Saturday, February 27, 2010


When we only have an hour or two, the two-mile loop around The Flume and The Pool in Franconia Notch State Park is one of our favorite winter treks. In its short distance there's a wonderful variety of scenery, and there are enough ups and downs for a bit of a workout. And, it being the off-season, admission is free! There is plenty of plowed parking at the Flume Visitor Center off Rt. 3 (or Exit 34A off I-93).

We went there the day after the massive storm that delivered a heavy wind-driven rain to the western valleys and dumped heaps of snow at the higher elevations; this was the same storm whose fierce winds knocked down countless trees and left hundreds of thousands of NH residents without power. At The Flume there was only a thin layer - maybe two inches - of wet snow atop the solid track tramped out by many previous winter visitors. Off track, the snow was very mushy posthole material. MSR snowshoes were ideal for the springlike conditions on the track.

After descending to cross the Flume Covered Bridge, we climbed past partly open, sheet-like cascades on Flume Brook.

We ascended to the top of The Flume, where a short side descent provided a closeup view of Avalanche Falls.

Many ice formations adorn the walls of The Flume in winter.

From the top of The Flume we followed the "Ridge Path" through a fine northern hardwood forest, with the ridges of South Kinsman glimpsed through the trees.

Along the descent to The Pool, I made a side trip down to view the Liberty Cascades, using the untracked snow beside the icy staircase.

The cliff on the west side of The Pool had its own ice sculpture.

The Sentinel Pine Bridge provides a lofty passage over the Pemigewasset River.

The view from the bridge, looking downstream over The Pool; the lower part of Hardwood Ridge is in the distance.

Ice formations on the east cliff of The Pool.

A cleared view up to Mt. Liberty is one of the highlights of the loop.

From the edge of the opening you get a peek N to Little Haystack, on the far L of the picture.

The meander back towards the Visitor Center leads past a number of large glacial boulders.

We spent a leisurely hour and forty minutes ambling around the loop. It's highly recommended if you're looking for an easy, rewarding outing in the snow.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


On the day after Franconia skiing ace Bode Miller won a gold in the super combined at the Winter Olympics, it seemed appropriate to Carol and me that we go for a hike in his neck of the woods. On our way to the trailhead for the Coppermine Trail to Bridal Veil Falls, there was plenty of civic pride on display in Franconia village.

For the Coppermine Trail, you park on Coppermine Road just off Rt. 116 and walk up the road for 0.4 mile, where a hiker sign directs you into the woods.

After walking up an old woods road for a ways, you come to a sign for the trail and the destination.

A recent light snowfall gave the woods a wintry look they have lacked of late at lower elevations.

At the one-mile mark, we passed through a beautiful hemlock glade. Here the trail first comes by Coppermine Brook, and if you know where to look, in summer, you can find the plaque the actress Bette Davis had placed on a rock in memory of her husband Arthur Farnsworth. Davis was a frequent visitor to Sugar Hill and premiered one of her movies in nearby Littleton. She met Farnsworth at the inn where she was staying and, the story goes, intentionally got lost on this trail so he would come looking for her. Romance blossomed, they were married, but he died a couple of years later under what some have said were mysterious circumstances.

Farther along there's a spot where you can get a long look up the brook.

My favorite section of the trail is an open hardwood area about 2/3 of the way in.

Some skiers had been taking advantage of these open glades. Surprisingly, there was 8 inches of nice powder atop a firm base in here.

At 2.3 miles you cross Coppermine Brook on a footbridge.

Just beyond the bridge an old, unmaintained ski trail climbs steeply up to the right, then swings left up the valley.

This old route is a pathway to adventure into the remote upper part of this beautiful valley. In 2008, a pretty big snow winter, Carol and I snowshoed through deep powder partway up this trail.

Later that winter John Compton and I went farther up the old trail, eventually following it across the brook, and bushwhacked to a random ledge with a unique view up to the imposing west face of Cannon Mountain.

Across the valley we spotted a prominent slide between the Northeast and Middle Cannon Balls.

We bushwhacked across to the base of the slide, a beautiful snowy swath that is sometimes run by hardcore backcountry skiers.

On our hike this Monday, Carol and I didn't have time for any extra exploration, so we continued up the Coppermine Trail to the lean-to near the falls.

Soon we could see ahead to the the frozen falls and its accompanying necklace of beautiful ice sculptures.

We dug in our Microspikes to climb a ramp of snow-over-ice, gaining access to the upper amphitheatre of Bridal Veil.

Some of the ice was a cool shade of blue.

The snowy platform at the base of the main falls is one of the most beautiful places to be in the winter mountains, with towering ice formations surrounding you on three sides. The falls itself is the cauliflower-like formation on the left.

A neat cave below the falls. The ice sounded hollow underfoot as we approached the cave, so we backed off and admired it from a few feet away.

This great ice cliff is on the ravine wall just left (north) of the falls.

Another neat ice sculpture at Bridal Veil. We had the place to ourselves during our half-hour stay there, and only met a handful of folks on the way down.

I had carried my snowshoes and used them to follow some tracks down the brookbed for about 0.1 mile below the shelter.

Down in the hardwood section I rambled off-trail to play in the powder. This is one of our favorite winter hikes, an easy five miler with varied woods and unparalleled icy beauty at the falls.

Friday, February 19, 2010

THE BOWL: 2/18/10

One of the treasures of the Sandwich Range - and indeed of all the White Mountains - is the glacial cirque enclosed by Mt. Whiteface, Mt. Passaconaway and the Wonalancet Range, known as The Bowl. This deep valley shows no signs of logging, ever, and its floor, at an elevation of 2000-2400 ft., is home to a large stand of old growth hardwoods. Credit for saving this tract from logging in the early 1900s goes to Kate Sleeper Walden and others from the Wonalancet Out Door Club. The Bowl, seen here from the uppermost outlook on the Blueberry Ledge Trail on Mt. Whiteface, is now protected as a Research Natural Area within the Sandwich Range Wilderness. Over the years a number of research projects have been conducted in this unique area.

Another good view of The Bowl is found at an outlook along the Rollins Trail, on the northernmost hump of Whiteface.
I've made several journeys into The Bowl, always in winter, when bushwhacking impact is minimal and there would be no disturbance of research projects. A favorite objective is a ledge on the sidewall with a more intimate view over the valley. In January 1998 I visited this spot with Mike Dickerman, Creston Ruiter and Roger Doucette just three days before the epochal ice storm that devastated parts of the Northeast. When the storm hit we feared for the hardwoods on the floor of The Bowl. Though there was significant damage on the middle elevations of the Dicey's Mill Trail,the old trees in the valley came through relatively unscathed.

Thursday was a good day for a return to The Bowl - the weather was foggy/flurrying in the northern mountains, but there was some sunshine to the south. Visiting Wonalancet in winter requires careful navigation over frost-heaved roads, but once you get to the Ferncroft trailhead - with its idyllic view up to Mts. Whiteface and Wonalancet - it all seems worthwhile.

The Dicey's Mill Trail was bareboot material, an inch or two of new wet snow atop a cement-like track. The temp was near 40, and this patch of bare ground added to the spring-like feel.

Above the climb of the "S-curve," the Dicey's Mill Trail passes through fine northern hardwood forest. The wind was roaring through the valley, but there was bright sun and a blue sky.

A couple of miles in I donned my snowshoes and left the trail, heading NW up to the floor of The Bowl. Some of the hardwoods in here are reputed to be 250 years old.

The experts say that one sign of old growth hardwood is a gnarled crown.

This gorgeous open glade is partway up the valley floor.

In this lower part of the valley the snow was mostly firm, making for great snowshoeing. Farther up the snow was softer and the going more laborious.

An old bear tree.

The valley is drained by the Wonalancet River, which is really a brook. It never seems to freeze well, and in this up-and-down winter it is wide-open, with its mossy rocks on display.

In addition to rambling along the floor of the valley, I wanted to have a look at an ice cliff on a slide along the flank of Mt. Whiteface, which I had admired from below on my first Bowl journey in 1996. This time I aimed to get up higher along the slide for a view. The slide can be seen in the lower center of this view of Whiteface from Hibbard Mtn. on the Wonalancet Range Trail.
I found the lower bed of the slide track/brook and followed it up to the west.

Higher up I followed some moose tracks through deep soft snow and hobblebush.

I came to a major drainage fork where another slide comes down from the NW.

An icy ramp led up towards the ice cliff. On my 1996 visit this had a deep snow cover and I was able to snowshoe right up the brookbed. Only full crampons and ice axe would do for this today, neither of which I had with me. So I snowshoed slowly up through the woods beside the slide.

The ice cliff!

On the north side was a rock overhang with its own ice formation.

I struggled up the steep slope on the north side, gaining a side view partway up.

Through the trees there was a glimpse of Mt. Passaconaway and the headwall of The Bowl.

As I worked my way up, I came to the edge of a narrow parallel slide a short distance north of the main slide.

The snow was deep and soft in here, and there was some thick spruce, one of which gave me a good whack in the eye.

I wanted to get to the top of the lower open part of the main slide, but a small band of ice-draped ledge extended through the woods between the two icy slides. Without crampons and ice axe there was no way to continue up, and I am not a climber anyway. So I settled for an open spot atop the main ice cliff, where I could look up at the top of the open slide.

I carefully worked down to a peek over the crest of the ice cliff.

Here there was a view east over the valley to Hibbard Mtn., with Wonalancet Hedgehog peering over on the left.

I found a safe flat spot to sit on my pack for a late lunch. When I first arrived I hoped to get out to the flat bulge at the top of the picture, but there was glare water ice under a couple of inches of snow. No way!

A slow, careful descent through the steep woods got me back to the base of the ice cliff.

A closeup of the icy ramp below the cliff.

Nice open woods at the base of the slide.

A big rock and big trees.

Boulders strewn in the slide track.

An Ent-moot in The Bowl?

A particularly resplendent sugar maple next to a rock where I took a snack break.

Tracks on the valley floor. Fisher?

An open corridor through the hardwoods.

A glimpse up to the craggy south peak of Whiteface.

The Wonalancet River flows down through The Bowl, with a hint of spring in the air - in mid-February!

Information about The Bowl is found in two articles from the Wonalancet Out Door Club newsletter. Go to, click on "WODC Library," then on "WODC Newsletter." The May 1997 issue has an informative article on The Bowl by the late George Zink, known as "The Father of the Sandwich Range Wilderness." The November 2000 issue has an interesting article by Chris Conrod entitled "Old Trees in a Young Forest."