Thursday, October 17, 2013


Having explored two of the three great trailless western ravines on Mt. Moosilauke in the past month, I decided to complete the trifecta with a bushwhack into Tunnel (aka Benton) Ravine, a partly formed glacial cirque on the NW side of the summit. I had visited this ravine back in 1996, bushwhacking up the valley to a slide on the north wall, passing a fine waterfall and the collapsed remains of a Dartmouth Outing Club shelter en route.

The photo below shows the ravine as seen from Black Mountain in the Benton Range.

An impressive new feature of the ravine - a massive slide unleashed on the south wall by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 - called for a re-visit to this wild area. I first heard of this slide in 2012 from bushwhacker extraordinaire J.R. Stockwell, who ascended it as one of several off-trail routes he's used to ascend Moosilauke. Then this summer I saw an excellent blog report posted by Dartmouth professor David Kotz, who with a friend ascended Moosilauke via Tunnel Ravine and the slide, which they came upon unexpectedly.

In early September I climbed Moosilauke by the Benton Trail, making a bushwhack to some fir waves west of the trail that offer openings with impressive views of Tunnel Ravine. From here I had a great look at the new slide. The two photos below, taken from the fir waves on two different hikes, show Tunnel Ravine in 2008, without the new slide, and this September, with the big slide prominently displayed.



I parked at the gate at the split in Tunnel Brook Road and walked 2.3 mi. up the road (now permanently closed to vehicles) to the start of the Tunnel Brook Trail at road's end.

A scenic stretch of the trail alongside Tunnel Brook.

I made a brief side trip to look at this nice sandy stretch of the brook.

Along the trail, the nameless brook that drains Tunnel Ravine fans out into a couple of dry rocky beds. The outline of the ravine can be seen through the trees.

Before starting the bushwhack, I visited a pretty beaver meadow on Tunnel Brook, with a view across to the ridges of Mt. Clough.

Looking upstream to a western spur of Mt. Moosilauke.

I left the trail at the site of an old logging camp and bushwhacked up through open hardwoods at first.

I angled across the slope to come by the brook flowing from the ravine.

For a while I followed the trace of the old Dartmouth Outing Club Tunnel Ravine Trail (also called Tunnel Slide Trail), which was opened around 1930 and abandoned in the late 1940s.

Here's a description found on from an old DOC publication that I've never seen:

(1930): DOC Moosilauke Guide THE TUNNEL SLIDE TRAIL. This new trail offers an interesting descent off the mountain, and by making use of the old Tunnel Road which the trail meets, allows the party to complete a trail circuit either back to the automobile at Glencliff, or to fairly close to the Lost River, if the party left their car at the foot of the Beaver Brook Trail. The Trail is more practical for the descent of the mountain than for climbing it.
Leave Summit Camp and go northwest on Benton Ridge down the Benton Path. At 1/2 mile, leave Benton Path and take Tunnel Slide Trail to the left. Down a slide to floor of the ravine and a brook, 1 1/4 miles. Follow down stream. At 1 1/2 miles pass 6 man open-shelter on left bank. Spring just below the shelter. At 1 3/4 miles pass a long chute in the brook bed, the rock worn smooth with the water. At 2 1/4 miles come to the main stream running approximately north and south, and find remains of the old washed-out Tunnel Road. To go to Glencliff turn left (south) upstream. To go towards Lost River Road turn down stream.
distance: 2 1/4 miles
Time: from Summit, with campers 2 hours

And a description from the 1936 AMC White Mountain Guide, taken from 

Tunnel Trail. (D.O.C.)
This picturesque, though steep and rough trail, also called Tunnel Ravine Trail, lies in a ravine S. of the ridge which bears the Benton Trail. As it is most used as a descent it will be so described. It leaves the Benton Trail 0.4 m. below the summit of Moosilauke. It soon reaches and descends a slide and then the brook at its foot, passing N. of a D.O.C. shelter. Shortly below the shelter it turns S. from the brook and follows a logging road to the abandoned Tunnel Brook Road. Following the latter N., Bungay Corner on the Kinsman Notch Road is reached in 4 ¼ m., or, turning S., Glencliff will be reached in about 7 m., the first 5 m. being rough and in places obstructed and obscure.
Distances. Summit to Tunnel Trail 0.4 m. (12 min.); to shelter 2 ¼ m. (2 hrs. 15 min.); to Tunnel Brook Road 3 m. (3 hrs.).

One of several cascades seen along the way.

This is a good-sized waterfall, the largest seen along the brook.

The ravine walls closed in, requiring some steep sidehilling through small conifers that were dripping wet from overnight showers, and also some back-and-forth across the brook, where the wet rocks were extremely slippery. More cascades higher in the ravine.

One of the sections hopping along the brook.

I passed the remains of the DOC Tunnel Brook Shelter, built around 1930 and still standing but long-abandoned around 1980, according to David Hooke's epic history of the Dartmouth Outing Club, Reaching That Peak.

The moose skull that David Kotz had reported finding on his August bushwhack was still there at the shelter site.

Nearby was this aerated frying pan hanging on a tree.

Beyond the shelter site the floor of the ravine broadened, and there were some nice open glades.

Before heading up to the new Irene slide, I paid a revisit to the slide that fell on the north wall of the ravine in 1973. Revegetation has advanced considerably since I was here in 1996. The diminutive firs growing in crevices on the ledges did a great job of soaking my boots!

Looking across the slide to the south wall; Black Mountain in the distance.

Looking up the old slide.  With the shorter daylight of mid-October, I didn't have time to go to the top.

I caught a glimpse of the Irene slide farther up the ravine.

I dropped back down to the brook and continued up the ravine to the first signs of the new slide - a wall of torn-out trees blocking the brook.

I whacked through the woods around this obstacle and looked back downstream at it.

Ahead was a pile of rubble from the slide. This ravine has been prone to landslides for many years, as noted in this 1941 report by Charlotte Crane Root in Appalachia: "The climb down the Tunnel Ravine Trail was wonderful this morning. We jumped and bounced down over the rocks. Dave took a wonderful slide on a very wet slab, which did terrible things to his poor white shorts. We swam in the cold but gloriously clear stream and then walked through the beautiful, soft valley which suddenly changed into a ghastly waste land, the result of successive land slides and the late hurricane."

The slide exposed these ledges on the brook. It was fun scrambling (carefully) up them. As noted above, wet ledges and rocks on the brook were very slick.

Looking back from the first set of ledges.

The views back got better and better.

I followed a zigzag route through this section.

What a great area!

Approaching the bottom of the big slide.

Steep broken ledges at the bottom of the slide. I couldn't find a route up this pitch that I was comfortable with, so I bushwhacked through steep nasty woods on the right beside the slide to get around this first section.

The main brook plunges down a rocky cleft.

Working my way partway up the slide.

Looking down the ravine from the slide, with distant views NW to ridges in Vermont.

Birch and fir seedlings starting the process of revegetation, two years after the slide fell.

Looking up the massive slide, which starts at 4200 ft. and drops to 3500 ft. I couldn't even see the top from here.

A rare spot of sun on a murky day.

But of course!

Zoom on the lower ravine.

A dike of darker rock - basalt? - cuts across the main bedrock, which geologists identify as Littleton Schist, a metamorphic rock formed about 400 million years ago.

The bottom of the slide rises steeply above the main brook.

Nasty whacking down beside the slide, lots of holes. Very slow, careful foot placement required. At least the woods had dried out by now.

A scene along the brook on the way out. Tunnel Ravine provided a memorable bushwhack!


  1. What a beautiful hike! The late Fall colors and the small brooks running through the ravine are a sight to behold. Also, thank you for publishing this blog, I've been enjoying the accounts of your hikes since I first stumbled across it about six months ago.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Craig, and thanks for reading!


  2. Nice report and excellent photos! Enjoyed it very much.
    Amy P.

  3. WOW! That Irene Slide is somewhere way beyond massive! In one of your photos (think it's the 8th from the end of your report), the slide resembles a highway construction project on the mountainside!

    You did a stellar job with your photo-documentation of the conditions in Tunnel (Benton) Ravine. Also, I really appreciated and enjoyed the various links you included, as well as the description of the Tunnel Slide Trail from the old DOC Moosilauke Guidebook. Considering the trail was abandoned in the late 1940s, it's seems amazing to me that you were still able to find some faint traces of it in 2013!

    Thanks so much for sharing this adventure!


    1. Thanks, John! The slide is certainly an impressive scene of destruction.

      In some places the old trail was obvious, in others I wondered where it could possibly have gone through in the steep sidehill terrain. Perhaps it crossed back and forth over the brook a couple of times.


  4. Fantastic report and photos, Steve! Thank you--again--for capturing your adventures for the rest of us.

  5. Steve,
    Sue Lee and I wacked in there and camped around the wall of trees in the brook new the Irene slide last night. We tried to get on the slide but it was covered with a thin layer of ice so we backed off and wacked up to the Benton. This is our third trip in there, all three times camping. Someday we will make it onto the slide.

    1. That's a cool ravine, isn't it? Must have been a gnarly whack up to Benton.