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28 November 2012

A Hiker's Journey to Humphrey's Ledge

In the North Conway area there are three lumps on the landscape which are aligned in a row.   They are named White Horse Ledge, Cathedral Ledge, and Humphrey's Ledge.  Because of their sheer, bare-rock cliffs,  all three are destinations for rock climbers.  But hikers can also enjoy visiting two of those locations (White Horse Ledge and Cathedral Ledge) via a maintained trail system.   However, since there are no longer any maintained hiking trails leading to Humphrey's Ledge, nowadays it is mostly visited by rock climbers.  Therefore, in the title of my report, I wanted to make it clear that my journey was a hike, not a rock climb!

To set the scene, the first image in this report is a Google Earth shot of the area.  In addition to other identifying labels, I've also inserted a label which shows the destination for this particular hike.  As you'll see, I had a rather modest, low-key goal of merely visiting one small knob within the Humphrey's Ledge complex.
 Google Earth image with key features labeled

You'll recall that I stated above that there are no longer any hiking trails on Humphrey's Ledge.  This was not always true!  I don't know precisely how long it's been, but I think at least a half-century has passed since there were actively maintained trails at this location.  The composite photo below shows a USGS quadrangle map from 1942, as well as a modern day map.  On the old map, I've highlighted the two old trails that once led to Humphrey's Ledge (Humphrey's Ledge Trail, and Cow Brook Trail).   Highlighted on the modern day map is the approximate bushwhack route that I followed for this journey.  And on both maps, I've placed a red "X" to show the location of my destination.
Composite image showing 1942 USGS quad map, plus a modern-day map of the area

Further concerning the route that I took, it was easy to stay on public land since the boundary between public and private is well marked with red blazes (as shown in the next photo).  This image also serves to show the open hardwoods that I enjoyed for the entire length of my trek.
 Boundary blazing in an open hardwood forest

Referring back the old map that I posted above, perhaps some readers might be curious as to why I didn't try to reach my destination by following the corridor of the old trails.  Please allow me to interject a brief background story here!

About 3 years ago, I embarked on a mission trying to locate the Cow Brook Trail from its southern terminus in the vicinity of the Moat Mountain Trail.  I wanted to try following it northward to the old Humphrey's Ledge Trail, and then follow that trail to a point on Humphrey's Ledge.  I was never certain if I was ever on the Cow Brook Trail.  However, I'm nearly 100% certain that I located and followed the old Humphrey's Ledge Trail for awhile.  However, it became tedious trying to stay on this corridor, not only because it was faint, but also because of multiple patches of downed trees.   Since I was running out of daylight, I eventually aborted my mission and headed back down to the Moat Mountain Trail via a route similar to what was used on the journey that is the subject of this report.

And so, although there might be better routes to Humphrey's Ledge, my bushwhack pathway was chosen because of already being familiar with the terrain and the woods in this area.  Also, from my experience of 3 years ago, I knew that even if the old trails could be located, it was much quicker and easier to simply bushwhack through the open hardwoods!

Okay, that's enough (probably more than enough) background information.  So what about my hike?!  To begin with, it was a very easy bushwhack.  I arrived at my destination on the Humphrey's Ledge complex just 55 minutes from the time that I departed from the Moat Mountain trailhead.  The only real surprise along the way was finding some old cairns leading out to the knob where I was headed.  None of the old maps I've seen show a trail going to this particular spot.  Maybe it was a spur trail off the main trail, and just simply was never included on any of the maps??

Shown below is one of the old cairns encountered along the way as I approached my destination.
 One of several old cairns seen as I approached my destination

As to what I could see once I was atop the ledges, the first view I came to was looking at one of the many massive cliffs on Humphrey's Ledge.  Although I'm uncertain, I think the cliff in the next photo is the one that is most frequently used by rock climbers.
 One of the many massive cliffs on Humphrey's Ledge

Directly east from the cliff shown in the previous photo was a view of Kearsarge North.
 View of Kearsarge North from Humphrey's Ledge

After enjoying the views shown above, I moved further along toward my final destination at the end of a rocky knob on Humphrey's Ledge.  From this knob, I experienced several views, one of which is described in very early editions of AMC's White Mountain Guide as a "charming view of the Saco Intervales".  The next photo is what I think is being described in those old guidebooks.
Described in old WMGs as "charming view of the Saco Intervales" (view from Humphrey's Ledge)

From this knob on Humphrey's Ledge, I also had a view of the Moat Mountain Range, as seen in the next photo.
 View of the Moat Mountain Range, as seen from Humphrey's Ledge

Also while I was there, I zoomed in on the profile of Cathedral Ledge and White Horse Ledge standing side-by-side.
Profile of Cathedral Ledge and White Horse Ledge, as viewed from Humphrey's Ledge

And so that was it.  I'd met my modest goal.  I saw what I'd come to see, and felt no obligation to go onward to the highest point of this ledge complex, or to do further explorations of the area on this particular trip.

However, once I returned to the trailhead and was headed down the road for home, I did surrender to a nagging curiosity about the rock climbers trail.  I pulled to the side of the road and did a short jaunt up the trail to a point where I suppose the climber's launch their vertical assault on the massive cliffs.  By this time it was dusk, and there was a picturesque "through the trees " silhouette of Cathedral Ledge, White Horse Ledge and the Moat Mountain Range (next photo).
Silhouette of  Cathedral Ledge, White Horse Ledge and Moat Mountains (from rock climber trail)

Shown below is a snapshot looking up at the cliffs from the rock climber trail at the Humphrey Ledge location.
 Looking up at the cliffs on Humphrey's Ledge from the rock climber trail

As is nearly always the case on my hikes, I saw no large animals of the forest such as moose, bear, etc.  However, I did see an alpaca which, technically speaking, was part of my hiking adventure!  This animal was spotted at a farm on West Side Road while en route to the trailhead.
 Alpaca as seen at a farm on West Side Road while en route to the trailhead

To sum it up, this was a short, but pleasant bushwhack to a knob on Humphrey's Ledge.  It was my first visit to this location, and I always like doing something new!  Although the landmarks that I viewed were familiar, I enjoyed having a perspective which was slightly different from that of other locations I've visited.  And last but not least, it was great to finally reach a destination that I was unsuccessful in reaching on a previous trek due to time constraints. 


Heather said...

I have been wanting to get up on Humphrey's Ledge. I look at it from my deck and it is where the sun goes down from my vantage point. Congratulations!

Marty said...

Hey John,

Great post and exploration. Not at all surprised that you returned to explore Humphrey's Ledge. Did you check out the trail head you turned around to look at on West Side road? I love the picture of the profile of Cathedral Ledge and White Horse Ledge, a unique view.


JustJoe said...

Very nice report John. I can't tell how many times I've driven by those cliffs on West Side Rd. and admired them. A very cool spot. I also have a set of Garmin maps which still show those 2 trails. Never gave much thought to bushwhacking that particular area but will have to give it some thought now.

Thanks for sharing,

1HappyHiker said...

Thanks for the congratulations, Heather!
And wow . . . from your deck you must experience some pretty spectacular sunsets over Humphrey’s Ledge!


1HappyHiker said...

Hi Marty,

Thank you so much for posting your comments and thoughts!

It’s an interesting mini-story about the “trail” that we thought we spotted off in the woods when we were driving along West Side Road a couple of weeks ago. As it turns out, that is the trail that rock climbers use. However, the blue “blazes” that we saw from the from the road are actually boundary line markers, rather than trail markers!


1HappyHiker said...

Joe, I’m very appreciative of you taking time to post your comments!

It is interesting that those two old trails on Humphrey’s Ledge still show up on the Garmin maps you have. If nothing else, those maps should provide you with some pretty good clues as to where to go searching for those trail corridors, if you ever wanted to do that.

Further regarding bushwhacking in that general area between Humphrey’s Ledge and the Moats, it’s definitely not everyone’s “cup of tea”. Regardless, I’ve also launched some whacks off the Moat Mineral Trail that I’ve found to be enjoyable.

Thanks again for your comments,

Anonymous said...

Regarding those south facing cliffs that are scaled by rock climbers, it's rugged and steep, but you can hike your way to the top by following that brook (just south of rock climbers trail) up to headwall, then angling sort of NNW.

1HappyHiker said...

Thanks Anonymous for that information. I'll definitely keep it in mind for some future adventure!


Rita Wechter said...

Google maps is great for showing the lay of the land, isn't it?

This hike looks like an interesting bushwhack to a very cool area! As usual, your pictures highlight the beauty of both the rock ledges and the forest.

Rock climber or not, this post makes the ledges sound like a great hiking destination, John!

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Rita,

Yup, I agree that the folks at Google really do make it easy to show the lay of the land with their maps and satellite images. Great stuff!
Thanks for posting your comments. I’m very appreciative!


NeoAkela said...

I'm a bit late at this comment, but I just want to add another thumbs up to this great report! I've driven by on the West Side road many times and wondered about the cliffs and historic arch above. Thank you for sharing these adventures!

1HappyHiker said...

Thanks Chris! It’s never too late to post comments. Nowadays, there is so much hiking-related material out there to read. It can be challenging to keep up with all of it in a timely manner.

And regarding Humphrey’s Ledge, as you can tell from the report, I only explored one area. There’s plenty more of it out there waiting for future adventures! :-)


David Lottmann said...

Found this post when googling something. I rock climb on Hump's a lot, especially colder weather since it gets such great sun, but wanted to let readers know the old hiking trail up the right side is still pretty easy to follow. It starts behind the 2nd house on the left as you head north on West Side past the main cliff and follows a nice grade to the top passing a very old outhouse near the top. It's a nice walk and as long as you are discreet you should have no issues crossing the property to reach the trail. I think the eccentric looking house even has a "trail" sign somewhere.... Another very cool feature here is that cave visible from the road... Devils Den I think they call it.... some cool ice climbs form near here in the winter....

1HappyHiker said...

David . . . Thank you so much for sharing this information! Cannot wait to give it a try!!

1HappyHiker said...

Hi David . . . Just a follow-up to let you know that I obtained landowner permission to hike the trail that you mentioned to me. Thank you again for making me aware of this. It was a really fun hike!!


Anonymous said...

where did you find the map showing the old trails? do you have it showing a larger area?

1HappyHiker said...

Maps showing old trails (such as the one posted in this blog) are available at the link shown below, which you can cut and paste it into your browser window.


Gmail is my email said...

Thanks for this entry. I have been exploring the back areas of North Conway and Bartlett for years. Now that snow is on the ground this will make a super snowshoe trek. The ridge looks super interesting.

1HappyHiker said...

Ellen, thanks for reading my blog and posting your comments.

Since the time this blog report was written, I have discovered an alternative hiking route to Humphrey’s Ledge which might be of interest. This route begins at GPS Coordinate N 44 5 28.5, W 71 9 55.2, and it follows the corridor of the former hiking trail named Humphrey Ledge Trail. Parking for this route can be problematic at all times of year, but especially during winter months since you need to park on the shoulder of the road which often is challenging with snow banks along West Side Road. The old trail itself is on public land. To access the trail, you need to stay on a narrow strip of public land between two parcels of private land. This narrow strip is unmarked and it’s only is about as wide as a driveway, and runs for about 250 ft. If you begin at the GPS coordinate mentioned above, and head due west, then you will likely be on this short, narrow public pathway that leads to the old trail.