Friday, November 6, 2015


I had a late start after morning business on this sunny, warm November day, so I opted for an easy approach hike on the south end of the Sawyer Pond Trail followed by a short bushwhack to 1891-foot Birch Hill, a low eminence north of the Kanc Highway with good views from east-facing cliffs.

The caveat with the Sawyer Pond Trail from the Kanc is that you have to ford the Swift River at the start. With low water flow and warm temperatures, it seemed feasible today.

Looking downstream from the ford. It was not quite to knee level today a bit upstream from where the trail comes to the bank.

Nice gravel bar looking upstream.

The first part of the trail after the river crossing passes under towering white pines.

A big fallen pine, waiting for trail-clearing axeman Chris Garby.

Easy, pleasant walking in the Albany Intervale.

Farther along the woods switch to hardwoods, bathed in low-angle November sun.

From a point on the west slope of Birch Hill, I left the trail and bushwhacked up through mostly open hardwoods. In the 1920s and 1930s Birch Hill was accessible via a trail maintained by the Passaconaway Mountain Club, but I didn't see any trace of it.

I encountered some spruce blowdown along the crest of the low ridge.

The summit of Birch Hill, right behind the cliffs.

East to Bear Mountain.

Owl's Cliff and its long SE ridge; Bartlett Haystack on the right.

From a corner of the cliff, a view north.

Mount Carrigain, Vose Spur, Carrigain Notch, Mount Lowell, and Mount Anderson. In front is the low ridge the Sawyer Pond Trail crosses en route to Sawyer Pond.

Mount Tremont and Owl's Cliff.

Looking across the cliff face.

Mount Chocorua across the Albany Intervale.

Some late oak color behind the ledges.

Oaks overhead.

Beech bronze on the bushwhack down.

Afternoon light on the Sawyer Pond Trail.

I fashioned a loop by following the Nanamocomuck Ski Trail west towards Church Pond. This trail was fine for walking with only a couple of muddy spots. One long section meandered through a fine bottomland hardwood forest.

At 0.3 mile from the Sawyer Pond Trail, the ski trail passed this lovely view up the Swift River to Mount Passaconaway.

Several years ago the eastern half of the Church Pond Trail was closed due to chronic wetness. The west part of the trail still provides access to this scenic pond.

Great new bog bridges - a quarter-mile of them - were placed on the Church Pond Trail in 2013 by the Saco Ranger District trail crew. This is now a very pleasant, easy hike, with the qualifier that the Swift River must be forded at the start.

Cotton grass and Green's Cliff.

The trail ends at "The Knoll," a low hill covered with red pines, overlooking Church Pond.

Mount Tripyramid's North Peak reflects in the water, along with the Fool Killer.

Mount Tremont, Owl's Cliff and Birch Hill from a great sitting rock along the pond's eastern finger.

A closer look at Tremont and Owl's Cliff.

Mount Passaconaway and Potash Mountain. After admiring these twilight views, I hustled back along the trail, forded the river with darkness drawing on, and walked along the Kanc back to the Sawyer Pond trailhead. Along the way I paused to look at the Big Dipper suspended above the dark silhouette of Green's Cliff. There is no light pollution out on the Kanc!


  1. Excellent report as always, Steve! This posting particularly piqued my interest since it reminded me that it has been years since I last visited Birch Hill. As your photos skillfully show, the vista from that location is terrific, and is quite unique.

    That was a great game plan to combine Birch Hill with Church Pond, another great destination! I've never done that particular pairing, but once combined Birch Hill with a Sawyer Pond trek. And on another occasion many years ago, Birch Hill was paired with Owls Cliff by launching a hike from Rob Brook Road.


    1. Thanks, John! That entire Birch Hill/owl's Cliff/Green's Cliff/Sawyer Pond is one of the neatest backcountry areas in the Whites. I was surprised at how pleasant the walking was on the Nano Ski Trail from Sawyer Pond Trail to Church Pond Trail. The view up the river to Mt. Passaconaway was a real treat.


  2. Nice report as always, Steve. I love "The Knoll" at the end of the Church Pond hike. I hiked out there in July, but I made the mistake of doing the entire loop, including the closed eastern section. I didn't have my new copy of the WMG with me, so I was depending on the 2003 edition, which was written pre-closure. Let's just say it was quite the adventure.

    1. Thanks, BC! That eastern part of the loop was a mucky adventure even before it was closed. With the new bog bridges the west section is now quite pleasant to walk.