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05 August 2011

The Ice Gulch - Would I do it again?!

The "Ice Gulch"!  The name alone suggests mystery and adventure!   This unique spot in the White Mountains had been on my list far too long.  So, on 05-Aug-2011, I decided it was time to set off on a quest to explore this shadowy chasm in the Crescent Range.

The White Mountain Guide indicates that the Ice Gulch corridor is traditionally traversed by descending it from the Cook Path.  However, my personal preference for attacking a steep and rocky terrain is to ascend, rather than descend.  So, my counterclockwise route of travel was as follows: Cook Path to Jimtown Logging Road to Ice Gulch Path, and then the Cook Path back to my starting point.

I was unsure exactly what to expect upon entering the Ice Gulch.  And so, I opted to forego hiking the longer and more strenuous Peboamauk Loop trail to access the gulch.  However, I did hike the short distance to the start of the Peboamauk Loop in order to take a peek at Peboamauk Fall.   It's quite an impressive waterfall, even in August when water flow is low.  However, I do wish Mother Nature would do something about that fallen tree that's lodged in the falls!

After visiting the waterfall, I continued on the Ice Gulch Path and soon arrived at the bottom of the Ice Gulch.  It starts out in a very mild-mannered way.  It's a rather "serene scene" with Moose Brook meandering its way among moss-covered boulders (photo below).

That rather peaceful atmosphere quickly changes, and you begin a "joy-ride" over a jumble of huge boulders that are jagged, tipped at odd angles, and often are wet and slippery.  I purposely used the term "joy-ride" because for me it was a joy to be challenged by this type of scramble.  Many trails in the Whites are more like a rather sedate merry-go-round, as compared to the extreme roller-coaster ride of the Ice Gulch Path!

My snapshots fall well short of vividly depicting the conditions that exist as you pick your way through the Ice Gulch.  But, perhaps the photos shown below will provide some semblance of this talus-strewn environment.


Also, it might be worth interjecting a snippet (shown below) from the trail description of the Ice Gulch Path as contained in the White Mountain Guide.  Not mentioned is the fact that the gaps between the rocks are sometimes deep and wide.  In some instances, you must be willing to make a "leap of faith" to bridge those gaps!

Okay, you might ask, is there really ice in the Ice Gulch, even in August?  Yes, there is!  The next photo shows one small patch of ice.  There were many larger patches, but they were at the bottom of some of those deep gaps that I mentioned above.  I took some photos, but none of them really turned out, even with using a flash to illuminate these dark, dank, deep spots.

There were some wildflowers in bloom at various spots within the Ice Gulch.  My flower identification skills are weak, but I think that the next photo shows Mountain Cranberry.

Regarding the next photo, I'm nearly 100% certain it shows a Labrador Tea.  However, it might be a special Ice Gulch variety since it has 6 petals, rather than the usual 5 petals.

To sum it up, I found this hike to be challenging, but fun!  In the title of this report, a question was posed "Would I do it again?"  Hmmm!  I'd have to think about it some more.  Maybe it's one of those things in life that you only do once.  You know, something that was fun at the time, but perhaps is best left as a pleasant memory of a wild and giddy escapade of the past.
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ADDENDUM:  Added 08-Aug-2011
As one of a series of informational pieces designed to educate the public about the state’s special plants and natural communities, the New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau has created a brochure about the Ice Gulch.  This brochure is available online (Click HERE.)

Here are just a few quotes from this brochure which I found particularly interesting.

"Ice Gulch is one of the most unusual ecological areas in the White Mountains region." It has ". . . a microclimate that is significantly colder than normal, resulting in vegetation that is characteristic of much higher elevations. The natural community that has developed under these conditions is called the subalpine cold-air talus barren, and includes many plants usually found on mountaintops above 3,000 feet. This community is extremely rare in New Hampshire, and has been documented from only six locations in the State,  with Ice Gulch the largest known occurrence."  Here you will find ". . . plants typically only seen at high elevations, such as . . . Mountain Cranberry . . .  Labrador Tea . . ."
 

10 comments:

  1. Thanks for the photographs. It's been 30 years since I was there and I remember it well. It was one of my favorite hikes.

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  2. Nice report, John! The Gulch is quite a place. I think it's a somewhat more challenging trail segment than the more celebrated AT section through Mahoosuc Notch.

    Steve

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  3. ANONYMOUS: I’m truly delighted that I was able to conjure up some pleasant memories! I can well understand why you consider it as one of your favorite hikes.

    John

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  4. STEVE: Thank you for posting your comments! I’ve never hiked the AT section through the Mahoosuc Notch, but it sounds like if one can hike the Ice Gulch, then the Mahoosuc Notch is certainly doable!

    John

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  5. Awesome hike, We did this in early November 2009 with 2" of snow. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Very slow going. Cam in vis the falls, up the rocks and return on the Cook Path.

    Even without the snow this is more difficult (IMHO) than Mahoosuc Notch.

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  6. ROSEMARY: Wow! It’s difficult to imagine doing this particular hike with 2” (or any inches) of snow!! Regardless, as you indicated, it is a “breathtakingly beautiful” spot, plus it’s one of the most unique places I’ve visited in the Whites.

    Thanks for your comments!

    John

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  7. Certainly another one to add to my list of places to go!

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  8. SUMMERSET: Yes, you really should give some consideration to doing this hike. It's every bit as challenging as hiking to many of the 4K peaks, and I can't help but feel that your son Cameron would really enjoy the scrambles over the boulders. (I'm speaking from the perspective of a person who once was a boy of Cameron's age!) :-)

    John

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    1. I just hiked Ice Gultch on 8/18/15. I hiked it alone which was stupid. It is very remote and lightly used. If you get hurt you might not be found for weeks. The trail is very rugged and poorly maintained. The orange blazes are faded and difficult to spot. I went from bottom to top which made it a little easier and safer. There are many holes between the boulders which can swallow you up. Bad place to fall head first. I was very concerned that the trail would disappear somewhere within the gultch and that I would have to turn around. I was happy to finish with just a few cuts on my hands. You definitely want to wear gloves if you try this hike. This was on my To Do list since the mid seventies. Been there. Done that. No need to go back.

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    2. Dave . . . thank you for taking time to share your experience with hiking the Ice Gultch.

      I agree with your assessment, and I have the same sentiments as you, i.e. “Been there. Done that. No need to go back.” :-)

      John

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