Unending views on the Soda Range

Hurricane Mountain, left, and Lost Pond, along with the High Peaks, can be seen from a dozen lookouts along the Soda Range near Keene. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

The first glimpse of the views we could expect all day only took a few minutes to get to from the parking area, which only had two other cars in it early on a Monday morning. And after that, it wasn’t that there were unending views so much as there were just occasional breaks where we could soak in the High Peaks.

My friend Christian and I decided to tackle Big and Little Crow mountains, and then continue on along the Soda Range in Keene — also known as Nun-Da-Ga-O Ridge, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Starting from the parking area, we reached Big Crow Mountain quickly, although somewhat steeply. There were great views from here, and for a quick jaunt, Big Crow is a relatively easy out-and-back hike. Christian and I continued on over Big Crow to make our way to Little Crow, adding a little bit of distance to our loop trek.

From Big Crow, making your way to Little Crow requires a bit of route finding, and hopefully you’ll see the small white spray paint that marks some of the trail. While it’s not perfectly straightforward, getting to Big Crow should be doable for most people. However, the views from Big Crow are not as wide open as from Little Crow.

Turning around after a quick snack, we walked back over Big Crow and down to a small junction, marked only with some white plastic. Although maps call the ridge that runs from Big Crow northeast, the Soda Range, it also has a locally known name.

The small plastic marker at the junction says “NUNDAGAO,” but that name seems to be a bastardization of a Native American name for nearby Hurricane Mountain. However, even that tiny bit of history is questionable.

“No-de-ne-o, interpreted as ‘Hill of the wind’ by some, is another of Hoffman’s names now given to Hurricane Peak,” a 1908 bulletin from the New York State Museum says. “Both these interpretations must allow for some corruption of the names, and the last may simply be ‘A great hill.'”

One local story posits that Walter Biesmeyer, who has a lean-to named for him near Lost Pond, came up with the name when he and others laid out the Soda Range trail. But Nun-Da-Ga-O has never become an official name, and the U.S. Geological Survey officially calls the ridge the Soda Range.

Setting out onto the ridge trail from the junction near Little Crow Mountain, there are a trio of white trail markers. You won’t see any again for a while, and even then, they’re somewhat sporadic.

At just over a mile from the junction, Christian and I hit the first of a couple of scrambles, where hands were required to get up over a small rock ledge. People comfortable scrambling will be able to handle this fine, but dogs or young kids may struggle.

Just after this cliff, a series of rock outcrops begins as hikers gain the top of the ridge and continue on as it loops back toward Hurricane Mountain and Lost Pond.

The ridge trail does not have a ton of trail markers, although it was pretty easy to follow. We had to look around for the trail in a couple of places where there were limited trees, but even with only the occasional white paint spot and turned-around state Department of Environmental Conservation trail markers, we never felt lost.

Continuing on along the horseshoe-shaped ridge, Hurricane Mountain and its fire tower were almost always visible at lookouts, and Lost Pond offered a splash of blue in a sea of green. The High Peaks stretched out, and at a couple of places state Route 73 was visible between Cascade Mountain and the rocky side of Pitchoff.

After a mile of walking along the ridge, we dropped down into a little valley and began climbing again to reach the top of Weston Mountain, the highest point of the Soda Range.

Soaking in the last of views, Christian and I began a long but not terribly steep descent toward Lost Pond. We reached the Biesmeyer lean-to after 5.6 miles of hiking, and sat down for a minute to take one last break before getting back to the parking area.

We could hear people in the distance, and as we got closer to Lost Pond, it sounded like a group of high school or college kids, yelling and screaming and just generally having fun. So it was a surprise when we ran into a group of decidedly older hikers, who appeared to be having a great time.

Making our way from Lost Pond, we reached the junction with the Hurricane Mountain trail at 6 miles even. From there, the trail goes up Hurricane to the left or back to the Crow’s Clearing parking area to the right. It was an easy mile to end the trip, and the GPS clocked 7.94 miles back to the parking lot.

While this isn’t necessarily the most strenuous hike, the lack of trail marking along the ridge makes it more difficult. Some people may just climb the Crows, while others may opt to hike past Lost Pond and up Weston Mountain, but the Soda Range in between is well worth checking out.

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