Who likes lists? My husband, Ira Sollace, and I have always been list people, often planning our hiking adventures around various mountain checklists:
- The Long Trail by Divisions
- The NE67, a list of 4,000 footers in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine
- LT Side-to-Side Trails (88 side trails that intersect the Long Trail)
- New England 100 Highest (we’ve done 95)
We pecked our way through these lists as our lives progressed, hiking anytime we could. We stayed busy driving nearly every back road in Vermont and much of New England reaching trailheads.
After finishing the Long Trail Side-to-Side Trails in 2020, we asked ourselves what was next. We wanted something in Vermont, given pandemic-related travel restrictions in effect then. So I started searching online. I came across a Facebook page called the NEK Mountain Challenge, managed by the NorthWoods Stewardship Center, an educational, research and conservation organization serving communities in northern Vermont and New Hampshire. We noticed folks were hiking mountains we had never heard of. Cow Mountain? Never heard of it!
We checked the NorthWoods Center website further, and it was true: there really was another list of Vermont mountains and overlooks. The center established the challenge in 1999, and it includes 20 peaks, nearly all of the publicly accessible mountains with trails in the Northeast Kingdom. The center keeps track of NEK Mountain Challenge finishers, much as GMC does for End-to-End and Side-to-Side finishers. They ask for details of each hike, and photos or journal notes. Just a handful of folks have completed the challenge each year, and we were eager to join their ranks. We had a new list and all of 2021 ahead of us.
We copied the list into a spreadsheet and started planning. Two of the mountains on the list, Belvidere and Jay, are also on the Long Trail, so we had a head start. We tackled Owl’s Head in Peacham on January 1, and were off and running.
We were familiar with some Northeast Kingdom trails, thanks to our dear late friend Jean Haigh (a past GMC President), but had not hiked much there. Having a reason to explore new places, even some of the smaller “overlook” hikes, was wonderful. One week we camped at Brighton State Park in Island Pond and tackled three: Averill, Brousseau and Bluff Mountains. We discovered a beautiful gem of protected land when we hiked Gore Mountain from the Nulhegan Basin Division of the Silvio O. Conte Wildlife Refuge.
Ira and I finished our NEK 20 in October, 2021, with a lovely walk to Stannard Lookout. We submitted our documentation to NorthWoods for a certificate and patch. We extend our gratitude to Northwoods Stewardship Center for offering the challenge and for helping maintain so many miles of trails to these wonderful locations. If you’re looking for a new challenge and wish to enjoy some lesser-traveled trails, we highly recommend the NEK 20.
This post was written by Cindy Griffith. It appeared in the Spring 2022 edition of the Long Trail News under the headline “Exploring New Trails with the NEK Mountain Challenge.”
NEK Mountain Challenge List
*Please note, all trails on the NEK Mountain Challenge list should be avoided until after Mud Season in late May. If you’re looking for a Mud Season walk in the area, try Sentinel Rock State Park in Westmore or the Mollie Beattie Bog Accessible Boardwalk at Silvio O. Conte Wildlife Refuge.
- Averill Mountain, Averill
- Bald Mountain, Westmore
- Belvidere Mountain, Lowell
- Big Deer Mountain, Peacham
- Bluff Mountain, Island Pond
- Brousseau Mountain, Norton
- Burke Mountain, Burke
- Cow Mountain, Granby
- Devil’s Hill, Peacham
- Gore Mountain, Avery’s Gore
- Haystack Mountain, Westmore
- Jay Peak, Westfield
- Middle Mountain, Avery’s Gore and Warren’s Gore
- Moose Mountain, Sutton
- Mount Hor, Westmore
- Mount Pisgah, Westmore
- Owl’s Head, Peacham
- Spruce Mountain, Plainfield
- Stannard Lookout, Stannard
- Wheeler Mountain, Sutton