Awhile ago I recall seeing a reference to an abandoned trail in the Rocky Branch area. This trail was named the Stairs Brook Trail (not to be confused with the present-day Stairs Col Trail). For whatever reason, trying to find evidence of abandoned trails is something I enjoy doing. This is in spite of the fact that often times I have little success in finding anything that is truly definitive!
On 14-July-2011, I set off on an attempt to find evidence of the Stairs Brook Trail which had been abandoned in 1947 according to the 1948 edition of the White Mountain Guide (WMG). To assure that I got some reward for doing this trek, this adventure was designed as a loop hike to include Stairs Mountain. This would at least provide me with some views in case the "trail-finding" portion of my expedition was a complete failure!
Shown below is my route, which was about 12 miles round-trip.
And, shown below are a couple of typical scenes from the first part of my journey along the Rocky Branch Trail. The water level in the river was low which made for very easy water crossings. Since the trail mostly follows an old railroad grade, it is straight and nearly level which enables you to cover a lot of distance in a short period of time.
Okay, the easy part of my hike was over when I arrived at the spot where I would begin my "trail-finding" mission. The map included in the old WMG (as well as a topo map from 1950) shows the Stairs Brook Trail leaving the Rocky Branch Trail at a point just a bit north of Stairs Brook. However, that is about the only thing those two maps have in common. The WMG map shows the trail continuing westward on the NORTH side of the brook all the way to the Davis Path. Whereas the 1950 topo map shows the trail crossing the brook early on, and then continuing westward on the SOUTH side of the brook (completely opposite of what is shown on the WMG map).
Shown below is a side-by-side comparison of the two maps. The topo map is on top, and the WMG map is on the bottom. (Clicking on the image will make it slightly larger.)
The following is pure speculation on my part. I'm thinking that the topo map is possibly more accurate for a couple of reasons. First of all, the 1950 topo map correctly shows Stairs Brook making some twists and turns. Whereas, the WMG map depicts the brook as running in a straight line. This alone makes me doubt the accuracy of the WMG map. Also, the Stairs Brook Trail is listed as a WMNF trail. Since the trail was not maintained by the AMC (publisher of the WMG), it's possible that this was a "low use" trail, and therefore no one really took the time to do a field investigation of the trail's actual location. Perhaps it was assumed that since the trail started on the north side of the brook, it continued on that same side of the brook all the way to the Davis Path.
Not knowing for certain which side of the brook the old trail was actually located, I did some exploring along both sides. It was on the south side of the brook where I found the strongest evidence of a trail corridor. The photo shown below was taken from the south side of the brook. It shows a fern-laden corridor that is somewhat reminiscent of the old jeep road (a.k.a. Fire Warden Trail) leading to Mt. Hale. This similarity makes me wonder if perhaps the Stairs Brook Trail might have made use of a logging road, at least in part.
But, please don't get me wrong! The entire corridor along the south side of the brook was not as well-defined as shown in the above photo. There were plenty of portions that were thick with hobble bush, but even so, the layout of the surrounding trees seemed to suggest an old corridor.
The next photo I thought was an interesting comparison. On the left is an area of hobble bush along the "possible corridor" for the Stairs Brook Trail, and on the right is an area of hobble bush along a short segment of the present-day Davis Path. Please understand that by showing this photo, I mean no disrespect to the Trail Maintainer for this portion of the Davis Path. I'm also a Trail Maintainer and I know how quickly hobble bush can take over a trail!
Regardless of whether I was ever actually on any segment of the old Stairs Brook Trail, I can say a couple of things for certain. The Stairs Brook corridor between the Rocky Branch Trail and the Davis Path is really easy to traverse since the woods are very open. And even more striking is the extremely gentle grade that exists for the entire 1.5 mile distance. This trail corridor is completely dissimilar to that of the Stairs Col Trail which has some very steep sections.
Also, I can say that Stairs Brook has some small, but nonetheless picturesque cascades such as the one shown in the snapshot below.
Once I reached the end of the Stairs Brook corridor I easily found the Davis Path. I hung a left and began the nearly 2 mile trek along this trail to Stairs Mountain. Despite a weather forecast for a sunny day with no rain, the sky had become overcast and I experienced a light sprinkle of rain along the way! Oh well!
There have been numerous Trip Reports written about Stairs Mountain, and many of those reports contain photos more beautiful than I can ever hope to take. So, I'll just show two snapshots that I took during my visit.
The photo below shows the view as you approach the overlook at the end of the trail.
The next photo is a composite. The left frame shows a view on the east side of the mountain looking down the Rocky Branch Valley. And, the right frame shows a view on the west side of the mountain looking down the Sleeper Brook Valley.
As an afterthought, I wondered what (if any) benefits there might be if the Stairs Brook Trail was still "alive and well". I guess it could provide an alternate summertime route to destinations such as Mt. Davis, or possibly Mt. Isolation. In terms of an alternate route just to get to Stairs Mountain, the 12 mile route I followed might be considered as a bit excessive! But, then again, if you do a trek to Stairs via the Davis Path from the Route 302 trailhead, it is a 10.4 mile round-trip hike (assuming you also include Mt. Crawford). And, if you were to do a trek to Crawford + Stairs + Resolution, then you're looking at a 12.4 mile round-trip hike.
To sum it up, this was a fun adventure, at least from my perspective. It's completely understandable that others might find more pleasure in doing more conventional hikes.