Thursday, June 18, 2009


Perhaps the least known of the glacial cirques in the Presidential Range is the trailless, wooded Bumpus Basin on the north side of Mt. Madison, between Howker Ridge and Gordon Ridge. It can be seen as a deep hollow from the top of the big hill on Route 2 in Randolph.

Unlike some of the other cirques, there are few places where you can get a view into it from a trail. The highest Howk on the Randolph Mountain Club's Howker Ridge Trail, which is a wonderful viewpoint all around, looks down into the lower part of Bumpus Basin.

A few years ago I bushwhacked partway up Gordon Ridge on the west side of Bumpus, seeking an obscure ledge I'd seen from the Howks. The ledge turned out to be inaccessible, but from a somewhat precarious spot above it there was a vista over the flat floor of the cirque.

An exploration onto that floor had been on the agenda for both John Compton and me for some time. Part of the intrigue was the chance of finding an old logging camp that we had heard a couple of reports about. Other possible attractions included several waterfalls on Bumpus Brook (mentioned in the RMC Randolph Paths guidebook) and what appeared to be a semi-open blowdown or boggy area on the flat floor of the basin.

John had made an exploratory foray into Bumpus a few days earlier. He didn't find the camp, but he did come home with a fine moose antler. On the day of the hike described here, we had originally planned to do a loop over Mt. Madison by various trails, but due to unforeseen circumstances I wasn't able to start until noon, so we cancelled that plan and agreed to do our own things. My interest had been piqued by John's report, and I felt like being immersed in the forest on this partly sunny day, so I headed over to the Howker Ridge Trail parking area at Randolph East. I was not surprised to see John's car there - he had unfinished business in Bumpus Basin!

Before heading in, I walked back up the road for a look at Howker Ridge and Mt. Madison.

A crack o' noon start is feasible for many hikes during the luxurious long days of June.

The lower mile of Howker Ridge Trail is very entertaining once it comes alongside Bumpus Brook. There are several cascades in here, including Stairs Fall, which drops in from a side stream.

Just beyond here the trail leaves private land and enters the National Forest.

Next up is a gorge with a colorful name. Hard to get a picture of it unless you drop down a very steep side path.

A nice hardwood corridor leads up to Hitchcock Fall, a mile from the road.

This is more of a cascade tumbling through a jumble of rocks rather than a waterfall, but is a pretty spot deep in the forest.

The bushwhacking began here, following up along the west side of the brook. Near the brook the terrain was very rough. I made some use of an old logging road higher up on the slope. On my third foray down to the stream somewhere above Hitchcock Fall, a steep descent earned me a view of this waterfall. Was this the Muscanigra Fall mentioned in the RMC guide?

When the logging road petered out, I whacked up the valley through mostly open woods, with an ample understory of hobblebush and striped maple.

There were some large old trees in here, including this yellow birch.

Farther up the valley, I came upon a nice moose path. We believe the moose have been following the route of the old Bumpus Basin Trail. This mysterious route went partway up the valley, then swung up to meet the Watson Path on Gordon Ridge. It appeared in only one edition of the AMC White Mountain Guide (1940) and then vanished. In that edition it was noted that this route may have approximated that of one of the earliest Presidential Range paths, cut by guide James Gordon around 1860.

The moose path mostly faded away in an area of beautiful white birches. Farther along, I saw an open birch glade to the right. Standing there was my friend John! I hailed him and asked him if he'd found the camp. "This is it," he replied. Indeed, the weedy clearing was similar to many of the old camp sites seen in the Pemi Wilderness.

John pointed out some artifacts he had found in his half-hour stay there, including part of a woodstove and an old coffeepot. Of course we left these items where we found them. It is both illegal and unconscionable to remove artifacts from the WMNF.

According to the book Randolph Old and New by George N. Cross, there was intensive logging on the Northern Peaks for several years starting about 1904. The heaviest cutting occurred at the middle elevations, primarily for spruce. In 1910 the Randolph Mountain Club ( was founded to restore many of the trails on the Northern Peaks that had been obliterated by the logging. Today the RMC maintains over 100 miles of trail plus two cabins and two lean-tos. They also publish an excellent newsletter with many interesting historical articles.

Turns out John and I had followed more or less the same route up, and we had both seen the same waterfall. It didn't take much to persaude John to join me on a probe into the floor of the valley. We slowly made our way upward, passing from birches into somewhat thicker conifer areas. Farther along there were some gorgeous fern glades.

In one of them was a magnificent spruce tree surrounded by its own fern garden.

Eventually we made our way over rough terrain down to a much-diminished Bumpus Brook on the floor of the basin.

We headed up the gentle floor through some fine open birch woods and another fern glade, where Gordon Ridge could be seen looming above.

Above here we encountered some thicker conifer whacking. In many places the brook was choked with blowdown.

We reached our turnaround point at around 3100 feet - an open, mossy reach of Bumpus Brook. Nice feeling of remoteness here.

After a late lunch break, we headed back down the floor of the valley, still hoping to find that semi-open spot where we might get a peek up at the headwall. Beyond the birches, the going became nasty. In places there was a frightful mess of blowdown and young conifers. When I set out today to immerse myself in the forest, this total immersion was not exactly what I had in mind.

In this territory the easiest going was found on the brook itself.

We saw an area of standing dead snags off to the east, but there was a very dense undersory beneath. It didn't seem worth the intense effort that would be required to get out there. So we instead made our way up away from the brook for better going. On the way back we visited the old camp site again. John pointed out this unusual plant. When he posted it on Views from the Top, Rick B. identified it as cow parsnip. Apparently this plant had its uses as a salve for bruises and sores, which would be fairly common in a lumber camp. A remedy for sore muscles was Minard's Liniment - John spotted an old bottle bearing this name. This product is still made today by a Canadian company.

On the way down we made use of the moose path/old trail/logging road as far as we could.

Along the way there were some nice displays of clintonia (bluebead lily) blooms.

At John's suggestion, we dropped down to cross Bumpus Brook, then whacked up through ledgy spruce terrain to meet the Howker Ridge Trail below the overgrown spot known as Blueberry Ledge. (If you're going up Howker Ridge Trail, don't expect any views from this promising-sounding spot - it is fully overgrown.) On the way up I found one peek up at Mt. Madison through a break in the trees.

This lower part of Howker Ridge is clad in a fine spruce forest. It's one of my favorite stretches of trail in the Presidentials.

Near the bottom of a fairly steep descent we followed a side path to a rock chasm called the "Bear Pit." This is one of many natural curiosities found along the great network of RMC trails. We figured it's about 20 feet deep.

From here there was a short, steep descent to the crossing of Bumpus Brook at Hitchcock Fall.
We strolled down the lower scenic mile and made it out with an hour of daylight to spare.


  1. Steve, your narrative and photos do a marvelous job of capturing the flavor of our unexpected hike together exploring the wild & wonderful Bumpus Basin.


  2. Steve,
    Great story. Especially enjoyed the tidbit about the muscle liniment still being made today in Canada. Now June wants to visit Bumpus Basin in addition to every where else we have to visit. The Queen of Rust never rests!