Monday, September 26, 2011
GENTIAN PONDS & MIDDLE MOUNTAIN: 9/21/11
On a fine sunny day I made a long loop that visited Gentian Pond and Moss or Upper Gentian Pond, two exquisite high mountain ponds, and Middle Mountain, a small ledgy peak, all in the southern part of the Mahoosuc Range. I parked on North Rd. in Shelburne across from the start of the Austin Brook Trail.
This is a unique trailhead where you enter through a wooden turnstile, a neat rustic start to the hike.
The lower part of Austin Brook Trail is nice walking on an old woods road. After a mile you come briefly beside Austin Brook, then cross it to emerge on the gravel Mill Brook Rd. There is a relocation in the works that will bypass this crossing and another on the road, where a bridge was recently taken out.
A fork in Mill Brook Rd.; this will soon be bypassed.
I meant to follow the flagging for the relocation, but started at the wrong brook crossing (oops!) and ended up following some other flagging line, then bushwhacking for quite a ways. Along the way I did find this nice little cascade and gorge on Austin Brook.
I eventually came back to Mill Brook Rd., which is also the Austin Brook Trail farther up the valley, then followed the trail as it turned left onto an older woods road.
A big logging job just concluded this summer in this privately owned commercial forestland; in one spot the skidders briefly ran up the trail. If you hike on the lower slopes of the Mahoosucs, you must expect signs of logging either new or old.
Farther up, the trail crosses a plateau at the base of the ridge, where there has been beaver activity for a number of years. This old beaver pond has gone dry.
One of the beaver openings provides this view up to cliffs on one of the many spurs of the sprawling Bald Cap Mountain complex of ridges.
The trail crosses an open area with this nice beaver pond vista to the east. Cool area out here.
Once across the beaver flats, the Austin Brook Trail abruptly launches into a steep 400-ft. climb to Gentian Pond.
At the top of the climb sits Gentian Pond Shelter, recently shored up by the AMC construction crew.
This is a room with a view, gazing south across the Androscoggin River valley to the summits of the Moriahs.
The layout for the shelter and tentsites.
The tent platforms are tucked into spruce woods up behind the shelter.
A commemorative plaque by the shelter.
A path drops down to the shore of Gentian Pond, which enjoys a rugged setting under the cliffs of another spur of Bald Cap. Beavers have raised the water level in recent years, but there's still a ledge to hang out on at the shore, close by the beaver dam at the outlet. Lucia and Marian Pychowska, intrepid AMC adventurers who explored the Bald Cap region in the 1870s, bestowed this name on the pond after gathering bottle-gentian along its shore.
There has recently been a trail reconfiguration near Gentian Pond. The Mahoosuc Trail/Appalachian Trail now bypasses the pond and shelter, and the Austin Brook Trail now extends 0.1 mi. past the shelter to this junction.
A new section of the Mahoosuc Trail, 0.2 mi. long, was cut as part of this redesign.
I climbed a half-mile up from this junction to tiny, beautiful Moss Pond, so named by the Pychowskas because it was "surrounded by beds of moss." On the USGS Shelburne quad, it is named Upper Gentian Pond.
I spent a long time lounging on a small rock seat at the shore of Moss Pond. Nestling on a high, hidden shelf at 2,530 ft., and rimmed with spiky spruces, it's as peaceful a place as you can find in the mountains. Years ago, Mike Dickerman and I spent a half-hour watching a bull moose feeding and swimming in this pond.
On the way back down to Gentian Pond, I spotted this nifty boulder in the woods.
I headed back down the Austin Brook Trail, which follows Mill Brook Rd. through some recent logging cuts with views up to several of the Bald Cap humps.
With logging concluded in this area for the foreseeable future, a number of drainage berms were made to prevent erosion on the road.
Well down the valley, I turned right onto a western branch of Mill Brook Rd., and followed it a mile to its end in a logging yard, with Middle Mountain looming ahead. To the left, after a short bushwhack around a slash pile, I followed a short connecting path to the Middle Mountain Trail. This connector is in the process of being reopened by the Shelburne Trails Club, and my bushwhacking buddy John "1HappyHiker" Compton has done some brushing on this trail, as related on his blog.
The connector led to a signed junction where I turned right onto the Middle Mountain Trail, a long-abandoned route recently restored by the Shelburne Trails Club.
After climbing easily up a woods road, this path kicked some butt, late in the afternoon, with a stiff grade up through a ledgy oak forest.
Near the top, beautiful red pines took over.
The trail emerges on the broad ledgy summit by this glacial erratic. It's technically not really the top; the 2,010-ft. summit of Middle Mountain is off to the east a bit, and the best views are over that way too.
I really liked the view of Bald Cap Peak, with its cliffs looming close by to the north.
To the NE are Mt. Success and Lary Brook Mountain.
From a ledge around the corner, a fine vista east and SE over the Androscoggin valley to Caribou Mountain, Speckled Mountain and the Royces. Little Mt. Crag is down low on the left.
Looking east to the wide-spreading ridges of Bear Mountain in the trailless eastern Mahoosucs. Green Mountain, the highest peak on the L, reportedly has a low-scrub summit with great views. Someday, hopefully... Mt. Ingalls, last week's objective, is in the foreground.
I descended the full 1.6 mi. length of the Middle Mountain Trail, a pleasant walk on old woods roads once off the steep summit cone. This trail sign is a short distance in from North Rd., on what has been called the Gates Brook woods road or Gates Brook Trail. A 15-minute walk on North Rd. brought me back to my car, without having to pull out the headlamp. This was a very interesting 12-mi. loop, with a great variety of scenery.