Tyson has a list of hikes near airstrips. Miller-Quinn airstrip and Diamond Peaks had been near the top for a long while, but we kept not finding an appropriate day because it’s so far north, and the hike is a bit short on my scale.
Miller-Quinn is a semi-maintained grass strip in Second College Grant NH. That entire township is owned by Dartmouth. You have to be Dartmouth affiliated to stay overnight. The strip was established as an emergency landing site in honor of two Dartmouth doctors who died in a plane crash.
Some years the strip gets brushy and is not much more than an emergency landing site. We arrived in the Bearhawk with its big bush wheels. But this year the strip has been mowed often enough that the RV could have landed. It’s a little lumpy and soft in places. Most of the greenery is mowed sphagnum moss or mowed blueberries.
The flight up was gorgeous. We flew over the Whites. The presidential range and Lincoln-Lafayette ridge were dusted with snow. We had fun pointing out all the places we have hiked recently. And spotted a few places that look nifty to hike.
We flew the same route back, but between being tired and having the sun in our eyes, we didn’t do as much gawking.
Hiking Diamond Peaks
First we hiked the road from the airport to the base of Diamond Peaks. The Dead Diamond River has carved quite a gorge between Mount Dustan and Diamond Peaks. We admired it from above on the road. If you come in the summer time, I would suggest ending the day with a splash in the stream.
The trail itself was pretty boring. However, once we got up on the ridge, the views made up for the mediocre trail. The cliff on the side of the ridge is impressive. My climbers eye says it is two to three pitches tall. That’s about 500 feet tall.
My favorite part of the hike, other than the giant cliffs, were two bird sightings. At Alice ledge, a grouse flew off with the usual noise, but this time I looked up quickly enough and the woods were thin enough that I got to watch it glide off down the hill.
Farther along the ridge, we saw two large black birds circling right above the trees. They stayed in tight formation as they circled and pivoted while soaring up and down on the wind blowing up the cliffs. One of them was smaller than the other. By cries and shape, Tyson decided that one was likely a crow. The other bird was silent most of the time, but occasional chittered with soft higher pitch voice. Not a raven, so likely a large hawk. It was too backlit to tell what type.
Coming along the ridge, we had noticed a set of trail signs, like at a trail junction, but only indicating the two directions of the trail we were on. That was worth poking into. Sure enough, we found blazes going down the back side of the mountain. At first the blazes followed straight down a drainage. This drainage was on the opposite side of Diamond Peaks from the airport. As long as it headed due north, our maps said it would intersect a dirt road which looped back to the dirt road we had started on. We dropped down far enough off the ridge to be fully committed. Then the trail met up with a series of logging tracks. The pricker bushes were annoying, but the route was easy to follow. That is until the blazes veered off left without any notice. The only clue we got was that the blaze was painted on the side of the tree facing the logging road rather than up or down the trail. Looking on satellite imagery afterwards, if you miss the turn, you will eventually come out on the same gated dirt road as the trail. You might have to ford a swamp in between.
When we got to the dirt road, we found a wooden sign half eaten by moss. What remained said “back trail”. It doesn’t look like anyone drives on the road. Eventually we came to an open gate, a camping area of sorts, and then the main road. There, a crisp wood sign said we had been hiking the “Diamondback Trail”.
On the walk back the road, we stopped by a gravel pit in the river flood plane. The side wall of the pit showed layers of thin silt and larger gravel. Presumably the gravel was from a time when the river went right through where we were standing. The silt would be from when the river made an oxbow and the water got slow and stagnant. But oddly there were a few small sections with apparent quick changes in water speed. We weren’t sure what the river was doing then. I hadn’t expected a utilitarian gravel pit to have such fun geology.
Finally on the way back, Isaac and Tyson spotted a sign for the Airport Trail. (I was behind taking pictures.) Tyson had found the Airport Trail on some map, but had also read a description that it was boggy, grown in, and best avoided. It looked fine from this end. We found a few muddy spots and a few blow downs, but overall it was as good or better than some Pemigewasset Wilderness trails. There wasn’t any particular scenery. Next time I do this hike, I’ll come back in August, hike out the Airport Trail and hike back the road with a detour to splash in the canyon in the afternoon. That or I see you can bushwhack the canyon, so maybe just bring water shoes for the way back.
Links to directions
- News article including bushwhacking down the Dead Diamond Gorge.
- Trail description from the parking lot courtesy of NH Family Hikes