Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Took a hike partway up Gale River Trail to walk and measure the major new relocation that keeps the trail on the west side of the Gale River, North Branch, thus avoiding two major crossings.

The first crossing was at 1.7 mi. from the trailhead. The relocation starts about 50 yards before that.

Newly cut relos make for soft walking and easy wheel-measuring, with fewer rocks and roots than old, eroded paths.

Some nice sidecut work leading to the crossing of Garfield Stream.

The crossing of Garfield Stream - which flows down through the valley between Garfield Ridge, Mt. Garfield and Flat Top Mountain,- is much easier than those of the Gale's North Branch.

Good cribbing/step work.

This happened to be the day that the relocation was officially opened - in fact I had to hunt for it a bit on the lower end as the last 20 feet hadn't been cut through yet. These two hikers, Kim and Michele Vecchione (forgot to get their hometown) were the first "guests" on the new section.

The justly proud trail crew from the Pemi Ranger District: L to R, longtime crew member Glenn Spencer; Trails Manager Jenny Burnett; and volunteer extraordinaire Giff Kriebel, who is well-known to adopters on the Pemi. Some two months of work last fall and this summer went into the construction of this 1.1 mile long relocation, one of the longest in recent memory. The Gale River Trail is now 0.1 mile longer. As it turned out, this project was timely - the old route of the Gale River Trail along the east bank may well have been partly obliterated by the surging flood waters of Tropical Storm Irene.

This informational sign was posted at either end of the new relo.

From the upper end of the relo, I continued a half-mile farther to the spot where the trail comes out on an open gravel bank at the base of an old slide. This is a nice lunch spot, which is what I used it for.

Here you get a view down to the river and up to the high ridges of the Twins.

Looking up to a high, wild spur of North Twin. This is a neat, secluded little valley, and there is some interesting bushwhacking to be found on either side. No time for that today, though. It was a pleasure walking back over the nice new trail bed. Galehead-bound hikers will appreciate it!

Sunday, August 28, 2011


It's been a busy summer, so blog entries are running a little behind! On this warm, partly sunny day, Carol and I headed up to Airport Rd. (also known as Hazen Rd.) in Jefferson/Whitefield for a walk into the Pondicherry National Wildlife Refuge, one of New Hampshire's most unique natural areas, with a variety of ponds, bogs, marshes, swamps and boreal forest. Part of the larger Silvio O.Conte NWR, it's also known as one of the state's birding hotspots, though mid-August is not a prime time.

The parking lot for the Pondicherry Rail Trail, the 1.4 mi. access trail into the refuge, was almost full. It's a gentle stroll in, though the second half of the trail is open to the sky and plenty hot in the summer sun.

Near the trail's end we took a right at a fork and walked out to a viewing platform at the edge of
Cherry Pond, named in memory of Tudor Richards, longtime leader of the NH Audubon Society and the state's preminent ornithologist.

There was a group doing some birding at the platform.

It was an AMC trip with the amazing Dave Govatski as tour guide. Dave, who worked many years on the White Mountain National Forest, is the volunteer manager of Pondicherry and has spent countless hours here studying flora & fauna (recording over 200 bird species), working on trails, and doing whatever else needs to be done. He is also the single most knowledgable person I know concerning both the natural history and human history of the White Mountains. And, he was the first hiker known to have redlined all the trails in the AMC White Mountain Guide, finishing up in 1997. But Dave took it a few steps further, redlining trails throughout the state - including local Conservation Commission trails and the like - and also walking most of the abandoned routes in the Whites.

In the photo below, Dave is the guy peering through a spotting scope at a loon with young out on the pond.

From the platform there was a beautiful view across Cherry Pond to the Pliny Range, including Mts. Starr King, Waumbek and Pliny.

A short walk along the "Waumbek Link" trail and then the railroad tracks led to the first of two short, scenic paths along the shore of the pond. The first is called the Shore Path.

This line is still occasionally used for freight trains, so Pondicherry walkers should stay alert for the possibility of a passing train rumbling by.

A view across the water to the Crescent Range in Randolph.

The premier view at Pondicherry is the lovely panorama of the Presidentials.

This area was noted as a National Natural Landmark long before it became a National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge now encompasses over 6,400 acres.

Another look at the Presys, with the Dartmouth Range to the R.

The second shoreside walk, farther up the tracks, is the Rampart Path, named for an "ice push rampart" - a mini-ridge along the shore pushed up by the expansion of pond ice. The Colonel Whipple Trail is the Cohos Trail, leading north from Pondicherry.

A view of Owl's Head and Cherry Mountain.

Across the tracks from the far end of the Rampart Path, we headed back into the woods on the Little Cherry Pond Trail.

This delightful path, which has been adopted by our friends Joanne and Kevin Jones, meanders through beautiful conifer forest and makes a lollipop loop to its namesake pond.

There are no mountain views from the small viewing platform at Little Cherry Pond, but the place has a primordial beauty. I was here at dusk once on a spring evening, and all kinds of strange and wild calls came from the pond and surrounding bog and forest. Rather spine-tingling, it was.

Carol caught this shot of a White Admiral hanging out on my pack.

The other side of the loop trail was an equally pleasant ramble.

Back along the tracks, a cattail-and-Presidential vista.

After a hot walk back along the rail trail, we drove around to a new trailhead off Rt. 116, one mile east of the Jefferson/Whitefield town line. The as-yet unnamed trail (Mud Pond Trail just
won't do, says Dave Govatski) leads 0.6 mi. down to picturesque, secluded Mud Pond. The last 1,000 ft. out to the viewing platform is on this impressive raised boardwalk through a boggy conifer forest.

The platform is a wonderful place to relax and look for wildlife in the summer sun. Down in the bog were cotton grass, pitcher plants and sundews. I chatted here with Dave and his group for quite a while before heading back to the car.

Back in the 90s I had bushwhacked on snowshoes down to Mud Pond. It's great to see this picturesque spot now protected in the Pondicherry NWR and accessible to all.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


A perfect summer day: temp around 70, low humidity, sunny skies, endless views. The Webster Cliff Trail, one of the classic routes in the Whites, was calling.

A little way in from the trailhead on US 302 in Crawford Notch, the trail comes to this plaque honoring two of the founders and longtime leaders of the AMC Four Thousand Footer Club.

The Robertson Bridge over the Saco River.

A stillwater stretch of the Saco.

The lower part of the Webster Cliff Trail leads through a fine hardwood forest.

At 1.4 mi. the trail crosses a small landslide that fell in 2009.

Trail workers have stabilized the crossing with rock steps.

Just above the slide there's a tricky ledge scramble. This spot is really nasty when it's icy.

It was a good stiff climb - 1,750 ft. of elevation in 1.8 mi. - to the first of the Webster Cliff's many outlook ledges.
On a day like this, it's worth every huff and puff when you stare down to the floor of Crawford Notch.

The great wall of Mt. Willey towers above the Notch. What an ominous mountain!

Bondcliff, Mt. Bond and Mt. Guyot rise beyond the plateau south of Mt. Willey.

Webster Cliff is an entertaining trail, ducking back into conifer corridors in between the viewpoints.

Looking up the ridge towards the summit.

At 2.4 mi. you cross this big open ledge with a large cairn.

This spot offers a glimpse north to Boott Spur and Mt. Washington.

Whilke relaxing here, I heard the toot of the Conway Scenic Railroad train climbing up through the Notch, and caught a look as it passed below the slab that ice climbers call the Willey Slide (not to be confused with the famous Willey Slide that fell in 1826 and is now fully revegetated.)

Beyond a col, the trail climbs to another great outlook. This is the view south.

This is the best spot along the Webster Cliffs for a clear look at Montalban Ridge. Here you can see (L to R) Stairs Mtn., Mt. Resolution, Mt. Crawford and Mt. Hope.

The Webster Cliff Trail surprises with an occasional very steep scramble. Overall, it's a more strenuous and tiring trail than the stats would seem to indicate.

A boulder perched on yet another great vantage point.

A vista into the eastern Pemi Wilderness.

Looking back down another steep pitch.

It's fun to look back down the ridge with ever-changing perspectives.

A down-look at Willey Pond and the Willey House Site.

Yet another ledge scramble.

The ridge now stretches far off to the south. Chocorua is at the center of the horizon.

I watched the train again on its way back down the Notch, as it crossed the Willey Brook Trestle.

One last scramble before the summit of Mt. Webster.

Open ledges at the 3910-ft. summit offer a fine view north to the higher Presidential peaks.

Mt. Washington rises impressively behind the rocky little cone of Mt. Jackson.

Looking NW to the Dartmouth Range and Cherry Mtn.

The Gray Jay is a frequent companion during a summit stay in the Crawford Notch area.

The day was so fine, I decided to continue across to Mt. Jackson, then descend the Webster-Jackson Trail and take my chances hitchhiking back to my car. The Webster Cliff Trail cuts through conifer woods across the ridge, with several ups and downs.

The cone of Mt. Jackson is a steep scramble no matter which side you approach it from.

Near the top, a great view back to the SW.

Looking back at Mt. Webster, with Carrigain, Hancock and Willey beyond.

Big cairn at the summit.

Looking up the range to Pierce, Eisenhower, Monroe and Washington.

The great expanse of the Dry River valley spreads below Washington and Boott Spur. Closer in is the spur valley followed by the Mt. Clinton Trail.

It doesn't get much clearer than this in the summer.

Looking across the Dry River valley at Mt. Isolation.

Looking west. Because I arrived here late in the afternoon, I had the summit to myself for an hour.

The top of the steep, ledgy descent off Jackson on the Webster-Jackson Trail.

This is a rugged stretch of trail.

Looking back up at the summit from a fir wave. From here the trail is less steep, but the footing is consistently rough and wet. For me, it's a pretty slow 2.6 mi. to descend.

At the Webster-Jackson trail fork, I made a short, steep descent on the Webster Branch to see this lovely waterfall on Silver Cascade Brook.

Farther down I made the short side trip out to Bugle Cliff, where the sun had already set on Saco Lake and the Highland Center. As this photo shows, it was a late exit, and I had no luck hitching a ride during the half-hour of daylight I had left. So I ended up walking down Rt. 302 through the Notch in the dark, clambering over the guardrail when vehicles came by. At least it was all downhill.

At the Willey House site I left the road, opting to hike the Sam Willey Trail and Saco River Trail by headlamp back to the lower end of the Webster Cliff Trail. I took a break at the Willey Pond dam, where I could see stars in profusion when my headlamp was off. The Big Dipper hung high over Mt. Willard.

The walk along the trails was very pleasant by headlamp, especially compared to the road walk. It was spiced up when some coyotes yipped and howled. Thankfully they were behind me, not in the direction I was going. A 10 pm exit is late even for me, a notorious late finisher, but it certainly was a long and rewarding day in the mountains.