Kilkenny Ridge Traverse - November 6-7, 2021

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Rhody Seth

Active member
Dec 18, 2015
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Charlestown, RI
Spent the weekend on the Kilkenny Ridge with a friend. We both drove up to South Pond which was a long dark drive for me with RI/MA traffic. Surprised to see someone else camping there as well (they were doing a single day traverse as it turned out). We woke up around 5 AM and I drove us down to the Mt Starr King trailhead where we began around 6:30 AM.

I was pretty happy with my gear choices but it wouldn’t be a backpacking trip if I didn’t screw something up. When it came to footwear I found myself having to choose between my trail runners and my insulated winter boots (I realized too late that I’ve never had to rely on an in-between shoe). Recent trail reports suggested a dusting of snow, if any, and the temps were forecast to be in the mid-30s. I went with my trail runners.

There was a light layer of snow in the woods almost immediately, and within a mile, on the trail as well. It was 21 degrees to start but soon the sun was up and the temp rose quickly towards 30. It was bright with clear skies and we enjoyed the views from Starr King and Waumbek. The trail is immediately different once you pass the Waumbek outlook and begin the Kilkenny Ridge Trail. We were pushing through spruce branches and stepping over a couple down trees. The snow here was probably only ½ inch but it was dusting the tops of my shoes and soon soaking through.

Despite the wet feet I was warm and we would switch between sunshine and shade as we travelled up and down the Weeks. We weren’t sure exactly how far we were going to get but we figured we could make it up to the Cabot summit. As we reached the notch between the Weeks and Terrace Mountain my feet finally began to get cold and uncomfortable. I threw a couple toe warmers in there and we proceeded on.

Once we began travelling up Cabot we were in the sun again and my feet warmed, which was comforting both physically and mentally. The views from Bunnell Rock were splendid and the thermometer read 60 degrees in the sun. Lovely! But those temps wouldn’t last. We were both plodding up that last climb to Cabot Cabin and my feet were once again getting cold by the time we reached it. The interior had been spruced up with a new paint job since my previous visit. We didn’t linger long as we weren’t planning to stay at the Cabin so we continued almost to the summit of Cabot and then ventured into the woods to find a place to camp. We didn’t have great options but we were starting to lose the light and now my feet were really cold. So we settled on a spot and I went through the stressful process of setting up the hammock in the cold.

Almost as soon as that thing was set up I jumped in and went to work warming my feet up. I made my meal from the hammock and only left its cozy confines to hang my food bag and pee. Of course, it wasn’t all rainbows and space heaters. I spilled the water I was heating for my water bottle and barely had enough left for coffee in the morning. And I’m not sure why I bought cheesy potato soup since I’m not a big cheese fan. I guess I was hoping it wasn’t too cheesy but that was a fool’s hope. Nevertheless I gutted it down.

Mountain Forecast had predicted temps that night in the mid-30s but it ended up getting down to the mid-20s. I was still fairly warm but I did pop a couple hand warmers and placed them on my midsection in the middle of the night. Packing up is always the hardest part of cold weather backpacking and as usual I made a mess of things. When you’re only out for one night I just cram it all in there so I can get moving again.
Day 2 was much easier than Day 1 with less miles, much less elevation and less snow. The views from the Horn were excellent and it almost felt like a summer day in the sun by Unknown Pond. The long descent from Unknown Pond before we climb Rogers Ledge was an enjoyable saunter, with lovely views through the bare trees.

The final steep climb up Rogers Ledge gave us a workout but we were rewarded with the final scenic overlook of the trip. After descending most of the way we opted to take the Devil’s Hopyard trail which we both needed for redlining purposes. The Hopyard quickly put me in my place when I slipped on a rock and almost went head first into the drink, thankfully submerging just my arm. Ripped my pants up though. The Hopyard was very impressive – it gets noticeably cooler in there almost immediately and the running water under the rocks just sounds awsome. We went as far as we dared but we should have researched beforehand – there’s an End of Trail sign we did not reach so I’ll be heading back there again at some point.

Then it was an easy walk to South Pond and we were done. Overall a great trip with great company. I’m still very much a novice at cold weather backpacking and learned more valuable lessons. The Kilkenny Ridge is the place to go for solitude - past Waumbek we encountered four people the entire trip. If you have an idle 23 minutes here’s the video of the full excursion. Now to go find some waterproof boots.

Great video, the drone shots as usual really add an extra dimension. You were lucky, as a group of intrepid VFTT folks learned years ago once the snow gets deep the lesser used sections of the trail disappear.

If you liked the Hopyard, Ice Gulch in Randolph is lot more of that type of terrain and even more interesting boulder scrambling but definitely a summer/early fall hike.

Nice that you got the shot from Cabot before the much delayed radio repeater goes in one of these years. It is a remarkably remote area for the whites. Other then the trampled out routes to the Waumbek and Cabot, it does not a get lot of use (especially between Waumbek and Bunnell Notch. The bummer is that ridge line hikes do not line up well typically with good water supplies. That and the real long car spot tends to weed out many folks.
You were lucky, as a group of intrepid VFTT folks learned years ago once the snow gets deep the lesser used sections of the trail disappear.

The bummer is that ridge line hikes do not line up well typically with good water supplies. That and the real long car spot tends to weed out many folks.

Yeah I can see that being a brutal slog in deep winter. You're right about the water - we filled up between the Weeks and Terrace but after that there wasn't much until we made it down to Unknown Pond. A couple trickling streams on the way up Cabot that would do in a pinch.
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As always, it's a pleasure to tag along and experience your hike without having to make the effort. I loved the closing drone shot of Roger's Ledge. Great job with the video, the soundtrack and the commentary which is often self-effacing and never boastful despite your accomplishments. After seeing this, I'll probably put Roger's Ledge on my "to do" list although a traverse of The Weeks is definitely off the table. While I've done the Terrace loop as well as the classic Cabot, Bulge, Horn loop in summer, it all looks different at this time of year. The Horn is also a very special vantage point. Thanks.