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.