Reuben and I were approaching the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Cardigan Mountain Lodge when I was struck by the view of Cardigan Mountain. The summit was draped in white, like a lace shroud covering the head of the Madonna. Azure skies and wisps of cotton-like clouds hung above the mountain and snow blanketed the road before me as Reuben and I drove into the parking lot of the lodge.
The parking lot was full of vehicles of different shapes and sizes, most from out of state. Cardigan Mountain and the AMC Lodge are like a magnet, drawing people from all over the northeast to hike and ski one of the most well-known mountains in the east. The AMC-Cardigan Mountain Lodge is the gatekeeper for a network of trails throughout the Cardigan Mountain Preserve, and this was an ideal day for a hike.
Today I was joined in the parking lot by Steve and Beth. We weren’t interested in climbing Cardigan Mountain, which we have all done many times — including Reuben — but to trek to the summit of Mowglis Mountain (2,370 feet) located on the east flank of the Cardigan Mountain massif. We planned to hike the Back 80 Trail from the lodge (three miles) and then hook onto the Elwell Trail to reach the summit (two miles). A pre-winter storm was predicted to hit the next day, so our timing was perfect.
I have always been fascinated by the name of Mowglis Mountain and have wondered about the relationship between the mountain and the jungle boy Mowgli from the classic stories published in 1894 by English author Rudyard Kipling. The series of stories center on Mowgli, a young boy raised in the jungle by wolves. With the help of Baloo the bear and Bagheer, the black panther, they teach Mowgli the “laws of the jungle”, which serve to provide moral principles for life. The book is a classic and is well-known to many from the movie of the same name.
When Beth, Steve, Reuben, and I reached the summit of Mowglis Mountain, we found a plaque with the following inscription embedded in a large boulder, “In honor of Camp Mowglis trail pioneer in this region, original wood sign cut by Clyde F. Smith, fire warden Cardigan Mountain. Officially named by the New Hampshire legislature 1951.”
I’ve climbed many mountains — over 250 in New Hampshire — and have never found a plaque of this kind on any summit. The Presidential mountains, named after U.S. Presidents, don’t have plaques on their summits. Why this mountain?
After taking a short break at the summit, we began our return to the Cardigan Mountain Lodge. On our descent, Beth and Steve indicated they were considering descending on Duke’s Ski Trail, but I decided to trek to another mountain, Catalouchee Northwest. We parted ways at the junction of the Back 80 Trail and the Mowglis Trail. A substantial cellar hole and well can be found at the junction. Reuben and I then began our ramble along the Mowglis Trail to the Orange Road and from there we bushwhacked to the summit of Catalouchee Mountain NW.
On my way along the Mowglis Trail, I thought further about the plaque on the summit of Mowglis Mountain and wondered if there was any relationship to the name of the mountain and Camp Mowglis in Hebron. After getting home, I began reading about the history of Camp Mowglis and I found the following written by Elizabeth Durfee Hengen, Preservation Consultant of Concord.
“At the turn of the last century, Boston educator Elizabeth Ford Holt was inspired by Kipling’s Jungle Book stories. In the Jungle Book, a small boy named Mowgli grows up in the jungle and is raised by a wolf pack. Mowgli learns important life lessons from the animals of the jungle, such as trust, teamwork, patience, leadership, empathy, self-reliance, and kindness.
“Mrs. Holt was concerned that young men were no longer learning many important lessons growing up in urban and suburban environments [this even more true today]. It became her dream to establish a place where they could spend the summer learning the lessons that little Mowgli learned in the jungle. In 1903, she purchased a large farm on the shores of Newfound Lake and founded Mowglis School of the Open.
“With the permission of author Rudyard Kipling, she was able to borrow names from his Jungle Books, and to this day many of the buildings at Mowglis carry such names as Toomai, Baloo, and Akela. Throughout his life, Mr. Kipling maintained an active interest in this undertaking, so strongly influenced by his inspiring and exciting stories. Mr. Kipling also instructed Mrs. Holt on how to pronounce Mowglis (‘Mow’ sounds like cow, and ‘glee’), and how to pluralize the name of Mowgli, the boy character in the books, by adding a silent ‘s’.” (https://www.mowglis.org/about/history/)
After spending time researching further about the camp’s history and its leadership, more connections jumped forth from obscurity — the Holt and Elwell trails in the Cardigan Mountain Preserve, the Mount Crosby and Bald Knob trails in the New Hampshire Forest Society’s Cockermouth Forest, the Plymouth Mountain Trail in Hebron, and several others in the Newfound Lake area. The trails are easily identified by the signs on the trail depicting a wolf cub, the symbol of Camp Mowglis. The trails were built and/or maintained by the Camp Mowglis campers and staff.
After bushwhacking to the summit of Catalouchee Mountain Northwest, I began my return hike to the Back 80 Trail. On my way down the mountain on the Back 80 Trail, I saw a sign for Duke’s Ski Trail. That is one of the best-known backcountry ski trails on Cardigan Mountain. The ski trail is named for Duke Dimitri von Leuchtenberg, a noted ski trail designer, who in 1934 laid out the ski trail from the Firescrew sub-peak of Mount Cardigan to the base. In addition to Duke’s Trail, the CCC also cut the Alexandria Trail in 1934, and in 1935, a rope tow was added to the lower half of Duke’s Trail. If I had more time, I would have hiked out Duke’s Ski Trail and tried to locate the old car engine that powered the rope tow and the remains of a VW Beetle at the top of Duke’s Pasture. I had to bypass Duke’s trail and scurry back to the parking lot before darkness set in. Perhaps next time I’m hiking the trails of Cardigan, I’ll have time to find the remnants of bygone ski days.
If you are interested in hiking, snowshoeing, or skiing in the Cardigan Mountain Preserve, there is a vast array of more than 50 miles of trails. For those of you who are really ambitious, you can through-hike from Wellington State Park on Newfound Lake to the AMC Cardigan Lodge by taking the Elwell Trail (9.3 miles) and the Mowglis Trail (2.1 miles) to the summit of Cardigan and return to the AMC Lodge via the Clark Trail (3 miles), a total of 14.4 miles in a day. Don’t let the mileage or elevation gain fool you, as this is a challenging day hike for even the most experienced and well-conditioned hiker.
The AMC Cardigan Lodge can be reached by taking Route 3A out of Bristol, then turning left onto West Shore Road. Continue to Alexandria and then onto Cardigan Mountain Road. Stay on this road; it will turn into Shem Valley Road and you’ll arrive at the lodge and trailheads. If you would like more information about the lodge and accommodations, call 603-744-8011.
For more information, comments or questions contact Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org