On perhaps the finest day of the month I headed down to the Ferncroft trailhead in Wonalancet with a plan to hike in the Mount Paugus area. Driving in, I could see that the higher peaks of the Sandwich Range were caked in new-fallen snow, as seen here on Mt. Whiteface.
For my approach to the ridgecrest, I followed the mellow, historic Old Mast Road. Legend holds that this route was used in colonial days to haul large white pines - reserved for the King's navy - from the Albany Intervale, up over the Sandwich Range crest, and down to the lowlands to the south.
The middle mile of Old Mast Road climbs at gentle to moderate grades through a vast hardwood forest.
This great weathered boulder is a trailside point of interest.
With the early snow cover, this has been a month for finding bear tracks, and there was a profusion of them today. This was a big 'un.
Into the Wilderness. The indentations on the trail surface are older bear tracks that I followed all the way up.
More fresh tracks near the height-of-land.
The spruces were cloaked in new snow that was melting in the sun, creating rain-like conditions along the trail. With the trees dripping wet, bushwhacking was out of the question and I quickly shelved the possibility of whacking to the top of "The Overhang," a steep-faced western spur of Mt. Paugus that the Lawrence Trail ducks under.
The Old Mast Road ends at a spot named "Four-Way" by the Wonalancet Out Door Club. Here it meets the Lawrence Trail, Walden Trail and Square Ledge Trail.
While I was taking a break at "Four-Way," up came Spence, Margaret (age 2) and Fin the Dog. They were redlining trails in the Wonalancet area and were planning to go partway across the Lawrence Trail and then down the Kelley Trail. Spence posts entertaining trail reports on www.newenglandtrailconditions.com.
Off they go!
Along the Lawrence Trail as it descends towards Paugus Pass. The ~3" of snow was crunchy in the shade and getting gloppy in the sun.
Another four-way junction in Paugus Pass (2220 ft.), the low point between Mt. Paugus and Mt. Passaconaway.
The scene at Paugus Pass.
Sign at the junction with the Cabin Trail, near the top of a knob called "Carrigain Outlook." The views here are long gone.
Descending the Lawrence Trail to the base of The Overhang, Mt. Paugus is glimpsed through the trees. It looks dauntingly far away.
The Lawrence Trail was long noted as one of the most rugged routes in the Sandwich Range Wilderness. As laid out in 1906 by Rosewell B. Lawrence, a prominent member of the AMC, in its original guise this memorable trail plunged down the steep, gravelly west face of Paugus, then shot back up and clung to ridiculously steep slopes as it wormed through an area of cliffs known as The Overhang. Only after plummeting through chutes of broken ledge and treacherous gravel did it emerge back onto saner terrain. J. Brooks Atkinson described it well in Skyline Promenades, his 1926 travelogue of a backpacking trip through the White Mountains: "Down we went steeply and then along the side of high, wooded cliffs, taking each footstep cautiously lest the weight of our packs upset us and send us tumbling in the forest below. We crossed the face of the monstrous Overhang where the view up and down a serrated ridge is equally stupendous.”
I believe the section along the former trail route shown in the photo below (taken in 2006) was dubbed "Wall Street."
Over the years the steep, unstable terrain along The Overhang – replete with teetering boulders and rotting granite morphing into loose, slippery gravel - was a constant source of trouble for the Lawrence Trail. Parts of it were essentially unmaintainable, and there were a couple of tricky spots where hiker safety was a real concern. One of these is shown below. That's Keith D'Alessandro standing at the top.
For several years the WODC and the Forest Service discussed options and conducted field surveys, and the decision was made to relocate several long sections of the trail. In 2006 the WODC constructed a major relocation (part of which is shown in the photo below) on more stable terrain below the cliffs of The Overhang, and the section leading across The Overhang was abandoned. In 2008 three more relocations were cut, bypassing the steepest sections on the west slope of Mt. Paugus. The moderate grades and gravelly switchbacks of the relocations have made the Lawrence Trail a much easier, though less exciting, approach to Mt. Paugus.
Looking up at some of the lower cliffs of The Overhang. More on these later.
Bears, as well as hikers, enjoy the easy walking on the relocation.
Peering out at the gravelly SW cliffs of Mt. Paugus.
Heading up into the spruces on one of the many switchbacks on the west flank of Mt. Paugus.
A look back at Mt. Passaconaway and Square Ledge from the top of a ledge scramble between the lower and upper series of switchbacks.
A rougher stretch here on the original trail route.
On the upper switchbacks.
Sunny spot on the upper switchbacks.
Snow-laden, dripping spruces along the summit crest.
The ledgy dome at the south summit of Mt. Paugus, where the Lawrence Trail meets the Old Paugus Trail. The wooded true summit is 100 ft. higher and 0.3 mile away, reached by a rather miserable bushwhack.
Tracks of a summit-hanging snowshoe hare.
Views are very limited at the south summit ledge, but by descending gently SW past these boulders and along a path through a belt of scrub...
...you come to one of the great viewing spots in the Sandwich Range, looking west to Mt. Passaconaway and its several spurs, Mt. Whiteface and Sandwich Dome.
A hazy vista towards the Lakes Region.
This is one spacious ledge.
I descended to the lower edge where there was less glare from the snow.
Unique to Mt. Paugus is the impressive view of Mt. Passaconaway with Square Ledge below.
Square Ledge displays three distinct cliff faces.
Mt. Whiteface and its long north ridge loom behind Wonalancet Hedgehog and Nanamocomuck Peak.
Looking down at The Overhang.
Sandwich Dome seen behind converging ridges.
I went a short distance along the Old Paugus Trail for a view of Mt. Chocorua and the Three Sisters.
Cruising back down the switchbacks on the Lawrence Trail.
A neat trailside rock at the base of The Overhang.
I made a short, very steep bushwhack up from the trail to inspect some of the lower cliffs of The Overhang, which here appears aptly-named.
Under the roof.
More cliffs and crags. What a wild place!
Low-angle, late afternoon sun, time to drop back to the trail and head out to Ferncroft.