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18 August 2013

A Trek to South End of Eagle Cliff Ridge in Franconia Notch

Although there are no official hiking trails that lead to the Eagle Cliff Ridge, I've made several excursions to the northern end of ridge.  My routes have included using the remnant of an old trail that was once planned to traverse the entire length of Eagle Cliff Ridge.  It begins near I-93 at Exit 34C and it takes you to a viewpoint at the first set of cliffs.  And, I've done a steep scramble up to the ridgeline via a rock climbers pathway which diverges from the Greenleaf Trail not far from its trailhead in Franconia Notch.  This route provides access to a unique rock formation sometimes referred to as "The Watcher".  (More will be said about this later in the report.)

A few days ago, I decided it was time to finally take the plunge and make a visit to the southern-most end of the Eagle Cliff Ridge.  Access to this end is more difficult.  There are no bootleg trails or other pathways.  It's a pure bushwhack!

I've heard tale of some who have bushwhacked to the south end of the ridgeline via the steep cliffs on the western side.  However, I opted to use an approach from the wooded eastern side.  Shown below are two photos which I took a few years ago on a separate adventure.  The first photo shows the cliffs on the western side of the ridge, and the second one shows the wooded eastern side.
West side of Eagle Cliff Ridge
East side of Eagle Cliff Ridge
Regarding the photo above which shows the east side of the Eagle Cliff Ridge, you'll notice that the further north (to the right of the photo) you go, there are more hardwoods.  I wanted to take advantage of this situation.  Therefore, upon leaving the Greenleaf Trail (just a short distance beyond Eagle Pass), I hiked a bit northeasterly toward the interior of the ridge before I began my ascent.  Although there were still patches of thick woods at various points along the route, I'd like to think that my strategy resulted in a route that was a bit easier than beginning my ascent farther to the south (i.e. nearer to Eagle Pass).

Upon reaching the open ledges at the south end of Eagle Cliff Ridge, I enjoyed several fine views which are shown in the next series of snapshots.
Looking up Lafayette Brook valley toward the Mt. Lafayette ridgeline
Looking directly across I-93 toward Cannon Mtn with Profile Lake in foreground
Looking south down I-93 (Cannon Cliffs at center right; Profile Lake at bottom right)
Another southward view from a ledge near the top of Eagle Cliff Ridge
Northward view showing Cannon ski slopes, Echo Lake, Bald Mtn and Artist's Bluff
From the southern end of the Eagle Cliff Ridge, I could see in the distance many of the features that I'd seen up-close during my past forays near the northern end of the ridge.  One such feature was 'The Watcher'.   She is also known as 'The Old Lady of the Mountain', and as 'The Old Woman of the Notch'.  The "person" of whom I speak is the natural rock profile on the side of the Eagle Cliff Ridge.  The profile appears to be that of a woman's head and face, and it appears as if she is "watching" for strangers approaching the Notch from the east.

This profile is not as well known as the "Old Man of the Mountain" who once graced Cannon Mountain on the opposite side of the Franconia Notch.  In 2003, the rock configuration that formed this iconic image fell to its "death" due to natural causes.

There are several legends about the relationship between the 'Old Man' and 'The Watcher'. One of which is that the Peregrine Falcons, which routinely soar from one side of the Notch to the other, were used by 'The Watcher' and the 'Old Man' as a means to exchange messages with each other.  Even knowing that it's just a legend, nonetheless, it's still quite sad to think about the message that would have been delivered by the falcons to 'The Watcher' on that fateful day of May 3, 2003 when the 'Old Man' tumbled.

Shown below is a composite image showing the profile of 'The Watcher' as viewed from the south and from the north.   Just as a side note, by using binoculars you can get a view of the profile from the south by standing at certain spots at the floor of the Franconia Notch.  However, the only way to get the view of the profile from the north is to do a steep climb to the Eagle Cliff Ridge which I've done on several occasions.
Composite image showing 'The Watcher' viewed from the south and from the north
My view of 'The Watcher' from the south end of Eagle Cliff Ridge was a frontal view (see next photo). The location of 'The Watcher' is circled in red.  As can be seen, this formation is nearly impossible to recognize, unless it is seen as a profile.
A view of 'The Watcher' as seen from south end of Eagle Cliff Ridge
Located slightly below 'The Watcher' is the Eaglet which is another feature nearer to the north end of the ridgeline that I could see from my vantage point at the southern end of Eagle Cliff Ridge.  Shown below is a photo of the Eaglet which I took several years ago when trekking near the northern end of the ridge.
Photo of 'Eaglet' taken several years ago near north end of Eagle Cliff Ridge
The next photo is a composite image.  On the left is the 'Eaglet', as viewed during my trek to the south end of Eagle Cliff Ridge.  On the right is a captioned set of photos from a newspaper article about climbers who scaled this rock formation.
'Eaglet' viewed from south end of Eagle Cliff Ridge (left);  newspaper article (right)
Here are a few bits of miscellanea associated with this trek.  The high point (3,420 ft) of the Eagle Cliff Ridge is located at its southern end.  There is a summit canister and log book for peakbaggers to sign.  Although I'm not a peakbagger, I will often sign a log book, when I think of it.  This time I thought of it, but forgot to sign in.  Oh well, there's always next time!

This was an out-and-back trek using the same basic route for both the outbound and inbound leg of the journey.  I didn't get on the trail until nearly 1 PM and so my timeframe was short.  If I'd gotten an earlier start, it would have made a nice loop to have continued northward along the ridge to 'The Watcher' and then descended to the Greenleaf trail via the pathway used by rock climbers.

In terms of distance, I'd guesstimate my round-trip to be only about 4.5 miles.

Shown below is one last photo.  On a ledge near the high point of the ridgeline, I came across a piece of metal hardware cloth.  It's anyone's guess as to how this item got to this spot.  Did someone actually schlep it up there for some unknown reason?  Did a strong updraft  swoop it to the top of the ridge from the floor of the notch?  Did it fall off a helicopter that was transporting items to the Greenleaf Hut?
Metal hardware cloth seen near the high point of Eagle Cliff Ridge
To sum it up, this trek was a perfect fit for my timeframe, and it was a thrill to visit a destination that was new to me.  My only regret is that I didn't get an earlier start which would have enabled me to do a loop hike that could have included a revisit to features such as 'The Watcher' near the northern end of the Eagle Cliff Ridge.

Click HERE for a link to another of my blog postings about destinations along Eagle Cliff Ridge.  


JustJoe said...

Nice report John. Eagle Cliff is a great spot. I've been to the southern most ledges / high point. And the northern most view point. I've never been the spot you have pointed out with "The Watcher", which I had not heard about.

I return to Eagle Cliff is on my radar for this fall and will make an effort to get to that middle bump.

Beautiful photos as always.

Thanks for sharing,

1HappyHiker said...

Thanks Joe!

You will love the trek to ‘The Watcher’!! There are several ways to get there, but probably the most straightforward is to hike for about 10 – 15 minutes from the Greenleaf trailhead and begin looking for a cairn. It varies (don’t know why), but it’s usually on the east side of the trail. At this point, you’ll find a pathway that will take you on a steep climb to ‘The Watcher’, along with a view of the ‘Eaglet’. Of course, if you’re up for it, you can always scale the ‘Eaglet’ while you’re in the neighborhood! :-)


Summerset said...

You had me gawking at the cliffs as I drove through the notch yesterday, trying to find these locations! Probably not a good idea, as far as the driving is concerned. We got back from VT last Saturday and were on our way back from our first hike back in the Whites, and of course the cliffs were right there as well as reading your post earlier this week. I do need to explore that area, starting with a standard hike up that lower section of Greenleaf!

1HappyHiker said...

Thank you for your comments, Summerset!

It’s such a shame that the trail that was once planned to traverse the Eagle Cliff Ridge never came to fruition. Considering the spectacular views from various points along that ridgeline, it surely would have been a very popular trail.

There are somewhat similar views from the Greenleaf Trail at Eagle Pass (and from the upper end of Old Bridle Path) which are wonderful in their own right. However, they are less dramatic than those from Eagle Cliff Ridge.


Steve Smith said...

Wow, what a great set of photos, John! I especially like the ones of Lafayette and looking south down the Notch. We traversed Eagle Cliff once in winter, but it was not a real clear day and as I recall the views were fuzzy. Took us five hours to do the ridge. Looks like you found a good route up.


1HappyHiker said...

Hi Steve . . . thank you for your very kind words about this report!

Yes, I can well imagine that it would’ve taken 5 hours to do the entire Eagle Cliff Ridge. As you know from personal experience, it’s pretty thick and gnarly up there!

Regarding the bushwhack route I used to ascend the south end of the ridge, it was a decent route which I would not hesitate to use again. However, for any revisit of the south end, I might consider launching the bushwhack from Gallen Circle (instead of the Greenleaf Trail), and follow an ESE route above the south bank of Lafayette Brook, and then ascend basically via the same route described in this report. It always makes it more interesting to add a new twist when doing a revisit to a familiar location! :-)


Anonymous said...

I'm a little past the hiking stage of my career but was trying to figure out Eagle Cliff from a painting I bought from the 1800's and your pics of the Eagle Cliff "ridge" really helped immensely. Turns out that the artist was focused on the north end of Eagle Ridge peak at the very location that the Watcher is at. No doubt back in 1860's he had no idea there was a Watcher but does have part of Profile Lake in the pic but tough to figure the perspectives from lake level.
Thanks for helping a lot in an off-beat way ! As Roy Rogers would say, Happy Trails !

1HappyHiker said...

Anonymous, that was so considerate of you to take the time to let me know that the photos in my blog posting were helpful to you. Thank you! I'm very appreciative!


Anonymous said...

Please do not advocate bushwhacking especially anywhere in Franconia Notch. The number of tourists who trample over the flora are already put of control. Those of us who live here really are saddened by the overuse and abuse our poor mountains experience.

1HappyHiker said...

Dear Anonymous,
Thank you for taking time to read my posting and to publish your comments.

Like you, I am a permanent North Country resident who lives within a few miles of Franconia Notch, and I also am saddened by those who trample the fragile vegetation in our beloved mountains.

Bushwhacking is a sport, just the same as hiking, skiing, etc. But like any endeavor, there are those who do it responsibly and those who do not. A responsible bushwhacker is NOT someone who meanders off a trail (such as the Franconia Ridge Trail) trampling fragile vegetation. A responsible bushwhacker is skilled at leaving no trace.

Nearly every bushwhacker (myself included) puts in many long hours maintaining the hiking trails here in the White Mountain region. And many bushwhackers are also members of hiking clubs (AMC, RMC, etc, etc) and actively participate in programs to promote responsible recreation within our forestlands.

If you care to reveal your identity and contact me personally to further discuss this, you may send me an e-mail at


Suzanneq said...

I am planning on hiking here on the summer Solstice. Could you please tell me how difficult this hike is so I can be ready for it . It is very important to me. It has been three years since I did any serious hiking. I am truly thank you for your time and wisdom

1HappyHiker said...

Suzanneq . . . this hike is very demanding and should be attempted only by individuals who are in good physical condition. Additionally, since there is no trail to this destination, it should only be attempted by individuals who have mastered the skills of navigating off-trail. Also, the rugged terrain en route to this destination adds a further challenge.


Suzanneq said...

Dear John ,
thank for your comments and time.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your post! It has always been my dream to hike this. However I have not found much information online about it. Do you have more info on where exactly this is located? Is it across from artist bluff? I am from Littleton NH. I hiked a 4000 footer a couple days ago. Thank you! Happy Hiking :)

1HappyHiker said...


My knowledge about Eagle Cliff Ridge is pretty much limited to what I posted in my blog.

As to where this ridge is located, it begins at a point east of Echo Lake (on east side of I-93), and runs southward for about 1.25 miles to its terminus at Eagle Pass where the Greenleaf Trail is located.
There are no trails along this ridge and the terrain is very rugged. Accessing the ridge should only be attempted by individuals who have proficient navigation skills and are highly experienced at off-trail travel.


Peter Adams said...

Thanks you for the thorough post & description. Regarding access to "The Watcher", do you advise the the path that deviates from the Greenleaf trail and ascends the rock slide (from the west), or to ascend Greenleaf further (through the col on the southern end of Eagle Cliff) and bushwhack N-NE for some distance, before turning west, towards the spire/"The Watcher"?

Many thanks,

Peter Adams

1HappyHiker said...

Peter . . . my apologies for the late reply to your question.

Anyway, accessing The Watcher via the path that branches off from the Greenleaf Trail is the most straightforward route and it is the one that I prefer. However, please be aware that the final approach is very steep and there is extremely poor footing due to the loose scree.

Regarding the other route you described, I’ve never accessed The Watcher using that route. However, on a couple of occasions, I have launched a bushwhack to The Watcher from the Gallen Memorial parking area off I-93 at Exit 34C. My blog report at the following link describes one such trek:

Hope this helps. If you have any follow-up questions, you may contact me via e-mail at: