Wednesday, March 10, 2010


After gazing down at the frozen surface of tiny, remote Harrington Pond from the snow-crusted ledges of South Kinsman last week, a desire was rekindled to go there in winter. On my previous stop there on a south to north traverse of the Kinsmans with three friends in the winter of 1992, it was so foggy we could barely see the cliffs that overlook the pond on its north side.

To get there by trail entails a 5.9 mile one-way hike in winter. But by bushwhacking from the Reel Brook Trail up the broad valley drained by the pond's outlet brook, the trek could be cut to 3.5 to 4 miles one-way. If time permitted, a battle through dense scrub to the ledges/cliffs on the N side of the pond would reveal a unique vista. When I proposed this journey to bushwhacking buddy John Compton, he enthusiastically signed on.

It was another in a string of gorgeous, sunny late winter days. We parked on the shoulder of Route 116 in Easton and walked 0.6 mile up a plowed, rather icy road to the unplowed trailhead parking area.

It had gotten fairly cold overnight and we had hoped for well-consolidated snow conditions. But it had not gotten cold enough, and as we set off on the Reel Brook Trail, where there was no evidence of any previous human-made track, the snow was giving way under our snowshoes and we knew we were in for a long day of trail-breaking.

About 3/4 mile in we broke out into open hardwoods.

The third brook crossed by the trail was our handrail - this was the one draining the valley we would ascend.

The first part of our whack took us across a gentle, sunny area of hardwoods. There was a thin crust atop the snow, then soft snow beneath.

At about 2000 feet we ran into an area of dense young conifers and spruce traps under the hardwoods. We didn't expect to encounter difficult going so low down. Seeking a better route, we veered left to the brook, which provided a great open highway for about 100 feet of elevation.

Then we headed back into the woods, where we caught a glimpse of one of several cliffs on the wild, rough ridge that guards the north side of the valley.

The snow was deep and soft in here, with spruce traps, and for some reason I had not brought my "A" game with me today. With 1200 feet of elevation to go, I came close to throwing in the towel on this one. But John pulled me along, doing the lion's share of the trail-breaking through this, the steadiest climb of the journey.

After a food, water and electrolyte break at 2500 feet, I felt like a new snowshoer. And for the next 500 feet of elevation we enjoyed wonderful open "salt-and-pepper" woods (birch and fir) with a minimum of spruce traps. This type of forest is common around the Kinsmans at this elevation - we had passed through some last week on Fishin' Jimmy Trail in the traversing section above Lonesome Lake.

The going got thicker on a plateau at 3000 feet. After crossing this flat area, we swung to the right (SE) for more open going. This was a confusing area to navigate in -there are three mini-notches leading to the ridgecrest, the middle one leading to the pond. When we started climbing again, we could see that our parallel ridge to the north was too far away. We had strayed to the south and needed to cut back to the north to reach the pond.

As we cut across the slope we had a peek at an impressive slab on the flank of that ridge.

John forged a fine route traversing across to the NNE, passing over the southernmost mini-notch and the flank of the knob just S of the pond. The woods were pretty thick through here, with lots of potential eye-pokers.

Then we dropped into the correct mini-notch and followed the buried outlet brook uphill a short distance. (The current USGS Lincoln quad incorrectly shows the outlet brook of Harrington Pond flowing out of the E end of the pond into Eliza Brook. The old 15-minute Franconia quad correctly shows the brook flowing from the W end of the pond.) We soon saw that there was a large opening ahead - we were going to make it!

After a 4 hr. 25 min. ascent, to emerge onto the bright, sunlit pond, with the rugged ridges of South Kinsman rising to the N, was exhilarating. Harrington Pond ranks high for its scenery and sense of remoteness, and it can be enjoyed much more this time of year when its surrounding bogs are buried in deep windpacked snow.

Wild, ragged cliffs rise on the N side of the pond.

A closeup on South Kinsman, from where we had gazed down here four days earlier. To see Harrington Pond, you have to descend about 100 yards south from the summit on the Kinsman Ridge Trail to the next set of ledges.

We headed down to the east end of the pond; the upper end of the great SE ridge of South Kinsman in the background.

Not a bad spot for a late lunch.

Looking west down the pond, into the sun.

Back near the west end, we crossed to the north side for a closeup of the cliffs.

It was 3:20 and we wouldn't have time to go too far along the cliffs above the pond. But we figured we could struggle up to the lowest outlook, the snowy spot on the far left of this photo.

In a few minutes of pushing through thick scrub we crossed a lower ledge with a view back to Mt. Moosilauke.

The conifer scrub was quite dense. We engaged in a short but intense wrestling match with the close-growing trees to ascend to our objective.

It was well worth it for the unusual bird's eye view of Harrington Pond, nestled in its
isolated pocket on the crest of Kinsman Ridge. The pond was named for Karl Harrington, one of the great AMC trail-builders of the 1910s and 1920s, who "discovered" it while laying out the route for the Kinsman Ridge Trail: "It was to this little Harrington Pond that a frog piping his nightly serenade guided the writer through the dense darkness, when first a trail was roughly blazed along this hitherto inaccessible ridge." (From Walks & Climbs in the White Mountains, by Karl Harrington, 1926.)

Over the west end of the pond we could see an array of the southern White Mountain peaks.

A zoom on (L to R) Mts. Chocorua, Kancamagus, and Passaconaway, the Osceolas, and Scar Ridge.

The air was clear - the Killington Range was razor-sharp.

This spot had a neat perspective on the upper section of South Kinsman's massive SE ridge.

A closeup of the pond, our tracks visible along the far shore.

John shoots towards Moosilauke. Over his hat can be seen the tip of Mt. Kineo, with the three summit knobs of Mt. Wolf to the L, all peeking over a nearby Kinsman Ridge hump.

After descending from our ledge, a parting shot of the pond in late afternoon (4:00) light.

John on one of the fairly thick sections on the upper part of our route.

A trail-like corridor in open woods.

The descent was a joy through this wide-open forest, plunging downward over our tracks in the soft snow.

Down around 2000 feet we went a little farther down the open brookbed to avoid some thickets we had pushed through on the way up. The brookbed was pockmarked with moose tracks - they like unobstructed corridors too.

A fine hemlock down in the hardwood section.

The hardwood home stretch of the downward whack.

We close this account with an example of an impromptu gaiter system. John had left his gaiters at home and at the start of the trek was already getting snow in his boots. He dug two small bungee cords out of his pack, wrapped them around his pant legs, and had no further problems.

Thanks for teaming up for a memorable trip, John, and for keeping me going when I was ready to pack it in!

1 comment:

  1. Steve, thank you for coming up with this fantastic idea for a truly unique way to get to Harrington Pond. It was an adventure that I never would've thought of on my own. And, even if I should visit this pond on some future hike, I'll always fondly remember this particular trek.