Situated south of the Carter Mountain Range, Doublehead Mountain is a twin-peaked prominence in Jackson, New Hampshire. Three hiking trails on Doublehead lead to the summits of North and South Doublehead and offer opportunities for loop and out-and-back hikes. Scenic ledges near the summits provide panoramic views of the taller surrounding mountains and the valleys below.
When our retired friends, Laurie Wunder and Tom Meredith, invited us to join them for a climb of Doublehead, my wife Nancy and I readily agreed. As our first mountain hike of 2023, on Jan. 2, it was a special occasion.
We met at the Doublehead Mountain Trailhead parking area on Dundee Road on a partly sunny, seasonably warm and breezy morning. When Nancy and I arrived, Tom and Laurie were inspecting trail conditions. Early winter snowstorms, followed by rainy weather, have made predicting trail conditions difficult, particularly at higher elevations. Tom said there was hard-packed snow at the trailhead, and they planned to use stabilicers for traction. Nancy and I opted for microspikes. After some discussion, we decided to forego carrying snowshoes, assuming high traffic would have created packed trails throughout the trek.
Two of the three Doublehead trails — Doublehead Ski Trail and Old Path — can be accessed from the parking area. The third, New Path, is located about a half-mile farther up Dundee Road but lacks parking.
Initially, we hiked gradually uphill on the wide snow-covered Doublehead Ski Trail in a mixed hardwood and conifer forest. As the gradient increased, scattered wet and washed out areas from recent rains complicated and slowed our progress.
After six-tenths of a mile, we arrived at the junction for Old Path on the right. We needed to decide whether to continue up the Ski Trail to North Doublehead or follow Old Path to the col between the two peaks. We opted to climb the steeper Old Path and possibly descend the more gradual Ski Trail. We postponed making a final determination on that choice or returning over South Doublehead via New Path.
Bearing right on Old Path, the trail narrowed and steepened while we continued to grapple with wet sections. Entering a predominantly conifer forest in deeper snow, the path angled left. We traversed along the west facing slope for a short distance before turning abruptly right and climbing precipitously to the col and the junction with New Path.
Our arrival at the trail junction required more decision-making. The descent on New Path from South Doublehead is even steeper than Old Path and requires walking back to the parking area on Dundee Road. We found that option unappealing and decided on a brief hike to the summit of South Doublehead followed by a return to Old Path for a climb of North Doublehead.
The short jaunt to the summit of South Doublehead was quickly accomplished. Views from ledges just below the summit are phenomenal. Donning parkas for protection from harsh winds, we savored marvelous panoramic vistas of the Carrigan-Hancock region, and the Wildcat and Carter Ranges. Alas, Mount Washington and the southern Presidentials were enveloped in clouds and hidden from view.
Returning to Old Path, we began the ascent of North Doublehead. The three-tenths mile route required negotiating through snow drifts before scrambling up icy precipitous ledges. Our microspikes and stabilicers provided much needed traction on the ice.
Doublehead Cabin, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, marks the summit of 3,053-foot North Doublehead. Overnight reservations can be made through the U.S. Forest Service. On the opposite side of the cabin is an exceptional viewpoint facing east.
Sheltered from the northwest winds, we relaxed at the top of the overlook for an overdue lunch. Views of Mountain Pond and the hills of western Maine were a visual delight during our repast.
Leftover holiday chocolates were a popular menu item.
Snow conditions while descending the Ski Trail varied. We proceeded easily down sections compressed by sleds used for hauling gear to and from the cabin. In a few areas, badly rutted snowpack made travel challenging. Snowshoes would have been helpful in those sectors.
We hadn’t seen any other hikers until we started descending Doublehead Mountain, when we met several climbers including a couple who had reservations at the cabin. I admit pangs of envy.