A “Reel” Interesting Approach to the Kinsmans, 6.7-8.14

What happens when you mix a redliner, a peakbagger and a 13 year old?  An overnight trip to the Kinsmans via the Reel Brook Trail and the Kinsman Ridge Trail.  We planned this trip so that everyone would have some fun and meet their goals.  Ethan was still testing some gear for an upcoming hike and an overnight trip was a perfect opportunity.

Ethan got out of work a little early Friday afternoon and we headed up to the Reel Brook Trail.  The trailhead is on a gravel road off Rt. 116 in Easton.  Ethan is a New Hampshire native, I’ve lived here a long time, and we’ve been driving to trailheads all over the Whites for years now and this was the first trailhead we had trouble finding!  We lost 30 minutes exploring other roads that apparently were not the one we were looking for.  It is much easier to find Reel Brook Road if you are heading south from the Easton Town Hall for a few reasons.  First, the sign with the hiker logo faces the road perpendicular to the roadway, but does not face the actual driver in either direction.  Second, the street sign that says “Reel Brook Road” is covered in foliage, which makes it difficult to see the sign at all if approaching from the south, and a little easier when approaching from the north.  Maybe this is better in the fall and winter when the foliage dies off?  At any rate, we found the place, parked and got on the trail later than we wanted, around 6p.

That sounds like a really late start, but since we only had four miles, 1200 ft. of elevation gain (this isn’t much for the Whites!) and it doesn’t get dark until 8:30p or so, it wasn’t a big deal.  Reel Brook Trail is a nice trail that has had some recent maintenance, and has a nice easy grade to start.  In the middle section there is more of a moderate grade, but nothing super steep and in about an hour and a half, we found ourselves at the junction with the Kinsman Ridge Trail.  From there, it was only a mile to the Eliza Brook Shelter, our stop for the night.  We quickly covered that ground, making it from the car to the shelter in just about two hours.  It was just getting dark, but there was enough light to cook by and set up camp for the night.  There were only three other hikers there, a group from the Berkshires, out for the weekend to enjoy the Kinsman Ridge Trail.  They were tenting, so we opted for the shelter, even though we brought tents along.  Ethan had never slept in a shelter, and Cameron and I let him know this was one of the nicer shelters, having slept in quite a few of varying ages and styles during our Long Trail hike last summer.

Junction of the Reel Brook and Kinsman Ridge Trails.   The Reel Brook descends behind the sign where we are standing.

Junction of the Reel Brook and Kinsman Ridge Trails. The Reel Brook descends behind the sign where we are standing.

Look back to Gordon Pond, Moosilauke and other peaks from the power lines, about half way between the Reel Brook junction and the Eliza Brook Shelter spur.

Look back to Gordon Pond, Moosilauke and other peaks from the power lines, about half way between the Reel Brook junction and the Eliza Brook Shelter spur.

The Eliza Brook Shelter area is nicely located in a pretty place with the water source of Eliza Brook close by.  The sound of the brook was nice to hear at night, although there were a few times I woke up during the night and thought it was rain instead of the brook.  The shelter faces east, so when the sun rose the next morning, it shone directly into the shelter.  We were awake well before sunrise, so we didn’t get the natural alarm clock of full sunshine on the face.  After eating breakfast and packing up, it was time for the next bit of adventure:  the Kinsman Ridge Trail to South and then North Kinsman.  All three of us had been to the Kinsmans before by varying routes, but never this one.

Eliza Brook Shelter.   This version was built in 2010 to replace an older shelter.

Eliza Brook Shelter. This version was built in 2010 to replace an older shelter.

The trail starts out on an easy to moderate grade, hiking next to Eliza Brook, following it for about a mile.  All along the way are beautiful cascades and pools, making the trek worth the effort for the beautiful scenery.  This is truly a hidden gem that by the looks of trail, not too many people except for AT hikers, redliners and the adventurous get to see.

One of the many beautiful cascades along the Kinsman Ridge Trail north of Eliza Brook Shelter.

One of the many beautiful cascades along the Kinsman Ridge Trail north of Eliza Brook Shelter.

After crossing the brook for the last time, the fun really began.  That is, if your definition of fun includes steep hikes up rocky trails and some minor rock scrambling.  This is exactly what we got before leveling out near Harrington Pond.  Harrington Pond is a nice little pond near South Kinsman.  The trail skirts one end on bog bridges, some of which are submerged.  After Harrington Pond, it the trail became really steep and rocky!  This is where we saw the only person between Eliza Brook Shelter and the col between South and North Kinsman, an AT section hiker, headed to PA.  The scrambling continued upward and was rough enough in places to where Ethan and Cameron packed in the poles to make the ascent easier by using their hands. Every time we turned a corner, there was more.  It did remind Cameron and I of some places in Vermont that were pretty challenging.  At least it wasn’t raining, too!

Harrington Pond, a nice little pond near the last steep section to South Kinsman.

Harrington Pond, a nice little pond near the last steep section to South Kinsman.

Working our way up a steeper section of the Kinsman Ridge Trail.

Working our way up a steeper section of the Kinsman Ridge Trail. Note that Cameron has opted to stow his poles and use his hands.

Yes, this is the trail.  Right up those rocks.

Yes, this is the trail. Right up those rocks.

Finally, the trail leveled out, we were out of the slabs and boulders and knew we were close to South Kinsman.  A few minutes later after winding through the scrub, we arrived at the summit of South Kinsman.  The weather wasn’t exactly perfect, because we had ascended just into the edge of the cloud, but it was far better than the 30 feet or so of visibility that I had a few winters ago on my last visit to the Kinsmans.  The cairn has seen some creative improvement being transformed from a pile of rocks to a nice stone recliner with views to the Franconia Range and beyond.  We all took turns getting our picture taken in the recliner before heading out to North Kinsman.  From here on, the trails would be familiar trails, and we started to see quite a few groups of people.  We took a nice break at North Kinsman, enjoying lunch on the ledges and exploring the lower ledges to peek down at Kinsman Pond.  After lunch, it was time for the remainder of the descent.

Relaxing in the recliner on South Kinsman.

Relaxing in the recliner on South Kinsman.

The guys on the ledges at North Kinsman with Cannon in the background.

The guys on the ledges at North Kinsman with Cannon in the background.

Our original plan was to back track out the way we came.  Knowing what we had just come up, and with not everyone in the group anticipating with glee the descent of slabs and boulders, the three of us agreed on a plan to go down the Mt. Kinsman Trail and do the road walk back to Reel Brook Rd. to pick up the car.  We also thought that one of the two of us of driving age with driver’s licenses might be able to beg or hitch a ridge back to the car.  As luck would have it, a couple we had seen earlier was heading down and Ethan asked if they’d be willing to take me back to the car.  They were headed to Lincoln, so all I had to do was keep up with them downhill.  We assured them I could do that, and we took off, with Ethan and Cameron taking their time behind us.  They really moved along!  Thankfully, I’m used to moving along on descents and by 2:00p, we were at the road, taking off for Reel Brook.  Ethan and Cameron weren’t too slow, because by the time I got back with the car, they were at the trailhead waiting!

Painted trillium on the Mt. Kinsman trail.  Nice to see the wildflowers blooming after a long winter.

Painted trillium on the Mt. Kinsman trail. Nice to see the wildflowers blooming after a long winter.

By 2:30p we were on our way home, having had a good adventure!  We had fun, got to explore new places, test gear and as an extra blessing, didn’t get rained on!  This was particularly nice for Ethan as on many of his overnight or longer adventures he’s had to endure rain and wet gear.  What a great way to start a summer full of interesting trips that we’ve planned!

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9 thoughts on “A “Reel” Interesting Approach to the Kinsmans, 6.7-8.14

  1. Hi Summerset,

    Let me begin by saying that your ending statement is so true, i.e. “What a great way to start a summer full of interesting trips that we’ve planned!”

    Finding the turn-off for the Reel Brook trailhead can be challenging, especially when doing it for the first time. Have had similar issues with the Mt. Tremont trail, even though it is one of adopted trails! There are still times when I fail to see it, and then have to turn around. Another case of where placement of the trailhead sign is less than ideal.

    As you might recall, I did this same Reel Brook/Kinsman hike a few years ago. The following link isn’t intended as shameless self-promotion, but rather for your convenience in case you might want to re-read it.
    http://1happyhiker.blogspot.com/2011/08/reel-good-approach-route-to-kinsmans.html

    Your report is terrific, and I look forward to reading other reports that you’ll be posting throughout the summer.

    John

    • Thanks for stopping by, John! Yes, it was a challenge, but now we’ll know. I’ll take your warning about Mt. Tremont, too, as I’m sure we’ll go there. Thanks to the link for your blog – I did reference your posts before leaving for this trip just for a refresher on some of the details. Keep reading – we’ve got a trip to Baxter in the works for July!

  2. Did you have any trouble driving that last bit of road to the Reel Brook Trailhead? When we did it last September (same route, but with a car spot) we not only had trouble finding the trailhead, but I was real nervous about driving my Corolla over those rocks. In fact, I went so far over to the side on the way out I messed up my fender against a tree.

    • Cumulus, thanks for reading and commenting! I totally understand about that bit of road. I’ve got a Subaru Outback, and we chose to bring that instead of my husband’s smaller Subaru Impreza because we’d heard about that section. With the Outback it wasn’t as bad, but still needed some care to drive over as the winter did not improve that bit at all. The nice people who gave me a ride back had a Prius, and I had them drop me off before that last little bit – no point in tearing up their car!

    • About a tenth of a mile before you get to the trailhead, look for a small pull off on the west side of the road. There is room for about 2 vehicles. It’s within the boundary of the WMNF, thus making it okay to park there. Yes, it adds a bit of extra distance to the hike, but avoids the hazards of the trailhead parking lot. 🙂

  3. Hi Summerset,
    Great report. I enjoyed reading it. Your picture of the cascades/waterfall is great. Your definition of fun is the same as mine, and that steep rocky trail looks “fun” to me!

    Karl

    • Thanks, Karl! It was fun! Congratulations on your newest family addition – I’m sure you’ll have your hands full.

  4. As the adopter for the Reel Brook Trail, I’m always happy to hear about people using it. The pull-off John describes is definitely better for cars without much clearance. It’s a Class VI road, and the landowner hadn’t done the ‘spring fixup’ yet when I was there last month, but the road itself only had a few issues. The main parking area is a perennial challenge with the entrance ‘rock garden’. You can usually fit 1 car at the entrance if you’re careful not to block it.

    I’ll try to remember to defoliate the sign next time I’m there. Spring has sprung.

    • JCarter – Thank you for your work on the Reel Brook Trail – it looked good and I’ve done a small amount of trail work elsewhere to know the effort it takes. The grades are nice enough, I’m sure it would be a good snowshoe in the winter. I think John Compton has done it and wrote a blog post on it. Yep, the “rock garden” can be a challenge for regular vehicles! It is not enough of a deterrent to where I wouldn’t go back, though. Now that I know where the road is, I’ll be back! It is nice way to get up to the Kinsman Ridge Trail, which we haven’t hiked all of just yet.

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