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Bethlehem, New Hampshire, United States

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15 June 2011

North Twin Trail and Fire Warden Trail: A Little Bit of This and That

As previously mentioned on this Blog, circumstances are such that on Wednesdays I have only a few hours available for hiking.  If I opt to do a short hike, it's usually unworthy of a Blog report.  The trek I did this past Wednesday (15-June) met my unoffical criteria of being "blog-worthy"!

To maximize my available time on Wednesdays, I try to choose a trailhead close to my home in Bethlehem.  On this particular day, the North Twin trailhead on Haystack Road was chosen as my launch point.  My primary objective for this short hike was to reach a little ledge located less than 0.2 mile off the abandoned Mt. Hale Fire Warden Trail, and as a secondary goal, I wanted to try out an EMS sport pack to determine if it met my needs. 

As I hiked up the North Twin Trail, I decided to head off-trail a few hundred feet to the east bank of the Little River.  Although the name of this river incorporates the word "little", it has some really big boulders along one segment.  This was the first time I've ever investigated them close-up.  So, shown below is a photo of what I saw.  What can I say, other than "really big boulders"!
After my short foray down to the river bank, I returned to the trail and soon arrived at the point where the trail crosses the river for the first time.  Since I was headed up the bootleg trail to access the Fire Warden Trail, I had no need to cross the river.  However, as seen below, the water level was very low and crossing would have been no problem.
Although I'm only aware of one spot, there might be other locations along the banks of the Little River where railroad track is visible.  I presume this track is a remnant of the logging railroad that existed between 1893 and 1900.  It ran southward along the Little River for about 6.5 miles.  Shown below is the only piece of track that I've ever come across.
At about this same time last year, I bushwhacked the entire length of the Little River Valley.  During this trek, I occasionally came across what might have been segments of the corridor for the old logging railroad.  Or, another possibility is that these corridors were part of the Little River hiking trail that once existed in this valley.  Shown below is a snapshot of one of the overgrown corridors that I encountered during my hike last year.
If you want to read more about my June 2010 bushwhack up the Little River Valley, then please click HERE.   

Okay, let's return to the hike that I did in June 2011.  I've hiked the abandoned Fire Warden Trail on several occasions and so locating its "trailhead" was no problem.  This trail is appealing to me at any time of year, but it's especially attractive at this time of year when it becomes just a narrow ribbon that winds through the ferns glades (photo below).
At the end of the first long switchback, I left the trail for the short bushwhack (less than 0.2 mile) to a little ledge that I've visited several times since being recommended to me by Steve Smith several years ago.  And actually, it was the view from this ledge that played a major role in inspiring me to do the Little River Valley bushwack that I mentioned above.

The off-trail journey to the ledge is almost a destination unto itself.  The route goes through a magnificent glade of birch and fern (photo below).
Within about 15 minutes from the time I left the Fire Warden Trail, I arrived at the tiny little ledge (photo below).
The next photo provides a little better view from the ledge itself.  Zealand Mountain is on the left of the photo, a portion of Mt. Guyot is in the center at the end of the valley, and although the Twins would be to the right, they are not visible in this particular snapshot.
As part of this hike, I evaluated a daypack which Jim Darroch at EMS provided to me at no cost for an impartial review.  This model is called the Creek Freak.  The snapshot shown below is one that I took of this daypack when I stopped for a break along the Little River.
My overall impression of this daypack is positive.  I'll admit that it was not one that I probably would have picked off the shelf on my own.  Most likely, I would've felt that the size was too small for the type of hiking that I normally do.   However, I was pleasantly surprised when loading the pack for my hike.  I had ample room to include everything I normally take on a hike during the warm-weather months.  

The pack has 3 main compartments.  The outermost is a zippered mesh slot which I found useful for stashing an extra item of clothing for layering/de-layering.  The middle compartment is roomy and has several pockets to separate and organize your smaller gear.  The inner most compartment is the largest of the three.  It includes a padded slot which can be used to tote a small laptop computer.  So, I'm thinking that this pack might also be useful in non-hiking situations, such as a personal carry-on bag when traveling by air.

Not everything was positive about this daypack.  I prefer using water bottles versus a hydration reservoir.  Although this pack has a side pocket that accommodates a water bottle, it's nearly impossible to access the bottle without stopping and removing the pack.  So, I needed to rig up a separate bottle holder which I attached to one of the side compression straps.  Also, as is true with most any pack, I also needed to devise a way to attach my GPS to a shoulder strap.

The top photo below shows the two minor modifications that I made in order to customize the pack to suit my personal needs.  The bottom photo attempts to illustrate the roominess of this pack.

To sum it up, if I hike on a Wednesday, it's usually only for a few hours.  And generally, my trek is of little interest to anyone.  However, I thought perhaps this particular Wednesday's hike might contain some elements which could be of potential interest to others.   And ergo, a report was written and now this hike enters into the realm of the blogosphere!

10 June 2011

A Beginning and Ending on Mt. Washington

Although my friend Marty and I both feel a slight twinge of guilt when we do this, once every so often we will treat ourselves by driving to the top of Mt. Washington and launching a hike from the top.  I suppose you could think of it as a top-down approach, rather than the more traditional bottom-up method.  Our qualms about using the Auto Road are somewhat mitigated by reminding ourselves that over our individual hiking careers, we have used the traditional manner for hiking to all the NH 4K peaks (including Mt. Washington), and have hiked to countless other mountains over the years. 

And so, this past Friday (10-June) Marty and I did what could be coined as a modified loop hike which began and ended at the Mt. Washington summit.  Shown below is a map of our 5-mile route.
As we ascended the Auto Road, we started to wonder if the overcast would eventually clear, as it was predicted to do.  The following two photos show the overcast.  One of these snapshots includes Marty capturing the scene with his camera.
Once we arrived at the summit, we headed over to the summit building to use the facilities before embarking on our modified loop hike.  The scene at the top was the usual touristy-conglomerate of cog railroad passengers, etc.
It was a delight to leave the summit and enter into the more serene world below Washington's summit.  As we descended, the overcast waxed and waned over the ridges and ravines.  On the approach to Tuckerman Ravine, we could see a huge cloud bank rapidly approaching the headwall from the west.  It was almost like watching an avalanche happen!  Within a second or two after snapping the photo below, Tuckerman Ravine was completely engulfed!
Speaking of Tuckerman Ravine, the Tuckerman Ravine Trail was closed on the day we were there because of icy conditions on the upper portions of the trail corridor.
By the time we arrived at the junction of the Alpine Garden Trail and the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, the fog bank had cleared from the ravine.   We stopped to snap several photos, and as seen in the snapshot below, there was still some lingering snow.   Several hikers reported seeing some die-hard backcountry skiers making some runs earlier in the day.
As we climbed upward to meet up with the Lawn Cutoff Trail, there was a huge snow field just a few feet off the side of the trail.  The photo below shows a portion of the snow field in the foreground with Tuckerman Ravine in the distance.
Before continuing any further, I want to interject that we saw some marvelous displays of wildflowers throughout the course of our trek.  The photo below shows an attractive collage of wildflowers, lichens, mosses, sedges which was artfully created by Mother Nature.
Although not nearly as creative as Mother Nature's composition, shown below is a collage of my photos of some of the wildflowers we saw during the course of our hike.  Of the ones that I remember, we saw: Alpine Bluet, Alpine Azalea, Bog Laurel, Bunchberry, Diapensia, Labrador Tea, Mountain Aven.   
When Marty and I do our occasional adventure from the top of Mt. Washington, we try to incorporate at least one trail that one or the other of us has never hiked.  For this particular trek, the Camel Trail was a new experience for both of us.  I'm uncertain it this is technically correct, but I think the Camel Trail would run along the far southern end of the area known as Bigelow Lawn.  Regardless, the next photo shows a scene that includes a very "lawn-like" area in the foreground with the Montalban Ridge/Oakes Gulf stretching out beyond.
As we continued westward along the Camel Trail, the shapely image of Mt. Monroe was ever-present.   The lighting was never quite right to get a super nice photo.  We must have each snapped a dozen or more photos as the lighting on the mountain faded in and out.  Below is the best snapshot I managed to get.
Besides Mt. Monroe, the Camel Trail also provided some different perspectives on Mt. Washington.  Shown below is one view of Mt. Washington from the Camel Trail.
When we arrived at the junction of the Camel Trail and Crawford Path, we got the classic view of Mt. Monroe as viewed over the Lakes of the Clouds.
Next on our itinerary was to climb to the top of Mt. Monroe.  Although we've both visited this mountaintop on many occasions, it's never boring to experience the vistas from here time after time.   Each person has their favorite views from any given spot.  One of my favorite views from Mt. Monroe is looking down at the Lakes of the Clouds Hut nestled among the high peaks of the Presidential Range.
Speaking of the Hut, the winds were quite mild-mannered on the day of our trek, but breezy enough for some folks at the Hut to enjoy flying a kite.  At the top center of the photo below, you can sort of see the kite .
The final leg of our journey was the climb back to the top of Mt. Washington via the Crawford Path.   The photo below shows the view of our destination as seen over Lakes of the Clouds.

To sum it up, we spent an awesome day above tree line as we leisurely trekked along various hiking trails on the south side of the Mt. Washington summit.  It will be awhile before we treat ourselves again to the use of the Auto Road to launch a hiking adventure.  However, we already have some preliminary plans for doing a modified loop off the north side of Mt. Washington the next time around.

07 June 2011

A Lollipop Loop: Cascade Ravine and Castle Ravine

Many hikers are very familiar with the term "lollipop loop", but for anyone who is unfamiliar, here is my attempt at an explanation (as best as I understand it).  With this type of hike, you hike the stem of the lollipop, then do a circular hike and return to the stem.  When hiking the stem portion back to your starting point, you then retrace the same route taken on the outbound portion.  Whereas, with a "true" loop-hike you still end up at the same point at which you started, but NONE of your steps are ever retraced during the course of your hike.

So anyway, this past Tuesday (07-June), I did a 6.9 mile "lollipop loop" hike that took me through portions of both the Cascade Ravine and the Castle Ravine.  My trek began and ended on the Castle Trail in Bowman, NH.  The loop portion of my hike was done in a clockwise fashion and involved: Israel Ridge Path; The Link; Castle Ravine Trail. 

A map of my route is shown below.
Before getting into the hike itself, I just have to interject (as I've done many times before) what a pleasure it is just merely driving to the trailheads here in the Whites!  Shown below is a photo collage of some of the colorful sights that were seen along the road while traveling to the Bowman trailhead.
Okay, I think you get the "picture", and so now onto the hike itself!   My major goals for this particular trek were just to have a delightful hike in the woods, and also to visit two cascades that are simply named the First Cascade and the Second Cascade.  I could stop here and simply say that my goals were met!  However, for those who might be interested, I'll add a few more details, plus insert a few snapshots.

The beginning part of my "lollipop loop" was the hike along the Israel Ridge Path.  The lower end of this trail hugs Cascade Brook for a short distance where there are several small cascades such as the one shown in the photo below.
The trail eventually leaves the brook and begins to ascend.  At the point where the Castle Ravine Trail branches off to the right, the Israel Ridge Path enters the V-shaped Cascade Ravine.   A moderately steep climb into the ravine will eventually bring you to the junction of the southbound portion of The Link.  You could exit here and hike a very short distance along The Link to grab a glance at the First Cascade.  Or, you could do as I did, and go the Second Cascade first, then double back and go to the First Cascade.  (I know, it sounds very confusing to do "Second" first, and then do "First" second!!)

Regardless, shown below is a snapshot of the upper portion of the Second Cascade.
And, shown below is the lower portion of the Second Cascade which is more dramatic when more water is flowing.
I stopped here to have lunch, and also allowed the bugs to partake of some lunch by gnawing at any exposed skin.  It didn't seem to matter that the skin was tainted with bug spray.  They were willing to "take the hit" and grab a bite!

After everyone was fed, I doubled-back a short distance to pick up The Link trail.  Not being satisfied with the trailside view of looking down the First Cascade from its top, I decided to do a bushwhack to the bottom of the First Cascade to get a view looking up at the cascade.  For certain, it was a very steep descent to get to the bottom, but the view (again, just my opinion) was worth the effort. 

The snapshot below was taken from the bottom of the First Cascade looking up.
On my way down to the bottom of the First Cascade, I stopped at one of the tiers of this cascade and snapped the photo shown below.
Following my photographic escapade to the bottom of First Cascade, I returned to The Link and headed toward the Castle Ravine Trail which I then hiked northward to complete the "lollipop" portion of my loop.   At various points along the Castle Ravine Trail there are some small cascades that are mossy and worthy of having their photo taken.  The snapshot shown below is just one example of the many little cascades along the Castle Brook.
To sum it up, as is true with so many places in the White Mountains, the area where I hiked has some history associated with it.  For example, the Israel Ridge Path was cut in 1892 by the famous trail-builder J.Rayner Edmands.  It was his very first trail building project.

Also, there is a legend about an eight-pound silver statue of the Virgin Mary being hidden in the Cascade Ravine by members of Rogers Rangers who were fleeing southward after the successful raid at St. Francis, Quebec during the French and Indian War of the mid 1700s.

Perhaps I should also interject the following.  Although this particular "lollipop loop" doesn't provide sweeping vistas of mountain peaks, it's a wonderful trek if you enjoy a very pleasant walk in the woods with a few cascades thrown in for good measure.  And although I don't have the talent to capture it photographically, the general character of this area (in my opinion) has a feel to it that is as wild and remote as the Pemigewasset Wilderness.  To make such a statement is probably going out on a limb, and it's very understandable that many folks would disagree.
ADDENDUM (added 11-Jun-2011):

Steve Smith (the respected "Mountain Wanderer") also hiked many of the same trails as me on this particular day!  
I strongly encourage you to click HERE to access his report of his adventure in the Castle Ravine.  As always, he presents in-depth information in a format that is very entertaining and easy to read.  And, he has a talent for interspersing many relevant photos which further enhance his narrative, and make you feel like you're hiking right along with him on his journey.

04 June 2011

Percy Peaks and Pond Brook Falls

Sometimes I even outdo myself in terms of getting a late start that is well beyond the 'crack of noon'.   This past Saturday (04-June) was one of those days!   Anyway, with what was left of the afternoon, I opted to drive up north to the Nash Stream Forest and see what I could do in a few hours.  I had in mind to visit at least one of the Percys (North or South), and maybe both depending upon how things went.  Before embarking on a Percy pursuit, I also wanted to stop by Pond Brook Falls since that was a spot I'd never visited.

To my mind, just the drive alone to the Nash Stream Forest area is well worthwhile.  I love looking at the Percys nearly as much as I love gazing at the Presidential Range and the Franconia Range.  Even before I got to the Nash Stream Road, I pulled off the road twice to snap photos of Percy Peaks!

The first snapshot was taken with the Upper Ammonoosuc River in the foreground.
My next snapshot of the Percys was taken with someone's newly planted garden in the foreground.  Wow!  How would you like to have that view in your very own backyard?!
After taking the photo shown above, I then continued onward to Pond Brook Falls.  I got to within maybe a tenth a mile or so from where I reckoned the trailhead should be. And then, I felt uncomfortable with driving any further.  The Nash Stream Road wasn't wet or muddy at this point, but it suddenly became soft, VERY SOFT!  I could literally feel my car sinking, and steering was difficult.  I think that a road crew had recently dumped a load of dirt/gravel on the roadbed and it hadn't had a chance to settle in as yet.

Okay, there was no way to make a U-turn without going onto the shoulder, and it was even less firm than the road surface.  So I put my car in reverse and backed down the road for some distance until I came to a spot where the shoulder of the road seemed firm enough to support a car.  Once the car was parked, I walked down the road, and in less than 10 minutes I came to the trailhead for Pond Brook Falls.

I'm happy that I made the effort (even more effort than I had anticipated) to visit this chain of cascades.  They are very picturesque!  Below is a composite showing the trailhead sign, plus the cascades that I visited.
As I understand it, there are even more cascades further upstream.  However, due to the glitch with the road conditions, I'd already spent much more time with visiting Pond Brook Falls than I’d anticipated.  For this time around, I was content with what I'd seen, and felt I should move onward with my pursuit of the Percys.  So I turned around and drove back down the road for 2 miles or so to the trailhead for the Percy Peaks Trail. 

Upon looking at the trailhead signboard, I was surprised to see that the NorthWoods Stewardship organization maintains this trail.  This is a non-profit service organization that serves communities in northern VT and NH, and is based out of East Charleston, VT. They have a unique combination of programs that seek to promote an appreciation for the role of the natural world.  And, they are involved in restoration and conservation of the region's natural resources.  Click HERE if you're interested in reading more about this organization.
So, I started out on the Percy Peaks Trail and it was looking like I might have time to do both Percys.  However, it really didn't matter to me if I only did one.  I'd been to both on several other occasions. 

En route to the col between North and South Percy, there were a number of blowdowns along the way.  None of them were what I'd call "show stoppers".  You could get around them by going off-trail.  However, I had my trail saw with me.  As a Trail Adopter, it's too deeply engrained in me NOT to remove a blowdown when you have the means to do it.  So, you guessed it, I spent some time removing blowdowns!  I hated the thought of a path being worn around those downed trees, especially when erosion is such an issue here in this terrain.   

It was becoming very apparent that there would be no time to do both Percys on this particular day.  And so, sort of like the Peter Piper nursery rhyme, I was in a pickle as to which Percy Peak to pick.  Eventually, I opted to go to South Percy.  From previous hikes, I know that it only takes about 15 minutes to reach the summit from the col.  And besides, I like looking at North Percy from South Percy.  Also, I love the little hobbit-like trail that leads up to South Percy (see snapshot below).

Hobbit-like trail leading to South Percy:
To my way of thinking, the summit of South Percy has a cozier feel to it than does the summit of North Percy.  The photo below was taken on the final approach to the South Percy summit.
Once on top of South Percy, there is what I consider to be an awesome in-your-face view of North Percy.
Naturally, there are other views from the South Percy.  The view southward presents a stunning array of mountain ranges.  The snapshot below starts with peaks in the Kilkenny (the pointed silhouette of The Horn is on the right), and then further out on the horizon are the Presidentials and Carter-Moriahs.  A portion of Christine Lake is seen at the bottom left side of the photo.
And of course, I love zooming in on the Presidential Range (photo below).  In addition to Presidential peaks, the snapshot also contains (in the foreground): Unknown Pond ridge on the left, and the pointed silhouette of The Horn on the right.
The next photo (shown below) presents yet another of the many views that are available from the Percys.  This snapshot contains the gum-drop shaped Victor Head (just right of center), and on the horizon is a large chunk of the Mahoosuc Range.
The last photo shows a portion of Groveton (bottom right) nestled at the base of Cape Horn.  This crescent-shaped mountain is the remnant of an ancient volcano and is classified as what is known as a ring dike formation.  Click HERE if you're interested in reading more about this mountain. 

To sum it up, I felt content with what was accomplished in 6 hours (including driving time to/from the trailhead).  The visit to Pond Brook Falls was very worthwhile, and it merits a return visit when there is more time to explore further upstream.  And of course, the terrific views from South Percy were very rewarding.


ADDENDUM (Added 07-Jun-2011)

Shown below are the 3 snapshots of the cascades that I visited which were incorporated into the composite photo at the top of this report.  An E-mail was received from a reader who wanted to see these larger versions.  So, I thought that perhaps if one person wanted to see this, then others might as well.

03 June 2011

A Loop Hike: Table Mountain (Bear Notch Area)

Every so often, I get the craving to do the short hike to Table Mountain off Bear Notch Road.  It's a relatively easy hike and it's short (3.8 miles round-trip).  Just before leaving the house to do this hike a few days ago (03-June to be exact), I decided to take a few minutes to see if I could possibly construct a loop to make this hike even more interesting.

Upon consulting my good friend named GoogleEarth, I could see a white spot at the top of a valley just north of Table Mountain.  A plan was born!  I decided to bushwhack up this valley to check out the white spot, and then after that, I'd eventually meet up with the Attitash Trail and take that trail back to my starting point.

Shown below is my route overlaid on a GoogleEarth image.
There certainly wasn't much whacking of bushes on my way up the valley to check out the white spot.  The woods were very open.  The snapshot below is typical of what was encountered along my route.
In less than an hour, I was at the white spot.  I'm uncertain as to whether this spot should be called a cliff or a ledge.  My unofficial definition of a ledge is a narrow, flat area with steep slopes or cliffs lying below; whereas, I think of a cliff as being a significant vertical (or near vertical) rock exposure.   Using my definitions, I'm thinking this spot might be more of a cliff than a ledge!

Shown below is a photo collage that shows this spot from a bottoms-up view, and from a top-down view.
The top of this cliff is not a comfortable place to sit and lounge.  It's damp and is filled with a lot of thick brush.   However, the views from there are pretty remarkable.  If there had not been a persistent overcast on the Presidentials, the views would have been even more spectacular.

The cloud-shrouded Presidentials are on the right side of the snapshot shown below.  On the left side of the photo is the Crawford Notch plus the mountains that surround it.
Since the Crawford Notch wasn't covered by clouds, a zoomed photo was taken (shown below).
This cliff also provided a unique perspective on Mt. Tremont and Owls Cliff, as seen in the snapshot below.
After I had my fill of the cliff, it was time to head off in search of a spot to hook up with the Attitash Trail.  It would've been shorter to head south from the cliff.   However, from prior experience I know that that the area around the summit of Table Mountain is thick with conifers.  So, I headed a bit northeasterly where the bushwhacking was easier.  Once I crossed over the ridgeline, I headed southeasterly for a short distance to pick up the Attitash Trail.

You might have heard or read that the Attitash Trail east of Table Mountain is severely overgrown, obstructed by blowdowns, and very difficult to follow.  That was true in the past, but kudos to the crew who is doing a terrific job of rehabilitating this trail (see FOOTNOTE at end of this report). 

The snapshot below doesn't do it justice; however on my hike along a half-mile segment east of the ledges on Table Mountain,  the Attitash Trail had a well-defined corridor and was easy to follow.  There was only one blowdown of any significance (which I cleared).
While en route to the main ledges on Table Mountain, I spotted a short side path on the south side of the trail.  This path is maybe 50 ft in length and leads to a little ledge with unobstructed views to the east and south.  According to my GPS, this ledge is less than 0.2 mile ENE from the main ledges on Table Mountain.

The most dramatic view from this little ledge is of the Moats, as seen in the photo below.
There is also a view toward Chocorua, as seen in the slightly zoomed snapshot below.
After snapping some photos from the little ledge, I headed onward and in less than 10 minutes I arrived at the main ledges on Table Mountain.  Many readers have likely been to this spot and are familiar with the excellent vistas. 

The next two photos show the classic views from the main ledges on Table Mountain as you gaze toward Mt. Chocorua and peaks in the Sandwich Mountain Range.
Okay, as indicated by the title of this report, it was a loop hike.  While descending the Attitash Trail en route back to my car, I was thinking how I could turn this into a genuine loop where none of my steps were retraced for any part of the route.  Admittedly, I was being a bit of a purist since continuing on the Attitash Trail back to the trailhead would only have involved retracing about 100 yards of the route used for my ascent. 

Well, with "genuine loop" still on my mind, when I arrived at the brook crossing where I'd left the trail for my bushwhack, I opted to follow it downstream for a hundred yards to Bear Notch Road.  I then crossed the brook and walked a few steps to my car which was parked nearby.  That did it!  It was now a genuine loop!

By completing the loop in this manner, I got to see something I never would've seen otherwise!  It's not overly exciting, but it was sort of amazing to see a huge drainage tunnel that runs under Bear Notch Road.  There is absolutely no hint from the roadway itself that you're crossing over such a tunnel.

To sum it up, it's no fable that one can do a loop of Table!  And actually, now that I've done this loop and see how effortless it is, it will probably become my "standard" way of doing Table Mountain in the future.  To provide some idea as to how easy this loop is, I left my home in Bethlehem at around noon, and was back at my home about 5:30!

FOOTNOTE:   Click  HERE for a link to a May 28, 2011 report that was written by a hiker who traversed the entire length of the Attitash Trail.  It appears that complete rehabilitation of this trail is still a work in progress.