Friday, April 18, 2014


THE HEART OF THE MOUNTAIN: 4/17/14

In his 1893 At the North of Bearcamp Water, one of my favorite White Mountain books, author/naturalist Frank Bolles, a devotee of the Mt. Chocorua area, wrote of a bushwhack trip he took to "The Heart of the Mountain." He espied this inner sanctum of Mt. Chocorua - the place where the two main forks of Stony Brook join in a deep ravine on the south side of the mountain - while "floating upon the clear waters of Chocorua Lake in the latter part of a warm July afternoon."

I had retraced his steps to the fork in the brook back in March 2006, when Stony Brook was partly iced over after a cold spell. I wanted to reprise that journey with a full flow of water in the brook, then bushwhack up to some ledges on a southern spur of Chocorua that rises above the west side of the valley. These southern slopes of Chocorua are one of the first areas to melt off in spring, and I looked forward to some bare ground hardwood whacking. I would carry snowshoes for the upper part of the bushwhack to the spur.

Before embarking on my trek, I drove down to the south end of a still iced-over Chocorua Lake to gawk at its marvelous views of the Sandwich Range. Mt. Whiteface and Mt. Passaconaway were on full display on this chilly, clear morning.



Mt. Paugus, less well-known than its neighbors on either side, but a fascinating mountain in its own right.


The classic view of Mt. Chocorua. The wide "V" in the center of the picture is the location of "The Heart of the Mountain." The bushwhack ledges are seen on the R flank of the broad rounded spur on the L.


I drove up to the trailhead for the Hammond Trail on Scott Rd. off Rt. 16. The first part of the trail on the flats had some ice and monorail.


The rocks at the first crossing of Stony Brook were well underwater, so I bushwhacked along the stream between the trail's two crossings. Along the way I saw this piping, perhaps associated with the old Hammond farm near the trailhead.


A cold night had fashioned some interesting ice formations.


From the trail's second crossing, I continued whacking up along the east side of Stony Brook, flowing fast and free.


The hardwood forest on this gentle slope was completely snow-free - one of the joys of spring!


There were numerous small cascades along the brook; these had been largely iced-over on my 2006 trip, and the flow was much stronger today.


Another cascade...


...and another. What a delightful upstream wander in the spring sun!


This was the nicest waterfall I saw along the brook. I wished Chris Whiton (White Mountain Images) could have been here to work his photographic magic.




This might be the overhanging ledge mentioned by Bolles on page 19 of his book:
"At one point the brook, years ago, had cut through a ledge which crossed its path diagonally. One great shoulder of rock remained, protruding from the western bank and hanging over the water, which poured into a black cavern beneath, making a whirlpool in the darkness."



Quite a ways up the brook I stopped for a leisurely lunch break in the sun, lounging on a carpet of dry beech leaves beside the brook.



I brought my copy of Bearcamp Water along and read for a while. The book can be read for free on Google Books. "The Heart of the Mountain" is Chapter 2.


A little farther upstream I came upon old markers delineating the boundary between the WMNF and a parcel owned by the University of New Hampshire.


The valley closes in farther up the brook, and I had to make several climbs up on the slope to bypass steep sidehills. On one of these I emerged briefly onto an old woods road.


I thought this could be another rock and cascade described by Bolles:
"As I neared the heart of the mountain I saw, towering above twin cascades which fell into a single pool at its feet, the rough likeness of a sphinx. It was a huge boulder, dividing the torrent by its lichen-covered mass, and lifting its frost-hewn face towards the narrow strip of sky left between the trees overarching the ravine." 
It was great fun trying to find features described by him 120 years ago!


After passing a small tributary brook tumbling down from the left, I reached the confluence of the two main branches of Stony Brook:
"Here, in the perpetual music of falling drops, where one or another of the great walls of the gorge always casts a deep shadow upon the ferns, is the heart of the mountain, the birthplace of the twilight." 


This is the bottom of the NW fork, which Bolles followed up to a "small mountain lake" which has been called Deer Wallow. He then enjoyed the views from some nearby ledges, which are completely wooded today, and descended via the Hammond Trail on Chocorua's SE ridge.


I was headed in a different direction, up to ledges on the spur to the west. I crossed the brook just below the fork on the lower log in this photo.


I bushwhacked steeply uphill along the small tributary I had passed earlier, eventually crossing it.


The woods were deciduous, but I felt the caress of many beech saplings along the way.


At 1700 ft. I hit snowy, prickly spruce woods. On went the snowshoes - glad I didn't carry them for naught. The snow was firm, allowing easy passage.


I circled to the R to briefly find more open woods and came near the headwaters of the tributary.


Old bear tracks in the snow. The beech woods in this area are noted as good bear country.


I wandered around through the spruce forest looking for a ledge I'd seen on Google Earth on the west side of the spur, and eventually found it.


As I suspected, its view was extremely limited - mainly this glimpse of a great rock slab on a knob of Mt. Paugus.


Making my way across the broad spur to the view ledges on the SE shoulder, I passed this random slab in the woods.


I passed through one area wracked by blowdown.


This was a nice stretch of oak forest.


Late in the afternoon I emerged on the view ledges. I'd been here several times before, but I always enjoy this spot looking south over the eastern lakes of New Hampshire.


A great perspective on Chocorua Lake, near which Frank Bolles had his summer home. Just under the lake a bit of Heron Pond can be seen. Bolles devoted an entire chapter, "A Lonely Lake," to this lovely little pond, which can be accessed by trails in the Frank Bolles Preserve. It's just a half-mile from the Hammond Trail trailhead. Silver Lake, Green Mountain and Ossipee Lake are seen in the distance.



View of the Ossipee Range.



A nearby ledge offered a view SW.


A zoom on Sandwich Dome, at the far end of the Sandwich Range from Chocorua.


Mt. Israel (L) and Young Mountain (R).


These ledges drop off precipitously.


Time for a brief snooze.



A ledge nearby to the east looked across to Bald Mountain, another spur of Chocorua, rising on the far side of the Stony Brook valley.


From this ledge I made a leisurely bushwhack down the beech-forested slope back to Stony Brook. Along the way I passed this Pileated Woodpecker snack bar.


There were several good bear trees in these woods.


Looking back up the slope to the lowering sun.



I came back to Stony Brook in the lower flat part of the valley and followed it down to the Hammond Trail. It had been a very interesting spring day exploring in the beloved country of Frank Bolles.


Friday, April 11, 2014


EAST OF PASSACONAWAY: 4/10/14

A typical April scenario: with temps in the 20s overnight the deep snowpack would be set up in the woods for some good bushwhacking until late morning. Then the mercury would climb towards 50 degrees and the snow would start to get punky. My plan was to go about 2 1/2 miles in on the Oliverian Brook Trail and Passaconaway Cutoff and bushwhack to  a favorite beaver bog with an impressive view of Mt. Passaconaway. Depending on what kind of snowshoe track I found on the trail, I would continue up Passaconaway Cutoff, a trail I maintain with friends through the AMC 4000-Footer Committee, to check for blowdowns, and then possibly visit either a slide or view ledge off the Square Ledge Trail for some vistas. It promised to be a bright sunny spring day, a fine time to be in the woods.

I was delighted to find a wide and well-packed snowshoe track on the Oliverian Brook Trail.  I knew a few people had been through on Sunday, but didn't know what I would find after some rain and up-and-down temperature swings. The walking was easy with Microspikes on the hard-packed track.


A very short side trip for a view of Oilverian Brook.


There's still plenty of snow in the woods, even at this junction at only 1500 ft. We won't be scraping waterbars on this trail for a while.


A bridge monorail provided a test of balance and foot placement, especially on the way back in the afternoon with snowshoes on.


I put snowshoes on for the bushwhack to the beaver bog. At mid-morning I was hardly denting the snow.


This is my fifth or sixth visit to this place, but the massive view of Mt. Passaconaway always impresses me.


Summit detail on Passaconaway. The top of the 1938 slide can be seen on the left.


There was a bit of bare ground along the edge of the bog that faces south to the sun.


The snow on the bog (which has very little open water) was quite firm, even in the warming sun. I was able to amble around the bog and enjoy views of the other surrounding peaks. In this photo Nanamocomuck Peak displays the slide that I would visit later in the day.


A profile of Square Ledge (L) and Nanamocomuck Peak (R).


The great cliff face of Square Ledge drops off on the east. The summit of Square Ledge is the little nubble on the R.


From the south edge of the bog I could look up at Hedgehog Mountain (L) and the East Ledges (R).


A zoom on the East Ledges, which have a history of rock climbing going back to the late 1920s.


A beaver lodge in the middle of the bog.


After circling the bog, I picked a spot in the sun to admire Passacaonaway for a while.


A few sounds of spring enlivened the bog: a Brown Creeper's squeaky song, the chattering of a Red Squirrel, the cheerful call of a Black-Capped Chickadee.


I didn't want to linger too long, lest the snowpack in the woods soften to the point where I would be snowshoe-postholing. I had enough of that on my recent bushwhack off the Boulder Loop Trail. A parting shot from the little ridge above the bog.


A creative crossing was needed to get across the west branch of Oliverian Brook, using the remnants of a snow bridge.


Upstream, the brook was wide open.


A sunny hardwood corridor along the Passaconaway Cutoff.


This was my first time snowshoeing the length of this trail since adopting it in 2006. Higher up, where it sidehills along the slope of Square Ledge, the heavy snowpack on the uphill side had pushed numerous hobblebush and other branches into the raised trail corridor. It will be interesting to see how this looks when the snow melts.


Near the top of the trail I came upon a blowdown that required a duck-under. I realized that it looked familiar...


....having seen it last year without snow when it was an easy walk-under.



I cut a bunch of stubs off to make it easier to go under. I thought disposing of this spruce with my little Sven saw might be a bit much for me alone. I did prepare to give it a try on the way down in the afternoon - only to discover that the wing-nut had been pulled off the saw somewhere along the way by a branch, rendering it useless.


In summer this is a fairly large ledge step along the trail. Today it was an easy snow ramp.


From this spot there was a snowpack-enhanced view north to Hedgehog Mountain.


At the junction with Square Ledge Trail at the top of the Cutoff, the better snowshoe track led west towards the Nanamocomuck slide, so I headed that way.


Bright sun and birches near the site of a Conway Lumber Company logging camp in the early 1900s.


The Square Ledge Trail passes along the base of the slide at 2800 ft. In summer, I always scramble up a short way to a ledge seat for the view. There would be no seats to find today on this steep, smooth slope of hard-frozen snow.


I worked my way up through some scrub along the fringe of the slide.


I edged my way carefully out in my MSRs to get the great view north all the way out to a freshly whitened Mt. Washington.


A closer look at Washington, rising beyond Hedgehog Mountain and Mt. Tremont.


I had a glimpse of the bog I visited in the morning.


Zoom on the Wildcats and Carters.


Looking up at the shoulder of Mt. Passaconaway from the slide.


The snow was softening in the sun, which helped me decide not to continue on the steep climb to the top of Passaconaway. Instead, I headed back down the Square Ledge Trail to visit the view ledge near the summit of Square Ledge, one of the wildest spots in the Sandwich Range.


The track leading over to Square Ledge was much rougher, with many snowshoe postholes, making for some difficult 'shoeing on the steep pitches.


The trail makes a dramatic approach alongside one of the numerous rock faces on Square Ledge.


Looking back down the trail.


I first visited a small viewpoint on the north side of the trail, with a good look up towards the Nanamocomuck-Passaconaway col.



On the other side of the trail I kicked steps in soft snow on the side of a ledge face to reach an overgrown path that leads out to the main summit view ledge.



 This path ends abruptly at a sheer drop, and the end is obscured by spruce branches - use caution!



It didn't look like anyone had been to the view ledge all winter.


It offers a view north to the Hancocks and Mt. Carrigain.


Close by to the south is the Wonalancet Hedgehog.


A bit more to the SE, Ossipee Lake is seen beyond the Paugus Pass area.


To the east, the dark mass of Mt. Paugus rises from the Oliverian Brook valley.


My favorite vista from the ledge is the reverential look up at Mt. Passaconaway, the parent peak of Square Ledge.


Typical wild terrain along the Square Ledge Trail.


A peek back at one of the rock faces of Square Ledge.


Descending along the upper Passaconaway Cutoff - great spring snowshoeing here!


The snow was getting mushy down in the lower elevation hardwoods, but the track remained intact as long as you stayed in the center. In sections alongside the brook the first signs of a monorail were developing, soon to be repeated on many other trails in the Whites. It was a great, full day snowshoe ramble east of Passaconaway, but I'm ready for some bare ground.