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 Orange - Cardigan - Firescrew 10/15 
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Peak Bagger
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Joined: Sun Jun 27, 2010 5:03 pm
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 Orange - Cardigan - Firescrew 10/15
I originally had other plans for Saturday, but then I saw the perfect weather forecast. Basically perfect fall weather, right in the middle of foliage season. So I cancelled my other plans and decided to do a hike instead. The hard part was deciding where to go. I considered Moosilauke, but I wanted to go somewhere I hadn't been before. Although I've climbed Sandwich, I haven't been on the Algonquin Trail, so that was a possibility. Then I thought I'd go to Smarts Mt or Mt Cube, because I've never hiked in that area. Finally, I decided on Cardigan. It's a shorter drive than all of those others, the other trip reports I'd read looked great, and I'd never been there.

I didn't decide on my hiking route until I arrived at the AMC Lodge. I knew this was a very popular mountain, and the parking lot was full when I arrived around 9:15, so I had to park on the road. After studying the map, I decided to do a big loop that included Orange Mt and Firescrew, both because I wanted to see as much as possible and because I was hoping that the trails on the outside would not be too crowded. Here's the trail map with my route in green:

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The Woodland Trail was a beautiful walk in the woods. Although a lot of leaves had fallen and the color was good, there was still surprisingly a lot of green showing:

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After about a mile, there is a turnoff for a campsite. I would have liked to check these out, but I didn't know how far down the trail the campsites were, so I didn't bother:

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I turned onto the Clark Trail, where I passed an AMC crew doing some trail maintenance. This is also a nice trail, mostly easy walking and well maintained:

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After turning onto the Vistamont Trail, I lost quite a bit of elevation to a brook, then it climbed steeply via short switchbacks up to a ridge. Before reaching the ridge, the character of the trail changed abruptly from a hardwood forest to a mossy conifer forest:

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Shortly, I reached the first view ledge, with great views mostly to the east (I think that's Mt Kearsarge in the second picture):

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And a short while after that, I started getting views of the summit of Cardigan:

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After that, the trails were much more ledgy, including long stretches like this:

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At the summit of Orange Mt (aka Mt Gilman), I turned onto the Skyland Trail towards Rimrock. This is a view north:

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The Skyland Trail had a few mossy wooded sections to walk through too:

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At Rimrock, views to the west opened up:

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I turned onto the South Ridge Trail there in order to go to South Peak. I had clear views of the summit from here, and I could see and actually hear people talking (yelling?) up there:

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Here's a view of the summit from South Peak:

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Amazingly, I hadn't run into a single hiker up to this point. The only people I had seen (other than those on the summit) were in the AMC trail crew on the Clark Trail. That changed quickly once I left South Peak. I ran into a few hikers as I was going up the long slabs of rock, including this huge group from MIT, descending from the summit:

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I spent a little time walking around the summit area and taking in the great views, including this view north. That's Firescrew in the foreground (my next destination), and the Whites in the distance. I could easily make out Cannon, the Franconia Ridge, the Bonds, and some of the Presidentials. A fantastic, if distant, view:

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Here's a zoom of the AMC Lodge surrounded by reds, yellows, and oranges from the summit:

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Eventually I left the summit and headed across the ridge towards Firescrew on the Mowglis Trail. This trail is blazed in white, and at one point, I noticed this blue blaze heading off to the right. There was no sign, so I consulted the map and saw that this trail went to "Grotto Cave". I figured I might as well check it out, so I headed down. I ran into a woman heading back up who said that it really wasn't worth seeing, but it was right around the corner, so I continued down. I saw the rocks that she thought was the cave, but then I saw some blazes further down, so I realized that she had not actually reached the cave. I continued down very steeply (knowing that I had to climb back up) for another few minutes, when I did come to the cave. There are some interesting overhanging rocks:

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Then I crawled through this opening ...

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... to discover some more interesting boulders on the other side:

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After exploring for a while, I crawled back through here to get back onto the trail:

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It was an interesting diversion, then I climbed fairly steeply back up to the ridge, where I continued over to Firescrew. Here's a view of Cardigan's summit from Firescrew:

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I ate lunch on the summit of Firescrew, which also has fantastic views. Only a small percentage of the hikers on Cardigan continued to Firescrew, and practically all of those who did descended from there via the Manning Trail. I continued north on the Mowglis Trail instead, passing the Crag Shelter along the way:

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There were no views the rest of the way, but the trails were very nice and hardly anybody was on them. I turned onto the Elwell Trail, which descends steeply in some sections, and thankfully it's blazed well because otherwise it would be very difficult to follow. Then I turned onto the Back 80 Trail, where there were some interesting beaver ponds:

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At one point, the trail passes this cellar hole. I don't know what the history of it is:

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Around this time, I started hearing a lot of noise from two helicopters that kept on going north and south over the summit area. I never did find out why they were there. I tried to get a picture, but couldn't get them in an area where I had a clear view overhead. The late afternoon sky was really brilliant:

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Near the bottom of the Back 80 Trail, there are some really nice campsites. It looks like this would be a great place to spend a couple of nights:

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A few minutes later, I reached the bottom, and on the way out I took this last parting shot of the AMC Lodge:

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I think all of you have been to Cardigan, and I'm not sure why I waited so long to go there. I will definitely be back to hike some of the other trails.


Sun Oct 16, 2016 10:17 pm
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 Re: Orange - Cardigan - Firescrew 10/15
Great report. Thanks for taking the time to post your pictures. It looks like you had a great day.

I love the shot of the hut amidst the foliage.

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Mon Oct 17, 2016 5:51 am
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Joined: Wed Mar 21, 2012 9:21 am
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 Re: Orange - Cardigan - Firescrew 10/15
Looks like you hit the sweet spot here on some good low trafficked trails (aside from where you met up with the main loop. Nice pics and report. The foliage is coming southwards.


Mon Oct 17, 2016 7:40 am
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Location: Exeter, NH
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 Re: Orange - Cardigan - Firescrew 10/15
I like the lodge and leaf pic too. You should send them a copy. They have a lot of rooms to decorate there. We were supposed to head up the West Ridge trail Saturday afternoon but had to change locations for time constraints. I'm bummed that we missed out on the this mountain Saturday. I read the foliage was not so vibrant there in another report but the foliage looks spectacular in the area to me in the pics.


Mon Oct 17, 2016 8:04 am
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 Re: Orange - Cardigan - Firescrew 10/15
Looks like everyone is getting there share of the great foliage this year. I still want to do that loop someday. I've done the Orange, Cardigan, Firescrew loop but descending Manning.

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Mon Oct 17, 2016 10:04 am
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Joined: Sun Dec 23, 2012 3:52 pm
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Location: Edge City
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 Re: Orange - Cardigan - Firescrew 10/15
This is a great long loop, and the Elwell is great if you want some isolation. I was up there recently and noticed the new blazing to Grotto Cave. I checked with the folks at the lodge and was told no one there or with AMC did this. Someone took it upon themselves to blaze the trail, as evidenced by the poor quality of the markings (pretty much just blasts of spray paint). They also painted right over some of the original old blazes which is a bummer. :( :evil:

(Hi guys.)


Wed Oct 19, 2016 4:39 am
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Joined: Sat Jul 28, 2012 2:40 pm
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 Re: Orange - Cardigan - Firescrew 10/15
YEAAYYYY!!!!! Dingo's back!


Wed Oct 19, 2016 7:16 pm
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Joined: Thu Jun 04, 2015 5:46 pm
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 Re: Orange - Cardigan - Firescrew 10/15
Beautiful hike! Lots of quiet trails. Great report.


Thu Oct 20, 2016 9:41 am
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 Re: Orange - Cardigan - Firescrew 10/15
Beckie and Prema wrote:
YEAAYYYY!!!!! Dingo's back!


Not sure I'm back, but I'm around. 8)


Thu Oct 20, 2016 10:41 am
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 Re: Orange - Cardigan - Firescrew 10/15
Nice nice. Love the parting shot of the lodge! I haven't done too much in the Cardigan area, but I did do a loop over Firescrew and Cardigan via the Manning and Clark/Cathedral Forest trails once. The snow on the upper part of Manning Trail was 2-3 feet deep in spots! Didn't have snowshoes, but they wouldn't have done any good because it was that slushy spring snow :shock: . I originally wanted to do just Firescrew- the only reason I went to Cardigan was so that I didn't have to go back down the sloppy mess that was the Manning Trail :lol:

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Thu Oct 20, 2016 6:52 pm
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