Thursday, June 3, 2021

An Afternoon in Grafton Notch: 6/1/21

On a fine first day of June Carol and I made the long drive to Grafton Notch in western Maine for a multi-purpose trip: finding two geocaches for her Difficulty/Terrain geocaching Grid, and checking a few trails and trailheads for the next edition of the AMC White Mountain Guide, due out in 2022.
Yes, some geocachers are Gridiots, just like hikers. Every geocache has two ratings: one for the difficulty of finding it, and another for the terrain one must navigate to find it. Each has a rating from 1 to 5, in 0.5 intervals. There are 81 possible combinations of Difficulty and Terrain, and some of the combinations are quite difficult. The first objective of our trip was to find a geocache named "The Jail," after a unique geological feature of the same name. This cache is only a 1 for Difficulty, but has a 4.5 for Terrain due to the short but very steep bushwhack required to reach it. After butt-walking down a very steep slope and traversing alongside a brook, we scrambled up into "The Jail," a remarkable rock enclosure. Once inside, we quickly found the cache.

In "The Jail."

A picturesque cascade and pool next to The Jail. Unlike Screw Auger Falls, this is not a "tourist stop" along Rt. 26 in Grafton Notch.

A happy geocacher climbing out of the gorge.

Old Speck Mountain and the cliff known as The Eyebrow, from our parking spot on Rt. 26.

The Eyebrow, seen from the large trailhead parking area for Old Speck and Baldpate, the two dominant peaks of Grafton Notch.


Map on the trailhead kiosk. Carol's geocaching objective was one called "Old Speck Spectacle," located next to a cascade about 0.8 mile up the Old Speck Trail. This one has a Difficulty rating of 4 and a Terrain Rating of 4.5. I had not been on the Eyebrow Trail in many years, so while she headed left up Old Speck Trail I veered right onto the Eyebrow Trail.

Trail sign at the start.

The lower part of the Eyebrow Trail is easy-graded through a fine hardwood forest.


Soon enough it becomes very steep, with a long chain of poles and metal cables as aids up a pitch of roots and ledges.

The Eyebrow is one of the hikes included on a "Wicked Wild 25" list compiled by guidebook author Greg Westrich, a Maine version of the "Terrifying 25" list compiled by Alex, Sage and Trish Herr. (Congratulations to those three stalwart hikers for competing their White Mountains 48 X 12 Grid together on Owl's Head on June 2!)

Iron rungs provide security on a traverse across a steep slab.

Side view of the rungs.

A metal ladder provides an exit off the traverse.

More rungs for the ascent of a very steep, slippery ledge.

Steep slab seen through the trees.

View off a short side path at the top of the slab.

Looking down the slab.

Many rock steps have been built since I last hiked this trail. An excellent example of trail construction.

The first of several small outlooks along the top of the Eyebrow. The views are great, though there is no large open ledge for "hanging out."

Bird's eye view of trailhead parking.

Looking up at the steep East Spur of Old Speck. There was once a spectacular trail than ran up this slope, with many open ledges, but it's been closed for a number of years.

Baldpate Mountain, close by to the east.

Zoom on Baldpate's ledgy East Peak, on the New England Hundred Highest list.

The centerpiece of the view is this Willard-like look down the floor of Grafton Notch, with Sunday River Whitecap and Puzzle Mountain beyond.

Sunday River Whitecap is the gem of the western Grafton Loop Trail.

There is a big open ledge on the Old Speck Trail just below its upper junction with the Eyebrow Trail.

Nice woods on the Old Speck Trail.

The cascade near which the geocache was hidden. Carol had already headed down by the time I looped around to here.

There are many more rock steps on the Old Speck Trail.

An "interesting" crossing over a sloping wet ledge. The Eyebrow Trail/Old Speck Trail loop is 2.4 miles with 1,050 ft. of elevation gain - short, but rugged.

On the drive back down through Grafton Notch we stopped at the trailhead parking area for the Grafton Loop Trail, where this notice was posted. This parking area is at the southern terminus of the eastern section of the trail.

Trail signs at the southern terminus of the western section of the trail. There is no parking allowed here; access requires a 0.6 mile road walk from the eastern section trailhead parking.

Next we made the long (9.5 mile) drive out through the Sunday River valley to the trailhead for the Wright Trail, the scenic eastern approach to Goose Eye Mountain. The trail is located on land owned by the state of Maine.

Signage at the trailhead kiosk.

There are two alternate routes for the first 0.5 mile of the Wright Trail. It appears that these days most hikers are using the easier, less scenic upper route along an old logging road.

The lower route alongside Goose Eye Brook has become more obscure; in fact, I couldn't follow it at the bottom and went to its upper end to follow it back down. It is a very scenic stretch of trail alongside the brook, and in two places it actually runs down the open ledges of the brookbed itself.

A water sluice along one of the ledgy sections.

Some neat water features.

Pothole cascade.

Beautiful expanse of ledge at the lower end of the brook route.

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