Saturday, December 4, 2010


One of the pleasures of wandering off-trail is trying to find long-forgotten features, clues for which may be found on out-of-print maps, in old guidebook descriptions, or in narratives of hikes taken generations ago.

One such place in Waterville Valley is a small gorge or flume on Slide Brook (flowing off South Tripyramid) known simply as the "V," for its shape seen in cross-section. It was described in an 1876 article on Tripyramid in Appalachia by Charles E. Fay, who called it "one of the most remarkable features of the region,"and in a 1911 piece in a scientific journal on Tripyramid's geology.

It also appeared on early trail maps of Waterville Valley by Arthur L. Goodrich, shown about halfway between the mouth of Cold Brook and the foot of the South Slide of Tripyramid. In the early 1900s a crossing trail was cut between the Woodbury Trail (now abandoned) up Mt. Whiteface and the trail leading towards the South Slide; at its NE end it crossed Slide Brook at the head of the "V." The AMC White Mountain Guide made note of "the small flume called
'The V' " in the Tripyramid trail description through its 1948 edition.

Over the last couple of years I had made two forays partway along Slide Brook in search of the "V," and had found a couple of features that could possibly fit the bill. But neither of these searches was thorough, in part due to the steep, tangled, blowdown-choked ravine, and also because there were other objectives on the day's itinerary.

Recently I've taken two more trips into this area, one with fellow bushwhacking enthusiast John Compton, and another solo. I am now pretty certain we know where the "V" is, but more on that later.


The first trip, with John, was on Tuesday, November 30. Our original plan was actually to bushwhack to a cliff on Mt. Kancamagus, but on that morning the predicted partly sunny skies with high clouds did not materialize; instead, any peaks above 3200 ft. were smothered in gloomy fog. So instead of bushwhacking a long way for limited views, we agreed to hike partway up the trail towards the South Slide, poke around a bit looking for the "V," and perhaps whack a little ways up the hardwood slopes of the Cold Brook valley.

We set off on the Livermore Road/Trail wearing Stabilicers for the two inches of crusty, slippery snow. This was to be a leisurely ramble, so we made the short side trip on the Big Pines Path. The two short, steep drops on this trail were icy, and we were glad for the traction of the Stabilicers.

The old white pines at the bottom of the trail are indeed impressive.

Just a few yards away from the pines there is a very attractive spot along the Mad River.

We returned to the Livermore Road/Trail, a wide and easy route similar to the Lincoln Woods Trail in that while it is not overly exciting, it gets you quickly into the backcountry and does have its occasional bit of fine stream scenery. We made a quick side trip to the Norway Rapids and then continued another half-mile to a point where a very short bushwhack led us to an interesting spot where Avalanche Brook (from Tripyramid's North Slide) and Slide Brook (from the South Slide) unite to form the larger version of Avalanche Brook.

To our left we could look up Avalanche Brook.

To our right was Slide Brook.

At our feet was their confluence.

A short distance farther we came to the South Slide segment of the Mount Tripyramid Trail.

We made the easy crossing of Avalanche Brook and in another 0.3 mile stopped for a break at a scenic spot beside Slide Brook.

A half-mile farther we crossed Cold Brook, which flows westward out of a basin enclosed by the three Tripyramid peaks.

Upstream a little way we dropped down to the brook for a look at Black Cascade, which takes its name from its exposure of dark gabbro bedrock.

Farther up the valley we left the trail, taking a stab at finding the "V." Soon we came upon a pretty little water-sluice cascade.

When the north bank of the brook became very steep, we crossed over to the south side and made a slow bushwhack along the rim of an even steeper slope, in places downright precipitous. The woods were fairly dense with small, snow-covered conifers. It was too steep to get down for a decent look at the brook on this side. This whole ravine appeared to be one big "V"! After we ascended parallel to the brook for a couple hundred feet of elevation, the slope finally moderated somewhat. We briefly followed a trace of an ancient logging road - could this have been part of the old cross trail between the Whiteface and Tripyramid trails? Alas, our fantasy of finding a weathered old arrow or even a sign was not realized. We dropped down and crossed the brook - the photo below, looking downstream, shows how tangled it is in there - and battled our way back up the slope to the South Slide trail.

On our way back, we went off-trail again, this time following Cold Brook eastward into its broad basin under the Tripyramid peaks. Partway up we went over to the stream for a look at a mossy waterslide.

I had snowshoed in this area a few years ago and remembered that this gentle slope was one vast expanse of open hardwood forest. This wide old logging road - which probably dates from the 1940s or 1950s, as it is shown on the 15-minute USGS Mt. Chocorua quad from 1958 - led us into the basin.

The hardwoods go ever on along Cold Brook. We had hoped to follow the brook until we found a spot where it goes underground, according to an old Waterville Valley guidebook by Arthur L. Goodrich, but we ran out of time. That will be a journey for another day.


After our Tuesday hike, I went home and looked at every old description and map I could find that covered the "V." Because the exploration John and I did was a last-minute decision, I hadn't done any recent research on this elusive feature. With a decent forecast for Friday, and a warm rain having washed the snow off the trees and even the ground, I had to go back and make a thorough search for the "V."

For a change of pace on the approach, I parked at the base of the Snows Mountain Ski Area and headed up the Cascade Path.

After climbing through the recent Cascade Ridge development, this trail cuts left into the woods and runs across the lower slopes of Snows, with the Tripyramids in sight ahead through the trees.

The waterfall scenery on Cascade Brook is extremely high on the reward-to-effort ratio. There are at least six separate cascades. Paths go up both the east and west sides of the brook. I opted for the west side to avoid the high-water crossing at the base of the first cascade.

This one was rocking, with a fine spray forming a sheen of ice on the rocks.

At the uppermost cascade the bridge on the Snows Mountain service road/X-C ski trail can be seen ahead.

I turned left on this road, and in a half-mile turned right on the Livermore Trail - easy bare ground walking in December!

Heading up the south link of the Tripyramid trail again.

Avalanche Brook was running much higher than three days earlier; after chickening out on a log crossing upstream I waded across without getting my boots wet on the inside.

The veiled December sun cast a light glow on the hardwood forest.

I took a break at a favorite spot beside Slide Brook; the scene was quite different from the snow and ice-draped setting John and I had viewed three days earlier.

I left the trail above Black Cascade, determined to bushwhack along Slide Brook all the way to the base of the South Slide. The "V" had to be in there somewhere! Before long I came to this two-lane waterslide with a cascade dropping in off a side stream.

Just beyond was the water-sluice cascade John and I had found on Tuesday. It was prettier with its mossy garb revealed.

Looking down the sluice from above.

There were numerous mossy waterslides along the brook.

Farther upstream the banks closed in and the going became more difficult as I continued along the north side. In a few spots there were some slippery patches of hard-frozen snow. On the south bank a cliff-like ledge emerged.

Just upstream I came to a spot I had visited last year briefly, and had considered as a good possibility for being the elusive "V." This time I took a much longer look at it. On the south side were ragged horizontal bands of ledge. This matched Charles Fay's 1876 description of this side of the "V": "The one on the right, rough and irregular, exposing the edges of broken strata, rises for about twenty feet at an angle of 60 degrees from the horizon."

At first glance, the north side did not fit Fay's description: "The other side is a smooth strip of ledge some sixty or seventy feet wide, rising to the ragged edge of the tangled forest at an angle of about 40 degrees." But he visited this place only seven years after the first of the two great South Slides had fallen; the vegetation had been stripped away by the scouring action of the slide roaring downstream. Well over a century later, these slabs could easily have been revgetated by mosses and shallow-rooted scrub conifers. And indeed, where one rootball had turned up, bare ledge was exposed beneath. The sloping slabs are still here, they are just wearing a green disguise.

The constricted floor of this small gorge certainly resembled a "V." Fay wrote that "the now much narrowed brook flows rapidly along in the apex of the angle made by the two sharply inclined sides of the ravine." In his Waterville guidebook, A.L. Goodrich noted that the "V" was "not an easy place to pass."

I continued upstream, working up and down the slope as needed to get through blowdowns and thickets. Soon I came to this mini-flume - my third time here. I had considered this as a minor candidate for the "V," but it is clearly too small.

Seen from above, this is a fairly substantial cascade in high water.

Icicles were combing the top of this cascade.

The ravine became less steep, making for easier travel along the brook, which in places was bordered by small fern meadows. I figured I would take the brook all the way up, just in case there was still a flume up here somewhere.

I found no more gorges, but this emerald-fringed sluice was one of the sweetest spots of the day.

And just above was another fine cascade.

Farther upstream the brook looked a little "slidey."

I clambered up a slope to get around a very steep bank, and briefly emerged in some welcome open woods.

I followed the dwindling stream farther and farther up the valley.

An expected turn of the brook to the NE failed to materialize.

I continued up the stream, past this spot where it issued from under a curtain of ice.

At about 3000 ft., having gained about 600 ft. of elevation on the bushwhack along the brook, I saw an opening up to the left. It was a small slidey patch, which I knew from studying Google Earth the night before was off to the south of the main slide track. The USGS 7 1/2 minute Mount Tripyramid quad, and several fine trail maps, all show Slide Brook curving up to the base of the South Slide at the point where the Mount Tripyramid Trail makes a sharp bend to the left (NE) to climb the slide. But on the ground, the main brook actually continues eastward towards the col between South Tripyramid and West Sleeper. The old 15-minute USGS Mt. Chocorua quad (1931 and 1958) shows this correctly. That map also shows and names Cold Brook, which the newer USGS map (and the trail maps which are based on it) does not show.

It took about 20 minutes of rough traversing to get across to the trail on the main slide.

I climbed up to the best viewpoint on the lower open part of the slide (about 3200 ft.; it was too late to go up to the top). Mt. Tecumseh dominates across the valley to the west; only the snowmaking ski trails were white.

I love the wild view out to the northern Flat Mountain and Sandwich Dome, with its two rounded summits and the nubble of Jennings Peak.

Mt. Israel is seen through the wild and remote gap of Lost Pass.

I could look down the valley I had ascended, closed in by a NW spur of West Sleeper.

After an hour's break I headed back down the slide. At the bottom of the steep pitch, where the trail turns right, was the tiny brook where I had thought I would emerge by following Slide Brook all the way up. This little stream must be a small tributary, one that I didn't notice coming in from the left as I followed the main brook up.

There's a beautiful stand of hardwood not far below the slide.

Twin yellow birches tower beside the trail.

The spot where Cold Brook (left) merges with Slide Brook (right).

Below the Cold Brook crossing I dipped down to Slide Brook to check out another cascade.
The view here was attractive both looking upstream...

...and downstream over the cascade.

To return to the trailhead, I followed the Snows Mountain service road/X-C trail to the top of the Snows Mountain lift, then ambled down a wide grassy ski trail in the twilight, with the snow guns roaring across the valley. It had been a rewarding adventure, with much fine brook scenery, some views from the slide, and a better acquaintance with the elusive "V."


  1. Steve, as you so aptly state at the beginning of your blog article, "One of the pleasures of wandering off-trail is trying to find long-forgotten features."

    You did some truly remarkable investigative work in regarding the elusive "V". It was such a fun quest when I accompanied you during one phase of your exploration. I'm sorry I couldn't join you for the other phase undertaken a few days later.

    Your adventures are interesting as well as informative. Thank you for sharing your outstanding work with the hiking community.


  2. Thanks, John - you had a pretty darn good exploration yourself up in The Kilkenny that day!

    So on Tuesday, when we were making our way along the brink of that dropoff, we were actually on top of the "V," looking in. It's fun to try and picture what it looked like in 1876.