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13 August 2016

Unfinished Business When Hiking to Mt. Hale (NH) via Fire Warden Trail


In early August 2016, I did a hike to Mt. Hale via the abandoned (but still well-used) Fire Warden Trail.  Besides reaching the summit of Mt. Hale I also had a secondary goal of completing some unfinished business, as detailed below.

In mid-December 2015, I did a trek with the objective of following the abandoned Tuttle Brook Trail from its northern terminus in Twin Mountain to its southern terminus where it connected with the Fire Warden Trail.  From Twin Mountain, I loosely followed the trail's former corridor for about a mile by trekking along a snowmobile trail.  Upon leaving the snowmobile trail, there were no old cairns or faded blazing to serve as clues, but there were bits and pieces of a corridor having characteristics of being manmade rather than being an animal path.  Particularly strong evidence of the old trail was found along the ridgeline toward the southern end of the corridor.

Unfortunately, I was unable to complete my goal since daylight hours are so short in December and I reached my turnaround time sooner than I had envisioned.  And so, as part of my August 2016 adventure, my plan was to leave the Fire Warden Trail and hike northward for about a half-mile to the point where I ended my December 2015 trek.

Success!  I reached my December 2015 stopping point, and for a significant portion of my trek, there were clear indications that I was indeed on the old Tuttle Brook Trail.  However, since it took a bit of meandering before coming across evidence of the old trail, I am skeptical that I chose the correct spot for my departure from the Fire Warden Trail.  The point I chose was just a 'best guess' based upon what is shown on an old trail map in the 1940 edition of the White Mountain Guide, which might have some degree of inaccuracy.  So, I might make a return visit to do some 'fine-tuning'.

Having met my objective, I returned to the point where I'd left the Fire Warden Trail and then continued onward and upward to the summit of Mt. Hale.

Perhaps the map-composite shown below will be helpful in making some sense out of the preceding paragraphs.  The LEFT panel is a snippet of a trail map from the 1940 White Mountain Guide.  The RIGHT panel shows my GPS tracks for both my December 2015 and August 2016 treks.
LEFT panel is a snippet of a trail map from the 1940 White Mountain Guide.  RIGHT panel shows my GPS tracks for both my December 2015 and August 2016 treks.


As one might expect, the appearance of the woods was significantly different for my trek in December versus the one in August.  The thick understory of ferns on my August trek made it challenging to find evidence of the old Tuttle Brook Trail.  In hindsight, I should have undertaken this adventure later in the year after the ferns had died off.
LEFT panel: woods in December 2015; RIGHT panel: woods in August 2016
After reaching my December 2015 stopping point, I visited a nearby ledge that is just a short distance off the corridor of the old Tuttle Brook Trail.  There is a faint pathway leading to it, which I presume might have been a spur trail off the Tuttle Brook Trail.  One of the vistas from this ledge is shown below.  It includes: South Twin; North Twin; and Peak above the Nubble.
Vista from ledge located short distance off the old Tuttle Brook Trail.  Peaks include (L to R): South Twin; North Twin; Peak above the Nubble.
After a brief visit to the ledge described above, I returned to the point where I'd left the Fire Warden Trail and then continued onward and upward to the summit of Mt. Hale.  Along the way, I stopped to take a trailside photo of the Presidential Range, as shown below.
Trailside view of Presidential Range taken from the Fire Warden Trail while en route to Mt. Hale
Near to the summit of Mt. Hale is the former site of the Fire Warden's cabin.  Although the cabin is no longer there, there are some rusty barrels that still remain.
Old barrels rusting in the woods near the former site of the Mt. Hale Fire Warden's cabin
Upon arriving at the top of Mt. Hale, it was 'business as usual', i.e. a viewless, tree-enclosed corral where a fire tower once stood.   Once upon a time, before the trees grew up, the view from Mt. Hale was one of the finest in the White Mountains.
The summit of Mt. Hale

Perhaps one of the factors that contributed to the decision to abandon the Tuttle Brook Trail was a decline of hiker traffic.  However, this trail probably served a practical purpose at some point in history.  Maybe at a time when instant access to a car was less common than it is today, this trail provided a convenient means to hike to Mt. Hale for those folks who lived or were lodged in the Twin Mountain area.  It would have been a trek of a little over 8-miles (round-trip), which isn't overly long, but nowadays it's commonplace to hop in a car and drive to a trailhead where the hike to Mt. Hale involves far less mileage.

As to why the Fire Warden Trail was abandoned and is no longer an official trail, I have no easy answer.  It still receives considerable use by hikers and backcountry skiers.



Rita Wechter said...

It's rewarding to complete a previously aborted hike, isn't it? Years ago Tim and I were chased from a mountain hike by a ferocious thunderstorm with lightening strikes. A couple weeks later we went back and hiked to the 12000 foot summit. It felt great!
The woods sure look different in August than they do in December. I love the greenery in these August photos, but December has its charms too.
Another nice post, John!

1HappyHiker said...

Thank you, Rita, for your comments!

Yes, it is rewarding indeed to complete a previously aborted hike!

As with every hike of this nature, you gain some knowledge about the woods in the area. With this fun challenge of trying to follow the corridor of the long-ago abandoned Tuttle Brook Trail, I learned that the woods are relatively open. And so, if I should ever again want to trek from Twin Mountain to Mt. Hale (for whatever reason), I now know that it’s unnecessary to try following the precise corridor of the old trail. It will be faster and easier to simply find my own way through the woods without taking time to “snoop around” for traces of the Tuttle Brook Trail. :-)


Karl said...

Hi John,

Great report. So, just to clarify my understanding as I'm a little slow sometimes when it comes to understanding written directions (I get lost a lot, which is why I'm scared to bushwhack):

In December you hiked south on the Tuttle Brook Trail and stopped at the turn around spot, retracing your steps back. Then, in August from the Fire Warden's Trail, you hiked north on the Tuttle Brook Trail meeting up with your turn around spot, but again, turned back and retraced your steps back to the Fire Warden's Trail...completing the full trail in two separate hikes, is that correct? Sorry for the explanation request...again, I'm bad with reading directions.

It looks to me like your trek was pretty close to the original trail. It does look like the 1940 map shows the trail crossing one branch of the brook. I wonder if the brook redefines itself over time and possibly shifted northeast.

I bet you're right that the fall would have been an easier bushwhack, but gosh, the ferns are so pretty this time of year. I suppose it turns into a love/hate relationship with nature during a thick bushwhack like this one. Hopefully, you had your DEET with you!

Near the summit of Hale where the Warden's cabin was, is there a trail to the location or is it obvious where it once stood? I still have to do Hale and was thinking to do it the upcoming months. Being able to find these artifacts would make it much more exciting for me.

Great summit pic too. I've seen a lot of pictures of the viewless summit and this is by far the best one I've seen. You've captured the colors beautifully.

Take care,

1HappyHiker said...

Thanks Karl for all your kind words!

Yup! Your assessment is correct about how I hiked the Tuttle Brook Trail, i.e. it was completed as two separate hikes (1st part in December 2015; 2nd part in August 2016).

I would be the first to admit that most likely there were places along my route where I wasn’t following the precise corridor of the old Tuttle Brook Trail. It’s so easy to lose an old trail that has become so faint after having been abandoned many decades ago. However, that having been said, there were segments here and there that were quite distinct. So, I feel that at those times when I might not have been on the actual corridor of the old trail, I was at the very least paralleling it.

And yes, you are correct about the “love/hate relationship with nature” on a bushwhack such as this. The lush ferns were a beautiful sight, especially in combination with the beautiful white birch trees. However, as indicated in my report, the ferns did create an added challenge in my attempt to locate and stay on the old treadway for the Tuttle Brook Trail.

Regarding the artifacts associated with the Mt. Hale Fire Warden’s cabin, the cabin was located in a col between the Mt. Hale’s main summit and a slightly lower secondary summit located a short distance north of the main summit. You walk right by the rusty barrels when hiking the Fire Warden Trail. If you use the traditional approach to Mt. Hale via the Hale Brook Trail, you won’t see the barrels. However, from the summit of Hale, you could hike a short distance down the Fire Warden Trail to see the barrels. Obviously, the Fire Warden Trail is unsigned, but it’s location is fairly obvious. My photo of the summit area of Mt. Hale was taken from the entry point of the Fire Warden Trail. So, that should provide a pretty strong clue as to where to look for this trail.

Hope my reply is helpful. Please feel free to ask any follow-up questions.