Sunset from the front porch of the cabin.
Photo by Ryan Linn
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Cabot Mtn Winter Backpacking Trip

Not long after the balmy 50 degree days in Utah, I ventured into the northernmost part of the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire for a weekend of serious winter backpacking.

Ryan Linn       Trip Report       01/27/2015
Ryan Linn
Trip Report
01/27/2015

Not long after the balmy 50 degree days in Utah, I ventured into the northernmost part of the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire for a weekend of serious winter backpacking.

This would be a practice run, since I hadn’t been on a winter overnight trip in a few years, so we picked something moderately difficult– First, climbing to Mt Cabot via Bunnell Notch Trail, where many peak-bagging day-hikers go, then continuing along the Kilkenny Ridge Trail to Unknown Pond, and down the Unknown Pond Trail to complete the loop.

Everything after Mt Cabot was barely traveled, and would be much more difficult.

A lone hiker walks down a snowy trail towards a distant mountain range.
The first view of Cabot, from down near the Berlin Fish Hatchery.
Photo by Ryan Linn

Since Cabot is the most remote of New Hampshire’s 4000-footers (at least the furthest in driving time from Boston), I wasn’t sure how well-traveled the trail would be.

It turned out to be packed into the snow pretty well, but since it was so far north the snow still had the texture of freshly trod powder rather than a solid crust highway. We had easy walking on snowshoes up to Bunnell Notch, then a steeper climb along the south slope of Cabot to reach the old fire warden’s cabin near the summit.

There were five of us, plus one dog, with varying degrees of winter backpacking experience, so camping accommodations varied as well.

Steve, whose first deep-winter overnighter was with me a few years ago, had a new single-wall tent, and I had a new Black Diamond Firstlight tent, so we set up nearby. The others occupied the bunks in the little cabin, and we all gathered inside for dinner and sunset.

There was no liquid water near the cabin, so we had two MSR Whisperlite stoves running full force for over three hours to melt snow, boil water, and cook dinner.

A group of hikers walk down a trail through a snowy forest.
Getting into the thicker snow near the summit.
Photo by Ryan Linn
A green tent sits in a snowy forest.
Camped near the Cabot Cabin, with a good view into Vermont.
Photo by Ryan Linn

The daytime temperatures on Saturday were balmy mid-20s, so we had to be careful not to sweat too much on the hike up. We knew the nighttime temperatures were supposed to be quite low, with extra wind chill to boot.

And boy, did the mountains deliver. High winds blasted all night, coating the tents and cabin with new rime ice. We forgot to check the thermometer when we left the cabin in the morning, but by noon the temperature had dropped down to -10F, while the wind continued to blow a steady 10 to 20 mph.

A hiker leaves a frost-covered cabin in a snowy forest.
A frosty morning at Cabot Cabin.
Photo by Ryan Linn

After leaving the cabin, it was a short trek to the top of Cabot, then the trail got a little sketchy.

The day before, six Canadians had continued past Cabot (according to day-hikers heading back down the Bunnell Notch Trail), but other than that group I doubt anybody had traveled the ridge for many months. The Canadian Trail, as we began to call the snowshoe path we followed most of the day, shifted in and out of existence depending on how wind-sheltered the area was.

Often, the track would split into many tracks that spiraled and circled, trying to find the Kilkenny Ridge Trail amid the deep snow. At one point, the Canadian Trail headed off into a long bushwhack near Unknown Pond that seemed to reach a dead end.

We searched for a good half hour to find the actual trail, which the Canadians had found almost half a mile later at the end of their epic bushwhack. This was not easy going. We pushed to make a one mile per hour pace.

A hiker stands next to a trail sign in a snowy forest.
Gian tags the summit for one of his NH 4Ks.
Photo by Ryan Linn

With the temperature as low as it was, we could barely stop for more than a few minutes at a time, and nobody wanted to stop walking any longer than was necessary, so eating and bathroom breaks took a backseat to just getting off the mountain.

Steve and the rest of the crew had to be back in Boston that night, but even without the long drive we were battling exhaustion all the way down to the car. Keeping your body warm in such cold conditions, breaking trail through deep snow, and carrying a heavier-than-usual pack load will beat you down fast.

Once we finally arrived at the car we rejoiced a little, then got moving as quickly as we could for home. We stopped for burgers in Bethel, where we learned that the Northeast will soon be demolished by a “crippling and potentially historic” blizzard (according to CNN), so we kept ourselves awake by debating who gets to decide what is “potentially historic”, and “shouldn’t ‘potentially’ be applied to crippling as well as historic?” Very important things to think about.

I was asleep by 8 PM, while the others had their drive further to Boston. A successful weekend indeed!

A group of hikers walk through a snowy forest.
The sun finally comes out in midafternoon, but it’s still too cold to stop moving.
Photo by Ryan Linn
A group of hikers and a dog walk through a snowy meadow.
Unknown Pond. Why isn’t anyone following me out here?
Photo by Ryan Linn

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White Mountain National Forest

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Presidential Range, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire
Photo by Ryan Linn
Presidential Range, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire
Photo by Ryan Linn

White Mountain National Forest

White Mountain National Forest is home to New Hampshire’s highest peaks and over a thousand miles of hiking trails!

250+ miles of trail (400 km)
$29.99 full guide
Learn more
Get our trail guide for this area!
About the Author
A man wears a blue shirt, blue backpack, and a tan baseball cap.

Ryan Linn

Ryan is also known as “Guthook”, which is where our apps get their name. Already an avid hiker, he hiked the Appalachian Trail, New England Trail, and Pacific Crest Trail before joining forces with Paul to create the Guthook Guides apps. Ryan handles iOS development for our apps from his office in Maine, and usually runs away to the forests and mountains throughout New England. He also volunteers with the Maine Appalachian Trail Club and the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Baxter State Park in Maine is his happy place.