Saturday, January 29, 2011


With sunny skies predicted for the Conway area, John Compton and I planned a rendezvous at the trailhead for the Mount Kearsarge North Trail, with options to climb Bartlett Mountain (off-trail) and/or Kearsarge North, aka Mount Pequawket (the name of the Abenaki tribe who lived in the Saco valley).

Though it tops out at only 3268 ft., Pequawket is one of the finest viewpoints in the Whites, thanks to its isolated position along the Saco valley. And because the trail starts at a low elevation, the 2600-ft. climb (in 3.1 mi.) is greater than that for a number of 4000-footers. The trail is moderately graded the entire way, making it ideal for snowshoeing.

In the picture below, taken from Black Cap Mountain, Kearsarge/Pequawket is on the R, and Bartlett, a ledgy western shoulder, is on the L.

Ours were the only cars at the trailhead, and indeed we appeared to be the only ones on the mountain on this gorgeous winter day. We could see that the trail was a well-packed snowy sidewalk, so we strapped the snowshoes to our packs and "bare-booted" it for the climb.

The first half-mile or so of the trail runs at easy grades across private land.

After entering the National Forest, the trail makes a long, steady, angling climb through a beautiful open hemlock forest.

At 1.8 miles we began perhaps the nicest part of the climb - a half-mile stretch across snowy ledges fringed with red pines.

We stopped for a break at the top of this section, where the most open ledge offers a nice view to the south.

Looking more to the R we obtained framed views of Mt. Chocorua peering over Middle/South Moat...

...and the Sleepers and Tripyramids beyond North Moat (L) and Big Attitash (R).

A bit farther along the trail, at the point where we planned to depart for our bushwhack across the connecting ridge to Bartlett Mountain, we found a beaten snowshoe track leading in that direction. We weren't all that surprised, as this mountain is very prominent from Route 16 and apparently receives a fair amount of local visitation.

Back in the 1920s trails led to Bartlett from several directions, and the Maple Villa Ski Trail was cut up the western side in the 1930s. But shortly thereafter all these trails were officially abandoned, and for the last few editions the AMC White Mountain Guide has only hinted that "a number of ledges invite exploration." Though John had been to the summit of Bartlett twice before, I'd never been farther than an outlook ledge halfway across the connecting ridge.

The summit and southern slopes of Bartlett are in the Merriman State Forest; the eastern side and lower northern slopes are in the WMNF. In recent years the Society for the Protection of NH Forests has acquired 300 acres on the N side of the summit. A proposed land exchange for 100 acres is underway with the WMNF; this parcel includes part of the connecting ridge between Pequawket and Bartlett.

Apparently following traces of the old trail at times, the track led us across snowy ledges...

...and through winter-wonderland spruce glades.

We veered off from the track and broke our own route down through deep powder to the fabulous north-facing ledge I had been to once before. We loved the unique perspective out towards Carter Notch, the Doubleheads, the Baldface Range, and points beyond.

A zoom on the Doubleheads, with cloud-capped Carter Dome behind on the L.

A chilly-looking cloudbank enshrouded Mt. Washington and extended for miles in either direction. The weather was apparently cold and grey north of the notches.

John takes in the sweeping vista.

Continuing towards the summit of Bartlett, we crossed more ledges.

The snowshoe track ended at the wooded summit of Bartlett. John led us onward through unbroken snow, down and out to expansive open ledges on the SW side of the summit. White Horse Ledge and the Moats rose impressively across the broad Saco valley.

Looking west up the Saco valley to Bartlett Haystack, Tremont, Hancock, Hart Ledge, and part of Carrigain.

Mts. Parker, Crawford, Resolution and Giant Stairs, seen beyond Iron Mountain.

Looking NNW to Wildcat and Carter Notch.

A great day to be out!

On the south side of the ledges it was warm enough for a sit-down break.

Heading back across, we had a view of Black Cap Mountain.

We had lingered long on our side trek to Bartlett Mountain, and it was after 3:30 pm when we got back to the Kearsarge North Trail. We hemmed and hawed a bit, but the lofty summit of Pequawket proved an irresistible lure. We kept our snowshoes on, and for this last 650-ft. ascent enjoyed perfect climbing conditions on a silky track through snowy spruces.

A little after four o'clock we emerged on the open ledges below the summit and fire tower.

It was amazing up there at day's end - not a breath of wind and absolute silence. We wandered around the crusted ledges, checking out the views in various directions. Here John takes a shot of Pleasant Mountain rising from the flat lake country of southwestern Maine.

Using care on some icy spots, I went over to the northern ledges to peer down at the Mount Shaw-Gemini range, which extends northward from Pequawket.

Farther out, seen dimly in the evening light, was Speckled Mountain and its long, ledgy spur ridges.

John took off his snowshoes and made a brief visit to the cab of the tower.

One of my favorite vistas up here is looking down at frozen little Shingle Pond, tucked amidst an old-growth forest on a shoulder of the mountain.

The long shadow of Pequawket engulfs Major Mountain to the NE.

A touch of summit alpenglow.

John, who had a time commitment for that evening, gets ready to head down off the summit.

I lingered for a few more minutes, savoring the last slanting sunlight of this magnificent winter day.

The sun's last rays illuminate the fire tower.

Having been up here several times in winter before, I knew that with a smooth packed trail, the descent would be pretty quick. The upper part coming down the spruce-covered cone was especially sweet.

There was still some daylight left when I reached the ledgy section. Thanks to the smooth snowy sidewalk, I was able to make it out in an hour and a quarter, and despite some bony spots in the dark hemlocks, I never had to break out the headlamp. Such is the advantage of winter for late-day descents. An outstanding day all around!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


With another cloudy day promising only limited views, I decided to do some more off-trail exploring on the lower slopes of the Franconia Range. Today's objective was the relatively gentle, broad lower part of Mt. Liberty's SW ridge. In addition to snowshoe meandering through hardwood and birch forests, I hoped to visit two small open slides on the steep SE edge of the ridge.

I started from the Basin parking area on the northbound side of I-93, walked south on the bike path/snowmobile trail, and followed a well-beaten shortcut snowshoe track up through the woods to the Liberty Spring Trail at the sharp turn below the junction with the Flume Slide Trail. Liberty Spring was a wide packed highway and in short order I was at the junction.

I was very pleased to find a nice, softly-packed snowshoe track on the Flume Slide Trail. Having to break 1.3 miles on this route would have curtailed my time and energy for exploring the ridge.

One of the snowbound brooks crossed along the Flume Slide Trail. I especially enjoy the gentle lower part of this trail through the Flume Brook valley in winter. It's a great rolling ramble through an expansive northern hardwood forest.

A trailside boulder sporting a sculpted snowcap.

There are many old trees in this forest - primarily sugar maple (shown here) and yellow birch.

A bright blue blaze in the midst of the forest.

Midway between two brook crossings, I chose the point to start my bushwhack up the SW ridge.

The two-feet plus of snow in the woods had consolidated some in the past week, but it was still slow going breaking trail. The grades on this part of the ridge were easy to moderate and the woods were mostly open.

Weaving through a nice snowy glade - one of the joys of snowshoeing off-trail.

Higher up there was a mix of paper birch and conifer, with open corridors to follow.

Looking up a nice birch avenue, though that wasn't the direction I needed to go.

After a long traversing climb I found the lower of the two small slides, at about 2670 ft. I didn't go out on the open part becuase there was a chance the loose snow could slide.

I could see across the little valley to the south ridge of Mt. Liberty.

From the upper corner there was a framed vista to the south, but the distant ridges were all fogged in. The lower western shoulder of Hardwood Ridge is in the foreground.

I went back behind the edge of the ridge and continued upward to a gorgeous birch glade area, good place for a late lunch break. These birches presumably grew in after a 1908 fire burned over 400 acres on the slopes of Mt. Liberty.

After a strenuous struggle through some clinging, snow-covered conifers, constantly knocking snow off the branches with my ski poles, I reached the upper of the two slides, at about 2850 ft.

I zigzagged steeply down along its edge to find another view to the south.

Little Coolidge Mountain is on the R, a nameless knob at the head of the Pollard Brook valley (Middle Coolidge?) is on the L, with Russell Mountain behind.

The track I packed out to the edge of the slide.

I bulled my way back through the thick patches.

A pretty corridor through the spruces.

The sun briefly illuminated the birches - my favorite scene of the day.

On the way back, I went down to the lower edge of the lower slide, where I could peer up to more of the south ridge of Liberty. I had hoped to get a look at the prominent long slide at the head of this drainage, but it, along with the socked-in summit of Liberty, was hidden around the corner to the L. These slides just didn't have quite the right perspective.

The summit and steep slope of Big Coolidge Mountain rose beyond the nearby lower ridge.

Then it was merely a case of following my broken track back to the Flume Slide Trail.

This was the only peek I could get at the long slide on Liberty, which may be the one that fell in 1883, at the same time as the great Flume slides.

I stopped to admire the magnificent crown of this yellow birch.

Looking back at my partly-packed track from where I left the Flume Slide Trail. I had the entire area to myself this day - no other hiker tracks in the fresh snow on either the Flume Slide Trail or Liberty Spring Trail. My bird count for the day was two - a Pileated Woodpecker heard calling in the hardwoods on the SW ridge, and a Golden-Crowned Kinglet lisping along the Flume Slide Trail.

For readers interested in such things, here is a track of the hike taken by the GPS I received for Christmas. I've never used one before this month, and I must admit it is a fun toy for bushwhacking!