Thursday, March 24, 2011


The Waterville Valley backcountry beckoned for an early spring snowshoe trek. Three to four inches of wet, sticky new snow had dried out when temperatures fell overnight, forming a soft cushion atop a rock-hard snowpack.

There was only one car at the Livermore parking area when I set out at 9:00 am. After 0.3 mile along the wide, groomed Livermore Trail, I reached the Depot Camp clearing, where I could espy the day's ultimate objective, if all went well - North Tripyramid.

Few routes have as many trail junctions as the Livermore Road/Trail.

The first 2.2 miles are groomed as part of the Waterville Valley X-C trail system, making for easy snowshoeing. Because this is a backcountry access trail, no trail fee is required here. A solo skier coming down through here was the only other person I would see all day on the trails.

Beyond the groomed section, the new snow was, as expected, untracked. The old snowshoe track from winter peakbaggers was a rough, lumpy trough under the new layer; it was easier to make my own track on the smoother surface to the side.

One of the landmarks on the Livermore Trail is Avalanche Camp, a large logging camp clearing on the L at 3.1 miles. It was fun to snowshoe across this opening.

The Livermore Trail continues up at easy grades, lined with hardwoods. It was pin-drop quiet out in the backcountry on this midweek, post-winter peakbagging day.

At 3.6 miles I reached the junction with the trail to the Tripyramid North Slide. My planned route involved the much gentler Scaur Ridge Trail. I had read a trail report by Jeremy "Rocket21" Clark on his site about a route following an old logging road below the Scaur Ridge Trail. That whole side of the valley is mostly open hardwoods, so I figured this could be an enjoyable diversion. I followed the old road ahead from this junction, but before long I decided I would bushwhack directly up the slope to the Scaur Ridge Trail in the interest of time, and perhaps explore the full alternative route on the way down.

As I neared the Scaur Ridge Trail on this short, steep 'whack, I came upon a cluster of bear-scarred trees. Evidently there's a healthy bruin population up here.

The Scaur Ridge Trail is a delight, a remote, moderately graded route along an old logging road, surrounded for much of the way by beautiful open hardwoods.

There are frequent glimpses of North Tripyramid and the impressive North Slide.

An inviting hardwood slope below the trail.

At 0.9 mile from Livermore Trail, the trail swings R across a small drainage. There are some old, gnarled yellow birches up here, at 3100 ft.

The last steady climb to the ridge leads through an open fir forest. Near the top the faint old track went L where the trail jogs R. I followed the track, not realizing at first that I was off the trail, but the woods were so open it didn't matter.

I reached the crest between Scaur Peak and North Tripyramid a short distance N of the trail junction. Just ahead there was an open snowfield surrounded by scattered, weather-beaten trees.

With a deep snow platform, there was an excellent northern view here. The five-mile snowshoe journey from the Waterville Livermore trailhead to this spot is very mellow. (The shorter climb up to here via the Pine Bend Brook Trail from the Kanc Highway is another story, with some difficult sidehilling and steep climbing.) I took a half-hour break here. The temperature was in the comfortable twenties, and even facing north, there was almost no wind.

The signs at the junction were almost buried.

The Pine Bend Brook Trail runs SE along this neat, narrow ridge.

The section along the lower slope of the North Tripyramid cone is easy and pleasant, with open woods.
The last 0.3 mile climb up North Tripyramid is a bear, with a series of steep pitches. It was a strenuous ascent today, with four inches of powder atop a hard crust.

The trail is steeper than it looks in this picture. On the way up it tested the gripping limits of my MSR Denali snowshoes. I used trees for helpful pull-ups, and at one spot I even used an old posthole for a handhold.

North Tripyramid is not normally considered a viewpoint of much merit. But with the deep and solid late-season snowpack, it was a different story today. A short distance down the route to the North Slide, there was a sweeping vista NW and north from the scrub at the edge of the trail. This spot provides a great angle on the Osceolas. The beaver ponds near the Kancamagus Brook Ski Trail can be seen on the plateau to the NE of Flume Peak.

The Franconia Range seen beyond the sprawling ridges of Mt. Kancamagus.

A ghostly Lincoln and Lafayette.

Peering north to South Twin, the Bonds and the Hancocks. Note the two glacial cirques carved into the east ridge of Hancock.

After a long stay at this viewpoint, I continued the short distance up to the wooded summit.

Exploring a little ways off-trail down the west shoulder yielded this view of Moosilauke through Thornton Gap.

A short whack down on the SW side of the summit led to another scrubby, late-winter-only viewspot, with a close-up look at Middle and South Tripyramid.

East Sleeper and Whiteface could be spotted to the L of Middle Tri, with the Ossipees on the horizon.

To the SW, Sandwich Dome spreads wide beyond Snows Mountain and the northern Flat Mountain. Distant views extend to Mts. Cardigan and Sunapee.
A framed peek at Whiteface.

Next I went to the more familiar NE viewpoint, which is reached by a short herd path and has decent views even in summer. It was much improved by the lift of the snowpack. Combining this with the other two vantages, I was able to enjoy a near 360-degree panorama from North Tripyramid!

Looking across the Albany Intervale to Bear Mountain and Kearsarge North. Church Pond is down to the L beyond the northern ridges of the Fool Killer.

The mighty Carrigain, and the slides on Mt. Lowell.

Chocorua, and distant horizons in southern Maine.

A fine profile of Passaconaway, with a great NW slab prominently displayed (the snowy patch at the lower L, not to be confused with the lower ledgy area on the old Downes Brook Slide route). Years ago I visited that slab on a muggy Fourth of July via a difficult bushwhack, finding a thin, Arethusa-height cascade plunging over it and a dry perch near the top with an unusual view. On one of his many epic 4000-footer winter bushwhacks, J.R. Stockwell descended Passaconaway this way and said the spot was a huge ice cliff.

Here's a hazy summer view from that slab, looking at Tripyramid and the Fool Killer.

After an hour and a half spent enjoying the enhanced North Tripyramid views, I carefully negotiated the steep descent off the cone. It wasn't as difficult as I feared, with the top powder layer providing enough resistance to prevent uncontrolled snowshoe sliding. (I prefer staying upright to butt-sliding.) I only took one soft fall, on the bottom of the last steep pitch. Back near the Scaur Ridge junction, I went out for another look at the views.

By dropping down a little, I had a look at a steep slab on the flank of the Fool Killer. The snowy top of Potash Mountain is prominent in back on the R. Pleasant Mountain in Maine stretches on the horizon.

I went back down the Scaur Ridge Trail to where it crosses the little drainage. The woods looked inviting below, so I opted to descend through the valley, hopefully picking up the old logging road before the ravine walls closed in. I went up on a side slope to bypass a narrow throat in the brookbed.

Then down the brookbed itself until the walls steepened and the brook became partly open.

As luck would have it, at this point I picked up the old logging road, saving me a steep climb back up to the Scaur Ridge Trail.

This is a lovely little inner-sanctum valley, carved by a tributary of Avalanche Brook.

Off-trail conditions were superb in this hardwood heaven. The top layer of snow had moistened in the sun, but it was not clumping on the snowshoes, and the base beneath was rock-solid.

Another peek at the North Slide.

I dropped down for a look at the little mossy brook.

A flat hardwood glade provided superb open snowshoeing. In summer I suspect parts of this area would be quite wet underfoot.

The last leg of the journey was the 3.6 miles back on Livermore Trail. The cascades on Avalanche Brook below the South Slide junction were in full flow. Spring is coming!

From Depot Camp, a last look at the peak of the day. It was certainly one of my most enjoyable trips to a favorite mountain.


  1. Great pictoral documentation Steve! That shot of East Sleeper, Whiteface,and Middle Tri is a beaut! Love the Tripyramids and hope to get back there again soon. Last time it was an ovecacst, mildly muggy June day and the smell of fir and spruce when we were eating on top of N Tri was incredible. It was like the needles were opening up to get ready to absorb the moisture coming their way.

  2. Hey Steve,
    We did all three Trips last weekend and had a great day. Livermore Rd was badly snowshoed, postholed, made for really tough going. On the way out there were four guys that postholed the Scaur Ridge trail all the way down. They really trashed the trail. Maybe the new snow helped clean up the trail a bit. Last fall we did the Trips and saw a small bear cub in a tree eating beechnuts. Great sighting. The views up there right now are quite nice.

  3. Thanks, Scott! Tripyramid is certainly one of our most distinctive mountains. Hope you can get up there this summer.


  4. Hi John,

    Yup, the Livermore track was pretty rough, and there were some king-size postholes on Scaur Ridge. Can't imagine that was much fun. The new snow helped smooth things out.

    North Tri is right up there with the Carters for the "most improved view" award in late winter.

    The bear tree count along and below Scaur Ridge was pretty high. They'll probably be roaming out there next month.


  5. Hey Steve,

    That was a great read! I love those photos of open woods and that old logging road. Also, that SW winter view is superb!

    I couldn't see the NW slab on Passaconaway that you were mentioning, but that is likely because I wasn't sure exactly where to look. That sounds like an interesting and unique place to visit.

    Thanks for sharing these cool reports! :)

  6. Thanks Chris - that area has a lot of open woods at lower and middle elevations. The slab on Passaconaway is the white patch down towards the lower left. It's not very high up, but it's not easy to get to. I have a scanned image of a slide taken from that slab, not the greatest, but I'll add it to the post.