Distance: 2.2 mi to Mt Hale Summit via Hale Brook Trail; 2.7 mi to Zealand Falls Hut and 2.7 mi on Zealand Trail back to Zealand Rd
Time: Est 6-8 hours
Difficulty: Weekend Warriors
After telling my better half that I decided to hike the New England 100 Highest Peaks, she told me that she would like to accomplish that feat with me. To kick off the challenge, we decided to summit Mt Hale, a relatively easy peak to bag. Starting on the Hale Brook Trail, it is only 2.2 miles from the road to the summit over a not-too-steep gradient. Doesn’t sound bad, right?
We arrived at the trailhead on Zealand Road a little after 9 AM. It was then that my four-year-old told us he didn’t want to wear socks or shoes. After some negotiating, we compromised: instead of his hiking boots, he wore his regular sneakers with socks. Then he informed us he would not hike; instead, he wanted to be carried to the top. We HAD planned on carrying him part way—my wife and I each had an Osprey Poco backpack for him and our 22-month-old—but not the whole trip.
At the first of several stream crossing, the boys wanted to hike on their own. If you ever need someone to set a leisurely pace, bring a two-year-old and have them take the point. At each of the three stream crossings, they wanted to throw rocks in the “rivers” and point out cool features they could see. The first stream is easy to step over while the other two were very low and good for rock hopping across, but in spring time some care should be exercised.
About 2/3 of the way to the summit there are several switchbacks. Slightly past them, you start to get glimpses of other peaks through the trees. Passing through a small pine forest, we emerged onto the summit. Mt Hale’s summit is tree encircled and steadily getting more wooded, although, in terms of summit cairns, few can compare to Hale’s massive rock pile. After grabbing a quick bite to eat, my wife informed me that she felt the Hale Brook Trail was too steep to descend and we should make a loop over to Zealand and go down that way. So off to Lend-A-Hand Trail we went.
Lend-A-Hand Trail connects Mt Hale’s summit to Zealand Falls Hut. It is a beautiful trail. The scenery on the sides of the trail was just gorgeous. After descending over a couple small rock ledges (not nearly as steep or long as those on the way up), the trail enters a small bog. Fortunately, there are wooden logs to walk on. My oldest son wanted to walk and jump from log to log, a welcome break from carrying him. The trail crosses over a small brook three times and then we could start to hear the sound of Zealand Falls. Upon arrival, we shed our packs and relaxed at the AMC hut. Our youngest son wanted to go swimming but lacking a change clothes that was not an option.
After refilling both bladders, we were off again. This time on Zealand Trail, which is only 2.7 miles to the road. The trail descends rather quickly when leaving the hut but then levels off. At the base of the descent, Ethan Pond diverges to the right; we stayed to the left and then continued straight at the junction with A-Z trail. This section of Zealand Trail was wide and easy with several ponds and lots of other hikers. On the ponds, we spotted several beaver dams but no builders or any other fauna.
When we reached the road, we still had another mile-ish to the parking lot. Upon reaching the car, I brought out a surprise for the boys: Astronaut Ice Cream, their favorite treat. (Gotta entice them to want to continue hiking!) For the day we logged 8.2 total miles and bagged our first 4000’ summit.