Emilie Phillips updated August 16, 2019
Saturday we hiked the Mt Morgan and Mt Percival loop. It had something for everyone: views for Tyson; rock scrambling, ladders, and caves for Isaac; and snow and wildflowers for me. Six miles total. We followed the route from the Terrifying 25, a list made by other hiking kids.
We parked at the Mt Morgan trailhead across from the Rattlesnake Mountain trailhead. The Squam Lakes Association maintains both the lots and the trails. The association maintains their trails well. Despite continuous rains this spring, we found stepping stones in every muddy section.
We found the trillium on the steep hillside below the junction with the Ridgepole Trail. Tyson spotted the first red trillium next to the rock steps. The newly opened flower still drooped under the leaves. I spotted another trillium still in bud. Then, while waiting for Isaac to catch up on the steep hill, I realized the whole hillside was covered in red trillium.
The lower forest was mostly beech. Every time I hike in a beech forest now, I see the blisters from Beech Bark Disease. Up on the ridge, the forest transitioned to spruce trees. In the saddle it was also quite windy.
The ladders are near Mt Morgan’s peak. We spotted the ladders first and then the trail sign designating the easy and hard trails to the summit. Isaac picked the ladders route. He climbed the first ladder quickly. The second ladder, he hesitated. He was worried it would slip off the rock. So I explained how it is bolted in. The transition from the second ladder to the third is a sideways adult step. Isaac couldn’t reach. Instead he had to rock climb to a transition farther up. This really was terrifying, he declared.
Above the ladders, the trail ducks under some boulders into a tapering cave. Tyson struggled out the narrow exit. Then we scrambled up over the top of the cave and back to solid ground. At the top of these ledges, we found a nice lunch spot. A rock wall behind us blocked the wind. In front of us, to the south, we could see most of Squam Lake.
The spruce forest covering the ridge between Mt Morgan and Mt Percival smelled lovely. Too dark for flowers, though.
Had we followed my, not very detailed, AMC map off the summit of Mount Percival, we would have missed the cave. The T-blazed trail junction indicated Ridgepole Trail and the main Percival Trail. Open street maps on Tyson’s phone pointed us to the first blazes down the Percival alternate steeper route.
Isaac agreed the scramble down a cleft in the cliff was terrifying. Next, we found a passage so skinny that Tyson fit through but his pack didn’t. Then the trail descended between the fifty foot tall cliff and an equally tall rock monolith into a rocky dell. There was snow at the bottom. The wind must have piled drifts of snow all winter, and the giant rock shaded it through spring. The blazes pointed down into the very bottom of the dell.
At the bottom, the snow continued under a boulder, down through a crack, and out of sight. We saw light on the other side, but nothing else definite. It looked like a wet belly slide. Tyson went first in his rain jacket. He struggled a little at the narrowest spot. Then Tyson’s pack, then Isaac’s pack, then Isaac. I heard echos of “This is so cool!” coming back up the crack. The snow was so slick by the time I released my pack, that my pack zoomed straight to the bottom. I opted to don my rain pants and butt slide down.
Inside the cave was a lot taller than I expected, almost the full 50 feet back up to the top of the rock. It had one wide, airy side passage that dead ended in a jumble of smaller rocks with a sky light far above. There was another skinny, wet side passage that led to a dark drop off. We didn’t explore that one. Instead, we hiked out of the cave back into open birch woods. The rest of the trip back was, according to Isaac, dreadfully boring.
The lower junctions between the normal vs terrifying trails on both Mount Percival and Mount Morgan are well signed. At the top, neither has a sign. On Mount Morgan, if you come up the normal trail, skip the summit spur and stay left. The trail appears to end at a ledge with views. Follow the rocks around to the right, and you’ll find blazes to go down the terrifying trail. For Mount Percival, if you have come from Mount Morgan on the Ridgepole Trail, you’ll step up onto a rock berm and a wide expanse of rock sloping down towards Squam Lake. To the left is a sign marking the summit. Farther left the painted trail junction where the Ridgepole Trail continues eastward and Mount Percival Trail turns down the hill. To get to the alternate cave route, follow the rock slab slightly right, down and out towards Lake Squam. At the edge of the cliff, you’ll pick up yellow blazes on the rocks.
Other trips with caves