View Full Version : Cardigan Holt trail 11/23/08

11-24-2008, 07:20 PM
With Sunday looking like a fantastic day my hiking partner Jay and I decided we wanted to head north to try and get in a fall hike with winter conditions. We both agreed we didn't want to go too far into the Whites but still wanted a challenge.

Cardigan is a mountain I've heard a lot about but never visited. Jay had been up Cardigan one other time. After doing a little research online we decided to give the Holt trail a try. The more I dug into the Holt trail the less info I was able to find. Very few trip reports, very few pictures and of what pictures I could find none were snow covered.

The day started at our usual pickup spot and before we knew it we were at the Cardigan Lodge by 9:30. Knowing the temps would be cold and the wind brisk we carried our usual arsenal of winter gear and we would need it.

The first mile of trail was pleasant and relatively flat. A great warm up if there ever was one. We crossed the bridge admiring the nearly frozen water flowing over the rocks. Soon we reached the Grand Junction and the split to the right where the Holt trail continues. We knew the challenge was on as all the footprints went left and no prints went right.
Pretty shortly after the start the trail crosses a brook. In order to cross we had to don our first level of traction. For me it was my trusty MicroSpikes, for Jay Stabilicers. The river had frozen into a huge bulging ice flow. As the trail went on and steepened we found that what ice there was, was fairly thick and hard. The MicroSpikes and Stabilicers while good just didn't have the bite for any hard ice so on went the crampons.
The trail now heads up. Very up. The rocks and slabs all seemed to have a mix of bare rock, snow covered rock, black ice, black ice with snow on top, or just deep snow. It was very tricky and very unpredictable what you were going to find when you stepped. Crampons on steep bare rock are nearly as bad as bare boots on icy rock. The going was slow but we were being careful and we managed to pick our way to a point just below the summit where the trail became much less evident. There we did a number of left and right traverses trying to pick a line but appeared to be stymied by a very exposed vertical slab that had very long drops off them should one slip. We felt we were too far to the right of the trail. We decided our best option was to descend a bit, move further left and try again. Thankfully the trail was on the leeward side of the mountain as the sound of the wind above was just a steady roar. This move left proved to be our savior as we were able to find a line that enabled us to continue upward and with one final move up a wide crack we popped out just below the summit. At that point we put on our down parkas, heavy mitts, and goggles, took off the crampons and headed for the fire tower.
Once there we got our bearings. Took a few wind speed readings. (49mph). Admired the incredible 360 degree views, Then headed off towards FireScrew. We quickly crossed over the top of FireScrew and found a spot away from the wind to have a bite to eat. From there it was down the Manning trail. We were hoping to leave off the crampons but the ice on the slabs going down FireScrew was frequent enough that we just felt safer with them on. Soon enough we were down and to the car.

I had read that the Holt trail is one of the most difficult trails around and after being on it I have to say I agree. Now for me, I just can't wait to get back there in the Summer.

Pics are here:


KD Talbot
11-24-2008, 09:42 PM
We've done Cardigan a few times, definitely worth a trip! We did a summer hike up the Holt and can imagine the difficulty you encountered. Nice job! A trip we did in April '07 produced a picture which became our Christmas card that year.


Great pics and TR!


11-24-2008, 11:23 PM
Thanks Kevin,

In all the years I've been coming up to NH that was the first time I ever went through the Bristol area. I have to say the whole area is just beautiful around Cardigan. Everything from the villages to the houses and farms. It's all like a post card of New England.

11-25-2008, 10:10 AM
We missed the opportunity that we were trying to take to get up Cardigan in October. After seeing you album and Kevin's April pic it's now going to be something that we try to plan for early this winter. I agree about the comment on the Bristol area as well. This fall was the first time we'd driven through there and we were really taken by how beautiful the area is in a prototypical New England village sort of way.

11-28-2008, 09:45 AM
I had always wondered what it would be like to do the Holt trail in the winter or the transitional months, but I was scared off by the idea of not being able to follow the paint blazes over the ledges if they were under snow. This would make it treacherous even if you had all the right gear. I've done it twice in summer conditions. The Holt trail is kind of an anomaly. All those nice friendly-family trails nearby, and this one is, well, different!