A Morning Start on the Trail
After a peaceful night’s camping along Moose Pond Way, Wren and I loaded up our camp and drove the short distance on the rocky and bumpy road to the trailhead for Vanderwhacker Mountain. The morning was cool and the trail was shady as we set off on the easy and wide path. The trail rose and fell smoothly, but generally climbed from the parking area and we made quick progress through a beautiful deciduous forest of maple, beech, and yellow birch, among other species. The songs of Red-eyed Vireos, Hermit Thrushes, and Swainson’s Thrushes led us up on our gradual climb.
Beaver Wetlands and the Fire Observer’s Cabin
After a half mile or so the trail became muddy along the edges of a few beaver wetlands, I paused to look for birds among the dead trees and brushy edges of the water. A Great Blue Heron flew out of the trees in the rear of the flooded area, a few Common Yellowthroats and a Canada Warbler sang from the wet thickets along the water’s edge. We soon reached a small stream where the bridge had been uprooted and twisted by the enormous bundle of roots of an upturned tree. As we approached the crossing the sound of fluttering panic met our ears and a mother Ruffed Grouse scolded from the bushes and ferns as her young scurried to safety. She was still scolding when we crossed the stream, managing the brook easily on a few rocks
The trail took a decided turn up hill and away from these wet areas, we were soon climbing steadily through more stretches of magnificent deciduous forest. I was somewhat surprised when we reached the old buildings of the fire observer’s cabin so quickly – just over half way along the trail. We poked around the remains of the place – many things were still where they were left many years ago – giving one the impression that folks abandoned the post without much planning. From the cabin our pace slowed considerably as the steepest section of trail rose before us for about the next half mile. The pitch eventually softened but we still made steady work upwards through a forest composition that included an increasing number of conifers as we ascended along the ridge towards the summit. Magnolia and Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Golden-crowned Kinglets sang from the balsam and spruce. At one point I thought I saw the fire tower which marks the summit through the trees, but I soon realized I was mistaken. Call it a hiking mirage.
The View from the Top
But we did eventually reach the 3385 foot summit soon enough and both Wren and I took deep drinks from the water in my pack as a few black flies buzzed around us in the dappled sunlight. Only one side of the summit itself is open, but the fire tower offers a commanding 360◦ view of the surrounding landscape and the High Peaks to the north. I climbed up it for photos but didn’t linger too long – I could hear Wren walking up the stairs below to come visit me and I wanted her to stay off the tower even though the wire mesh around the steps had looked sound on my way up. Once I came down she was happy to stay down too. We sat and watched a group of Chimney Swifts zipping around the peak in search of flying insects and I surmised they may well be nesting and roosting in natural cavities since there were very few man-made cavities from which to choose. Perhaps they were using the chimney of the fire observers’ cabin.
Satisfied with our rest and view, we started back down the trail. A short ways along it I heard the distinct nasal calls of Boreal Chickadees which came close to us to check us out as I made soft pishing sounds to attract their attention. My pishing also drew the interest of a Red-breasted Nuthatch.
We moved on, watching the forest transform back into a largely deciduous habitat as we reached the fire observer’s cabin quickly, where Wren drank from the neighboring stream in the shade. The final descent with its relatively gentle grade was quicker still, and we were soon passing the series of wetlands again. Fewer birds sang than on our way up as the morning was growing old by that time, giving me less motivation to stop. We were hungry for lunch anyway and I had only brought along a few snacks for the hike so I was happy to keep moving. We were soon back at the car for food as we started the slow drive back out towards Route 28N, later topping off our day with a cooling swim for Wren in Cheney Pond.