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11 November 2012

Trekking to the Edges of the Ledges: Bald Cap Peak

It would be a bit of an overstatement to say that it has been "four score and seven years ago" since there was an actively maintained hiking trail to Bald Cap Peak (near Shelburne, NH).  But for certain, it has at least been many decades since hikers have been able to reach the ledges on this mountain via a maintained trail. The best I can determine, the former trail to the ledges on Bald Cap Peak was abandoned sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s.  The route of this former trail is shown on the map below (created by Thorn Dickinson in 1958).
Map created in 1958 showing location of former route to Bald Cap Peak Ledges

In June of this year (2012), the Shelburne Trails Club opened a trail to the ledges on Bald Cap Peak.  The corridor is about 0.4 mile long, and it roughly follows the portion of the old trail that ran from the Peabody Brook Trail to the ledges.

Below is a map which shows the location of the new trail to the Bald Cap Peak ledges.
Map showing location of new Bald Cap Peak Ledges Trail

My friend Marty and I were part of the team that did the final touches to open this new trail.  Since we have a personal connection to this pathway, we both felt a desire to make a return visit to see how the trail has fared over the intervening months since it was opened.  And so, on 10-Nov-2012, we drove to Shelburne and began our trek to the ledges via the Peabody Brook Trail (PBT).

Regarding the PBT, you might have noticed on the old 1958 map shown above that the PBT was once part of the Appalachian Trail (AT).  In 1952/1953, the AT was rerouted to the PBT.  Prior to that, the AT had followed the Mahoosuc Trail from Gorham to Mt. Hayes (and beyond).  The AT was once again re-routed when it was moved from the PBT to follow the Centennial Trail which had been built in 1976.

I make mention of the PBT's connection to the AT for the following reason.   I've travelled the PBT on numerous occasions, but this is the first time that I've spotted what is shown in the composite photo below.  On the left side of the photo is a metal marker embedded in a tree along the PBT corridor.  Shown on the right side of the photo is the image of an old AT marker that I found on the Internet.  My assumption is that the image on the left side of the photo is an old AT marker that was covered over with blue-blaze paint at some point after the AT was relocated.
Metal trail marker along Peabody Brook Trail as compared to marker once used along AT corridor

With that rather longwinded introduction, here are a few snapshots taken during the hike Marty and I did to the ledges on Bald Cap Peak.

Winter conditions are progressing from the mountaintops to the lowlands.  Shown below is a composite photo.  The left panel shows the conditions along the trails for about the first half of our hike.  On the second half of the hike, the trail and the surroundings were snow-covered,  as is shown on the right panel of the photo.
Left panel shows conditions for first-half of hike; right panel shows conditions for second-half

Shown below is the sign at the beginning of the trail leading to the Bald Cap Peak Ledges.
Sign at beginning of trail leading to the Bald Cap Peak Ledges

The next photo shows a scene of some of the woodlands along the route to the ledges.
Some of the woodlands along the route to the ledges

Shown below is a snapshot that was taken from the edges of the ledges on Bald Cap Peak!
 Edges of the ledges on Bald Cap Peak

The view from the ledges is expansive!  It includes a picturesque view of the Androscoggin River Valley, plus peaks in western Maine and in the Carter-Moriah Range, as well as peaks in the northern Presidential Range.   The next few photos provide a sampling of those views.
 Looking eastward along the Androscoggin Valley toward western Maine

Southwesterly view toward peaks in Carter-Moriah Range and Presidential Range

After having lunch on the ledges and enjoying the views, we headed back for the trailhead via the same route that we used for the outbound portion of our trek.  It was late in the day as we made our descent.  This provided a set-up for some dusky scenes as sunset fast approached.   The next photo was taken during the "twilight's last gleaming.  It shows peaks in the Carter-Moriah Range with Reflection Pond in the center of the scene.
 Peaks in Carter-Moriah Range and Reflection Pond as sunset approached

To sum it up, the trail to the ledges on Bald Cap Peak is an impressive addition to the network of trails maintained by the Shelburne Trails Club!  The overall trek to the ledges is approximately 5.4 miles (round-trip), and it involves an elevation gain of about 1,900 ft.


Steve Smith said...

Beautiful photos, John! Great find with the old painted-over AT marker. And that 1958 map is a fine addition to "the collection." Glad to see the new trail is in good shape - I need to get up there and check it out. It looks a bit easier than the route we took to the ledges last fall!


1HappyHiker said...

Thanks Steve!

I have no idea as to what conditions have changed to cause that old AT marker to become so obvious. I’m certain that I've passed by it on multiple occasions without seeing it. But, for whatever reason, this time it was literally staring me right in the face!

And yes, for certain, the new trail to the Bald Cap Peak ledges is easier that the route that we took last autumn. However, that being said, our trek was a memorable adventure, and I'm glad we did it!


1HappyHiker said...

Steve . . . just now remembered that I had intended to post the link to your Blog report about our adventure to Bald Cap Peak. I think many readers will find it to be of interest. Here it is:


JustJoe said...

Very cool John. It's nice to see that the less ambitious can now enjoy the great views from those ledges. I too will have to check the new trail out someday.


1HappyHiker said...

That was very well stated Joe about the “less ambitious” now having a way to enjoy the great views from the ledges on Bald Cap Peak! :-)
I would love to see the other part of the old trail restored someday. I’m speaking about the steep part that came up to the ledges from Middle Mountain. If that were ever to happen, then it would open up a possibility for a nice loop hike.

Thank you for posting your comments!


Anonymous said...

In an old edition of "Appalachia" (Vol. II 1879-1881 pp. 121-127), there is a description of early explorations of this area by Lucia and Marian Pychowska. And although I can't readily lay my hands on a reference, I think I'm correct in saying that the trail leading over Middle Mountain and onward to Bald Cap Peak (as shown in your 1958 map) was one of the first (if not the first) hiking trail into the Mahoosucs.

1HappyHiker said...

Thanks Anonymous for that very interesting info!

Via the magic of Google Books, I was able to access the Appalachia reference you quoted. Yes, that is indeed a fascinating piece to read!

I have a personal copy of the booklet published by the Randolph Mountain Club which is entitled "An Outline of Trail Development in the White Mountains 1840-1980" written by Guy Waterman. If my interpretation of the material in that booklet is correct, then it appears that a trail to Bald Cap Peak was in existence at least as early as 1860. Simply amazing!


Summerset said...

Very interesting - I knew the AT had be re-routed a few times through that area, but couldn't tell you exactly how or where off the top of my head. The trip back to look at your handiwork must have been a joy! I find I enjoy trails so much more if I've invested in them in some way.

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Summerset,

You have complete agreement from me about enjoying a trail so much more once you’ve invested some of your time caring for it! You have done trail work yourself, and so you speak from experience.

Regarding re-routes of the AT, it’s only a guess, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the multiple re-routes in the Gorham/Shelburne area is just the tip of the iceberg, especially in view of the fact that this trail stretches nearly 2,200 miles through 14 States from Georgia to Maine!

Thank you for posting your comments.


Andrew said...

Lindsay and I stumbled upon the newly cut Ledges trail early this past summer probably mere days after it was re-opened after a stroll up to Dream Lake. I actually wanted to try to find evidence of the old trail based on one of your earlier descriptions, and was glad to see the sign and trail. I'm glad you commented that the trail "roughly follows.." the old route since I noted a few places where I could see the old tread(rock!)way vary a few feet here and there.

We also checked out the Middle Mountain Tr. on another hike, and were really thrilled to follow the old moss covered trail beyond the top. On that hike I kept in mind the hike description from you and Steve up to the Bald Peak Ledges, and also kept an eye on the terrain of those approaching ledges. A treat was found at the assumed location of the old trail junction for Middle/Ledges where an old and I seem to remember unreadable sign was on a tree. This one is still on my list, since that day we continued down the Middle Mt. Tr. to Peabody Brook Tr. Nice to finally know where that woods road that you turned off from the Peabody Brk. Trail leads!

Oh My Gosh! The RMC booklet, what a treasure! My jealousy is unbearable.

1HappyHiker said...

It is such a pleasure to hear from what I’ll call a “kindred spirit” who seems to be as passionate as I am about doing hikes that are different, and/or hikes that relate to the past!

Anyway, I am impressed that you and Lindsay found the old (and unreadable) sign on the tree at the former junction for the Middle/Ledges trails. You guys seem to have the ability to sniff out an old trail corridor. In early Spring, once the snow/ice is gone (and before the bugs appear), I’d encourage you to seek out the corridor for the former trail that went from the old sign up to the ledges. In very general terms, you go straight ahead from the old sign, then once you hit a “wall”, bear right for a short distance, then eventually swing back to your left and follow a natural seam up the face of Bald Cap Peak. If you just keep following your instincts, and the natural lay of the land, then you should encounter some old cairns here and there along the way. Once you eventually come out onto the ledges, then you can follow the blazed trail from the ledges over to the Peabody Brook Trail. Or, if you prefer, descend via the same route as used for your ascent!

Regarding the RMC booklet (written by Guy Waterman), if you don’t already have a copy, then I assume you know that one can be purchased by accessing the link below:

Thank you so very much for your comments. As you might be able to detect . . . I’m most appreciative! :)


Rita Wechter said...

Hi John,

It must be very rewarding to have a hand in creating these beautiful trails for all to enjoy. On this trail I especially like the pay-off of all those great views which can be accessed after a relatively short walk.
Looks like winter is well on its way to claiming a hold on northern New Hampshire; I'll bet this trail would make a fun snowshoe hike!

Andrew said...

Thanks for the route tips, they will be utilized; also again for the booklet, even though my favorite cap is an RMC, I was not aware they had this available for sale. The check is in the mail and I can't wait to have it in hand!

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Rita!

Thank you for your comments!

Regarding doing a snowshoe hike on the Bald Cap Peak Ledges trail, I agree that it should be a fun trek to do. However, the unfortunate thing is that you first need to snowshoe along the Peabody Brook Trail to access the trail to the ledges. I say “unfortunate” because wintertime parking for this trailhead is problematic. It’s “shoulder-of-the-road” parking, and usually, the shoulder is piled high with plowed snow. There are some parking alternatives, but you have to seek them out, and it involves some additional walking, which of course, adds a bit of distance to the overall trek. ):


Ted Baker said...

My grandfather, John Baker, built the stone house at the Peabody Brook trailhead, finishing it in 1969. I spent a large part of my childhood living in that house. There was a large wooden Appalachian Trail sign at the trailhead that listed destinations along the trail, beginning with Giant Falls, I believe one mile up the trail and ending with Grafton Notch at 26 miles. Dream Lake was one of the destinations on the sign. The Peabody Brook Trail was part of the AT from 1969 or earlier through the late 70s. The AT was re-routed sometime in the late 70s, I think mostly due to a lack of parking. Someone bought the land that was previously used for parking on the south side of North Rd. and built a house on it. I hiked the old trail to Middle Mt. many times in my younger days and even by the mid-70s to early 80s, it was getting difficult to follow. Kudos to the Shelburne Trial Club for all the work they're doing.

1HappyHiker said...

Thank you so very much Ted for sharing the information and memories contained in your comments. Very much appreciated!

And yes, kudos indeed to the Shelburne Trails Club for the superb job they have done in rejuvenating the trails in the Shelburne area.