Sunday, July 10, 2011


Having made a lowland loop through the western Pemigewasset Wilderness the previous week, I felt it was only fair to do the same in the eastern Pemi. Plus, I needed to check the trails out there for the next edition of the guidebook, in particular the reportedly overgrown southern part of the Shoal Pond Trail. (Warning: this was a long trip - 6 miles by mountain bike and 20 on foot - so this is one of the longer posts you'll see here.)

An early start was mandatory, and I saddled up on my mountain bike at 6:00 am for the 2.8 mile ride from the Lincoln Woods trailhead in on the gravel road known as the East Side Trail. There are no railroad ties to dodge as on the Lincoln Woods Trail, but there is at least one steep hill in either direction. I locked my bike next to the Franconia Brook Campsite and, after reorganizing things in and on my pack, set off on foot beyond the gate at 6:40. A couple of steps brought me into the Pemi, where I would spend nearly the entire day.

After a few minutes of walking along the East Side Trail I made a short side trip to the first of many beautiful spots along the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River, the preeminent backcountry stream in the Whites. This is called the "Ranger's Pool" and features a small gravel beach, a little cascade and a big pool.

Farther along there was a view across the river to this unusual, massive rock.

After passing a nice ledgy spot at the river-edge, the trail ducked into the woods, which were soaking wet from some early morning rain showers. This trail was originally a truck road built around 1940 by the Parker-Young Company to haul timber out of the Cedar Brook drainage.

Along the banks of the East Branch is one of the few places you can find white cedar trees in the Whites.

The East Side Trail ends at a junction with the Cedar Brook Trail. I turned L here on an old railroad grade with many ties still in the trail. With a trail name reshuffling in the wake of the Swinging Bridge removal, this will now become the beginning of the Wilderness Trail.

I continued east on the Wilderness Trail and, shortly before the junction with Thoreau Falls Trail, made a very short bushwhack up to a slide patch with a view up to Bondcliff and its sharp southern spur. This is the bottom of a long, skinny slide that cuts down the north face of the northernmost spur of Mt. Hancock. A bushwhacker I know recently made an epic solo trek up this slide and across the entire densely wooded, knife-edged north ridge of Hancock to the summit of North Hancock. Yikes!

A mile farther the Wilderness Trail crosses Crystal Brook, which drains a huge bowl on the north side of North Hancock. In 1996 I joined several friends for a memorable whack up this valley, with visits to two slides en route, and on to North Hancock.

Just downstream from where Crystal Brook empties into the East Branch, I took a break on a big flat rock with a view downstream to Bondcliff. Classic Pemi scenery.

Mountain avens was in bloom on a nearby ledge.

From the edge of the river Mt. Bond was added to the view.

Continuing on the Wilderness Trail, there were more picturesque river scenes.

I spent a few minutes poking around the brushy site of J.E. Henry's Camp 18. The northern spur of Hancock can be seen in the background.

Some interesting relics here.

Not sure what the bar with the teeth was for. Below it is part of an old rotted boot. I'm sure most readers know this, but it bears repeating: removing artifacts from the WMNF is illegal.

Right beside the trail, just past the camp clearing, was this rusted old stove.

Good railroad grade walking beyond Camp 18.

Another gorgeous spot on the East Branch.

The Wilderness Trail leaves the railroad grade to avoid two river crossings. This part is a soft, needle-carpeted pathway through the spruces.

Wonderful slabs lining the East Branch, 8 1/2 miles in from the road.

A glimpse of Mt. Carrigain upstream where the Wilderness Trail crosses the Carrigain Branch.

Stillwater Junction - a name with Pemi mystique.

The Shoal Pond Trail crosses the East Branch beside the remnant of an old concrete dam.

A serene setting, looking downstream from the crossing.

Ye guidebook editor, who hadn't been here in quite some time, neglected to read the description for Shoal Pond Trail before setting out. As a result, it took 15 minutes to find the route on the north side of the crossing, where beaten paths went both R and L, but not straight ahead (north), the direction the Shoal Pond Trail is headed. Both beaten paths seemed to dead-end in a short distance, but another check of the one to the L revealed a thoroughly overgrown footway making a sharp R. This was the trail! It remained badly overgrown for 100 yards or so until it hopped onto an old railroad grade.

Once on the grade, the route was obvious, though frequently overgrown. Along the way there were countless "step-over" blowdowns.

In some sections the trail was more wide-open. This trail has a uniquely remote feeling, largely due to the endless ranks of gloomy spruces that threaten to choke the trail out of existence. Few human feet ever tread the thousands of acres of trackless forest on either side.

A crossing of Shoal Pond Brook.

The trail passed by the clearing of J.E. Henry's Camp 21. No time to explore this one today.

It was not much farther to my longest break and favorite spot (among many fine ones) of the day: a sliding, ledgy cascade on Shoal Pond Brook known simply as "The Pool."

I took a long lunch break in the sun at this idyllic backcountry oasis. I was even able to dry out the clothes that had gotten soaked pushing through the overgrown sections of trail.

Several pieces of rail were lying in the woods here beside the trail.

A wild and primitive route, is the Shoal Pond Trail.

The tributary called Labrador Brook was choked with blowdown. Years ago I whacked over a ridge and down to a beaver meadow in this side valley (which shows as a pond on the USGS map). One of the more remote places I've seen in the Whites, and I shared it with a resident moose.

The terrain is quite boggy on the northern half of the Shoal Pond Trail, and there were several colonies of blue-flag iris.

The mossy spruce forest typical of the Shoal Pond Brook valley.

Lots of bog bridges through here, most of them holding up pretty well.

The trail leads through an extensive shrubby bog south of Shoal Pond.

Shoal Pond is unsurpassed for its wilderness scenery and serenity. Over the last two decades the little gravel fringe has emerged and been submerged several times. This year it is exposed again, making the wonderful views (here looking south to Mt. Carrigain) more accessible.

A closer look at the blue hulk of Carrigain.

Looking north to Zealand Notch: Zealand Ridge on the L, Whitewall Mountain on the R.

Zooming on Whitewall, with some of its fabulous southern ledges showing.

The full spread of Zealand Ridge. Zeacliff is on the far R, and the summit of Zealand Mountain is on the far L.

From Shoal Pond the trail follows another railroad grade - this one from J.E. Henry's Zealand Valley Railroad, rather then the East Branch & Lincoln - to the Ethan Pond Trail.

A view of the North Fork from the bridge on the Ethan Pond Trail.

Nice walking on a half-mile section of the Appalachian Trail.

Next up, a return loop down the North Fork valley on the Thoreau Falls Trail.

Hats off to an ambitious adopter - this trail is a long ways in and 5.1 miles long.

Thoreau Falls is yet another classic Pemi destination. The broad granite ledge beside the top of the falls soaks up the sun and opens a wild vista up to Mts. Bond and Guyot. It was here that I saw the only two other hikers in twenty miles of tramping, and they were gone within a minute. Amazing, on a fine day in July.

These white admirals were fluttering all around. A few of them decided to hold a scrum.

Looking down the long, looping waterfall.

View from a different angle.

The crossing at the top of the falls on the Thoreau Falls Trail. This can be quite dangerous in high water. We once saw a backpacker almost get swept over the falls. At such times it's safer to cross a bit upstream, or one could use the bridge on the Ethan Pond Trail and bushwhack back downstream to the trail.

View of Zeacliff from the far side of the crossing.

My camera conked out for a while, so I didn't get many pictures along the five miles of Thoreau Falls Trail. This trail was in pretty good shape, though it has quite a few ups and downs, including the 100-ft. climb that avoids two crossings of the North Fork. There were a number of pretty spots along the North Fork, such as the one shown here.

For the last two miles, the trail follows a railroad grade for some easy, smooth walking.

Unlike the Shoal Pond Trail, this route leads, at times, through some northern hardwood forest.

The base of a railroad signal switch, in the woods beside the trail near the site of Camp 22.

The old bridge across the East Branch on the Thoreau Falls Trail is looking a little saggy. It's supported beneath by the trunk of a huge old white pine.

An evening view upstream to Mt. Carrigain.

From here I hustled the four miles back to my bike, pausing once to admire these ledges along the East Branch near the Ranger's Pool. I made it out with daylight to spare, feeling fortunate that I was able to see so much wild and wonderful scenery on a fine, long summer day.


  1. Steve, your Blog reports are all terrific, but if it's possible, this one perhaps has reached a higher level of "terrific" . . . call it super-terrific, if you will!

    I've done so very little exploring in that remote part of the Pemi, and so I don't know what is "normal" for that area. So, I must ask if it is "normal" for that area to come across trailside relics such as you did on your trek?

    Awesome adventure, and awesome report of that adventure!


  2. Thank you for your kind words, John. It's probably good that my camera malfunctioned, or the report would have been even longer!

    Some of the relics, such as the rail beside Shoal Pond Trail, are very obvious. You can usually find a lot more by poking around on the back sides of the camp clearings. Erin Donovan ("ScenicNH") has visited all the camps in the Pemi, some of them many times, and has located some interesting stuff way off trail in the Shoal Pond Brook valley. He has a great gallery of photos on his website,


  3. Hi Steve... wow! What an amazing narrative of your trek through this seldom-visited area. I love the photos and descriptions of the nice rest spots along the way, especially the open slabs on several sections of the brook. Sounds like it was a great day out in the back country. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Just downstream of where the Thoreau Falls Trail used to cross the North Fork at the southern end is a very nice flume and pool.

    My son and I camped along the abandon section, passed a camp with a few relics, and then found the memorial plaque for the Dartmouth doctors. That had been our goal so it was a very satisfying trip. Interestingly the clearing around the memorial had obviously been brushed out.

  5. Thanks, Chris - that's a wonderful area out there! There must be literally dozens of nice spots along the several miles of the East Branch. Maybe you could do a photo tour out there sometime - you would get some great shots!


  6. Thanks for the info, Tom - that North Fork valley has some interesting history. My wife and I went to the plaque some years ago. Will have to look for the flume next time I get out there.


  7. Neat report. Looks like some areas need some serious brushing (my absolute least favorite thing to do - it takes so much darn time). Always enjoy picture of the railroad relics. Such great history in these woods.

  8. Thanks, Chris - Shoal Pond Trail is in need of some serious brushing, especially at the south end. Thoreau Falls Trail, on the other hand, is in pretty good shape.

    You could spend many days out there poking around the old camps!


  9. Awesome, Mr Smith! Did you happen to locate the spot where Drs Miller & Quinn perished? I understand that the trail has been changed around in that area but, a plaque marksthe spot.

  10. Thanks for your comment. The trail is now on the other side of the river from the Miller-Quinn plaque. The plaque is along the old railroad grade.


  11. Steve, Fantastic intel in this post about an obviously wild area of the Pemigewasset. Do you know whether the shoal pond trail has been brushed out near Stillwater junction? I hadn't realized that the trail would be so difficult to find heading north. I should probably read the guidebook a little closer. :-)

  12. Thanks, Philip - I believe I read somewhere that the adopter has brushed out that initial section. I felt pretty foolish not being able to find it for a while. That whole area around Shoal Pond Trail is, I think, the wildest country in the Whites. Hope the planning is going well for your big trip.


    1. I got up there last weekend Steve to check it out. The beginning of the trail after the old dam crossing is pretty obvious but I didn't venture up Shoal Pond very far. I also scouted a bushwhack route from the Bondcliff Tr to the Thoreau Falls bridge via the North Fork that was pretty easy. That whole area around Stillwater junction has an impressively wilderness feel. It was wonderful.

    2. Hi Philip - Sounds like you had a great trip out there. Good to hear the start of Shoal Pond Trail has been brushed out. I've read reports where people whacked from Bondcliff Trail to Thoreau Falls Trail and it didn't sound too bad other than some sidehilling. That is a wonderful area out there!