Friday, February 12, 2010


Thursday was a strange one for cloud cover. To the north and west, heavy cloudbanks smothered the peaks. To the south and east, brilliant blue skies ruled the day. My original plan was to do some exploring in the Coppermine Brook valley above Bridal Veil Falls, but north of Franconia Notch it was so gloomy that I immediately made a U-turn, headed back to the south, and drove over the Kanc Highway into the sun. While driving I formulated a plan to re-visit a favorite ledge on the west flank of Mt. Chocorua, a huge granite slab that overhangs the upper valley of Paugus Brook.

I was amazed to find the Champney Falls parking lot empty at 11 am on a gorgeous sunny day.

After tiptoeing across the icy bridge over Twin Brook, I veered right onto the Bolles Trail. Ahead, the Champney Falls Trail was packed hard as concrete (and likely icy in the hemlock areas).

The Bolles Trail had a nice smooth snowshoe track, which I followed to the first crossing of Twin Brook at 0.7 mile.

The ice on the brook looked hollow in places, and with 9 more crossings ahead on this trail, I decided it would be too time consuming. Plan B was activated - a short bushwhack to the old Bolles Snowmobile Trail, which parallels the hiking trail upslope to the east and avoids all but the last brook crossing. This trail is accurately shown on the WODC Sandwich Range trail map.

I thought that the snow in the woods would be very firm following the late January rain/thaw and subsequent deep freeze. Not so on these north-facing slopes. The snow was soft and the going was harder than anticipated. And it turns out that the snowmobile trail was a Bullwinkle Boulevard - nearly the entire length of it was chewed up by moose postholes, making for awkward snowshoeing.

When Carol and I did this trek in 1999, this trail had a packed snowmobile track, and we actually encountered a quartet of adventurous snowmobilers on it. It seems the trail has seen no use in recent years, as many sections are overgrown with hobblebush and other obstacles.

I was glad to get back to the hiking trail at the last brook crossing, and begin the climb to the height-of-land.

Here the snow was soft and drifted; the previous snowshoers had not come this far.

The trail leveled out an a 2200-ft. plateau, the broad ridge that joins Mt. Chocorua with Mt. Paugus.

Here I left the trail to bushwhack east to the ledge, soon passing a small open swamp.

This little ridge was unrelievedly brushy. The woods in this area were badly damaged by the 1998 ice storm, and the undergrowth flourished under the opened canopy. Thus the whacking is considerably more difficult than it was a decade ago.

Through the screen of branches I had a glimpse of my objective.

The sun was brilliant and the snow more firm as I climbed up through brushy, rocky terrain.

Just above the main ledge I enjoyed the first views, looking west at Mt. Passaconaway peering over the north ridge of Mt. Paugus.

A closeup of the cliffs on the N spur of Paugus.

These cliffs, in turn, offer a fine broadside view of Mt. Chocorua and the Three Sisters.

From today's ledge there is normally a good view N to Mts. Hancock and Carrigain, with Green's Cliff below. That cloudbank to the N was hanging tough and persisted all day long.

Out onto the main ledge, with its unique view down into the upper valley of Paugus Brook. The massive ridge of Mt. Paugus guards the western flank of the valley. A nice feeling of remoteness. I figured this was my seventh visit here. Over the years I've shared it individually with Carol, my nephew Mike, and friends Creston and Keith. This was my most difficult trip there, due to the soft snow and especially the new brushy growth in the wake of the ice storm.

From here you can see the "P" neighbors of the Sandwich Range - Paugus and Passaconaway.

A short distance E there is an opening looking up at the headwall of the Paugus Brook valley, with First Sister and the peak of Chocorua poking above.

The bald dome of First Sister.

The bare crags of Chocorua.

Then it was time to relax in the sun on the bare granite slab. How often can you do this is February?

Perhaps this ledge was bared by the major forest fire that burned the area between Chocorua and Paugus in 1915, in the aftermath of heavy logging.

After an hour's sojourn it was time to head for home. I climbed N a little ways up the ridge, finding a patch of sun-exposed bare ground in the woods.

For a short distance there was some nice open whacking through conifers.

I came across a tall, random red pine - pretty high up (2400 ft.) for that tree.

An open birch glade.

A moose convention hall.

I had planned to continue along the ridgecrest, but got careless and didn't pull out the map and compass until I was down off the crest a bit. So I opted for a direct descent back to the Twin Brook valley. It was slow going with soft snow and an endless haze of hobblebush. This shrub, named for its ability to hobble horses, is equally adept at snagging a snowshoe, occasionally evoking a sulfurous oath from the wielder of said snowshoe.

I was happy to get back to the old snowmobile trail, which still has some markers along its route.

A view of Twin Brook and its shaky ice back down on the Bolles (hiking) Trail. I did cross over the brook to bypass the ice-topped bridge just before the parking lot.


  1. That looks like a great little ledge, Steve. I've looked at those N. Spur cliffs a few times from Chocorua and wondered about the view from there - didn't realize there was such a nice view from the east side of the Bolles trail as well. Lots of open ledges out in that area begging to be explored! :)

  2. That is a fun area to explore - once a friend and I visited 12 outlook ledges on both sides of the Paugus Brook valley during a long, leisurely spring day.