Wednesday, March 30, 2011


With a solid, deep snowpack in the woods, 'tis a great season for bushwhacking. On this sunny, windy day, with temperatures in the low 30s, I chose to make a third visit to a nameless set of south-facing cliffs on the long SW ridge of Mt. Kancamagus, on the north side of Waterville Valley. These cliffs are seen on the far R of the photo below; on the L is the cliff called "K1," which briefly had a blazed path to it in around 1916.

I first visited the SW cliffs in January 1996 with Cath Goodwin, and I made a return visit in April 2005. These are not the type of cliffs where you find a wide open ledge perch. They drop off abruptly and there are only a couple of small spots where you can stand or sit and take in the view; access to these spots requires caution. The view is commanding, however, and the place has a very wild backcountry feel to it.

I started from the familiar Livermore trailhead in Waterville and soon turned L on the gentle Greeley Ponds Trail.

It had been unusually cold for several days, and streams such as the Mad River were actually starting to ice back up after having opened completely during the mid-March thaw.

The trail bridge over Flume Brook.

A mile and a half from the trailhead, I turned R onto the Kancamagus Brook Ski Trail, which has seen somewhat of a renaissance in its maintenance in recent years. The junction is located at the edge of a 1930s vintage logging camp clearing.

I went perhaps 0.4 mi. up this trail, which was well-tracked by backcountry skiers. In keeping with trail etiquette, except for a few constricted spots I made a separate snowshoe track along the edge.

Then I headed north into the woods for the bushwhack up the SW ridge, which is forested mainly with hardwoods en route to the cliffs. The first part of the climb is, however, encumbered with numerous beech saplings (sons of beeches, we call them), plus young conifers in places. The two or three inches of snow on top had gotten wet in the sun, but underneath there was a solid and dependable base. No spruce traps today.

Farther up the ridge I wandered out into the fine open hardwoods I recalled from my two previous trips.

This forest had its share of tall, gnarled trees.

As the spruce-topped cliff spur loomed ahead, I swung around to the east to gain access to the ridge up behind the cliffs.

The broad mass of Mt. Kancamagus could be glimpsed across the Kancamagus Brook valley.

Th final approach to the ridge, through still more open woods.

At the top I was greeted by this alien-like, triple-trunked tree.

The crest of the ridge was graced with a lovely birch glade.

I bushwhacked south down the ridge through denser woods, until the dropoff could be seen ahead.

I removed my snowshoes as there was a mix of wet slippery snow and bare ground out at the brink. After some careful maneuvering I found an open spot at the edge of the cliffs.

The wide view south towards Sandwich Dome gave that top-of-the-world feeling.

The massive bulk of Sandwich dominates many a view in the Waterville area.

To the SW, Mt. Tecumseh rose behind a portion of the Mad River valley traversed by the Greeley Ponds Trail.

I particularly like the SE view, where the Tripyramids bristle behind the wooded dome of nearby Flume Peak.

This may be my favorite view of that distinctive triad of peaks.

Viewed head-on, the North Slide looks impossibly steep.

To the R of Flume Peak are the long ridges of the northern Flat Mtn. and Snows Mtn.

With the afternoon sun beaming down, and the wind held at bay, two hours - including a short snooze - passed quickly at this nifty little spot. One parting look at the south view before the return trip.

I went a short way north along the ridge before heading down, stopping to admire this "legacy tree."

Late afternoon shadows in the open woods.

Coming down off the ridgecrest, I passed a number of bear trees. On my April 2005 visit, while snowshoeing north a ways along the ridge from the cliffs, I had a close encounter with an early-foraging bruin, who paid little attention to me before ambling off down the slope.

I circled around below the cliffs and caught the slightest glimpse up to the crags where I had just been lounging.
I steered a better route on the way down the broad ridge, and stayed in wonderful open hardwoods for a long time.

I passed through this glade of old sugar maples halfway down the ridge. Farther down, I went back through the area of beech saplings.

A moose had crossed my tracks during the day. And a fine day it was, out in the quiet backcountry of Waterville once again.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


With a half-day off, I returned to Waterville Valley for a favorite hike that has appeared a couple of times on this blog before: The Kettles and The Scaur, two interesting spots accessed by the nifty WVAIA trail network. I put a little different twist on it by bushwhacking up to The Scaur.

After an easy 0.9 mile on the groomed Livermore Trail, I exited onto the Kettles Path.

There was about 5 inches of snow atop the solid old track; it was getting a bit sticky in the sun.

The first and smallest of the three Kettles is on the R. These depressions in the forest, left when stranded ice chunks from the continental glacier melted away, are much more visible in winter.

I snowshoed down into the Kettle for a look around.

Back up on the trail, I passed the second Kettle, on the L...

...and then the third and deepest Kettle on the R.

Before reaching the junction with the Scaur Trail, I struck off into the open hardwoods. Bushwhacking conditions were superb, with a few inches of newer snow atop a very firm base.

A great area for 'whackin'!

Farther up the slope I could see the conifer tops up on The Scaur.

The hardwoods marched right up to the base of The Scaur, where I got an interesting view of the ragged cliff on the face of this nubbly little peak.

A wonderful old maple near the base of the ledges.

I skirted this ledge before the final push to the crest of the little ridge.

At the top was a neat hardwood shelf, where I waited out a brief snow squall.

Weathered old trees and changeable skies.

At the end of the shelf was a marvelous ledge, a miniature Waterville version of the Rock of Gibraltar.

I whacked across to the Scaur Trail and climbed the final steep pitch, where ice lurked beneath a thin veneer of snow.

Regular readers of this blog know that this spot is a favorite of mine. For such an easy hike, it has a surprisingly extensive view of the Waterville backcountry, here looking south to the sprawling ridges of Sandwich Dome.

Zooming in, you peer into the valley of Drakes Brook, guarded by Noon Peak on the R.

Looking L, you see Middle and South Tripyramid and the wild country of the Lost Pass region.

A closer look at Middle and South Tripyramid.

Tecumseh is across the valley to the SW. No snow guns going today - too late in the season. There were a fair number of skiers out enjoying the excellent, near midwinter conditions.

Looking down at the great hardwoods I came up through.

Over on the L side I could see that big old maple down below.

From a spot a few yards west of the open ledges, there was a framed vista of East Osceola and its remarkable Painted Cliff.

For the descent, I retraced my bushwhack route, seeing that big rock from another angle.

A winding track through the hardwoods.

Some whooping was in order descending through these woods.

Back on the Livermore Trail, where conditions looked quite good for X-C skiing.

The Scaur is the ledgy bump seen on the L in this view from Depot Camp. I brought my GPS on this hike, and its elevation readings confirmed what I had suspected for some time: it appears that the contour lines in the vicinity of The Scaur are misplaced on the 7 1/2' USGS Mount Tripyramid quad.

My barometric GPS altimeter read 1570 ft. at the Livermore Road trailhead, 2240 ft. on the "summit" of The Scaur, and 1580 ft. back at the trailhead. (The trailhead elevation in the White Mountain Guide, taken from the Waterville Valley quad, is 1580 ft.) The GPS-based altimeter had similar readings. I took a waypoint at the summit, which when placed on the USGS quad in a software program shows up at about 2130 ft., on the side of a slope. When you run the cursor over the ledges of The Scaur on Google Earth, it shows the same 2130 ft. elevation range. When you tilt it in Google Earth, it shows no relief on the ledges; makes them look flat. The problem, I assume, is with the underlying USGS dataset.

On the bushwack to The Scaur, I traversed nearly level to the Scaur Trail, then climbed the last short, steep pitch on the trail to the top. The GPS track placed on the quad shows me going significantly DOWNHILL to the "summit." Where I think the top of The Scaur should be on the quad, terrain-wise, is some distance east of the waypoint, where the 2200 and 2240 ft. contours are close together.

On the 15' Mount Chocorua quad (1931 and 1958), The Scaur is depicted more accurately, as a knob with a 2220 ft. contour at the top.

This one is a head-scratcher!