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25 July 2013

A Loop Hike Using Zealand Trail and Abandoned Snowmobile Trail

Several years ago while doing some XC-skiing in the vicinity of the Zealand Trail, I spotted some fresh ski tracks that headed off the east side of the Zealand Road at a point near where the road ends and the Zealand Trail begins.  I decided to follow these tracks to see where they led me.

After crossing the Zealand River on a snow bridge, these tracks led me southward along the east side of the river, thus paralleling the Zealand Trail on the west side of the river. Although the ski tracks continued onward, I stopped after about 20 minutes of following these tracks.  It was nearing the end of the day, and darkness arrives early in mid January!

I had all but forgotten about this experience until Chris Whiton posted something on Facebook which brought this to the forefront of my memory.  The trail that I was following on that winter day was not a XC-ski trail, as I had presumed it to be at that time.  Instead, it's the abandoned snowmobile trail that runs on the east side of the river.  And according to Chris's Facebook posting, this corridor is still in relatively good shape, and could be used to make a nice loop hike by going up one side of the Zealand River and down the other.

Well, with such intriguing information as this, naturally I simply had to go out and do some exploring!  Just as Chris had reported, this old snowmobile trail is indeed in relatively good condition.  And yes indeed, using this trail in conjunction with the Zealand Trail does make for a great loop hike!  It does involve crossing the Zealand River twice, but at times of low water, it can easily be done by judicious rock-hopping.

Besides being a pleasant 3-mile loop hike, this trek also takes you by a waterfall that is located near the trailhead for the Zealand Trail.  As I learned from a Blog posting by Steve Smith, this is probably the "original" Zealand Falls since it seems to fit the description given in AMC's White Mountain Guide through the 1922 edition.   Of course, in current times, the cascades known as Zealand Falls are about 2.5 miles further south, adjacent to the Zealand Falls Hut.

The "original" Zealand Falls are shown in the next photo which was taken while I was hiking along the old snowmobile trail on the east side of the river.  In one of Steve Smith's blog reports (click HERE), there is a better image of these falls taken from a different angle.
The "original" Zealand Falls (located near the trailhead for the Zealand Trail)
In addition to the "original" Zealand Falls, there are also some very nice cascades at the point where the old snowmobile crosses Mt. Field Brook on a wooden bridge that is still intact. The next 3 photos show some of the many cascades at that location.  (To see some much better images of these cascades, as taken by a real waterfall photographer, visit Chris Whiton's Facebook page!)
Scene from along Mt. Field Brook
Another scene from along Mt. Field Brook
And yet another scene from along Mt. Field Brook
The 3 images shown above were taken as I made my way westward along the bank of Mt. Field Brook en route to the Zealand River where I would "rock-hop" my way across to the other side to pick up the Zealand Trail and follow it northward back to my parked car.

Okay, once I arrived back at my car, I still had some time to spare, and so I opted to do some more exploring.  At the outset of the hike, I noticed a well-worn pathway on the west side of the Zealand River.  This path was near the point where I had crossed to the east side of the river earlier in the day in order to pick up the old snowmobile trail.

I followed this pathway for maybe a tenth of a mile and then spotted a short side path that led directly to the river.  The water crossing here was another easy "rock-hop", and so I made the crossing.  On the other side there was a very faint corridor which I followed for a short distance southward.  Much to my surprise I stumbled upon a section of railroad track, as seen in the next photo.
Section of railroad track found on east side of Zealand River
It's probably fair to say that this section of track was from the old Zealand Valley Railroad (ZVRR) which operated up until about 1897.  Being "Frugal Yankees", rails were usually hauled away and repurposed soon after a railroad ceased operations.   And so, one can only speculate as to why this particular section of rail got left behind.  Although I know where I found the rail in relation to current day maps, it's difficult to determine the precise location on an old map of the ZVRR corridor.

Presented below is a portion of an old map showing the ZVRR corridor.  I've inserted a red arrow which points to my best guess as to where this section of track might have been laid.
Portion of old map showing corridor followed by the old Zealand Valley Railroad
To sum it up, it's odd how things happen.  Chances are good that my XC-ski trek of a few years ago would have forever remained just a faint memory had it not been for a Facebook posting by Chris Whiton.  That posting inspired me and led to a fun and interesting adventure.


Steve Smith said...

Cool exploration, John! That piece of rail was a real find. Wonder if any trace remains of the camps shown on the map? Thanks for sharing.


1HappyHiker said...

Thanks Steve!

Regarding any trace of the old camps that are shown on the map, I wondered the same thing. At least according to one account the prospect of finding anything seems slim. I’m referring to statements on page 91 of Belcher’s 1980 book entitled “Logging Railroads of the White Mountains”. Here he states, “I have never been able to locate accurately the various lumber camps which were established as the Henry line moved into the woods. . . . Unfortunately, the signs of their specific locations have not survived the passage of time, nor were they ever shown on official maps.” (When Belcher says “official maps”, I presume he is disregarding the hand-drawn maps of the era, such as the one included in this blog report??)


NeoAkela said...

Hi John - great report and photos! I'm glad you were able to check out that nice little loop hike with it's accompanying waterfalls, and I chuckled when I read "naturally I had to go out and do some exploring". Usually it is me following shortly after reading one of your reports! :)

I noticed that the old road splits shortly after crossing the Zealand river. I followed the left turn for a ways just to see where it went... turned back after a while since it wasn't heading in the direction I wanted. Quite a bit of work was put into the bridges on that trail... I am very curious as to why it was abandoned as a snowmobile route.

1HappyHiker said...

Chris, it’s great to read that you liked this report. But of course, the report probably never would have happened had it not been for your reporting of this discovery. And in terms of making new discoveries, maybe we are evenly matched. However, I think the scales are tipped in your favor. :-)

As to why that snowmobile route was abandoned, it would be interesting to learn the history behind that. As you say, it’s quite apparent that a lot of work went into building that trail. I took a look under the bridge that crosses Mt. Field Brook and was amazed at the size of the metal support beams. The decking might eventually rot away over the years, but I think those support beams will be there for a very long time!