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.
...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.
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.