relaxing beverage.
New Path Trailhead Sign
This was a memorable hike because I had wanted to do it for so long and even though I had been told it was steep, I did not expect it to be as difficult as it was. Quite frankly, it kicked my butt! Regardless of the steepness, one foot in front of the other did get us to the summit. We saw some great wildflowers and some toads. We also got to explore some trails we had never seen before and made a loop out of it, even getting lost at times. However, the best part of the day was spending it with a friend that I have not hiked with in a very long time. Hiking in the Whites is therapeutic when with a friend. You can catch up on what’s new and where you’re heading in life, while also reliving glory days that your everyday thought’s have forgotten. That’s exactly what Alex and I did, and I look forward to doing again on another mountain in the very near future.