Our hike above Stowe was only a warmup for the main hike of our trip, New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington. Prior to our trip, I researched the trails that lead to the the highest peak in New England and surmised we probably didn’t have the time nor the stamina to reach the top. But the network of trails below the summit looked like they provided plenty of opportunities to enjoy the most famous of the White Mountains.
The day dawned the nicest of the trip with only a few clouds in the sky. We parked at the Cog Railway base station and purchased a trail map in the gift shop to guide us on our hike. Merideth and I looked over the map. From our starting point, we only had two trails to choose from. We decided the Ammonoocuc Ravine Trail, at 2.4 miles, looked like the perfect hike for us. The deciding factor was that the trail terminated at the Lakes of the Clouds hut, a reminder of the Alpine beginnings of Hike-n-Beer.
Hike-n-Beer originated on our first Alpine adventure, a hike above the Königsee in Bavaria. Merideth and I walked for over two hours on this quite vertical trail. When we reached a clearing, I saw a small building with a beer sign on it. To good be be true, in fact this little restaurant served simple plates of bread and cheese but more important, beer. It was a special moment as two of our passions were married.
The Ammonoocuc Ravine Trail started out innocent enough, lulling us into a false sense of ‘this is going to be a piece of cake.’ We strolled through the forest, with the trail having a gentle and easy up slope. As we checked out all the flowers, streams and waterfalls, Merideth and I pondered whether the hut would have beer. We joked that the hut would probably have beer, but our choices would be Bud or Bud Light. That’s the same as having no beer at all we surmised.
About halfway into the hike, the trail changed drastically. The gentle slope turned steep. The soft forest floor trail turned to boulders. Our pace slowed dramatically as we scrambled over the boulders, criss-crossed the Ammonoocuc River and took frequent breaks. The saving grace was that we were still protected from the sun by the forest cover.
Despite the change, we were still chipper enough two thirds into hike to detour 100 yards off the trail and check out the Gorge with it’s awe-inspiring view and waterfall.
The last section of the hike was the hardest where the trail follows the river up the steep face of the hill. Adding to the difficulties of this section was we were no longer under cover of the trees and feeling the full force of the sun.
Two and a half hours after setting off from the Cog Railway, Merideth and I finally reached the hut. We were both exhausted. Sitting in the hut dining room, we quickly tried to rehydrate and eat our snacks. There was no beer.
We still had to get back down the mountain. I couldn’t picture myself going back down the trail we came up. And it wasn’t just because I hate going back the way I came. The pounding we would take didn’t seem like much fun. So we plotted a course across the face of the mountain down a trail that would hopefully be easier.
The trail across the face was certainly easier but still strewn with boulders. In our tired state, this type of hiking took a lot out of us. We couldn’t just walk with our normal strides. We had to concentrate all the time and place each step carefully. The route took us within 1/2 mile of the summit. Part of me wanted to make a go, but I knew that was a stupid idea.
We finally reached the Jewell Trail, our link back to the Cog Railway base station and our car. Probably 75% of it’s 2.6 mile length was exactly the type of descent I was trying to avoid by going back down the Ammonoocuc Ravine Trail. Scrambling down rocks and boulders, our bodies ached after each step. Plus, legions of bugs constantly harassed us every step of the way.
Six and a half hours after departing, we made it back to our car. We covered over seven miles and ascended then descended 3,000 feet. The difficulty of the hike ranked up there with any we have done in Alps.
We really needed a beer after such an effort on the trails. Unfortunately, the beer portion of Hike-n-Beer was a half hour drive away in the town of North Conway. The anticipation for that first beer was excruciating.
Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewing Company was located on the main highway that goes through the town. Our chief worry as we parked was Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals started in a few hours. Would the bar already be too packed with eager Bruins fans?
Much to our relief, the bar was crowded, but nowhere near packed. We grabbed a high table away from the noise that had a nice view of the countryside and mountains.
Like two people who had been stranded in a desert, we quickly ordered a taster set of the house brews. There were seven beers in the set. The first two, Hoffman Weiss and Violet B’s Blueberry, were both very refreshing brews. The Hefe had that really nice banana/clove aroma and flavor. However, like many American Hefeweizens, the Weiss was under-carbonated for my tastes. Violet B’s had a subtle, dry blueberry taste. However, the strangest beer had to be the Czech Pilsner. It had the familiar Pils flavor at first but had an overwhelming marijuana finish. The best beer was Bear Peak Brown, one of the best Brown Ales we have ever tried. It had a wonderful nuttiness to it.
Over dinner and pints, Merideth and I relived our day on Mt. Washington. Despite the difficulty, it was an amazing day. While we disagreed on the enjoyment level, this hike will go down as one of the classic editions of Hike-n-Beer.