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01 July 2012

What the Heck, Let's Hike to Old Speck!

Although it involved a road-trip journey of 140-miles (round-trip), my friend Marty and I decided "what the heck", let's hike to Old Speck!  Neither of us had ever undertaken the "Old Speck trek", and so this would be a brand new adventure for both of us.

According to the Dictionary of Maine Place Names, Old Speck gets its name from the diverse species of trees that grow there and give a speckled appearance to the mountain, especially in the autumn.  Old Speck Mountain is one of Maine's 14 mountains with an elevation exceeding 4,000 ft.  It's the fifth-highest peak in the State, and is the highest peak of the Mahoosuc Range.  The summit of Old Speck is accessed via a short (0.3 mile) spur trail off the Appalachian Trail.  The mountaintop is wooded with limited views, but there's an observation tower which offers a 360 degree vista.

One advantage to hiking in Maine is that the trails are generally less crowded than those in New Hampshire.  When you consider that the parking lot for Old Speck services several trails leading to a variety of destinations (Table Rock, the Baldpates, plus Old Speck), it was somewhat amazing that there was still ample parking available when we arrived during the late morning hours on a gorgeous Saturday (30-June-2012).

Marty and I had already decided that we would ascend via the Eyebrow Trail, and then for the remainder of our ascent, we would join up with the Old Speck Trail (a part of the Appalachian Trail system).  Then, for our descent, we'd follow the Old Speck Trail all the way back to the trailhead.  The total round-trip distance for this route would be 7.7 miles.

The cliff that is traversed by the Eyebrow Trail is shown in the next photo which was taken from the trailhead parking lot as we began our hike.
(As always, any image in this report can be enhanced by clicking on it.)
The cliffs that comprise "The Eyebrow"

I suppose one way to put it is that the Eyebrow Trail offers a lot of variety!  There are cable handrails, and iron rungs embedded in steep rocky sections, plus a metal ladder at one point along the trail.
Cable handrails

Iron rungs

Metal ladder
Although it's a steep climb, the Eyebrow Trail is only 1.2 miles long and rewards you with a nice view of the Grafton Notch.
Grafton Notch overview (trailhead parking lot is seen at bottom of photo)

Grafton Notch (slightly different perspective)
Also from the Eyebrow Trail we could see our target, i.e. Old Speck way off in the distance.  It 's the pointed mountain in the center of the next photo.
Old Speck in center of photo

Once you complete the Eyebrow Trail, you meet up with the Old Speck Trail.   At this junction, I found it curious that bearing to your left feels like the way to go, especially since it points you in the direction Old Speck!  However, in actuality, you need to take the branch that bears to the right.  Although this does in fact lead away from the summit of Old Speck for awhile, it soon makes some turns and heads in the right direction.

From the junction described above, we found the Old Speck trail to be a beautiful hike in the woods.  The next two photos are just a few of the gorgeous section of trail that we encountered.
Many trail segments look like this

Would the green-coloration here be considered as "emerald"?
Along the way to Old Speck, we followed a faint side-path which led to a nice view of Baldpate Mountain.
Baldpate Mountain (right of center, on the horizon)

Upon arriving at the top of Old Speck, the first thing you see is the observation tower.
Observation Tower on summit of Old Speck

We were both famished from our climb, and so our first priority was to eat lunch and to enjoy the views that are available from the base of the tower.  One of these views included the Record Hill Wind Farm on Flathead Mountain in Roxbury.  Ellis Pond is in foreground.  On the right of the photo, the cone-shaped mountain is named Mt. Blue.
Record Hill Wind Farm

One of the other vistas from the base of the tower was looking northward.  The view included what I presume to be either Lake Umbagog or lakes to the north of it.
Presumably Lake Umbagog (or lakes to the north of it)

I'll be very frank in saying that I was not looking forward to the prospect of climbing the observation tower!  I don't have what I consider to be an extreme fear of heights, but rather just a healthy respect for climbing to high places on a ladder!

The photo below shows the view from the bottom of the ladder looking up at the observation deck on top of the tower.
View from bottom of ladder looking upward at observation deck

I'd pretty much decided to skip the views from the observation tower and just be contented with what could be seen from ground-level.  But, thanks to the encouragement of my friend Marty, I eventually did make the climb.  However, once I was on the deck, no time was taken to futz with camera settings, or with photo composition.  I was more concerned with how I was going to get back down!  So, I quickly took just a few photos, and then made the nerve-wracking descent back to terra firma!

Shown in the photos below are a few of my fuzzy, and poorly composed snapshots taken from the top of the tower.  In two of these photos you can sort of make out the blurry image of the Mahoosuc Notch.  Many folks agree that the most difficult mile of the entire AT occurs at Mahoosuc Notch!  This mile-long segment of trail winds through huge piles of boulders shed from the steep-sided mountains that form the Notch.
Presidential Range and Mahoosuc Notch

Closer View of Presidential Range and Mahoosuc Notch

Shown below is one more image captured from my brief stay on the tower's observation deck.
Success Pond (lower right) and the Pilot Range (on the horizon)
On our descent from Old Speck and took the segment of Old Speck Trail that we had bypassed on our ascent by taking the Eyebrow Trail instead.   There are some picturesque cascades on this lower section of the Old Speck Trail.  Shown in the photos below are two of the cascades.
Cascade along lower end of Old Speck Trail
Another cascade along lower end of Old Speck Trail
To sum it up, I suppose it is a bit juvenile to say something such as this hike was "speck-tacular"! Nonetheless, it was fun and rewarding to do a hike that was new to both of us.  There were nice views to enjoy, and it was great fun to scamper up the Eyebrow Trail.  And, I must say that it was personally gratifying to meet the challenge of climbing the ladder to the top of the observation tower.


OPW5000 said...

Ha! "Speck-tacular," that's a good one. Nice report!

Your shot "Many trail segments looked like this" looks very familiar...the same rugged terrain I saw on my climb up Mahoosuc Arm. How did you think the trails in the Mahoosucs compared with typical White Mountain trails?

I also highly enjoyed your shots of Grafton Notch and the ones of Mahoosuc Notch/Mahoosuc Arm/Presidential Range.
That ladder on the fire tower looks very scary!

NeoAkela said...

That was an enjoyable read, John. Quite a beautiful trail as shown by your excellent photos. I visited Old Speck from the Success Pond side a few years back. Along the way I was able to enjoy Speck Pond, Mahoosuc Arm, and a traverse of Mahoosuc Notch on the loop back. Quite a day and a much recommended loop, so it is great to see that the "other side" is an equally spectacular journey! I look forward to taking a trip up to Grafton Notch someday - thank you for sharing this great report with us!

Mark Truman said...

Other than In Acadia, we have yet to hike any of the mountains in Maine. As we wind down the NH 4k list and look forward to new venues these are at the top of the list. Thanks, John, for providing some great inspiration for one of these hikes-to-come. The trails around Old Speck look really beautiful. I'm also glad that you were persuaded to ascend the tower to get rewarded with those views. Spectacular!


Steve Smith said...

Great report, John! It's a fine hike, especially when you include the Eyebrow. I'm not too fond of that tower, either. When I'm up there, I'm mostly thinking of that first move onto the ladder going down. You may not have stayed long, but you got some excellent view photos.


1HappyHiker said...

Hey Owen . . . it’s great to read that you enjoyed my report!

Regarding how I think the trails in the Mahoosucs compare to typical White Mountain trail . . . hmmm! Well, I don’t have a great amount of experience (so far) with hiking in the Mahoosucs, but my early impressions are that the trails are not quite as worn which I presume is due to less hiker traffic. Also, it seems to me that the trails in the Mahoosucs go over terrain that is somewhat rougher than many trails in the Whites. At this point, that’s about as far as I can take it. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts about the Mahoosuc trails vs. trails in the Whites.


1HappyHiker said...

Hi Chris,

Thanks for your comments and commendations! Not just saying this to be nice, but the route that you followed sounds like it was even more “spectacular” than the route we took. Speck Pond alone is supposed to be a super-gorgeous destination. I look forward to trying the loop you described someday!


1HappyHiker said...

Mark . . . I think you and Nat would really enjoy hiking in the Mahoosucs. You might already be following the Blog written by Dolores Rebolledo (link below). But if not, you might want to take a look. She recently has posted some very nice reports about her adventures in the Mahoosucs.

Thank you Mark for your comments . . . very much appreciated!


1HappyHiker said...

Thank you Steve!

Although I have very limited experience thus far with hiking in the Mahoosucs, I think I like it! Too bad that it’s such a long drive from Bethlehem to reach many of the trailheads. But, the long daylight-hours of summer allow for some enjoyable adventures, even with a long road journey attached to both ends of the hike!


Anonymous said...

Great trip report and beautiful Pics! I commend you for doing the ladder, I doubt I would have the courage to do that. How dare they put such a ladder on such a beautiful mountain with gorgeous views! We did an overnight at a shelter over near Baldpate several years ago, and we glanced up at the trail to Old Speck and couldn't believe how steep from the get go it is! I would definitely agree that the trails look alot more rugged than our NH White Mtn trails.

I grew up in Berlin and enjoyed a view of Goose-Eye and the Mahoosics from our front porch but unfortunately never hiked in the area. The Mahoosics are on my "bucket list," for the future.

Grafton Notch does seem a bit far from anywhere!!!!

Really enjoy the blog, been following it for over a year now, very informative with great hikes!!!!

Hiking Lady

1HappyHiker said...

Hiking Lady,

Thank you so much for your very nice compliments about my Blog. I’m truly appreciative!

After having done just a small number of hikes in the Mahoosucs, it’s easy to understand why you say that the Mahoosucs are on your “bucket list”! I can truthfully state that they are now on mine as well!

I loved your remark about “Grafton Notch does seem a bit far from anywhere!!!!”. It’s great to read that I’m not alone in thinking that! :-)

Thanks again!

Summerset said...

I'm Speck-ulating from your report that I would love this hike. The iron rungs, ladders, etc. are all up my alley, as is that dense coniferous forest heavy with moss, my favorite kind of forest. The tower would be something I'd climb, too, but I can totally understand why many people would hesitate or pass on it. Thanks for sharing with us the great photos, the Mahoosucs are definitely on my bucket list.

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Summerset,

Yes, I think you’d love every “aSPECKt” of this hike! :-)

I’m with you 100% about dearly loving to scramble over ledges (with or without the aid of embedded rungs, or ladders). But when it comes to towers, for whatever reason, I’m always spooked when (other than the ladder itself) there’s nothing but air surrounding me!

Hopefully, you’ll soon find the opportunity to do a Mahoosuc hike. I’ll look forward to reading your Blog when you do!


OPW5000 said...

I would agree with your observations...trails are less worn, more rugged. I would add a great sense of wildness and remoteness. I assume this is because they are relatively inaccessible (I don't know if you've ever driven Success Pond Road, but it's one rough ride!).
If you haven't already been there, Mahoosuc Notch is a must-see.

1HappyHiker said...

Owen . . . thanks for getting back to me with your thoughts about the Mahoosuc Range. Ah yes! I do agree to your addition about wildness & remotness!

Regarding Success Pond Road, I have driven it once (from Berlin to the Mt. Success trailhead). It is for sure one rough road!! It took me over half an hour to drive about 5 miles!! And nope, I haven’t been to the Mahoosuc Notch. But, since you and others have so highly recommended it, guess I’m going to have to “bite the bullet” someday and tackle Success Pond Road again. Maybe I’ll rent an Enterprise car in Gorham and let their car take the beating! :-)


Yvon said...

Hi John,
Annie & I were in the area saturday. We start at 8:40 in the Old Speck Parking and we did Table Rock & West & East Peak Baldpate.

1HappyHiker said...

Oh wow! We came so close to meeting each other! We returned to the trailhead parking at about 1800 hrs (6 PM). When did you and Annie arrive at the trailhead from your hike? Regardless, I hope you had a great hike to the Baldpates. I have not been there, but they are high on my list. I have hiked to Table Rock and that was very enjoyable!

Thank you for your comments, Yvon!


One Day in America said...

John, I just returned from a long trip to the HOT deserts of southern Utah, and now I'm very much refreshed after viewing your gorgeous photos of the emerald forests, green mountains and rushing waterfalls of Maine!

This hike looks and sounds like fun. Now you've started something as I'm looking forward to hearing more about Maine's "speck"tacular hiking opportunities!

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Rita!

Although your trip to the deserts of southern Utah were hot, something tells me that you had some good times that were very “cool”! I very much look forward to your upcoming Blog reports about your adventures!

Regarding hiking in Maine, it is truly delightful. Likewise, it’s also a pleasure to hike in neighboring Vermont, just to the west of New Hampshire. In the upcoming months and years ahead, I hope to do more hiking in both of those States. However, when I have so many great hiking opportunities in New Hampshire that are within a short drive of my home, it’s often difficult to go the “extra mile” to travel to either VT or ME!

As always, thank you for taking time to read my Blog and post your comments!