Friday, June 3, 2016


On a cool, cloudy and mostly bug-free day I took a long walk up this fine remote valley in the Presidential Range-Dry River Wilderness. The middle 4 miles of the Rocky Branch Trail took huge hits from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. That section was just reopened last fall after major work by the WMNF Saco Ranger District, including 17 trail relocations.

On the drive over I stopped to check out the view of the lower Montalban Ridge area from Bear Notch Road.

Heading north from the trailhead at the end of Jericho/Rocky Branch Road, much of the Rocky Branch Trail follows the grade of the Conway Lumber Company's Rocky Branch Railroad, whose crews cut this valley over a century ago.

One of many log jams deposited by Tropical Storm Irene.

Rocky Branch Shelter #1 is two miles in from the trailhead.

An interesting old sign on the side of the shelter.

There are three tent platforms nearby.

A path leads from the shelter down to the river, where you can see that the Rocky Branch is....rocky.

Trail junction near the shelter. Go left for Giant Stairs.

A piece from what might have been a stove from the Rocky Branch Railroad.

The trail skirts the edge of this log jam.

There are some fine sections of railroad grade walking.

A peek across the valley at Maple Mountain at the southern end of Rocky Branch Ridge.

Into the Wilderness at the crossing of Upper Stairs Brook.

A neat relocated section along a bank high above the river.

View down to the Rocky Branch.

Sidehill switchback construction. Great work by the Saco RD trail crew.

Log cribbing on a lower switchback.

The first of four crossings of the Rocky Branch. I found these to be easier than those I'd done recently on Downes Brook and Sabbaday Brook in the Sandwich Range.

A peek downstream at the "Baby Stair," a trailless ledgy knob with a great view up the valley.

These are probably the biggest gravel slides along the riverbank. More on these later.

The wild spur of Giant Stairs known as East Stairs.

Another crossing, with good step stones.

A strenuous scramble up a washed-out bank.

Another trailside riverview.

And another gravel bank washout.

The view where I took a break at the fourth crossing.

By chance I ran into AMC cartographer Larry Garland, who was heading in the other direction, collecting GPS data on the relocations with his powerful satellite receiver. We're both working on the next (30th) edition of the White Mountain Guide, so this gave us an unexpected chance to compare notes in person.

A beautiful stand of sugar maple.

More deposits from Irene, with a bit of Montalban Ridge peering over in the distance.

Cascades in the river seen from an open spot on the trail along a high bank.

A mucky stretch just before reaching the former site of Rocky Branch Shelter #2.

The remains of Rocky Branch Shelter #2, which was recently dismantled and burned by the Forest Service. There are plans to place three tent pads nearby.

A familiar junction to Isolation-baggers.

I bushwhacked a short distance up to some open fern meadows. The birches in this area grew in after a series of forest fires scorched the valley in 1912-1914.

South Engine Hill across the valley.

Mount Chocorua on the horizon.

The trail makes a rough crossing under this little cascade.

A zoom on East Stairs. Some interesting view ledges up there.

I made a short bushwhack to take a close look at the big gravel slides.


Farther along, I left the trail and bushwhacked through open woods up to the top of the gravel slides.

A view of North Moat and Big Attitash Mountains.

I worked a route around to an open vista down the Rocky Branch valley.

Big Attitash Mtn., Mt. Langdon and the Baby Stair. There is lots of interesting country out here along the Rocky Branch.


  1. Thanks for the report, Steve. Looking at Hurricane Irene damage in this and many other reports of yours brings to my mind the comment I read in one of James McPhee's books, to the effect that "erosion happens very, very slowly, except when it happens quickly".