Saturday, November 6, 2010


Seeking to stay low and below the snow, Keith D'Alessandro (along with his friendly chocolate lab, Katahdin) and I headed over to Evans Notch on a cold, sunny morning for a trek into one of the nicer corners of the Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness. Our plan was to hike through Haystack Notch on the Haystack Notch Trail, descend into the valley of the West Branch of the Pleasant River, and bushwhack to a scenic beaver meadow in the center of that broad basin. From there we would either head across to more beaver meadows, bushwhack up to a ledge on Butters Mountain, or return with a bushwhack traverse across the long ridge of Haystack Mountain, with several viewpoints.

The west end of the Haystack Notch Trail begins near a small parking spot on Rt. 113. The bottom line on the sign should read "Miles Notch Trail."

There are five crossings of nameless brooks in the first mile or so. The first one can be challenging in high water, but it wasn't bad today.

Crossing #3, I think, as we emerge into the wonderful open hardwood forest that surrounds most of the Haystack Notch Trail. The woods and brook scenery are very nice along this stretch.

We entered the Wilderness at about 1.3 miles from the trailhead.

One of a number of big old trees along the trail, this one a sugar maple.

Late fall is a great time to ramble through the open hardwoods.

The climbing became moderately steep as we approached Haystack Notch, with the impressive cliffs of Haystack Mountain becoming visible through the trees. The area at the base of the cliffs is noted as an enriched forest, with unusual spring flowers such as Dutchman's Breeches, Squirrel Corn and Blue Cohosh.

An interesting burl.

The height-of-land in Haystack Notch is a broad plateau. A very neat area!

Heading E from the notch towards the West Branch valley.

More big hardwoods - probably 150 years old or more. This one looks like a yellow birch.

The hardwoods rule as we meander through this big, secluded valley.

About a mile and a half E of Haystack Notch we struck off trail in search of the beaver meadow. Nice mixed woods here.

After wandering around a bit we came upon the sunny opening.

From the N edge of the meadow we could see the long, flat crest of Butters Mountain.

From the meadow's E end we looked across to the trailless ridge that extends from Haystack Notch S towards Durgin Mountain.

At the SE corner there was a fine vista of the rocky crest of Caribou Mountain. I first visited this meadow ten years ago and liked it so much I returned a week later via a different approach. It's too bad that this wild place is just outside the Wilderness boundary, which makes an odd westward bulge here in what was probably a political compromise with timber interests. At present, this pocket of forest and wetland is protected from road-building and logging as an Inventoried Roadless Area under the 2001 "Roadless Rule."

Not a bad spot to stop for lunch.

A closer look at the crags of Caribou.

Peering west we could see the three summit humps of Haystack Mountain. While relaxing at the meadow, we decided we would return over this ridge.

Along the S side of the meadow is the only remaining pool of water in what was once presumably a large beaver pond.

Heading back to the Haystack Notch Trail we passed this giant maple.

We walked a half-mile back along the trail, and veered off into the woods again along this small stream that flows down from a valley between Haystack and Caribou Mountains.

Great hardwood whacking, with easy grades to start.

Higher up the grade became quite steep, as we approached the Haystack-Caribou col.

The hardwoods continued all the way to the crest of the ridge just S of the col.

We veered L here into darker woods along the humpy crest of Haystack.

In places the conifers were fairly open.

Haystack is a small peak (2205 ft.), but is deceptively difficult to traverse, with sometimes scrappy woods and several suprisingly steep little ups and downs. We had to detour around precipitous ledges hidden in the woods to reach this open col between two humps.

Approaching the main summit bump, there was quite a bit of old blowdown strewn about.

This short stretch almost looked like a moose path.

Just past the high point we probed out near the cliff edge and found the first of the two great viewpoints I had enjoyed on several previous visits to this ridge. The last time here I almost stepped on a porcupine as I pushed through the brush behind this ledge.

Here you get a raven's perspective on the valley just W of Haystack Notch. The trail is down there somewhere.

Looking SE beyond the Notch to Butters Mountain and more distant ridges.

Poor lighting, but the vista across the valley to Durgin and Speckled Mountains is expansive.

A few minutes down the ridge we went out to the second outlook, which is larger and more open. A wonderful Caribou-Speckled spot.

Keith gazes out towards Speckled Mountain.

Keith and Katahdin, livin' close to the edge.

The Maine portion of the White Mountain National Forest is small but very appealing. Beautiful, quiet country out here.

As we headed W down the ridge, the woods became more open, and mostly stayed that way for the rest of the journey.

Is it a trident, or an Ent?

On a western bump we paused to take in another open view over towards Speckled.... Durgin and the ridge leading out towards Haystack Notch.

A last peek back at the summit of Haystack - looking like its name - and then it was time to weave down through the woods to Rt. 113 and our waiting car.


  1. Hey,
    Glad we were able to get out again. Always a good time! You know your hiking/whacking with Steve when you get out in the dark : ) Gotta love the hardwoods in this area. A whack with views and a great friend (Uncle)! Can't beat it!

    Keith D'Alessandro

  2. Great trip, Keith - and nice route you led around that blowdown area on the way down when daylight was getting short. At least we didn't have to pull out the headlamps!

    Definitely one of the best hardwood areas in the Whites.


  3. Very cool trident tree... Hope to get out there soon!

  4. Thanks, Peter - never seen a tree quite like that one.


  5. Well, a year later I finally made it. A bit different than a year ago, with 3-5" of concrete snow, but still a nice hike. Stunning in the gap along the Haystack cliffs. Didnt see the trident tree.

  6. Hi Peter,

    Glad you got out there. Haystack Notch is a really neat place! Not sure if I could find that tree again.


  7. Hi Steve,
    Some posts claim that logging activity has made this area difficult to navigate. Is this true? Planning a backpack that includes this area.