BOULDER LOOP TRAIL & BEYOND: 3/9/11
A winter rainstorm followed by cold temperatures puts at least a temporary end to powder snowshoeing, and creates hard-packed conditions on well-used trails. For bushwhacking enthusiasts, this weather pattern has the potential to set up excellent firm snow conditions for off-trail travel. Keith D'Alessandro, who can certainly be described as an avid bushwhacker, had a midweek day free, so we agreed to hike the Boulder Loop Trail for a moderate mile-and-a-half to its clifftop viewpoint, then wander off-trail to some of the many other ledges sprinkled across the lower southern slopes of the Moat Range.
On a bright sunny morning we parked in the winter lot just off the Kanc Highway. Keith put booties and a long tether on Katahdin, his friendly Chocolate Lab, and we set off through the Albany Covered Bridge, which spans the Swift River.
The view upstream from the bridge reveals the Painted Cliffs and Table Mountain.
After a short walk up Passaconaway Road, we turned L onto the Boulder Loop Trail. The old snowshoe track was rock-solid, ideal for Microspiking.
We turned L at the loop junction and climbed under a rock face.
After 0.8 mi. of moderate climbing we reached the first outlook area, on top of what rock climbers call the "Sundown Ledges - Main Cliff." From the edge we could look down on a jumble of boulders at the base of the cliff.
Farther along we traversed a fine sunny hardwood stand.
The trail also passed through some attractive hemlock groves.
At the high point of the trail we turned R onto the view spur path and quickly gained our first look across the Swift River valley to the Sandwich Range.
The spur path was a pleasant walk across sunny ledges and between gnarled oaks.
At the end of the spur path we were pleased to find an expanse of bare rock at the brink of the "Far Cliff." With warm sun and light wind, a long break was in order.
Mt. Passaconaway is an impressive sight from this perspective. Mt. Whiteface is to its L and the Sleepers and Hedgehog Mountain to its R. Back in 2006 Keith and I enjoyed a spring bushwhack to the prominent slide seen on Passaconaway. Naturally, it had a good view looking east.
To the south Chocorua's horn peered over its broad-spreading northern spurs.
Katahdin displays his rear booties.
After our lengthy break, time to strap on the snowshoes.
Before heading off-trail, we went a little farther along the ledges for a view of South (in back on the R) and Middle Moat.
From here we could look up at the ledges on the knob above Boulder Loop, our first objective off-trail.
Heading back along the spur trail, which leads through a little rocky slot.
From the junction where the spur meets the main trail, we bushwhacked northward on firm snow, weaving our way through spruces to the upper ledges. Looking east, we could see the Moat outlier known as Haystack, itself an interesting bushwhack objective.
Looking at Chocorua beyond the ledges on the Boulder Loop Trail spur.
From the upper ledges we headed back into the woods, crossing a flat wooded hump and then this hardwood saddle. A bear tree can be seen on the R.
On the next hump there were numerous deep postholes left by a meandering moose.
We descended a short distance to our next objective...
...the prize ledge of the day, with a vast view over the Swift River valley to the Sandwich Range. In the center of the photo are snowy slabs that rise above Blackberry Crossing Campground.
Looking west to Bear Mountain beyond the Rainbow Slabs and the Bear Mountain Slab.
The eastern part of the Sandwich Range: Chocorua, Paugus and Passaconaway. While enjoying these views, we were startled by the sudden appearance of a huge U.S. Air Force plane heading up the valley well below our 1,900-foot elevation. For such a big aircraft (perhaps a Hercules C-130 transport), it was amazingly quiet. It floated by slowly, as if underwater, veered far out over the valley, gained altitude, and vanished behind the dome of East Sleeper. We looked at each other and said, did we really see that? Neither of us was quick-witted enough to get our camera out in time to capture the scene.
After a sojourn on this fantastic ledge perch, we dropped off its side into the woods and headed down a small ridge, with a glimpse back up to the ledge from below.
Much of the ridge was cloaked in a neat oak forest, with more views appearing from time to time.
Great open whackin'.
We passed behind the edge of what climbers call the "Outback Cliff." In places the snow was almost all melted off.
We descended a great stretch of open ledges.
Below these there was one more ledge with a grand vista of valley and mountains. From here it was a straightforward snowshoe descent through mostly hardwoods back to the floor of the valley. On the lower slopes we passed some orange slashes on trees marking future timber cuts in the Forest Service's Northeast Swift project.
At the bottom we emerged on the Deer Brook Road, which parallels the Swift River. In this spot a small brook had surged down the road during the recent three-inch rainfall, carving a channel through the snowpack. An easy half-mile walk back to the covered bridge completed a very enjoyable four-mile loop on the southern slopes of the Moats.