Friday, March 26, 2010


Cold overnight temperatures promised to set up some firm snow for bushwhacking. I wasn't able to get going early enough to join John Compton on his trek into the Ethan/Shoal Pond area, so I opted for an exploration close to home in the beautiful valley of Flume Brook, which in its upper elevations opens out in a large bowl between Mt. Liberty and Mt. Flume. I had visited some crags on the south ridge of Liberty on a couple of previous trips. Today's objective was to reach one of the open talus slopes high up on the east side of that south ridge of Liberty, where there would be an "up close and personal" look at Mt. Flume. This SE-facing opening would have good sun exposure and be protected from the day's predicted cold NW winds.

Access to the Flume Brook valley is provided by the lower 2 1/2 miles of the Flume Slide Trail which, unlike its steep and nasty upper section, is a very pleasant valley ramble. To save the roundabout walk up the bike path and then back along the lower Liberty Spring Trail, I opted to make the hardwood bushwhack from the top of the Flume up to the trail at a point partway into the valley. Though the temperature was only in the twenties, it looked like spring as I descended the bare road to the Flume Covered Bridge.

I made a short side trip to look at Avalanche Falls, in full flow.

It was a pleasant hardwood whack northward from the top of the Flume to the Flume Slide Trail. Much of the way the ground was bare except for a slight overnight dusting. There are some large old sugar maples, yellow birches and beeches in these woods.

Above 2000 feet there was crusty snow, time to put on the snowshoes.

I joined the blue-blazed Flume Slide Trail where it runs through open hardwoods with a south-facing aspect. The trail offered a mix of hard-packed monorail, bare ground, and crusty track.

After wading across two small tributary brooks (the snowshoes took a beating today), I started whacking across the slope at the base of Mt. Liberty's south ridge. I soon rose into the beautiful birch forest that carpets this area, which was burned in a 1908 forest fire. At the start the snow was firm, providing easy going through these open sun-drenched woods.

But as I rose higher, the slope steepened and the spring sun strengthened. As I made a long sidehill traverse, the snow began turning to mush. My visions of easy sidewalk-type snow conditions were toast. This bushwhack was going to entail some work.

Slow progress was made, up and across through the birches, with Flume's snowy face glimpsed through the trees. As I turned the corner around the ridge, I hoped the snow would be firmer. For the most part it wasn't firmer, just deeper.

The first open view of Mt. Flume, through a gap in the canopy.

At around 3000 ft. young conifers mixed in under the birches, bearing a fresh coat of snow from the previous night. By weaving around, I was able to stay in mostly open going as I climbed steeply up the slope. The final approach to the talus area was under a mostly coniferous canopy, where the snow was very crusty, testing the grip of my MSRs. The snowshoes performed admirably.

At 3300 ft. I came to a small, scrubby talus area, with some cliffs on Liberty's south ridge in sight above.

Sensing that there was a bigger opening nearby, I climbed up and across to the NE, and at 3400 ft. found the base of the largest of several talus fields in this area. The col between Liberty and Flume is seen in the background.

From the bottom of the open slope there was a view down to the floor of the Flume Brook valley with Hardwood Ridge looming on the south side.

Looking up the steep talus slope, there was a jumble of bare rocks on the left side and a strip of deep, mushy snow on the right.

I herringboned partway up the snow swath, took off my snowshoes, and carefully picked out a stable rock seat for a lunch break. It was quite comfortable here in the sun and out of the wind.

The slide-streaked west face of Mt. Flume took center stage.

I didn't spot any hikers up there during my hour plus stay on the talus.

Looking up the rocky slope from my seat.

The obligatory boot shot.

My snowshoe tracks coming up the talus.

After a while I decided to explore higher up the slope.

The distant view, looking SSW. Little Coolidge Mtn. is seen below, through the "U." In the distance were Mt. Kearsarge, Ragged Mtn., Mt. Cardigan, Mt. Kineo and Carr Mtn.

Farther up, the talus slope widened out on the west side.

The top of the main part of the talus; looking at Google Earth later I saw that there is another segment to this slope hidden away up in the NW corner. Since I was over 3500 ft. here, I briefly entertained a notion of a J.R. Stockwell-type bushwhack all the way to the top of Liberty, but soon came to my senses.

Descending the talus, I paused to look back up at my tracks.

Nearby was the cliff I had looked up at from the small lower talus area.

A final look at Mt. Flume, set to be the site of a 48 X 12 "grid" finish for Mary Ellen Baross (MEB) the next day.

Descending through those beautiful birches was fairly slow going due to the soft snow conditions, with frequent snowshoe postholing.

But it sure is a gorgeous forest.

I took a direct route to the floor of the valley to avoid the long sidehill traverse. Here the snow was pure mush, I was merely pushing it downhill with my snowshoes.

Down on the flat floor of the valley, in the shade of the conifers, the snow was still firm and crusty. What a contrast!

On the bushwhack back down to the Flume, I paused to admire this pair of towering old trees.

The overnight snow dusting had melted in the lower hardwoods, making for nice bare ground whacking.

On any hike that involves returning from the Flume, you face a 150-ft. climb back up from the covered bridge.

Evening light on Liberty and Flume from the parking lot. The inner recesses of the Flume Brook valley are around the corner, behind the ridge descending from Liberty. A fine place to spend a sunny early spring day.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Another sunny day in the 50s! After descending through mushy snow from Mt. Hight two days earlier, I was ready for a lower elevation hike and possibly some bare ground. Gazing over towards Evans Notch from Hight's open summit kindled an annual late winter/early spring desire to make a pilgrimage to that area. The low mountains of the Caribou-Speckled Wilderness are favorites this time of year, with many ledgy viewpoints on and off the trail. The south-facing hardwood slopes melt early here, making for good spring bushwhacking.

The frost heaves along Route 113 heading north to Evans Notch were unusually mild this time. As I approached the south end of the notch (where the road is closed in winter), I stopped to admire this magnificent view of the Baldfaces.

My original plan for the day was to hike up to Blueberry Mtn., one of the best short climbs in the area, and continue up the Blueberry Ridge Trail to some higher ledges. But driving up I saw bare hardwoods on Sugarloaf Mtn., the low peak NW of Blueberry, and changed my itinerary on the spot, deciding I would visit four favorite view ledges on that ridge. Sugarloaf is on the left in this picture, with the shoulder once called Long Mtn. on AMC maps rising behind it. Darkly wooded Speckled Mtn. lurks behind in the middle.

I parked by the entrances to the WMNF Cold River Campground and Basin Pond, and walked up Route 113 from New Hampshire into Maine.

This 0.2 mile road walk is beautiful, with a field/orchard on the left featuring views of the Royces....
...and a bridge over the sparkling Cold River.

The trailhead for the Bickford Brook Trail is by the Brickett House, an historic brick structure dating back to 1812. From 1948-1956, this was operated by the AMC as part of its hut system. It has also served as a Boy Scout facility and is now operated in summer/fall as a Wilderness Information Center by the Forest Service.

The Bickford Brook Trail is a relatively easy route up 2906-ft. Speckled Mountain, mostly following an old service road built to access the fire tower that once adorned the open summit.

The sight of a trail with bare, dry ground was extremely refreshing.

This wonderful trend continued as the trail merged onto the old service road.

About a half-mile in you enter the Caribou-Speckled Wilderness, which packs alot of variety and fun exploring into its 12,000 acres.

The trail crew will have fun with this blowdown mess.

About a mile in, I headed left up through the bare ground hardwoods towards the crest of Sugarloaf Mtn. It was fairly steep, and the leaves were slippery, and I loved every minute of it.

I worked my way up to a massive outcrop on the SE flank of Sugarloaf. This view is looking up the Bickford Brook valley to Blueberry Ridge. A red-tailed hawk screeched overhead, adding a touch of wildness to the scene.

Eastman Mtn. (L) and South Baldface (R) could be seen to the SW beyond the fields of the Cold River valley.

The steep snowy ledges of South Baldface.

Warm sun, dry rock, no bugs, and a long view south.

After a pleasant stay I whacked up to the summit ridge of Sugarloaf, where, as expected, there was some mushy posthole-worthy snow. Ledge #2 was on the south summit, with a fine look at the Baldface to Meader ridge. Not bad for a 1400-footer.

Off to the west the lofty, snowy Carters rose beyond the Basin Rim.

Looking north to the next objectives - the ledges on the south end of Long Mtn.

The snow was continuous in the Sugarloaf-Long col. I put my snowshoes on for 100 yards to get across the hardwood saddle - too far to posthole.

The snow was very mushy.

Steep, dry, rocky terrain loomed ahead as I moved up towards the Long Mtn. shoulder.

A rough scramble lifted me to one of my favorite spring perches, a SW-facing crag with a great sun exposure and another fine view of the Baldface range.

The Carters peered over through the gap between Mt. Meader and a cliff-faced buttress of West Royce. Basin Pond is at the lower left; its west end was open water already on the last full day of winter.

A zoom on Carter Dome and Mt. Hight. I especially enjoyed this view, having gazed at the Speckled Mtn. area from Hight two days earlier.

This seat offers an impressive closeup of the great ledgy mass of West Royce on the west side of Evans Notch.

A brooding cliff below the col between the Royces. These are rugged mountains!

I spent well over an hour lounging in the sun here, no jacket needed. I took this parting shot of the ledge.

A short uphill whack brought me to a higher ledge with a good 100-ft. dropoff in front, looking across the Bickford Brook valley at Blueberry Mtn. From 1936-1947 there was a path called the Brickett Trail along this Sugarloaf-Long ridge. AMC Guide descriptions noted several viewpoints, presumably some of these were on today's bushwhack route.

Looking south over the top of Sugarloaf Mtn., with Kearsarge North on the horizon just left of center.

I decided to make a loop descent off the shoulder of Long, and headed ENE along the edge of the ridge to stay on dry ground.

I ran into some cliffs and had to descend sooner and more steeply than planned. Slippery leaves, rocks, and old blowdowns made for slow going.

Partway down I passed a small cave. There were no critters inside.

Looking back up the slope.

I reached the Bickford Brook Trail a half-mile above my departure point. On the way down I made a short side trip on the upper end of the Bickford Slides Loop, down to the Upper Slide. (In this usage slide refers to a waterfall.) It was in full-throated flow, though it was hard to get a clean look at this one.

Farther down the Bickford Brook Trail I made another side jaunt, this time down the Blueberry Ridge Trail to the Lower Slide.

A narrow, somewhat precarious side path led to the top of the Lower Slide, surging with snowmelt.

I worked downstream for a view from below, and was surprised at how impressive this waterfall was. A safer side trail branches off from Blueberry Ridge Trail just above where it comes to the brook, and offers an easily accessible view of the Lower Slide down through the trees.

Four ledges and two waterfalls - a sure cure for spring fever.