Friday, February 23, 2024

Northwest Slide, Mount Passaconaway: 2/22/24

On a fairly warm, sun-to-clouds day, I made my second trip into the Downes Brook valley this week. Coincidentally, the day after I climbed the Downes Brook Slide, my friend Cath Goodwin and two companions (one on snowshoes) went in and skied down most of the slide. Cath reported that they encountered a group of four snowshoers who had gone farther up the valley before turning back on a rough section. Knowing that there would be a good snowshoe track on the Downes Brook Trail, I decided to take advantage of it for access to a favorite bushwhack to the Northwest Slide of Mount Passaconaway, which is located in the next ravine to the southwest of the better-known Downes Brook Slide. This slide can be seen from only a few locations. This view of it was taken from North Hancock last winter. The bottom of the slide is a huge granite slab.

Looking upstream along Downes Brook. The snow bridges on the four crossings held up. I figured I should go now before the warmth and rain predicted for next week.

A fine packed powder snowshoe track made for easy travel on the Downes Brook Trail.

Heading up the tributary brook to the lower part of the Downes Brook Slide, from which I would launch my bushwhack to the Northwest Slide.

Cath and her friend Sarah had skied right over the cascade at the base of the open ledges.

I think they had a good time!

Skier's view of Potash Mountain.

Heading into the woods for the mile-long whack to the Northwest Slide.

Typical of late winter, the snow was largely supportive under the soft top layer.

Due to a poor route choice, I did some unnecessary sidehilling.

Farther along, I wandered around through a confusing flat area looking for the small drainage that comes down from the Northwest Slide.

Found it!

A little gem of a songbird nest seen along the way.

A weathered old maple in a nice hardwood glade along the slide drainage.

A pleasant plateau approaching the base of the slide.

The slide in sight ahead.

Closer look.

Making tracks along the slide track.

Getting closer.

On previous visits it's been possible to follow the slide track up almost to the base of the big slab, but today that route looked sketchy ahead.

Here I took to the woods and climbed steeply through spruces.

I made a long switchback and ascended into a fine hardwood area Cath Goodwin and I had discovered when we snowshoed to the top of the slide three years ago.

Looking back, distant Mount Washington could be seen through the trees.

A sweet hardwood glade.

Superb snowshoeing.

At the top of the steep climb I swung left onto a tote road from the Swift River Railroad logging days of the early 1900s.

Farther up, I worked my way down to a spot with a view across and down the big slab at the bottom of the slide. This monster ledge measures about 200 feet by 200 feet, and has a slope of 38-40 degrees. Cath's friend Sarah and her partner skied this slide several years ago. Yikes!!

A good view north here.

Mount Carrigain, Carrigain Notch, Green's Cliff with the Nancy Range beyond, and part of ledgy Potash Mountain.

Pushing through some prickly spruces en route to the slide at the top of the slab.

Onto the slide!

A shelf at the top of the big slab provides a comfortable viewing platform.

Hancock and Carrigain are prominent behind South Potash.

Middle and North Tripyramid and the Fool Killer are seen to the left.

The temperature was comfortable with no wind, so I fashioned a seat from my pack and stayed for a while.

Then I ventured a little farther up the slide. This part of the slide is a wet and slick swath of ledge in summer. It's much easier to climb in winter given good snow conditions. Three years ago Cath Goodwin and I went all the way to the top, where there is a neat ice cliff, but I didn't have time for that today.

I snowshoed up to the base of a very steep pitch (~40 degrees) topped by an ice bulge. On our ascent Cath and I skirted this through the woods.

Looking back down.

On the way down, looking back up at my tracks.

The world drops away ahead.

A large white pine stands tall near the top of the slab. I believe this slide is more than a century old.

Heading back down through the woods.

I picked a better line on the traverse back to the Downes Brook Slide.

I was happy to get back there.

Last look back at Passaconaway.




Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Downes Brook Slide: 2/20/24

Over the past few years one of my favorite winter outings has been a snowshoe climb of the Downes Brook Slide on the north side of Mount Passaconaway. This slide came crashing down around 1892, baring long swaths of granite bedrock. Many of the ledges remain open today. With the right conditions, the ledges of the slide are suitable for experienced snowshoe bushwhackers. It is an entertaining and in places challenging snowshoe, with a variety of terrain and scenery. The approach is on the Downes Brook Trail, which receives little use in winter after its first half-mile. The major consideration is whether Downes Brook has snow bridges for the quartet of crossings en route to the slide.

On this morning the trail was a mess of various ski tracks and old postholes between the Mt. Potash Trail junction and the upper X-C trail junction. Beyond there, I was pleased to find a partly broken, if uneven, snowshoe track. This made the approach hike easier and more pleasant.

The crossings were mostly snow-bridged, but they were lumpy and in places a little sketchy.

This spot won't last long.

Crossings done. Into the Wilderness.

A long straight section that follows an old logging road.

I wondered if the snowshoe tracks would lead up onto the slide. They did not, and they continued up the valley, perhaps making the long trek to East Sleeper?


Looking up the brook that drains the slide, with the northern spur of Mount Passaconaway in the distance. Around 1900 a trail was cut from the top of the slide to the summit of Passaconaway, and for many years, this was the primary hiking route to that peak from the Albany Intervale. The trail was discontinued by the Forest Service in 1957 due to its at times hazardous footing on the ledges. About 1990 unknown parties attempted to unofficially reopen the trail, painting blazes on the ledges of the slide and posting signs at both ends. Subsequently the USFS, in cooperation with the Wonalancet Out Door Club, obscured the unauthorized blazes and posted signs noting that while public use of the area was welcome, unauthorized maintenance of this closed trail was illegal and subject to fines. In summer the old trail is obscure in many places, and in winter there is very little evidence of it at all.

Weaving up the brookbed, avoiding thin ice and waterholes.

After a short bushwhack through the woods, I emerged on the expansive, low-angle (17 to 20 degrees) lower ledges of the slide.

This slide has more white pine trees - including some good-sized ones - than I've seen on any other slide, perhaps due to its age (130 years) and relatively low elevation.

Just snowshoeing these ledges is, by itself, worth the price of admission. Potash Mountain presides in the distance.

One of several frozen cascades on the slide.

One of two larger cascades that must be bypassed via a steep bushwhack through spruce woods.

There are more large open slabs above. Here the dark cone of "South Potash" can be seen on the left.

One of the steep little pitches along the way.

A clean slate ahead - a smooth blanket of snow for first tracks.

What a delight to snowshoe up these long white corridors.

Pretty good snowpack for a below average snowfall season.

Weaving up around another cascade.

The craggy northern spur of Passaconaway looms above. Up there is the spectacular north outlook reached via a spur path from the summit.

Heading back into the woods to bypass a canyon-like section that has not filled in with enough snow and ice this winter to permit passage.

Emerging atop a big snowy slab, peering down into the canyon.

Cutting a track across the top of the slab.

Here, at ~2600 ft., is a neat flat area at what is called "the turn of the slide." At this point the 1892 slide (the west fork) came rumbling down from the steep slope up to the right. Ahead, the main brookbed leads to a longer and more recent slide (the east fork) that may have fallen during the 1938 hurricane.

Looking back.

Looking ahead up the east fork, which didn't appear filled in enough for reasonable passage, although I didn't have time to investigate. A few years ago, late in a deep snow winter, I was able to snowshoe most of the way up this fork.

Looking up the west fork from the turn of the slide.

The west fork consists of two big, steep snowy slabs that, combined, rise 200 ft. in elevation. The lower slab, seen here, is a little shorter and less steep, with a maximum slope of ~36 degrees.


I worked my way up along the edge of the slab.

Side view of the lower slab.


At the top of this slab is a flat shelf with a view out to the north.

A few snowshoe steps behind the shelf is the base of the bigger and steeper upper slab. At one point its slope is ~45 degrees.

I made a steep climb through the woods to the right of the slab. It was slow going in sugary snow atop a slippery crust.

Well worth the effort for the northern view from the uppermost ledge slab, at ~2800 ft.

I carefully worked my way down to a favorite perch at the brink of the big dropoff.


From here the view was truly expansive, even with the distant Presidentials smothered in cloud.

Even up here, there are several large white pines.

Looking across the uppermost slab of the slide.

After a careful descent, I was back down at the turn of the slide. My tracks highlight a sloping ledge that is a sliding cascade in summer, with a pool below.


Through the woods along the edge of the canyon.

Closer look at Passaconaway's northern spur.

Snow depth check on the slide.

Late afternoon on the lower slabs.