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18 March 2012

Iron Mountain: Know When to Fold 'Em

Warning!  This particular Blog entry contains no stunning photos.  It is mostly just "yada yada" narrative! 

To continue with the theme of cautionary statements, some words of advice came to my mind while bushwhacking in the area of Iron Mountain (Jackson, NH) on 18-March.  The advice is contained in the lyrics from the song entitled "The Gambler" as recorded by the American country music artist Kenny Rogers.  Here are the words that came to mind:
"You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, Know when to walk away, know when to run."

Before continuing, perhaps it might be helpful to set the scene with some maps (to enlarge, click on the maps).

_ The first map shows the current trail system on Iron Mountain.  I've hand-drawn a blue line which approximates my bushwhack route which began from Jericho Road at the point where the road becomes gated.

_ The second map is a topographic map which shows a trail that leads in the direction of Green Hill, but stops (for whatever reason) before it actually reaches Green Hill.  Vintage editions of the White Mountain Guide indicate that this trail did not stop as shown on the topographic map.  Instead, the trail once ran from Jackson, NH (vicinity of current-day Red Fox Bar and Grille) to link up with the current-day Iron Mountain hiking trail.

And so, now that the scene has been set, here is the rest of the story.  As many readers of my Blog know, I easily become bored if I do the same hikes over and over again.  Although I do repeat some hikes, I'm always on the lookout for new destinations, or new routes to places that I've visited.

Iron Mountain is a destination that I've visited many times (via the conventional hiking trail, as well as bushwhacking).  However, I've never visited the ridge that extends due south from the point where the conventional hiking trail heads southwesterly to the viewpoint called South Cliffs.  I chose to hike to this ridge for several reasons.  My first and foremost reason was because it would be a new destination for me.  Secondly, the route up to the ridge was south-facing and I anticipated a nearly snow-free trek.  And thirdly, I love bushwhacking.  To me, it is the purist form of hiking that has been practiced well before trails were built.

My route was entirely on public land (USFS).  The trek up to the ridge was indeed basically snow-free, and the woods at that location are mainly open hardwoods.  This made for a relatively quick journey to the ledges that are located on whatever you want to call it, i.e. Iron Mountain's south ridge, south spur, south arm, whatever!  Also, I was pleasantly surprised that the climb didn't seem as steep as one might expect from the tightly compacted contour lines on the maps shown above.  Once on top of the ridge, there were some scattered patches of snow, but nothing of significance.

The views are abundant for nearly the entire length of this ridge since there is just one ledge after another.  These views are somewhat similar to those that are seen when you follow the conventional hiking trail to the South Cliffs.  Shown below are just a few snapshots from my trek along the ridge.

If you've read this far, then perhaps you might be wondering about the song lyrics that I mentioned earlier, you know, the bit about knowing "when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em"!   Okay, fair enough, here goes.  Since it was such a delightful day, I decided to do an "add-on" hike by continuing northward along the ridge to see if I could possibly locate the point where the abandoned trail (heading eastward toward Green Hill) diverged from the current-day hiking trail.

Things went pretty well . . . kind of!   As I headed northward along the ridge, I eventually hit a persistent layer of snow which was 8 to 10 inches deep.  My very unscientific theory is that not only had the forest canopy thickened, but also the angle of the slope was such that it did not receive the direct rays of the sun.  The bad news is that I had not bothered to bring snowshoes.  The good news was that I found what I presume are the remains of an old cairn which perhaps marked the beginnings of the now abandoned trail toward Green Hill (see photo below).

Not only did I locate the cairn, but there were definite hints of an overgrown trail corridor.  Even though it was slow going without the aid of snowshoes, I decided to follow the corridor.  It would have been so very nice to continue onward to Green Hill, as well as to the knob beyond it.  But as the snow got deeper, and my available time grew shorter, the words of Kenny Rogers finally kicked in.  It was indeed time to "fold 'em"!!

At the point where I stopped, the trail corridor had disappeared.  I pulled out my GPS and took a waypoint.  When I got home, I plotted this waypoint onto the topographic map shown above.  Remarkably, my waypoint corresponded exactly with the point where the map shows the trail ending!

Perhaps in the Autumn, I'll make a return visit with the anticipation that without snow, I can better see any faint signs of the abandoned trail and more easily bushwhack all the way to Green Hill, and beyond!

My trek back down the mountain was uneventful.  However, it was getting late.  I very much dislike coming out of the woods by headlamp, not only for some personal reasons, but also because darkness can complicate any unanticipated problems that might arise.   Regardless, there were some pleasant mountain vistas as evening started to settle in.  Shown below is one such scene.

For anyone wishing to read about the history of Iron Mountain, my fellow Blogger name Karl has an excellent report on his Blog (click HERE).

To sum it up, as I've frequently said in wrapping up many of my Blog reports, this was a very enjoyable adventure!  The only thing that would have made it even more enjoyable would be if I could have continued onward to Green Hill and beyond.  However, the decision to "fold 'em", was probably wise, plus it provides an opportunity for a new adventure on yet another day.


NeoAkela said...

I've often wondered about that old trail over to the "Duck's Head" and down into Jackson. The 1948 guide mentions there were some nice views along the way. Sounds like an interesting place for further exploration. Thanks for the very informative report, John - great reading as always!

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Chris,
Thank you for posting your comments!

Yes, I definitely agree that this area is an interesting place for further exploration. It's too bad that there is now so much private land in the Jackson area. I'd love to try approaching Green Hill (shown as Green Mountain on some maps) from Rt 16. However, it appears that there is no way to do this without traversing private land.


Rita Wechter said...

This was a fun read. And you were quite wise to "fold 'em" when you did. Tim and I have had a couple memorable "fold 'em" moments while ascending mountain peaks—once when we were forced to retreat by a lightening bolts crashing down around us, and another time when we were turned back by ice and snow, only 500 vertical feet from a 14,000 summit!
At least you should be able to return to this area in a few weeks for another bushwhacking adventure!

Mark Truman said...

Incorrect warning alert! No stunning photos? Bah! Your "snapshots" are always stunning John - not just for their inherent beautiful imagery,but for the viewpoints on things that we generally never see otherwise. Please keep the "boring" reports and pictures coming!

1HappyHiker said...

OMG Rita! You and Tim have certainly experienced moments which definitely qualify as “fold ‘em” events! Hopefully, you were able to go back to those places at another point in time and complete the “mission”!?

Thank you once again for posting your comments!


1HappyHiker said...

Thanks Mark! I truly appreciate your encouragement to continue to post my hikes which might lack mass appeal, but are of interest to at least a few folks. :)


Rita Wechter said...

I'm happy to say that we were able to complete the Deseret Peak hike (west of Salt Lake City and the one where we were chased by lightening) later that same summer. The other hike—RedCloud Peak near Lake City, Colorado—we're hoping to complete this September. But first, we have to stay/get in shape to hike this strenuous 14er!

Ryan Linn said...

I love it. Finding old cairns and abandoned trail corridors? It's like an athletic form of archaeology :)

1HappyHiker said...

Hmmm! Never thought of that way, Ryan. I think you’re right!
Would a tongue-twister like “archeological-athleticism” be an appropriate term to describe this form of recreation? :)


Karl said...

Hi John,

I can't believe I missed this post! It looks like it was a fun adventure.

Do you know if where you went in on Jericho road was the old road/trail up to the mines?

I've heard that on some of the forums that the trail over Green Hill prominent enough to make out, so my bet would be you'll definitely be able to find it in the sprint summer. It would be great to make it all the way to RT 16, or possibly start at Duck's Head and hike in from there. I'm looking forward to your trip report from this point. (You may be able to even find some of the old ski area equipment on this side of the hill on the trek back!)

Thanks for posting. I love anything having to do with this mountain!


1HappyHiker said...

Hi Karl,

First of all, many thanks for your comments . . . very much appreciated!

Secondly, you asked: “Do you know if where you went in on Jericho road was the old road/trail up to the mines?” No, it wasn't. My route of travel was a pure bushwhack up to the point where I headed eastward along what I perceive to be the remnants of the abandoned trail over to Green Hill.

Regarding starting at the Duck’s Head end to access Green Hill, it appears to me that this would involve tramping across some private land, which always makes me a bit uncomfortable. But, at some point, I might do some asking around to try to determine if the landowner is okay with hikers traversing the property.


charlessielicki said...

LOVE your posts, always gives me ideas on what to explore.

On this one I have approached from 16. I found two ways.

>Harder: In back of the gravel parking lot from the Red Fox, straight in the woods, passing the old ski tow, bear left skirting the base of the cliff leads to an old ingrown road (?) and to the top of Duck’s head. There are old “trail cuts” and cairns.
>Easier: From the Jackson Transfer Station, W corner leads to an ingrown road [dotted line on your map], at the fork bear right up the grade, leads again to Duck’s Head. (Good view)

Then, from Duck’s Head, W along the ridge past old cairns and trail cuts (herd path at times?) leads to the ledgy (Good views to Doubleheads and South) eastern shoulder of Green Hill. Did not continue to my goal (Iron Mnt), got sketched out by the preponderance of moose and bear scat.

I’m planning to give it another go in April, before the leaves come out.

To me it’s a shame this trail was abandoned, I think it would make an interesting little hike to the south ledges of Iron with views from ledges en route. I did the above last fall (2011) and did not see any private land postings. The WMNF boundary looked recently marked.

Best, Charlie Sielicki, Merrimac, MA

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Charlie,

Wow! You have truly done some exceptional investigative work regarding routes to Duck’s Head and to Green Hill! And, I completely agree that it’s a shame that there is no longer an official trail to those destinations.

Thank you for not only sharing your bushwhacking experience, but also for your very generous comments about my Blog postings. Without feedback from folks like you, one never knows if the Blog reports are helpful, or useless! :)

Thanks again Charlie, and best wishes to you for a fun and successful trek in April to this fascinating corner of the Whites!


Anonymous said...


Thanks for the great post. I hiked Iron Mtn yesterday and not a soul in sight. I also found the water filled mine shaft and man, she is deep! I will return this Summer for a refreshing dip and will bring my mask to try to find out just how far down it goes. There is a VERY cool tunnel down the slope to the right of the pit. It's not 60' long as described but does go into the mountain perhaps 30'. The kids will love this place and if you bring a rock hammer who knows what you might find! I'll put up some pics when I get home.

Mark from Nobleboro Maine