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13 September 2011

A Legal Loop Hike into the Dry River Wilderness

Legal, you might ask? The use of that word in the title refers to the U.S. Forest Service recent closure of the Dry River Trail due to major washouts and bridge damage caused by Hurricane Irene in August 2011. Hikers can still legally hike in the Dry River Wilderness via several trails that remain open for folks to enjoy the beauties of this remote region. Two of these trails are the Mt. Eisenhower Trail, and the Dry River Cutoff.

On 13-Sep-2011, I did a trek of about 10.5 miles. It involved the two aforementioned trails plus a number of other trails. My route is shown on the map below. (The map, and other images in this report, can be enlarged by clicking on it.)

The first leg of my journey was on the well-maintained Edmands Path. This is such a picturesque and pleasant pathway to the southern Presidential Range.

Two Scenes along Edmands Path

My route took me within a few tenths of a mile from the top of Mt. Eisenhower, however I bypassed the summit side-trip. I've been there on several occasions, both summer and winter. I opted to stay focused on the main purpose of this venture which was to hike on two trails that were totally new to me, i.e. Mt. Eisenhower Trail, and Dry River Cutoff.

While travelling the ridgeline to access the Mt. Eisenhower Trail, there was a nice view southward.  Of course, the dominate feature in this scene is Mt. Eisenhower.

Southward View Toward Mt. Eisenhower

When looking northward up the ridgeline, the vista was not quite as clear as it was to the south.

Northward View Toward Mt. Washington

After my short trek along the treeless ridgeline, I soon arrived at the junction for the Mt. Eisenhower Trail. The signposts on the ridge take some punishment from the harsh weather conditions that often exit here!

Weathered Signs

At this trail junction I took a snapshot looking southward over the Dry River Wilderness. This would be the area where I'd be hiking for the better part of the day.

Southward View over the Dry River Wilderness

After taking the photo shown above, I began my first-time hike on the Mt. Eisenhower Trail. In less than 5 minutes, I went from an above tree-line experience to a total immersion into the wooded environment of the Dry River Wilderness. Photographs generally seem to be an inadequate means of capturing the beauty and splendor of places such as this.  It's something that you need to personally experience to gain a true appreciation.  And to have this appreciation, you must be able to take delight in even the smallest works of nature, such as a lowly mushroom sprouting from the forest floor!

I hiked the Mt. Eisenhower Trail down to point where it crosses the Dry River. The water level was low enough such that I could have easily crossed the river and linked up with the Dry River Trail. As tempting as it was, I opted to stay "legal" by obeying the Forest Service mandate about closure of the Dry River Trail.

Dry River at Crossing Point for Mt. Eisenhower Trail

The next leg of my trek took me along the entire length of the Dry River Cutoff Trail, as well as a short segment of the Mt. Clinton Trail.  Once again, this was just a pleasant walk in the woods where one can take delight in the simple beauties of the forest. There are no sweeping vistas from ledges or mountaintops.

There are a two of items of possible interest relative to my travels along the Dry River Cutoff and Mt. Clinton Trail (as well as the Mt. Eisenhower Trail).  For one thing, I was somewhat surprised at the amount of recent hiker traffic on these remote trails.  Although I didn't actually meet any other hikers, there were plenty of fresh boot prints seen in muddy areas along these trails.

The other item of possible interest is that none of these trails suffered any significant hurricane damage. Overall, the trails were actually in good shape. There were a few minor blowdowns scattered here and there, many of which were likely there even before the storm. Also, there was some trail erosion detected at a brook crossing on the Dry River Cutoff, and also at a brook crossing on the Mt. Clinton Trail (see photo below).

Trail Erosion on Dry River Cutoff, and on the Mt. Clinton Trail

On the Mt. Clinton Trail, not far from the Mitzpah Hut, I took a photo which shows some magnificent axe-work performed on a huge blowdown.

Nice Job of Blowdown Removal!

Once I reached the Mitzpah Hut, my adventure was basically over and done! All I had left was a downhill trek of a little over two and half miles to the Highland Center. This is where my wife had agreed to pick me up after having left me off earlier in the day at the Edmands Path trailhead. I'm most appreciative of her willingness to do this. It was only shortly out of her way to incorporate this into her work day, and it saved me a lengthy road walk between trailheads.

On my way down to the Highland Center, I did make a brief stopover at Gibbs Falls.

Gibbs Falls

To sum it up, for me this was a totally awesome adventure which was made even more special by hiking on two trails that were totally new to me! The majority of this trek was spent tramping through the woods. It's perfectly understandable that some would find this less than satisfying. Regardless, for anyone who has yet to experience the Mt. Eisenhower Trail and/or the Dry River Cutoff, please be assured that both trails provide pleasant pathways through the wilderness that are very easy to hike.

ADDENDUM (Added 15-Sep-2011)

This addendum is being added in response to the comment posted by Ellen Snyder.
The route shown in the map below is another variation to the route that I followed.  This alternative plan has several advantages over my route.  It begins and ends at the same trailhead, PLUS it takes you over the summits of Eisenhower and Pierce.  The only minor disadvantage is that it's slightly over 2 miles longer than the route I followed.
I had seriously considered hiking the alternative route shown below.  However, since I was unable to find any recent reports for trail conditions on the Mt. Eisenhower and Dry River Cutoff, I was uncertain if I might encounter conditions that would eat into my time.  So, to give myself every advantage of completing the hike within a reasonable time frame, I opted to go with the route having the shortest distance.  It seemed to make sense at the time, but knowing what I now know, I'd go with a route such as that shown below.  
(Clicking on the map will enlarge it.) 


Summerset said...

Nice hike, and if people are staying off of the Dry River Trail, maybe they're exploring these trails. I've been on all of the Dry River Cut Off from where you picked it up, to Mizpah Hut and then down to Highland Center. I'm guessing that some of the blowdowns you encountered were probably there before Irene. That bank certainly is eroded - if I remember right, does the trail go across the stream and then take a sharp left and ascend for a bit? If that is the stream crossing, then I remember that bank being level with the rest of the trail you show on the left and having to step up to the trail from some rocks. I'm not sure if that is same crossing, but it looks like it.

1HappyHiker said...

SUMMERSET: Thank you for posting a comment! I think you’re correct about the possibility that the closure of the Dry River Trail might be prompting more folks to explore trails in the Dry River Wilderness such as the Dry River Cutoff and Mt. Eisenhower Trail. Or, I suppose another possibility is that some of the crew from the Mitzpah Hut might routinely hike these trails during their off-hours?

And yes, I agree that there’s a high likelihood that many of the blowdowns on the Dry River Cutoff and Mt. Eisenhower Trail were already there pre-Irene. And besides, these trails are in a designated wilderness area where there is a different standard for trail maintenance, i.e. less is more! :-)

Regarding the erosion along the bank of the brook, I’m uncertain if it’s the same spot that you described, but it very well could be. If it helps any, when travelling westward on the Dry River Cutoff from the Mt. Eisenhower Trail junction, the erosion was NOT at the first water crossing. It was at what I recall to be the second crossing.


Ellen Snyder said...

The last time we hiked up to Mt. Eisenhower it was socked in. Nice to see it in the clear for you. We eyed the Dry River Wilderness from above and thought someday we should hike down in. Thanks for sharing your experience and the route. We just might try that someday soon. We'd probably start and end at the same place, taking Crawford Path across Mt. Pierce.

1HappyHiker said...

ELLEN: Thank you for your comments! I think you're correct about doing a Dry River trek by following a modified version of the route I followed. To address that issue, I just posted an ADDENDUM to my Blog Report which shows one of several alternative ways to loop down into the Dry River valley.


dave said...

I am planning a hike in Dry River area this summer. I was put off last year by Irene.
Thanks for posting your views.

1HappyHiker said...

Dave . . . best wishes to you for a fun trek into the Dry River area this summer! Glad you enjoyed my posting, and perhaps were able to get a few ideas from it for your trek.


Anonymous said...

Just found your blog. I also have hiked the dry river. We started at Pinkham notch and accended the Glen boulder trail then decended down into the Dry River. We ran into weather that was not forcasted and the river was raging we did managed to cross however looking back we probably should not have tried. The area is very remote and the trail are poor at best and that is a good thing. We spent 2 nights at mizspah tent sites and then up to the sumit of Washington then back to the car. We had planed on one more night but the dry river took it out of us so we just headed for the car.

1HappyHiker said...

It sounds like you had a terrific adventure in the Dry River Wilderness. As you indicated, that area is indeed very remote, which makes it such a special place to visit.

Thanks for posting your comments!