Trails: 2.2 mi to Mt Hale Summit via Hale Brook Trail. 2.7 mi to Zealand Falls Hut and 2.7 mi on Zealand Trail back to Zealand Rd.
Time: Est 6-8 hours
Difficulty: Weekend Warriors
Gear: Water, trekking poles, hiking boots or trail runners
After telling my better half that I decided to hike the New England 100 Highest Peaks, she told me that she would like to accomplish that feat with me. To kick off the challenge, we decided to summit Mt Hale. Hale is a relatively easy peak to bag- taking Hale Brook Trail it is only 2.2 miles from road to summit over a not too steep gradient. Doesn’t so bad right?
We arrived at the trailhead on Zealand Rd a little after 9 am. It was then that my 4-year-old told us he didn’t want to wear socks or shoes. After some negotiating we compromised, instead of his hiking boots he would wear his regular sneakers with socks on. Then he informed us he would not hike, instead he wanted to be carried to the top. My wife and I had planned on carrying him partway but not the whole trip. My wife and I each had an Osprey Poco backpack so that we could carry him some and the other would be able to carry our 22-month-old. So, I carried him and she carried the little one.
At the first of several stream crossing, the boys wanted to hike on their own. If you ever need someone to set a leisurely pace- bring a 2-year-old and have them take point. At each of the three stream crossings, they wanted to throw rocks in the rivers and point out cool features they could see. The first stream can easily be stepped over. The other two brooks were very low and easily rock hopped across, but in spring time some care should be exercised.
About 2/3 of the way to the summit there are several switchbacks. Slightly past them you start to get some glimpses of other peaks through the trees. Passing through a small pine forest, we emerged onto the summit. Mt Hale’s summit is tree encircled and steadily getting more wooded, although in terms of rock cairns, few can compare. The summit rock cairn is massive. After grabbing a quick bite to eat, my wife informed me that she felt that Hale Brook Trail was too steep to descend and we should make a loop over to Zealand and go down that way. So off to Lend-A-Hand Trail we went.
Lend-A-Hand Trail connects Mt Hale’s summit to Zealand Falls Hut. It is a beautiful trail. Scenery on the sides of the trail was just gorgeous. After descending over a couple small rock ledges (not nearly as steep or long as those on the way up), the trail enters a small bog. Fortunately, there are wooden logs to walk on. My oldest son wanted to walk and jump from log to log, a welcome break from carrying him) It was during this section, I realized I was out of water. My wife still had her water bladder but I had been sharing mine with the boys. I had my backup (a Sawyer H20 Purifier) but wanted to wait to use it. The trail crosses over a small brook three times and then we could start to hear the sound of Zealand Falls. Upon arrival we shed our packs and relaxed at the AMC hut. Our youngest son wanted to go swimming but lacking a change clothes that was not an option.
After refilling both bladders, we were off again. This time on Zealand Trail- only 2.7 miles to the road. The trail descends rather quickly when leaving the hut but then levels off. At the base of the descent, Ethan Pond diverges off to the right. Stay to the left then continue straight at the junction with A-Z trail. Now we were passing by several ponds and lots of other hikers. Zealand trail is wide and easy to navigate. In the ponds, we spotted several beaver dams but no builders or any other NH fauna.
When we reached the road we still had another mile-ish to the parking lot we parked in. Upon reaching the car, I brought out a surprise for the boys: Astronaut Ice Cream, their favorite treat. (Gotta entice them to want to continue hiking.) 8.2 total miles and our first 4000’ summit bagged.