Thursday, September 28, 2017


Mark Klim and I opted for a leisurely meander in the Downes Brook valley, well-suited for an uncomfortably hot and humid late September day. 

Mark at the first crossing of Downes Brook on the Downes Brook Trail. The relative coolness along the brook valley was most welcome.

Pleasant walking in the Sandwich Range Wilderness. The Downes Brook Trail has mostly easy grades and good footing except for the occasional washed-out stretch. There are ten crossings of the brook along the length of the trail, including four in the first 1.3 miles, and some of them are big, wide crossings that would be very difficult in high water.

A fungal riot.

We took a break on some ledge slabs along the edge of the brook.

A peaceful stretch, just upstream.

Halfway up the valley we bushwhacked up to the wide lower slabs of the Downes Brook Slide on the north side of Mt. Passaconaway.

This slide came crashing down in the early 1890s, and 125 years later there are still large expanses of bare ledge.The Downes Broook Slide Trail was a maintained route to Mt. Passaconaway from the early 1900s to the mid- 1950s, at which time it was closed by the Forest Service due to the danger on the ledges, which are extremely slippery when wet. It was illegally marked by someone in the 1990s, but the WMNF and Wonalancet Out Door Club removed most of the markings and it has largely reverted to its abandoned state. The route is still occasionally traversed by experienced bushwhackers, but as the AMC Guide once warned, "it is not for amateur climbers."

Climbing up the slabs.

Nice view of Potash Mountain (R) and "South Potash" (L).

It was a day for lounging on the cool rock.

That makes two of us.

Red maple overhead.

A small brook gurgled peacefully over the ledges.

I brought some reading appropriate for the setting. Passaconaway in the White Mountains, by Charles Edward Beals, Jr., was published in 1916 and has an interesting description of the ascent up the slide.

A lovely circular pool rests below a lofty set of ledge steps.

The ledge steps above the pool.

The pool is held in by a natural dam of rocks.

 I bushwhacked about 100 yards west looking for an old tote road, mentioned in the Beals Passaconaway  book and in old trail descriptions, said to parallel the slide. I think I found the corridor, though it was overgrown and rough.

This iron ring is secured in the rock at the top of a large slab. We wondered if it was used by crews of the Swift River Railroad logging operation (1906-1916) for lowering logs down over the ledges of the slide.

There is a long ledgy chute below the ring.

Beautiful red sphagnum moss.

A nice early fall scene.

Another nice spot to hang out. This was at the top of the lower open slabs, which is as far up as we went. Above here, the going is steeper and trickier.

Mark descending the upper slab.

A small stepped cascade.

Descending the wide slabs, which were damp and dicey in the late morning but had partly dried out in the sun by mid-afternoon.

Mark is thinking of coming back in winter to ski a couple of runs down the slabs.

Looking back up.

A peek back at the steep northern shoulder of Mt. Passaconaway.

Afternoon sun on Downes Brook.

Our turn-around point on the Downes Brook Trail was an interesting little gorge below the sixth trail crossing. It appears that the main flow of the brook once coursed through here, but it has been diverted a few yards to the west.


  1. Hi Steve, I went up to Passaconaway and also came back down this route last year. It is getting much more difficult to follow past the open slabs. It is very time consuming to follow. I can see why it was closed. I always wondered what that ring in the slab was for. Looks like it was a nice day even though hot. I have done this trail myself 4 times and would not recommend it as you say to an inexperienced climber or bushwhacker.

    1. Hi Doug,
      I've only been all the way up the old trail once. Even the lower part is fairly difficult to follow where it ducks into the woods. It was actually pretty comfortable on the slabs, but the humidity was brutal on the way out.