LANDING CAMP TRAIL: 8/13/10
To truly finish my "redlining" of all the trails described in the 28th (2007) edition of the AMC White Mountain Guide, I needed to return to the little-used Landing Camp Trail in the Kilkenny region of the WMNF. In 2006 I had walked this trail late on a November afternoon, encountering extremely swampy footing and dozens of blowdowns. With dusk approaching, I came to a confusing divergence of paths that I thought might be where the Landing Camp Trail ended at the T-junction with the abandoned Upper Ammonoosuc Trail. Upon later study of maps and Google Earth in the comfort of home, I determined that I had probably stopped about 0.1 to 0.2 mile short of the end of the trail.
So I had to go back. Happily, my brother Drew was up for a visit and readily agreed to accompany me, despite my warnings that it could be a long drive for a fairly unrewarding trek.
I was correct on one count and wrong on another. I had, indeed, missed the last 0.2+ mile of the trail. But though the trail was very wet (but not as bad as it had been that November), the Forest Service had removed the blowdowns, and on a partly sunny, bug-free summer day this turned out to be an extremely interesting and rewarding hike, with a real surprise at the end.
Drew wheeled us up through Berlin and out to the Kilkenny, and we headed down the east leg of the long, well-maintained Bog Dam Road. We missed the trailhead as I was checking mileage in the guidebook just as we drove by, and on our third try we spotted the small sign at the edge of the woods. We parked in a pulloff 40 yards N of the trailhead.
Another sign explained the situation with the trails inside the Bog Dam Road loop.
The first 0.4 mile of the trail descended gradually through nice hardwood forest, with a bit of mildly muddy footing.
There was a nice feeling of remoteness out here. We were the only hikers on the trail this morning, and perhaps for a while before that.
At the bottom of the easy descent the trail swung R through the brushy clearing of Camp 18, a logging camp associated with the river drive logging on the east (main) branch of the Upper Ammonoosuc River, perhaps 100 years ago.
Just beyond the camp clearing was the first of a number of very mucky spots on the trail. Even in a very dry summer, your boots will get muddy on Landing Camp. Here we were able to balance on logs and old bog bridges that had their own mini-gardens growing atop them.
The trail was blazed (in yellow), and in the drier areas the footway was easy to follow, though it was obscured by annual growth in a quite a few other places. Care is required to follow it. Very wild country out here. In this picture is one of the many blowdowns cut out by the Forest Service and/or adopter since my 2006 visit.
After a crossing of a small brook (which was troublesome in 2006, but an easy stepover this day), the trail led through tall Joe-pye-weed....
...and then a field of bracken ferns.
About a mile in, the trail entered a desolate area of blowdown-ravaged spruces. North Weeks can be glimpsed through the trees.
For about 0.1 mile the trail followed what seemed to be an old logging road through a very swampy area. In 2006 the trail was so wet here that I bushwhacked parallel to it through dense woods on the side. Today we were able to stay on the trail, though a few steps were in boot-sucking mud. There was little to no evident footway in this stretch, but the corridor was obvious.
Beyond the mucky stretch we followed the trail up and over a dry, spruce-clad knoll.
After a gentle descent, with peeks out to a vast swamp along the Upper Ammonoosuc River to the L, we arrived at the spot, 1.7 miles in, where I had turned around in 2006. The beaten path diverging L that had confused me back then was still there, but had been blocked with branches.
Here the Landing Camp Trail turned R. Looking down this corridor in 2006, the route was blocked by numerous chest-high blowdowns. On the return trip it was overgrown and obscure in this stretch, but only three recent step-over blowdowns remained. We turned R and followed this last section of the Landing Camp Trail.
Beyond the brushy stretch the trail wound through a beautiful spruce grove, which was carpeted with emerald moss off to the side.
After one more somewhat confusing turn to the R, in 120 yards we arrived at an obvious T-junction with the abandoned Upper Ammonoosuc Trail. The last section of redlining had been done!
Drew did a visual showing that this was, indeed, the long-sought T-junction.
From the maps, we knew the Upper Ammonoosuc River was a short distance to the R along the obvious old footway of the Upper Ammonoosuc Trail.
What we didn't know was that 70 yards of easy walking would bring us to one of the most unusual and beautiful spots along the trails of the Whites - an open meadow, perhaps several acres in area, on the bank of the river.
From the edge of the bank we could look upstream to the wild peaks of Mt. Weeks, which are traversed by the Kilkenny Ridge Trail - North Weeks on the R and Middle Weeks on the L.
A zoom on North Weeks, with its prominent E knob (hopefully a future bushwhack destination) looking higher than the main summit.
Mt. Cabot and its extensive talus slope could be seen peeking over the trees to the NW.
Looking downstream along the Upper Ammonoosuc - an idyllic North Country setting under the summer sun.
In addition to the views and the wildflowers, there were lots of interesting things in the meadow, including an anthill swarming with red ants...
...a crisscrossing network of animal paths...
...several flattened areas that appeared to be moose beds...
...and what we figured was an otter slide leading down to the water. The narrow paths through the grass and goldenrod may have been made by otters as well.
The river was shallow and sluggish here.
What a wonderful spot! We enjoyed the area so much that we spent well over an hour here and cancelled plans for a second hike nearby.
We thought we could discern the route of the Upper Ammonoosuc Trail across the meadow, but beyond the clearing it descended slightly to a flooded area amidst an alder thicket. In this photo all three Weeks peaks can be seen - South Weeks just peers over on the L.
A parting shot looking up the river.
On our way out of the clearing we noticed a sled runner someone had leaned up against a dead tree. We found a few more pieces of ironware in the woods, and Drew discovered a cellar hole-like depression towards the back of the meadow. This seemed like a natural riparian/floodplain meadow, but perhaps it was also a logging camp site.
On the way back we caught a glimpse of the Crescent Range through the trees.
Looking into the desolate spruce woods area. Lots of blowdown hidden in there.
A beautiful stretch of woods along the trail. Right about here we heard the crack of a branch in the woods, most likely a moose whose tracks we had been following.
Moose and (our) boot tracks in the mud.
Balancing across the bog bridge gardens.
Drew and I agreed that this was one of the most interesting and unusual hikes we had ever done. What a delightful surprise this trail, and especially the beautiful spot at the end, turned out to be after what I had deemed a miserable experience here in 2006. It was a great way to truly complete my redlining quest, and extra special to do it in the company of my brother. Woo-hoo!