Friday, May 31, 2013


In his 1916 history of the Albany Intervale, Passaconaway in the White Mountains, Charles Edward Beals, Jr. described Mt. Passaconaway as "the loftiest, wildest, yet most symmetrical, most awe-inspiring mountain of the Sandwich Range." This peak has long been a favorite of mine, and  gazing across The Bowl at it from Mt. Whiteface a week ago kindled a desire to pay another visit.

I prefer ascending Passaconaway via the less-used northern route from the Kancamagus Highway (Oliverian Brook Trail, Passaconaway Cutoff, Square Ledge Trail and Walden Trail), rather than the more popular southern approach from Wonalancet via the Dicey's Mill Trail. This 10-mile round-trip trek is in the nature of a journey, with a long gradual approach followed by an abrupt ascent of 1500 ft. in the last 1.5 mi. It has more variety than the southern approach - some brook scenery, a bit of logging history, a view from a trailside slide, and a wild, rugged climb up the cone - and assures that you can see all of the mountain's four varied viewpoints. Passaconaway has been called a boring peak  ("Pass-a-yawn-a-way") by some hikers who have just gone up and back on Dicey's Mill Trail, missing three of the four viewpoints. Coming in from the north gives you the full flavor of this impressive mountain.  

I started at the Oliverian Brook trailhead off the Kanc, a mile west of Bear Notch Rd.

A fellow who had been camping off the Oliverian Brook Trail had a breakfast fire going by the old gravel pit near the trailhead.

The first 3.6 mi. of the route is familiar turf for me, since friends and I maintain the Passaconaway Cutoff. The beaver pond 0.7 mi. from the trailhead was brimming over and partly flooding one section of trail.

Before and after the beaver pond the Oliverian Brook Trail follows the grade of a spur line of the Conway Lumber Company's Swift River Railroad, which operated in the Albany Intervale from 1906 to 1916.

Farther along, the trail runs alongside its namesake brook, with some nice stream scenery.

Ah, wilderness!

A beautiful hemlock section on the lower Passaconaway Cutoff.

The crossing of the west branch of Oliverian Brook usually requires some creative footwork.

This quarter-mile hardwood corridor is my favorite part of the Cutoff.

Our usual break spot beside the west branch, where the Cutoff turns upslope for some steadier climbing.

A glimpse of Hedgehog Mountain and the Nancy Range near the top of the Cutoff.

At 3.6 mi., the Cutoff meets the Square Ledge Trail.

After crossing a dip, the Square Ledge Trail passes the overgrown site of an old Conway Lumber Company high mountain logging camp. This sled runner, which used to be partly hidden in the forest duff, has been placed beside the trail by someone for all to see.

The trail crosses the base of an old slide on the steep north slope of Nanamocomuck Peak, an eastern spur of Passaconaway.

Looking up the slide from the trail.

A short scramble (less than a minute) up the right edge of the slide, taking care not to kick rock fragments onto passing hikers below, rewards with some interesting views, including this look up at a southeastern knob of Passaconaway's summit mass.

There's a picturesque view north over Hedgehog Mountain to Mt. Tremont and Mt. Washington beyond. The leaves on the foreground slope were freshly greening here at the end of May.

Beyond the slide, the Square Ledge Trail grinds out some elevation, with rocky footing at first.

Then the footbed improves.

Near the top of the climb, what looks like an old tote road branches off to the right.

Next up is the upper section of the Walden Trail, a wild and rugged route with some steep, rocky climbing.

At this spot there's a huge old spruce blowdown, and some of the rock steps built by the Wonalancet Out Door Club when they did a major reconstruction project on the Walden Trail from 1997-2001.

Some fine axe work.

A jumbled rocky section.

Near the top of the summit cone, the trail climbs alongside a rock face.

From there it's not far to the great southern viewpoint, looking out to the lakes beyond Mt. Wonalancet, Mt. Whiteface and the lower part of the glacial valley of The Bowl. In the center is the ridge ascended by the Dicey's Mill Trail.

Hibbard Mountain, the whaleback of Mt. Wonalancet, and the eastern valley of The Bowl.

A great broadside view of Whiteface. Sandwich Dome peeks over on the right.

A short, steep climb leads to a comfortable ledge at the eastern viewpoint. It's said that this outlook was cleared by the author-naturalist Frank Bolles in 1891.

A fine vista of the eastern peaks of the Sandwich Range - Square Ledge (down in front), Mt. Paugus and Mt. Chocorua. Under Paugus is the wild upper valley of Oliverian Brook. the city of portland could be spotted over the southern spur of Paugus. This outlook has a "lofty" feeling.

Looking SE over Wonalancet Hedgehog and Nanamocomuck Peak to Ossipee Lake and the Ossipee Range.

The wooded summit of Square Ledge and its southwestern cliff face.

Just 20 yards away is the side path to the great northern viewspot. Many folks - including two of the three hikers I met this day - skip this spot because it involves a descent of 0.25 mi. and about 175 ft. The spur path is mostly gradual, and it's well worth the extra effort on a clear day!

Approaching the northern viewpoint. It's a small ledge but nice for sitting, though you must stand to really see the amazing panorama. Charles Edward Beals, Jr. called this a "lofty eagle-nest of a cliff."

Looking over Hedgehog Mountain and across the Albany Intervale to Bear Mountain, the Moats, and the Carters in the distance.

A closer look at Hedgehog, with the summit on the left and the East Ledges on the right.

The view out towards Mt. Carrigain, the Hancocks, and the Franconia Range. Spruce-capped Potash Mountain is in the foreground.

Church Pond, Mt. Tremont/Owl's Cliff, and Mt. Washington & the Southern Presidentials.

Green's Cliff, Carrigain Notch and the Willey Range. All told, 38 NH 4000-footers can be seen from this spot, plus two more at the other viewpoints.

Along the spur path were a few patches of snow left over from the unusual Memorial Day Weekend snowfall .

A side path leads to the wooded, viewless summit. Contrary to the angle of the sign, there's only a slight elevation gain.

Here is where the Walden and Dicey's Mill Trails meet.

It's only a few yards along Dicey's to the NW outlook, which is of the stand-up variety, but a good one.

There's an especially neat angle on the Tripyramids here. At the lower left you can see the top of the slide unleashed by Tropical Storm Irene on the flank of West Sleeper.

The broad domes of the Sleepers.

I made a loop off the summit via Dicey's Mill Trail and the East Loop. The only ledge scramble on Dicey's is just below the top.

After a steep, rocky section Dicey's follows wide switchbacks with excellent footing.

The site of the former Camp Rich, now a sanctioned campsite with good water nearby.

The East Loop is a short, wild connecting path across the south face of Passaconaway.

Descending Square Ledge Trail, I made a short off-trail foray to see the hobblebush-lined upper reaches of the west branch of Oliverian Brook.

A cascade on that same stream, much farther downstream down near the Passaconaway Cutoff.

As I exited in the evening, a beaver was patrolling the pond beside Oliverian Brook Trail, and cruised back and forth several times, checking me out. A neat ending to a day well-spent on Passaconaway.