Friday I had off from both my jobs so I decided to head north early in the morning to check off a hike that was sitting on my bucket list for far too long. As I crawled into bed on Thursday I really started debating if I really wanted to drive the two hours or if I wanted to stay closer to home and possibly tackle Monadnock again. I decided I would just decide when I woke up but was leaning towards staying local. Fast forward a solid night’s sleep (which is few and far between for me) I woke at 5am and got up and finished packing our packs and tossed them in the car. At this point, I still wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing and but knew I had to get ready. Aubrey woke up and I asked her again if she wanted to hike one or two mountains and she excitedly said “TWO MOUNTAINS!” So there was my decision we would head two hours north to hike the Welch and Dickey Loop in Thornton.
We stopped at Bagel Mill for breakfast on our way and ventured through thick thick fog the entire way up north. The fog was so dense in areas it was near impossible to see. Traffic was fine and we were able to make good time and arrive at the trailhead at 9am. I filled out my WMNF fee envelope threw the hangtag on my dash and our packs in our backs and off we headed into the woods.
The trail quickly crossed a small brook which required rock hopping and then a small bridge. I have gotten into a habit of not taking many pictures on the way up mountains so I can ensure I have enough battery life in case something happens and I NEED my phone, so often my pictures are from the way down mountains when I know I have plenty of power to snap pictures and if a situation occurs I can still rely on my phone (I also carry an emergency backup power pack). But soon I realized that since we are hiking a loop, we wouldn’t be passing some of these neat sights again so I would have to constantly take pictures as we go.
I was surprised on how quiet the trail was, we only were passed by a few groups in the first mile including a group of college kids who Aubrey actually managed to keep up the pace with for most of the hike. After the first mile(ish) we finally made it out to the ledges and the open views were outstanding.
I had told Aubrey to go take stand by a sign so I could take a picture of her as I was talking to an older couple who had made a comment on how this was a big hike for her, and I was talking to them about how she has climbed many mountains already including Monadnock and Jackson and they were pretty impressed! All of a sudden a little white dog photo bombed the picture I was taking and a lady had come up behind me we exchanged glances and I continued my conversation with the other couple and then she interrupted us and asked if she was the same little girl she had seen a couple months ago on Jackson. I realized she was the same lady who started the Mount Jackson trail at the same time as us, with the intentions on only hiking the short distance to Elephants Head but then decided to hike all of Jackson. What were the odds of meeting her again!
The views were outstanding and as I looked around at our surroundings I quickly realized how much of this hike was going to offer nothing but more open views! I could see dots of people along the trail and was so excited to see how open it way! The fog from the morning had lifted and we were left with blue skies above and fall foliage colors below. We continued on our way up to the peak of Welch which would be the first mountain of the day.
I had read about the slabs of granite on this hike would be slick in rain but it was a dry day and I wasn’t concerned. I was thinking these slabs would be similar to the scrambles on Monadnock but I was wrong. These were slick steep sections of solid rock. They weren’t challenging like scrambles but definitely a work out on your calf muscles. Up and up we went on a series of these smooth rocks. We would pass through a few small scramble sections which Aubrey and I always enjoy. We had noticed holes in the rocks all along the way. They looked like drill holes and we both wondered what they were. We had stopped to look at one of the larger ones when another hiker came up behind us and explained that they are formed by rushing water causing a small stone to rotate around and around drilling out the hole. “Ah, just like at The Basin!” I remarked. As we arrived at the summit of Welch Aubrey was greeted by the group of college kids again and invited us to sit with them.
Aubrey sat down and I had backed her a special treat of ABCs and Meatballs (spaghettiO) for her lunch. She was so excited and happily ate them cold as she talked with her new friends. The lady with the little white dog arrived just behind us and she sat and talked with us for awhile as well until it was time to make our way over to the second mountain Dickey. It looked so far away and I started to wonder if Aubrey would start to tire soon and if her attitude would change. So far this entire hike she had been awesome and was moving right along despite being the smallest hiker out there.
As we headed down Welch, the trail looks and feels like you are walking right off the edge of the cliff. Very nerve-wracking! As we made our way to the col between the two mountains we found a large cairn which I am assuming marks the halfway point. From here the trail is wooded with pine trees for a bit and besides expansive views hikes in The Whites offer my next favorite thing is the smell of these pine forests. It’s so strong and fresh I want to bottle it up and keep it with me for whenever I need a little mountain escape.
Soon we hiked out of the pine forest and headed up the slabs of Dickey Mountain. Aubrey was still doing well so we only had a short snack here as I wanted to keep moving before her energy started to fade and figured I would rather keep moving forward now and take breaks later as we might need them. So we headed down the mountain as we looked out over the rest of the state.
On the way down Dickey the trail would lead you through the woods and would pop back out at one of the ledges and you would follow cairns across the ledge and back into the woods. Every so often we would meet another group of hikers soaking in the views and we would stop and chat. The hikers we met on this hike were such a drastic difference from just a few weeks ago on Mount Pemi. Everyone here was excited, upbeat and loved taking the few minutes to stop and talk to Aubrey. My theory with why everyone was so much more friendly here was because they were “real hikers”, not tourist. Mount Pemi is in the heart of Franconia Notch and the trail starts at the Flume Gorge Visitor Center and is pretty easy in terms of White Mountain hikes. Welch and Dickey are away from a big tourist area and is a longer more strenuous hike so it gets skipped by many of the tourists. Being out among “real hikers” the ones who hike multiple times a year, who love and respect the mountains they climb (and not ONCE did I see someone wearing jeans on this hike!) are much more excited to see such a young hiker out on the trails as they know she will be the next generation to grow up and want to protect them.
We made our way down the rest of the trail and after walking along the final ledge we enter the woods for what would be the last mile. It would be the longest part as Aubrey was becoming more clumsy but she remained in high spirits until the very end. It was an awesome hike. One we will definitely be repeating many times to come!
A note of caution- there are a few areas along this trail where I found the blazes hard to find, especially in one area right before the final ridge walk. We had missed the blaze and followed what look liked a trail a short distance to another ledgey view area but when I saw some blue blazes I knew it was not in the right area. We turned around and found the last yellow blaze and looked around for the next one, which was actually on the back side of a tree and then up on a rock. As soon as we made it to the top of the rock I noticed two other hikers walk quickly passed us and Aubrey actually was the one who yelled out “you’re going the wrong way! It’s up here!” They were very grateful that she helped them. So if you are going to venture out on this trail, bring a map, a copy of the trail description and pay attention. Also, these ledges will be EXTREMELY slippery if raining or rained the day before.