Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Having a great desire to hike on bare ground in hardwoods, I headed down to the south side of Mt. Chocorua, one of the first places to melt out in spring. My original plan was to hike a mile up the Hammond Trail and bushwhack to some ledges on a lower shoulder of Bald Mountain. But the Hammond Trail was so clear and dry on that southern slope that it lured me onward to the top of Bald Mountain.

Bald is a 2140-ft. knob at the south end of the great SE ridge of Mt. Chocorua. The photo below is a view of Bald taken from Carter Ledge last week.

A few years ago Carol and I got a different and quite imposing perspective on Bald Mountain during a bushwhack to a low knob known as Bragdon Ledge.

Scott Road, the dirt road leading to the Hammond Trail trailhead, was easily passable with just a couple of muddy spots. There was still a snowbank blocking the parking area, so I parked roadside well off the travelway. (This trailhead is on private land, and the owner's summer house is in a field just beyond; when parking, hikers must take great care not to block access to the continuation of Scott Road, which is the driveway to the house.) I got off to an early afternoon start with temperatures decidedly spring-like in the low 50s.

The first half-mile of Hammond Trail weaves around a low-lying area, and much of this section featured either ice or a choppy monorail.

There are two crossings of Stony Brook, which was running high from the previous day's thunderstorms and snowmelt. It's a small but attractive brook.

Just before the second crossing the trail enters the National Forest (red-blazed boundary) and the protected Mt. Chocorua Scenic Area.

Beyond the second brook crossing was......bare ground, baby! From here (elevation 750 ft.) to 1750 ft., the trail and surrounding woods were 99.9% snow-free. In a short distance the trail crossed an old road, which the 1972 AMC guidebook noted was a "recently bulldozed fire-lane."

The next section leads up through a forest dominated by American beech, with some red oak mixed in. In the publication, Natural Communities of New Hampshire, soon to be published in book format as The Nature of New Hampshire, these woods along the Hammond Trail are noted as a particularly good example of the Beech Forest community.

There are also some tall red oaks on this slope.

This trail is on a well-drained gravelly base and offers good footing.

Higher up, the Hammond Trail climbs switchbacks through a mixed forest of red oak and red spruce.
The first consistent snow appeared around 1800 ft. For about 100 yards the trail was a running streambed. I was able to hop rocks and roots, or just slosh through, without taking to the sides of the trail, which can foster erosion.

Then the trail was mostly clear again on ledge slabs, with a few ice and snow patches.

At 2050 ft. or so the trail emerges on a more open ledge, and a short distance down to the L a nice dry slab beckoned for a break, with a partial view out to the Ossipee Range.

After a late lunch, I followed the trail up to the flat, snow-encased summit area of Bald Mountain.

I bushwhacked a short way down on the west side through mostly snowless spruce woods and found one partial view of Sandwich Dome, Mt. Wonalancet and Mt. Whiteface.

Then I returned to the Hammond Trail, dropped down a little ways, and bushwhacked across the south edge of the summit plateau, staying in the woods and stepping on bare rock to avoid trampling lichens. Out on these ledges is where Bald Mountain earns its name.

After a while I reached a familiar ledge with a lovely view of a still-frozen Chocorua Lake.

Farther to the south I could see the Ossipee Range.

Another ledge had an interesting assortment of randomly scattered rocks.

I carefully made my way over and up to a high, jutting granite outcrop.

The prize vista from Bald Mountain looks across the Chocorua River basin to Mt. Chocorua, the Three Sisters, and Carter Ledge.

Chocorua's cone is striking from any angle.

The streaked granite face of Carter Ledge, atop which I was lounging in the sun a few days earlier.

The Moats, White Ledge and Kearsarge North.

South to Silver Lake, Green Mountain and Ossipee Lake.

In the foreground was a wild jumble of rocks, with a gnarled old husk of a tree in the middle.

Granite chunks cracked and piled by frost action, presumably.

After a long sojourn on the ledges, I returned to the trail, picked my way back down the icy and snowy sections, and got back into those wonderful dry woods, lit by the evening sun.

Lower down on the slope I bushwhacked across to a grassy, open oak glade that reminded me of some places in the Catskills.

There was a spot here to sit and gaze out at Chocorua Lake and the Ossipees.

A wind-flagged old white pine guarded one edge of the glade.

Back on the trail, I spotted this marvelous bear tree a few feet into the woods. About this time I also heard a wild turkey calling nearby.

Before heading home I walked out along the access trail to the Chocorua Conservation Lands, which passes through the field in front of the summer house at the old Hammond homestead (private land - please be courteous), and paused for a moment to admire Bald Mountain. A phoebe was singing - another sign of a most welcome spring.

On the way home I caught a nice sunset from the Kanc Highway just west of Kancamagus Pass.


  1. Snow free ground!!!! Hallelujah!!!!!
    Nice sunset picture Steve.

  2. Wow, Steve - what a way to usher in the Spring! Beautiful report - gotta love those afternoon starts!

  3. Thanks, guys - bare ground is a wonderful thing! Found some more this afternoon down in the Dickey area.


  4. Steve, Thanks for the report on Bald Mt. It convinced me to go for it yesterday.... excellent choice. And thanks for the tips on bushwacking over to the views. Very nice. I'll see you at the store sometime. Ed M

  5. Hi Ed,

    Hammond Trail is one of the nicer routes on Chocorua, though it seems it was more popular a hundred years ago than it is today. The climb to Bald is one of my favorites in spring, and the views certainly are unique.


  6. Thanks steve, was going to check your books for early spring recommendations--those hikes w less snow and no big stream crossings. This looks like a good start.

  7. Hi Peter,

    The trail up Dickey Mountain should be in pretty good shape as well, though there could be some ice or snow patches in the shady areas between the ledges.


  8. Hi Steve,
    Great piece and wonderful photos!This is also one of my favorite areas at this time of year.The lower section of the old Skull Cairn trail with that ledge complex keeps me busy for hours!Don't know if you know anything about the severe wind damage along the section of Hammond Tr. above the weetamoo jct to the Liberty Tr. jct.I was up there in late Nov.2010 and no clean-up at that point.Dozens of blowdown and snags.Impenetrable in places.No info from the USFS on this obviously severe wind event.Any info anyone? Steve,thanks for providing.Always enjoyable.

  9. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for the info - I hadn't heard about the wind damage up there. Too bad - that's a beautiful spruce forest. Will definitely check that out after the snow melts. I agree, those Skull Cairn ledges are a great place to hang out. Enjoy the spring!


  10. Neat trip report. Hope things are melting up on Piper so I can start working! Thanks.

    I heard that about Liberty as well. Also heard that Liberty has a new adopter! I've offered to help.

  11. Hi Chris,

    Hope the snowmelt is coming along on Piper. We came back from a few days at Acadia today (99.9% snow-free on the trails I did up there) and driving over the Kanc there's still a lot of snow on the flats in the Albany Intervale.

    Glad to hear Liberty has an adopter. I saw Bailey on our way to Maine and she said CMC is raring to go this year, sounds like they will have their hands full on the upper Hammond Trail.


  12. Steve,

    Pleased to report that the CMC have cleared all blowdowns on Hammond. I joined a crew going up Weetamoo and we met up with another on Hammond to tackle a particularly bad section. Chainsaws were the order of the day.

  13. Chris,

    That's awesome - it sounds like there was a massive mess up there. Thanks to you and CMC for the good work!