Friday, March 7, 2014


All winter I've been wanting to journey up to The Kilkenny, the wonderfully secluded and (except for Mt. Cabot) lightly travelled northern section of the WMNF. With its open birch forests, The Kilkenny is an especially inviting place to explore in winter. I've enjoyed many memorable snowshoe rambles up there through the years.

Earlier this season the snow cover was sparse up north, but February changed that. When I saw on Views from the Top that Sue "Stinkyfeet" Johnston had partly broken the Unknown Pond Trail the day before on a loop over The Horn, The Bulge and Mt. Cabot, I made an impromptu decision to head up the next day. On a brilliant sunny morning I made the long drive past the towering Northern Presidentials on Route 2, through the winding streets of Berlin, out along Route 110 with glimpses of various North Country peaks ahead, and then down the long, snow-covered and sanded York Pond Road to the plowed parking for Unknown Pond Trail, two miles past the fish hatchery buildings.

My plan was to snowshoe 3.3  mi. up to Unknown Pond if possible, with a Plan B of exploring several beaver ponds on the west side of the trail near the first crossing of Unknown Pond Brook, about 2 miles up.

The first part of the trail follows an old logging railroad grade. Along here I made a short bushwhack out to an open swamp for a view of Terrace Mountain, one of my favorite Kilkenny peaks. Back in the big snow year of 2001 my friends Ken and Ann Stampfer and I enjoyed an epic snowshoe trek there,  plowing through two to three feet of powder for five hours to make the 3.7 mi. climb to the sharp peak of South Terrace. The whitish areas seen on the side of the peak are acres and acres of expansive white birch forest, where it is near-impossible to follow the trail in deep snow.

As the trail proceeded up the valley of Unknown Pond Brook, I passed one spot of sun-exposed bare ground.

A Ruffed Grouse left its wingprint in the snow beside the trail. I flushed several of them through the course of the day.

Following the trail alongside Unknown Pond Brook.

The first crossing of Unknown Pond Brook was on a shaky snow bridge. For some reason this brook just does not freeze well.

I followed Sue's tracks for another 0.2 mi. to the second crossing of Unknown Pond Brook, where a snow shelf collapsed under my snowshoes. I felt honored to be tracing Sue's tracks, as I had been on several remote snowshoe journeys with her and other friends back in the '90s.

I abandoned the plan for going to Unknown Pond while going partway along a miserable sidehill above the second crossing. After sliding downhill off the hard-set snowshoe tracks for about the tenth time in 0.1 mile, and with the prospect of much more of this type of very difficult going the rest of the way, both up and down, I turned around. As my friend John "1HappyHiker" Compton says, sometimes you gotta know when to fold 'em. I tip my hat to Sue for slogging up through here the day before, and breaking trail all the way to Mt. Cabot. Yikes!

The upside of not going to Unknown Pond was that I had plenty of time for a leisurely exploration of the beaver ponds. The first pond is just a hop, skip and a jump from the trail, though it's not visible to passing hikers.

Approaching the pond, there was a glimpse of The Horn over the treetops.

John Compton and I had visited this pond briefly in November 2009 on a bushwhack to "Bishop's Pond" at the foot of The Horn. It was nice to see it in its deep-winter garb. From the far side there was a nice view back to the two southern peaks of Unknown Pond Ridge. I took a nice long lunch break here, using my pack as a seat. The quiet was stunning.

Wonderfully open woods along the shore of the pond. Fern glades in summer.

After a long break, I climbed a slope to the second pond, whose ice looked shaky and slumpy. I stayed in the woods, traversing above the pond, crossing this partly open, mossy inlet brook.

An open slope above the second pond.

Winding along the slope just above the pond.

View back along the second pond.

These woods are a bushwhacker's dream.

I went a short distance up the slope John and I ascended in 2009. This is the bottom of a long ridge that leads NW to The Horn, with open woods most of the way. There's no better place than The Kilkenny to wander off-trail with snowshoes.

A beaver stub graveyard above the second pond.

I descended to the south end of the second pond, which also had a good view of Unknown Pond Ridge.

Down another slope I found the third pond, which I'd not previously visited.

Birch snags and blue shadows.

Yet another view of the ridge.

The March version of a boot shot - another nice place to hang out for a while. Though it had been well below zero early in the morning, by mid-afternoon it was comfortably in the high 20s with warm sun and little wind.

Tracks leading to my seat.

Zoom on south peak of Unknown Pond Ridge. Just R of center is "Unknown Ledge," a favorite bushwhacking destination.

On my last visit there, with John Compton and Chris Whiton in 2009, we spotted these beaver ponds from above.

Pure Kilkenny beauty.

A Ruffed Grouse left a trail along the edge of the pond.

Grouse tracks.

Looking back at my tracks across the third pond.

A buried beaver dam at the N end of the third pond.

Downstream and downhill was a tiny fourth pond.

I then returned past the second pond to the first pond, where I saw this beaver entry hole near an inlet brook.

Parting shot of the first pond, before heading back to the trail and home after another fine winter day spent in The Kilkenny.


  1. Great trip report! Those beaver ponds look like a great place to explore. Regarding Bishop pond, I've heard it has a unique view of the Horn. What is the easiest way of getting there.

    1. Thanks - it is a wonderful place to explore in winter. See the blog entry from 11/4/09 for a report on Bishop's Pond. You could also come across from the Kilkenny Ridge Trail between Unknown Pond and the Horn.


  2. Steve, your photos surely bring back fond memories of the times I accompanied you on winter adventures in the Kilkenny. Your report is the next best thing to being there! And yes, "you gotta know when to fold 'em" is my credo at certain times when the going gets tough. However, since you're the most 'woods-savy' person I've ever met, my hunch is that you innately adhered to this philosophy long before hearing me say it! :-)

    Like you, I've also encountered brooks that just never seem to freeze over, even during sustained subzero weather. Read something somewhere about this, but of course, can't find it now. Regardless, the 'take away' message that stuck with me was that many factors come into play such as: temperature of water source; velocity of the water flow; mini-environment (south-facing; mineral content, etc, etc). Nature is a complex piece of machinery!


    1. Thank you for your kind comments, John. It would be fun to return up there for some more snowshoe adventures! I was wondering why that brook was open when so many are locked in right now. It was the same with the inlet brook going into the second pond. Interesting.