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26 April 2013

Gentian Pond: A Mostly Snow-Free Trek to a Frozen Pond

On this particular day, the destination was only a secondary consideration.  My primary goal was to do a trek that would have little, if any, snow and ice along the route.

Gentian Pond is located at an elevation of nearly 2,200 ft, and is surrounded by steep ridges which limit the amount of direct sunlight it receives.   Given those conditions, I was uncertain what I'd find there in late April in terms of snow and ice.  However, I was fairly certain that the route to the pond would be relatively snow-free  since the Austin Brook Trail is predominantly a south-facing trail.

My supposition about the trail was pretty much on target.  The vast majority of this 3.5 mile trek was indeed free of ice and snow.  The next photo show a typical segment of the trail.
Trail was free of snow and ice for the vast majority of the trek
However, there were a few short segments of patchy snow beyond the junction with the Dryad Fall Trail where the Austin Brook Trail veers a bit from its south-facing orientation (next photo).
Just a few short segments of patchy snow beyond Dryad Fall Trail junction
When I arrived at Gentian Pond, it was as though winter had never left, or should I say that spring has yet to arrive?!  The pond was still ice-covered, and the shoreline still had a layer of very deep snow.  How deep was the snow?  Well, I only traveled a short distance along the shoreline because I was stepping into soft spots in the snow where the depth was well above my knee!

Given the deep snow conditions, and the fact that I'd purposely left my snowshoes at home, my exploration of the area was limited.  However, there was no real disappointment with being unable to do more exploration in the vicinity of Gentian Pond.  As indicated at the beginning of this report, I was uncertain what I'd find once I arrived at this location.

The next photo is the only decent view of the pond that I was able to capture.  
Gentian Pond as it appeared on 26-April-2013
Although the pond was still frozen, the nearby Gentian Pond Shelter was very inviting.  It has a southern exposure overlooking mountains in the Royce and Carter-Moriah range.  This provided a warm, sunny and dry spot to spread out and enjoy a beautiful day while eating lunch and savoring the view.  It's little wonder that this is a popular stopover for hikers traveling along the nearby Appalachian Trail. 
Gentian Pond Shelter
View from inside the Gentian Pond Shelter
Besides experiencing Gentian Pond, and besides a delightful lunch-break at the shelter, the hike itself was filled with several trailside views that were pleasing.   For example, just before the ascent to the plateau where Gentian Pond is located, there is a picturesque wetlands area that is dotted with several grassy islands (next photo).
Picturesque wetlands area which is dotted with several grassy islands
Also, along the route there is a trailside clearing where you can see Dryad Fall off in the distance.  As the crow flies, it's about 0.7 mile away.  Therefore, it requires a significant zoom to capture a snapshot of this far-away waterfall. Shown below is the best image I could capture with my "point and shoot" camera.
Zoomed view of Dryad Fall as seen from a distance of about 0.7 mile
While on the topic of waterfalls, my trek also included a short side trip on an unofficial trail in order to visit a series of cascades known as "Bowls and Pitchers".  This little trail (about 0.3 mile long) has a south and a north entrance.  Although neither entrance is signed, the trail itself is yellow-blazed and easy to follow.  There is no place to park for the south entrance, but it's an easy walk (less than 0.5 mile) from the trailhead parking for the Scudder Trail.  For the north entrance, there is a large wide spot on Mill Brook Road where you can park.  However, the north entrance is not quite as obvious, and the first part of the trail is very brushy.

The points mentioned above are labeled on the map shown below (click to enlarge).
Map showing location of "Bowls and Pitchers", plus unofficial trail leading to it
The "Bowls and Pitchers" cascade has been known by this name for at least several decades.  For example, there is mention of it on page 61 of my 1940 edition of the White Mountain Guide where it is described only as "interesting pot-holes in the stream".

One section of those "interesting pot-holes" is shown in the photo collage presented below.  Two different camera settings were used to photograph this cascade.   These are okay snapshots, but a REAL waterfall photographer is needed to more vividly capture their splendor!  My "point & shoot" camera has its limits!
Two different camera settings were used to photograph this cascade
Here is just one more bit of information about my route.   You can reach Gentian Pond by following the Austin Brook Trail all the way.  However, I chose to do a slight modification by parking at the trailhead for the Scudder Trail, and then walk along Mill Brook Road to the point where it intersects the Austin Brook Trail.  (Another parking option is to drive 0.9 mile beyond the Scudder Trail and then park at the wide spot along Mill Brook Road that I mentioned above.  This wide spot is located just a few hundred feet from where large boulders have been placed to block access.)

To sum it up, this hiking adventure was perhaps a good example of the notion that the journey can be just as worthy and rewarding as the destination itself.  My primary goal was met by journeying along a relatively snow-free trail, and I saw a number of beautiful sights along the way!


Steve Smith said...

Fine report, John! It was surprising to see that the pond was still locked in ice. Nice photos of the Bowl and Pitchers. Any word on whether that trail will become "official"?


1HappyHiker said...

Hi Steve,

As always, I’m very appreciative of your comments. Thank you!

Regarding the trail to Bowls and Pitchers, I don’t fully understand the issue, but the roadblock with having this become an “official” trail has something to do with the landowner whose cabin can be seen on the west side of Austin Mill Brook as you hike along the unofficial trail which is located on the east side of the brook.


One Day in America said...

Hi John,

I liked the pictures of the wetlands and waterfalls, and I'd say that your little point and shoot camera (and the photographer!) do a great job of capturing the beauty of the falls.
Also I enjoyed your report of the Gentian Pond Shelter; it looks like a wonderful place to stop for lunch, or maybe even to stay overnight.
It's almost May—bet you're ready for those trails to be free of knee-deep snow!

Andrew said...

I should know better by now that even though one of your blog titles lists a seemingly routine destination, we can count on you to include some element of new discovery. This blog gives us a new local treasure in the Bowls and Pitchers, also inspiration to write the first blogpost for some time for ourselves. Thanks!

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Rita,

Enjoyed your comments, and I thank you for your reply.

Yes, I’m indeed ready for ALL the snow to leave. The scattered pockets of the white stuff is becoming a bit of a nuisance. But, as you probably know from personal experience, it happens this way nearly every spring. Before you know it, we’ll be wishing for the winter snow to return! :-)

And last but not least, thank you for your kind comments about my photos!


1HappyHiker said...

Andrew, thanks for taking time to post a reply!

Not just saying this to be polite, but I’ve been anxiously awaiting a new Blog report from your guys! It’s kind of a sharing thing, i.e. you sometimes learn something new from my posts, and I frequently learn something new from your reports.


NeoAkela said...

I had forgotten about this report until I saw it this evening on Trails NH. Well, Gentian Pond has lost it's icy covering, but snow still resides on the upper trails. Was going to stop at the Bowls and Pitchers, but forgot to bring my map of where they were, and the trail was not visible to me as I drove down Mill Brook Road. I'll have to pair that one up with Shelburne Basin (another little trail I found) the next time I am in the area.

1HappyHiker said...

Chris, I just viewed your excellent photos and commentary that you posted on Facebook relative to your trek to Gentian Pond, and far beyond that to Mt. Success. Quite an impressive trek you did!

Regarding Bowls and Pitchers, yes that will be extremely easy to pair up with just about anything you might be doing in that area. You can park right at the northern end of that little trail and then be at the cascade in less than 5 minutes. It’s so quick and easy that it wouldn’t be unreasonable to swing by there and then pair it with something you might be doing in the Shelburne area, or Evans Notch, or even the Pinkham Notch.