The Squam range is a low-lying ridgeline of unremarkable mountains of roughly 2,200′ elevation, whose chief attraction is their ever-changing views towards Squam Lake, although there are some views to the north towards Tecumseh and Sandwich Dome. For those used to challenging terrain and rewarding vistas of the more northerly Whites, the Squam range isn’t all that interesting. Yet, for me, the Squam range has been an area of special fascination for many years.
Like many young people, I was taken on several hikes up and down Mt. Morgan, the most frequently hiked mountain in the Squam range. I think of Morgan as a 50% scale version of a more serious White mountain hike. Morgan offers a steep ascent, minor water crossings, boggy areas with bog bridges, an interesting ladder option for the adventurous, and an outstanding view near the summit. Therefore, anyone tackling Morgan gets a taste of more demanding hikes — a real sense of what you’d be in for in many other places you might go. I’ve been on Morgan in every season of the year. I’ve even done a night hike by headlamp and full moon to Morgan’s outlook, where I saw fireworks being shot over Squam Lake. Like many others, I’ve often paired Morgan with adjacent Percival, which features an interesting series of small caves formed by boulders just under the summit area. The Morgan-Percival loop hike is a good bit of fun; I remember when descending Percival meant a road walk back to the Morgan parking area. Nowadays there’s a connecting trail instead.
During those trips of driving down the road between the Squam range and Squam Lake, I’d often look up to the ridgeline, and wonder what the rest of the ridgeline was like. There’s something about hiking in the mountains that makes a hiker want to get on top of any bump and ridge in sight. Conveniently, the Squam Lake Association maintains the Crawford Ridgepole Trail that provides the interested hiker with a easy way to get on top of every peak in the Squam range. I have wanted to do that hike for years, and finally got my chance. On this particular Saturday, Summerset, Cameron and I took two cars up to Crawford Ridgepole Trail (CRT), starting from Sandwich Notch Road, heading west and south along the ridgeline to its terminus on the summit of Cotton Mountain, and then descending Cotton Mountain to the parking area where we’d left one of the cars.
From Sandwich Notch Road, CRT ascends steeply through fairly open woods for a good while, reaching the ridgeline in roughly a mile and change. I’d have to check the White Mountain Guide to get the exact distances. Once on the ridgeline, the trail rolls along for several miles across Doublehead, Squam, Percival, and Morgan. For this section, the trail was a bit boggy at the beginning, but turned into a great deal of bare ledge underfoot with fairly open sky, broken up by sections back under trees, with rooty trail and conifer needles underfoot. There’s a number of jaunty little up and down sections, with deep knee bends occasionally required to continue up or down a rock feature. This section of trail all the way to Morgan was reasonably well marked, but could have used some more blazing in the open areas east and north of Percival, where open ledge rarely traveled left some ambiguity as to where to go next. A few uncertain steps would generally reveal a distant blaze or small cairn. We never lost our way.
As Percival and Morgan are often done as a loop by folks of all ages and experience, the section of Crawford Ridgepole between those two peaks is blazed heavily and also tagged by plastic yellow diamonds with black arrows. CRT follows Mt. Morgan Trail for a while, then heads west and south with a sign towards Mt. Webster. The CRT at this point is distinctly different from the CRT to the north and east of Morgan, changing to a more narrow, boggy footpath in places, with wider “sidewalk” in places as well. Certainly there is less rock ledge underfoot, as the trail spends a good bit of time just below the actual ridgeline. The trail runs over Mts. Webster and Livermore — largely easy miles, gently descending for the most part, although there is a small ascent to gain Mt. Livermore.
The last section of the CRT descends steadily for quite some time from Livermore down a series of switchbacks, eventually hitting a low point in an open woods area. This area was the closest we came to losing the trail, as the trail was washed out in places, indistinct underfoot, and covered with brush and at least one significant blowdown. However, proceeding on instinct and spotting a couple of hikers coming our way, we soon found blazes again and ascended the last section of trail to Cotton Mountain summit. After a long, hot day filled with persistent black flies and deer flies, the last little climb to Cotton was a slog, although not all that technically difficult. The summit of Cotton Mountain is wooded but open, and is where CRT ends at 11.3 miles. The descent down Cotton Mountain Trail to the parking area was 0.7 miles, but steep and rocky. With tired feet and legs, it was more challenging than it would have been in normal circumstances.
Overall, CRT is a fairly easy, enjoyable trail, with varying viewpoints to Squam Lake that change as you move along the ridgeline. Note that there is essentially no water source on CRT, despite a number of boggy areas. A few of the brook crossing could possibly, with heavy treatment, have worked for water in a difficult situation, but plan on bringing all the water you might need.