Monday, September 26, 2011
GENTIAN PONDS & MIDDLE MOUNTAIN: 9/21/11
On a fine sunny day I made a long loop that visited Gentian Pond and Moss or Upper Gentian Pond, two exquisite high mountain ponds, and Middle Mountain, a small ledgy peak, all in the southern part of the Mahoosuc Range. I parked on North Rd. in Shelburne across from the start of the Austin Brook Trail.
This is a unique trailhead where you enter through a wooden turnstile, a neat rustic start to the hike.
The lower part of Austin Brook Trail is nice walking on an old woods road. After a mile you come briefly beside Austin Brook, then cross it to emerge on the gravel Mill Brook Rd. There is a relocation in the works that will bypass this crossing and another on the road, where a bridge was recently taken out.
A fork in Mill Brook Rd.; this will soon be bypassed.
I meant to follow the flagging for the relocation, but started at the wrong brook crossing (oops!) and ended up following some other flagging line, then bushwhacking for quite a ways. Along the way I did find this nice little cascade and gorge on Austin Brook.
I eventually came back to Mill Brook Rd., which is also the Austin Brook Trail farther up the valley, then followed the trail as it turned left onto an older woods road.
A big logging job just concluded this summer in this privately owned commercial forestland; in one spot the skidders briefly ran up the trail. If you hike on the lower slopes of the Mahoosucs, you must expect signs of logging either new or old.
Farther up, the trail crosses a plateau at the base of the ridge, where there has been beaver activity for a number of years. This old beaver pond has gone dry.
One of the beaver openings provides this view up to cliffs on one of the many spurs of the sprawling Bald Cap Mountain complex of ridges.
The trail crosses an open area with this nice beaver pond vista to the east. Cool area out here.
Once across the beaver flats, the Austin Brook Trail abruptly launches into a steep 400-ft. climb to Gentian Pond.
At the top of the climb sits Gentian Pond Shelter, recently shored up by the AMC construction crew.
This is a room with a view, gazing south across the Androscoggin River valley to the summits of the Moriahs.
The layout for the shelter and tentsites.
The tent platforms are tucked into spruce woods up behind the shelter.
A commemorative plaque by the shelter.
A path drops down to the shore of Gentian Pond, which enjoys a rugged setting under the cliffs of another spur of Bald Cap. Beavers have raised the water level in recent years, but there's still a ledge to hang out on at the shore, close by the beaver dam at the outlet. Lucia and Marian Pychowska, intrepid AMC adventurers who explored the Bald Cap region in the 1870s, bestowed this name on the pond after gathering bottle-gentian along its shore.
There has recently been a trail reconfiguration near Gentian Pond. The Mahoosuc Trail/Appalachian Trail now bypasses the pond and shelter, and the Austin Brook Trail now extends 0.1 mi. past the shelter to this junction.
A new section of the Mahoosuc Trail, 0.2 mi. long, was cut as part of this redesign.
I climbed a half-mile up from this junction to tiny, beautiful Moss Pond, so named by the Pychowskas because it was "surrounded by beds of moss." On the USGS Shelburne quad, it is named Upper Gentian Pond.
I spent a long time lounging on a small rock seat at the shore of Moss Pond. Nestling on a high, hidden shelf at 2,530 ft., and rimmed with spiky spruces, it's as peaceful a place as you can find in the mountains. Years ago, Mike Dickerman and I spent a half-hour watching a bull moose feeding and swimming in this pond.
On the way back down to Gentian Pond, I spotted this nifty boulder in the woods.
I headed back down the Austin Brook Trail, which follows Mill Brook Rd. through some recent logging cuts with views up to several of the Bald Cap humps.
With logging concluded in this area for the foreseeable future, a number of drainage berms were made to prevent erosion on the road.
Well down the valley, I turned right onto a western branch of Mill Brook Rd., and followed it a mile to its end in a logging yard, with Middle Mountain looming ahead. To the left, after a short bushwhack around a slash pile, I followed a short connecting path to the Middle Mountain Trail. This connector is in the process of being reopened by the Shelburne Trails Club, and my bushwhacking buddy John "1HappyHiker" Compton has done some brushing on this trail, as related on his blog.
The connector led to a signed junction where I turned right onto the Middle Mountain Trail, a long-abandoned route recently restored by the Shelburne Trails Club.
After climbing easily up a woods road, this path kicked some butt, late in the afternoon, with a stiff grade up through a ledgy oak forest.
Near the top, beautiful red pines took over.
The trail emerges on the broad ledgy summit by this glacial erratic. It's technically not really the top; the 2,010-ft. summit of Middle Mountain is off to the east a bit, and the best views are over that way too.
I really liked the view of Bald Cap Peak, with its cliffs looming close by to the north.
To the NE are Mt. Success and Lary Brook Mountain.
From a ledge around the corner, a fine vista east and SE over the Androscoggin valley to Caribou Mountain, Speckled Mountain and the Royces. Little Mt. Crag is down low on the left.
Looking east to the wide-spreading ridges of Bear Mountain in the trailless eastern Mahoosucs. Green Mountain, the highest peak on the L, reportedly has a low-scrub summit with great views. Someday, hopefully... Mt. Ingalls, last week's objective, is in the foreground.
I descended the full 1.6 mi. length of the Middle Mountain Trail, a pleasant walk on old woods roads once off the steep summit cone. This trail sign is a short distance in from North Rd., on what has been called the Gates Brook woods road or Gates Brook Trail. A 15-minute walk on North Rd. brought me back to my car, without having to pull out the headlamp. This was a very interesting 12-mi. loop, with a great variety of scenery.
Sunday, September 18, 2011
THE SCUDDER TRAIL REBORN: 9/14/11
The Shelburne, NH area has a hiking tradition dating back to the late 1800s, when AMC trampers would sojourn at the Philbrook Farm Inn (which is still welcoming guests today). There has long been an extensive network of trails in Shelburne, leading to some of the small but interesting mountains at the south end of the Mahoosuc Range. However, over the years some of these trails fell into disuse, while others were obliterated by logging.
Enter the new Shelburne Trails Club (STC), which had its beginnings in 2009 and was formally organized in 2010. Over the last two years, this energetic band of local residents has re-opened several abandoned trails, and has spruced up some of the other trails in the area.
One of the trails re-opened by the STC is the Scudder Trail, which ascends 2242-ft. Mt. Ingalls. I had climbed this back in 1992, when it was previously open, and at that time it was obscure enough to almost be called a bushwhack. On a subsequent visit in 2006, it had been decimated by logging in its lower part, and was removed from the guidebook. Now it has been re-opened and re-blazed, and I joined Dick Lussier, President of the STC, for a hike up the Scudder on a hot, hazy, midsummer-like day.
The trailhead is 0.5 mi. up from North Rd. in Shelburne on the gravel Mill Brook Rd. The trail sign was adorned with a moose bone.
The first 1.3 mi. leads up an old skidder road where the woods are recovering from logging. Dick and other STC members have been working hard to keep the brush at bay in these open areas.
With the abundant sun, this area has a wealth of late summer wildflowers.
After passing a junction with a connecting trail to Mt. Cabot (the other Mt. Cabot), the Scudder Trail turns left and runs along a neat clifftop shelf, passing an excellent ledgy viewpoint. The Presidentials were smothered in clouds and haze, but there was a good look at Shelburne Moriah Mountain, seen to the south across the Androscoggin valley.
The upper half of the Scudder Trail is a gem. It meanders upward through a variety of woods, with mostly easy grades and occasional steep pitches to keep you honest. There are fine conifer stands...
...brushy blueberry patches...
...leafy beech woods...
...and more outlook ledges. The footway is not yet well-worn in some places, but the trail is well-marked with orange blazes that can readily be followed with a little extra attention through the many twists and turns.
One ledge just to the right of the trail offers a view east to Bear Mountain, a high trailless peak in the eastern Mahoosucs.
A cozy little col along the ridge of Mt. Ingalls.
One section of trail looped to the left over some more ledges, following cairns from the original route, which was laid out in the 1950s. Dick related that this trail was cut by Seth Briggs - who in his 90s still works on Philbrook Farm area trails - and a Mr. Scudder, because Mrs. Scudder wanted a trail up to the ledges she could see from the valley.
Just before the summit, we took a lunch break at an expansive ledgy area which, on a clear day, would have a fine view of the Presidentials. This photo is underexposed so that at least some of the mountains would show up through the haze.
The true summit, marked by a slightly vandalized sign, is wooded.
The trail continues another 0.1 mi. to a tiny pond secluded in the forest, which, as Dick told the story, was unofficially named after a local resident perhaps 20 years ago. The name has made it onto at least one trail map.
A quiet place, indeed.
Heading back across the near-summit ledges, with the Royces on the horizon.
A late afternoon vista back at the lowest outlook ledge.
We made a loop back over 1512-ft. Mt. Cabot. A woodworker member has made beautiful signs for the STC.
A little way down from the summit of Cabot on the Blue Trail, a spur drops to a ledge with a view of Bear Mountain beyond a shoulder of Mt. Ingalls.
Speaking of bears, one had left its calling card at the summit.
This old foundation is located at the summit of Mt. Cabot. Dick noted that there was once a shelter here, used by guests of the Philbrook Farm Inn. Apparently they would spend the night here and a guide would cook up breakfast for them in the morning. He also said that the currently overgrown view towards the Presidentials near the summit of Cabot would soon be cleared out by the STC. We then descended the pleasant Red Trail off Cabot, and followed a connector back to the Yellow Trail, which in turn took us back to the Scudder Trail near the trailhead. This was a most interesting and enjoyable day - thanks to Dick and his fellow STC members for all their good work on the Shelburne trails!