KILKENNY PONDS LOOP: 9/15/10
On a mostly cloudy, chilly day I made a scenic loop hike through the heart of the beautiful Kilkenny region in the northern White Mountains. This 11+ mile hike started at the Berlin Fish Hatchery, leading up the peaceful valley of Cold Brook on the Mill Brook Trail, across the Kilkenny Ridge Trail, past little Kilback Pond, over Unknown Pond Ridge to Unknown Pond, and down the valley of Unknown Pond Brook on the Unknown Pond Trail. A two-mile walk on York Pond Road brought me back to my car.
I parked just outside the gate at the Fish Hatchery, so I wouldn't have to worry about my usual late exit. (The gate was padlocked when I came back at 7:15 pm.)
The mellow, easy-climbing Mill Brook Trail follows Cold Brook for its first two miles. This trail used to continue north into the Mill Brook valley (hence the name), but that section has long since been abandoned .
Nice woods along the Mill Brook Trail.
Early color in a swampy area.
A pretty section of the brook, in an area where the trail leads through many meadow-like openings beside the stream.
Moose tracks a-plenty in these parts.
After leaving the side of Cold Brook, the Mill Brook Trail climbs to a high plateau with a luxuriant growth of white birch and hobblebush.
An attractive mixed "salt-and-pepper" forest.
On to the Kilkenny Ridge Trail, one of the best long walking routes in the Whites.
I made a short side trip north to check out the Rogers Ledge Campsite, a small clearing in the woods. In a birch and hobblebush grove behind the campsite I saw a cow moose; too many leaves in the way to get a picture.
A mossy spruce grove on the approach to Kilback Pond. A very wild feeling out here on this upland shelf.
Kilback Pond is a backwoods beauty. Spruce-rimmed and serene, it is reminiscent of Shoal Pond in the Pemigwasset Wilderness.
The birch-clad swell of Unknown Pond Ridge rises across the water.
The view from a small sitting rock on the shore, next to the trail. On this generally cloudy, and at times showery day, the best breaks of sunshine were enjoyed here on the shore of Kilback Pond.
Across the bog on the north side of the pond there's a peek at the granite face of Rogers Ledge.
One of the reasons I chose this hike was to check out reports of beaver flooding at a spot beyond Kilback Pond. The bog bridges here were still partly submerged, but the crossing was doable, if slow and shaky. It would also be possible to cross on a beaver dam to the right.
The climb up Unknown Pond Ridge is steady, but birch-and-fern glades such as this provide ample reward. In his engaging guidebook to the Cohos Trail, Kim Nilsen refers to these glades as "the trees that grow in heaven."
Unknown Pond, overlooked by the shapely pyramid of The Horn, is the quintessential Kilkenny scene. This is the place that first hooked me on this gorgeous area.
A few years ago the Unknown Pond Campsite was moved to a new location in the woods up away from the pond. Too many people had been camping along the shore, which is now closed to camping and mostly marked off as a revegetation area except for two side paths to viewpoints. There are five sites in the new area; the top one has some limited views south through the trees to the Presidentials, Carters and North Weeks. The only people I saw all day on this trek were two campers tending a smoky fire at the designated fire ring.
A short way down from the pond, the Unknown Pond Trail crosses this open glade-meadow of birches and wildflowers.
The partial views from here include a peek at the nearby Horn and its SE ridge.
Down on the floor of the valley, near Unknown Pond Brook, I made a short off-trail detour to this peaceful tall-grass meadow. It reminded me of the meadow John Compton and I visited at the base of Hutchins Mountain two weeks earlier.
I made another mini-bushwhack to visit a beaver pond John and I explored last fall. The water level is way down this year.
The water flow was also down on this sheet cascade on Unknown Pond Brook, which John, Chris Whiton and I visited last fall. Still a pretty spot, one among so many to be found in The Kilkenny.