Saturday, May 21, 2022

Tunnel Brook and Mt. Clough Slide: 5/20/22

A sunny and breezy day for a return to a favorite backcountry nook: Tunnel Brook Notch, the deep valley between Mt. Moosilauke and Mt. Clough, a realm dominated by beaver ponds and massive rock slides. I came in via the north end of the Tunnel Brook Trail, which follows the route of Tunnel Brook Road for 2.3 miles before reaching the trail proper.

The first 0.7 mile of Tunnel Brook Trail follows a decommissioned section of Tunnel Brook Rd., part of which was badly washed out by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. Nature is reclaiming this section, and it's a rather pleasant walk.

A view of Tunnel Brook.

The rest of the road walk section is your standard USFS gravel logging road.

Along the way I made a short detour on this abandoned roadbed, which once was a crescent-shaped driveway for a small summer hotel called the Parker House. This was opened in 1903 by Lebina Parker along what was then a recently completed road connecting Wildwood and Glencliff via Tunnel Brook Notch. The three-story structure had accommodations for 40 guests, with rates of $2.00 per day and $8.00-$12.00 per week. Its brochure boasted of “a cozy parlor, and a wide piazza on three sides of the house, baths, hot and cold water, and toilet rooms.” Other amenities included croquet and tennis, daily mail and Boston newspapers, and fresh food from its own farm.

Part of the foundation can be seen on the west side of the old driveway. The Parker House operated into the 1920s. The parcel was sold to the Forest Service in 1928, and the abandoned hotel was subsequently burned down.

At a hairpin turn in the road the trail ducks into the woods and becomes an easygoing and pleasant footpath.

The hardwoods were coming alive with fresh spring greenery.

I made a short bushwhack to a brushy beaver meadow along Tunnel Brook with a view of Mt. Clough's ridges.

Looking upstream towards a shoulder of Mt. Moosilauke.

Late May is Painted Trillium time.

This artful cairn has been a Tunnel Brook Trail landmark for many years.

Still some Red Trilliums in bloom.

A mile and a half from the start of the footpath section, the trail reaches the first of seven or eight beaver ponds that are strung along the floor of the notch. In recent years the northernmost ponds have had low water levels with mud flats showing, but this spring they are filled to the brim. The first ponds provide view of several of the eight (by my count) slides on the steep east face of Mt. Clough. In this view are Slide #6 (left) and Slide #7 (right), counting from south to north.


Mt. Clough rivals Mt. Osceola, West Bond and the upper Franconia Range for the title of Slide Capital of the Whites. Its two northernmost slides came down in 1927, and the rest in 1938 (possibly) and 1942. There's an excellent view of the slides, as well as the southernmost beaver ponds, from the South Peak of Mt. Moosilauke.

This view looks at Slide #5, the largest of them all, on the left, and Slide #6 on the right.

Another angle on Slide #5. In 1990 I ascended this slide to its top and continued up to the summit of Mt. Clough, a route I would not recommend.

Two years ago I went most of the way up Slide #4, which features huge, steep slabs of rock, its pitch approaching 40 degrees near the top. Yikes!

The crossing of Tunnel Brook partway along the beaver ponds is a wade at present. Glad I brought the Crocs.

A peaceful scene that reminded me of the old Pink Floyd acoustic song, "Grantchester Meadows."

Parts of the Tunnel Brook Trail are a bit obscure.

Lots of blowdown along the next beaver pond.

I left the trail past the south end of this beaver pond, aiming for Slide #3 on Mt. Clough, one of two that I had not yet visited. Lots of birch on the gentle beginning to the slide approach.

As the steep climb began I got lazy with my navigation - didn't get the compass out - and paid the price, drifting too far to the north and ending up in a nasty conifer area full of jumbled boulders and hidden leg-eating holes, where every foothold had to be carefully placed. I persisted on this dumb route until hitting a dead-end. It was too difficult to make a sideways traverse to where I should have been, so I dropped a couple hundred feet back down to the notch floor to start over.

This time I had the compass out and kept on a more southerly course, which ascended steeply through a rocky birch forest.

I slowly made my way up to the lowest ledges on the slide.

Typical of the Clough slides, it's steep bedrock - averaging 34 degrees overall and 37 degrees on this lower part, with some impassable (for me) ledge barriers. 

First views of Moosilauke's South Peak and the big slide in Slide Ravine.

I worked my way up alongside the slide through wild rocky terrain.

I went out to the edge for another look. Nope, not going out there.

But farther up, at ~2580 ft., I came upon a big dry, grippy slab with a gentler pitch. It seems every Clough slide has a couple of more comfortable spots like this.

The slide steepens again right above this perch.

This was a fine spot to relax for an hour in the sun, with a view down to several beaver ponds and up to the South Peak.

Zoom on the slide in Slide Ravine, another steep one but different in nature, with lots of loose rock.

The world dropping away at my feet.

Beaver ponds zoomed. No moose sighted today.

Late afternoon, shadows getting long.

A deliberate descent is required in this crazy terrain.  The slow pace made me an easy target for the emerging black flies.

Looking back at an "interesting" part of the route.

Before heading out on the trail, I went a short distance south for a break at a nice open spot by the next beaver pond, where a welcome breeze kept the black flies at bay.

Looking down the string of ponds to the south end of the notch. From here it was an easy 4 mile walk back to the car.


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