Archive for the ‘nature’ Category

by Mike Dickerman
Steven D. Smith photo The highlight of any visit to secluded Black Pond in Lincoln is the distant view north toward the remote peaks of the Bond Range in the Pemigewasset Wilderness.

In the heat of summer when a hard climb up to a mountaintop vista is about as appealing as an ice cream sandwich in mid-January, I often find myself forgoing the grunts and groans of a stiff uphill climb in favor of something simpler and less strenuous. Fortunately, the White Mountains offer a variety of trails and footpaths that easily accommodate such desires.

As the available mountain-less trail options are far too numerous to cover in the space allotted here, perhaps it would be best if I narrowed down the choices to one specific category, namely ponds and lakes situated within the White Mountains. Of these there is certainly no shortage, as is well demonstrated in Steven D. Smith’s fine hiking guide, Ponds and Lakes of the White Mountains, which features descriptions to 68 trips throughout the region. Granted some of the hikes described in the guidebook are anything but simple walks in the woods— like the trek to Lakes of the Clouds near Mount Washington’s summit, or remote Harrington Pond at the southeast base of Mount Kinsman near Franconia Notch— but many are very appropriate for these dog days of summer. So let’s take a quick peek at some of my personal favorites located mainly in the central or western White Mountains.

I’ll start the mountain ponds tour close to home, in the Franconia Notch-Mount Moosilauke region, where trampers can choose between some of the busiest ponds in the area, or some of the least visited. Certainly the most popular destination pond in these parts is Lonesome Lake, the 14-acre tarn nestled amongst the spruce, firs, and tamarack at the southeast base of Cannon Mountain. Lonesome Lake (a bit of a misnomer since a hiker is rarely alone on the way to, from, or at the lake) has been attracting hikers to its shores for more than a century and with good reason. From its southern shores (just a few yards down from the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Lonesome Lake Hut), hikers are treated to an awe-inspiring view towards Mount Lafayette and the peaks of Franconia Ridge, plus a unique vantage of the ledgy southern buttress of Cannon Mountain. Lonesome Lake is accessed by trail from Lafayette Campground in Franconia Notch State Park. From the floor of the Notch it’s a 1000-foot, 1.6-mile climb, but as the grade is easy to moderate all the way up, even hikers who have trouble handling the summer heat should find the walk up quite tolerable.

Two slightly easier ponds to reach in this area are Elbow Pond in Woodstock and the Tunnel Brook Ponds in Benton. Elbow Pond, which is actually two ponds separated by a narrow, bushy peninsula, is not a well-known hiking destination, but fishing enthusiasts have visited this 56-acre tarn for many years. Up until a decade or so ago, the pond was accessible only by foot or four-wheel drive vehicles. Now you can actually drive your car to within 0.4 miles of its shores via a refurbished dirt road (FR 156) found on the east side of Route 118, 2.5 miles from Route 112 (Lost River Road).

The Tunnel Brook Ponds, reached by trail from the end of Tunnel Brook Road in Easton, are a string of eight beaver ponds stretching for three-quarters of a mile in the slide-scarred notch between Mts. Moosilauke and Clough in the southwestern Whites. Several of the northernmost of these ponds offer excellent trailside views up to Clough, while the southernmost (and largest) pond, known as Mud Pond, rests at the base western base of Moosilauke. As it is an easy 2.2-mile walk to Mud Pond, with just 400-feet of vertical climbing, the hike into Tunnel Brook is ideal for those lazy, hazy days of August or the crisp, clear afternoons of September.

Moving more to the east, into the central White Mountains, two pond walks which I always enjoy undertaking are those to the Sawyer Ponds in Livermore or Black Pond in Lincoln. The Sawyer Ponds, a mile-and-a-half away from the terminus of Sawyer River Road in the abandoned logging community of Livermore, are nestled at the foot of Mount Tremont and Owl’s Cliff, two steep-sided mountains close by to the east. The main pond, some 47 acres in size, is a favorite of backcountry campers, who are frequently found occupying either its shoreline lean-to or one of its five tent platforms. To avoid the crowds, it’s probably best to hike into Sawyer Pond mid-week, or perhaps in the off-season. Little Sawyer Pond, about one-quarter the size of the main pond, lies on a plateau north of Sawyer Pond and is reached via a well-worn herd path leading away from the main pond from behind the lean-to. It’s an easy 1.7-mile walk into Sawyer Pond from Sawyer River Road. Add 0.2 miles for the round-trip walk to little Sawyer Pond.

Black Pond, meanwhile, is a tiny, four-acre pond set amidst the tranquil forests at the southern fringe of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Despite its proximity to the bustling Lincoln Woods Trail and the well-traveled Kancamagus Highway, Black Pond has a distinctly remote feel to it and receives far less visitors than nearby Franconia Falls. The primary reward of the 3.4-mile, one-way hike into Black Pond is the view north into the Pemi Wilderness and up to the remote Bond Range, with the summits of West Bond and Bondcliff the main attractions. To reach Black Pond, follow the Lincoln Woods Trail 2.6 miles from the parking lot off the Kanc Highway to a trail junction on the left. Here, follow the Black Pond Trail 0.8 miles to the pond. Previously published.

Mike Dickerman is a longtime hiking enthusiast, award-winning columnist, and author or co-author of nine books related to the White Mountains region of New Hampshire. He lives in Littleton.

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by Mike Dickerman
Mike Dickerman photo A modern-day photo of the Zealand Valley, as viewed from the summit of Middle Sugarloaf Mountain near Twin Mountain.

I’ve long been fascinated by the era of the logging railroads of the White Mountains and much of what I’ve learned about this half-century or so of lumbering activity can be traced to the writings of two authors whose works have been published in a number of great books.

C. Francis Belcher’s, the longtime Appalachian Mountain Club official, and Vermonter Bill Gove, are considered the two most knowledgeable individuals when it comes to the history of logging railroads in the Whites. Belcher’s “Logging Railroads of the White Mountains,” which came about after he wrote a series of articles on the railroads for Appalachia Journal, is the best overall history of this colorful era in White Mountains annals. Gove, meanwhile, has penned three separate books on the logging railroaders, with a fourth and final tome slated to be published in 2010.

Time and again as I’ve undertaken historical research projects of my own I’ve come across many of the sources that Belcher and Gove used to piece together their respective histories. This has included magazine articles, newspapers accounts and stories, and privately published family histories. It came as quite surprise, therefore, recently, when I stumbled across an interesting logging railroad item that, as far as I can tell, neither Belcher nor Gove have ever cited in their books.

Specifically, I’m referring to an item that appeared in the Friday, Sept. 27, 1889 issue of the Littleton Republic-Journal newspaper under the heading, “Zealand Valley.” The article, which runs for nearly two full newspaper columns, reports on the first ever passenger train excursion up into the Zealand Valley on logging baron James Everell Henry’s long gone Zealand Valley Railroad.

Now I’ve read about this excursion before, because in 1898 writer J.M. Cooper recalled this trip into Zealand in an article appearing in the statewide Granite Monthly magazine. In fact, both Belcher and Gove cite Cooper’s article in their books. Cooper’s article, however, was written nine years after the fact, and besides failing to tell readers what year the trip actually took place, there are also several other important omissions and errors which would not be obvious to the reader if he or she had not first seen the contemporary Republic-Journal article written just a few days after the train ride into Zealand.

According to the Republic-Journal piece, this historic excursion took place in late September 1889, probably on Sept. 22 or 23, and included a host of invited guests who joined J.E. Henry and his three sons, John, George, and then 14-year-old Charles, for the daylong adventure. The guest list included, among others, Dr. W. C. Stoddard of Newport, Rhode Island, Alvin Mooney, conductor on the Bethlehem branch of the Profile and Franconia Notch Railroad, the aforementioned J.M. Cooper, who was representing the Bethlehem-based newspaper The White Mountain Echo and Tourists Register, W.F. Pingree, station agent at the Bethlehem Junction rail station, and the apparent author, George C. Furber of the Republic-Journal.

Furber wrote that the Henrys at that time owned some 50,000 contiguous acres in the valley and that timber being harvested was being transported by rail to the Zealand Mills along the Ammonoosuc River and to coal kilns situated close by the Zealand River. “The annual crop of timber cut averages 15,000,000 feet while 225 carloads of charcoal are burned and shipped yearly,” wrote Furber. “To do this vast amount of work 275 men are employed that live in camps located along the Railroad, and 200 or 300 horses.”

The Zealand-bound train – which consisted of one passenger coach (No. 55 of the Boston and Lowell Railroad) and Zealand Valley Engine No. 1, the “J.E. Henry” – began its trip at around 10 that morning “and was soon winding around the hills and valley alongside the Zealand river, whose full banks presented a beautiful sight,” wrote Furber. “It was a steep up grade all the way but the roadbed was excellent and we rode as quietly as on the best railways. The Henrys have been thorough in their work, believing nothing was to be made by slighting.”

As the train worked its way some seven miles up into the valley, stops were made at several points along the way, including at Camp 3, where passengers were allowed to “inspect” the quarters of the lumbermen and to feast on “a bushel of raised doughnuts just fried.”

“We soon passed through a long snow shed that has been prepared for the coming winter, and up a grade 285 feet to the mile, rapidly passing other camps and at the end of about seven miles reached Zealand Pond, a small body of water that can with a little labor be made a beautiful little lake,” continued Furber. “This point is about 1100 feet above our starting point and some 1,500 feet above sea level.”

The author then goes on to write that the Henrys apparently had grand plans for the immediate area surrounding Zealand Pond. These included construction of a hotel, which would be accessible by rail during the summer months. Now I may be mistaken, but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of those plans before as they are not mentioned in either Belcher’s or Gove’s books, or in the Cooper article appearing nine years later. That this interesting piece of information has escaped notice by some of the region’s best researchers is fascinating in itself and quickly led me to believe that Mr. Furber’s article has somehow been overlooked these many, many years.

Now space limitations won’t allow me to elaborate on the remainder of the train excursion, but I can tell you that passengers paid a walking visit to remote Thoreau Falls, which lies at the south end of Zealand Notch, and ate dinner at Camp 5 on their return trip. Interestingly enough, no mention is made of a destructive forest fire that ravaged portions of the Zealand area just two years previous, in 1886. If Furber’s concluding comments are any indication, in fact, this historic train ride left only a positive and lasting impression; one that is sure to resonate with hikers of today. “There is not one of our party,” wrote Furber, “but would at an early day embrace another opportunity to visit this attractive region.” Previously published.

Mike Dickerman is a longtime hiking enthusiast, award-winning columnist, and author or co-author of nine books related to the White Mountains region of New Hampshire. He lives in Littleton.

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by Mike Dickerman

Random thoughts from a wandering tramper who’s thankful he’s never gotten lost or seriously hurt in the woods…

A relatively new state law that makes it easier for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department to recoup costs related to search and rescue missions may be facing its first serious challenge. According to press reports, 17-year-old Scott Mason of Halifax, Mass., says he and his family will contest the recent decision by Fish and Game to charge him more than $25,000 for his April rescue from the Presidential Range. The fine, announced late last week, is believed to be the largest ever handed out in a New Hampshire search and rescue incident.

Mason, as readers may recall, spent three nights alone on the lower slopes of Mount Washington after he injured his ankle while on a planned single-day Presidential Range traverse. Instead of retracing his steps after hurting his ankle, Mason attempted to shortcut his way back to the AMC Pinkham Notch Camp on Route 16 by dropping down into the Great Gulf Wilderness. There he encountered deep spring snow and streams swollen by rain ands spring snow melt, and was unable to walk out as planned. Instead he hunkered down for three days and was eventually found by rescuers as he was making his way back up to the summit of Mount Washington.

In confirming the fine last week, Fish and Game authorities stated they believe the Massachusetts teen was “negligent” in continuing on with his hike after spraining his ankle. “When I twist my ankle, I turn around and come down. He kept going up,” asserted Fish and Game’s Major Tim Acerno. “It was his negligence that led to him getting into [his] predicament.” This finding of negligence is what allowed Fish and Game to charge Mason with such a heavy fine. Under state law, if F&G determines an individual has acted in a negligent manner- based on judging what a reasonable person would do in the same situation- they are allowed to recoup rescue costs. The law was revised just a year or so ago and made it easier for F&G to seek reimbursement for rescues by changing the standard from a harder-to-prove recklessness standard to the current negligent standard.

It appears Mason and his family will challenge the fine in court, which would be the first time that has happened since passage of the new law in 2008. Meanwhile, public reaction to the news has been mixed, with critics charging, among other things, that the fine is excessive (especially given the age of the hiker) and that Mason did not act negligently and was poised to make it out of the woods safely without help from rescuers. Supporters, on the other hand, say the fine is justified, given the enormous expense of the three-day rescue, and Mason’s insistence on continuing on with his hike even after he was injured..

While I agree that some kind of fine is in order, $25,000 does seem a bit excessive. Perhaps lawmakers should go back and reexamine their work, capping fines at a more reasonable number and better clarifying what constitutes “negligent” behavior….

Though 10-year-old Patric McCarthy of Bourne, Mass., was not a hiker, per se, his death in the White Mountains nearly six years ago remains one of enduring fascination, especially for the hundreds of volunteers who fanned out across the region to look for the missing boy during a massive five-day search in the Lincoln area.

Given the unusual circumstances surrounding his October 2003 disappearance, and the eventual discovery of his lifeless body high up on the slopes of Whaleback Mountain several days later, rumors of foul play have circulated since the day he vanished into the woods behind his family’s condominium off the Kancamagus Highway in Lincoln. Thus it came as no surprise, at least to this reporter, that surviving family members late this past week asked federal law enforcement authorities to reopen the investigation into Patric’s death.

The McCarthys say a private investigator’s findings, backed by opinions from a number of medical experts, show that Patric was probably a homicide victim and not just a young boy who died from hypothermia after losing his way in the woods behind the Clearbrook condominium development. Because his body was eventually found in the White Mountain National Forest, the family is asking that the U.S. Attorney’s office head up a new investigation. Reportedly, FBI investigators have recently been interviewing individuals close to the case. Previous attempts by the McCarthy’s to involve federal authorities have pretty much fallen on deaf ears…

Coming soon to a bookstore near you- a new 10th anniversary edition of Nicholas Howe’s compelling “Not Without Peril,” which looks back at 150 years of misadventure and tragedy on Mount Washington and the Presidential Range. This book by the well known Jackson author is a must read for anyone interested in Mount Washington’s dark past and should be required reading by any and all hikers who plan on the taking on rugged trails of New England’s highest and most forbidding mountain range. The new anniversary edition, which will hit bookstores this fall, is supposed to include a new updated introduction by Howe, along with the many timeless mountain tales that have made “Not Without Peril” one of the best-selling White Mountain books of all time…

While on the topic of new books, be on the lookout for two additional new Mount Washington-related titles, both by Berlin author Eric Pinder. The first is Eric’s newly published kids book, “Cat in the Clouds,” which chronicles the story of Nin, the famous cat who for more than a decade lived atop Mount Washington with staffers from the summit weather observatory. The other is a newly revised second edition of Pinder’s “Life at the Top,” which includes the author’s musings on life as a weather observer atop the Rock Pile, and a host of tried and true recipes that have been used to keep Observatory staffers well fed, even during the long stretches of foul weather that the mountain is so well known for.

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by Mike Dickerman

For more than 100 years now, New Hampshire hiking enthusiasts have been turning to the AMC White Mountain Guide for the most complete and up-to-date information on the region’s vast network of mountain footpaths. The current edition of the guide— the 28th— covers more than 1400 miles of trails and includes descriptions for over 500 different trails. Its physical size alone, being more than 600 pages long, is a tell-tale sign that creating a new updated edition every four or five years is a monumental undertaking, one which is already underway.

Steve Smith of Lincoln, co-editor of the two most recent editions of the AMC Guide (published in 2003 and 2007) and author of several other popular regional hiking guidebooks, said last week that he has already begun field work for the next guide, which will be published in 2012, and that by next year at this time the 29th edition of the venerable “hiker’s bible” to the Whites will be well on its way toward completion.

“Between now and then a lot of trails will have to be checked, and there will be a lot of communication between myself and the many trail maintaining organizations that are active here in the Whites,” said Smith, who also owns and operates the Mountain Wanderer Map and Book Store in Lincoln. “To the average person, it probably seems like overkill that we come out with a new edition every four of five years, but it’s really amazing how many little things can change over time.”

Given the magnitude of the White Mountain trail system, and the very nature of the region, change is inevitable. According to Smith, updating the trail guide every couple of years is a necessity, not a luxury, ‘because you don’t want people to be surprised” when they get out on the trail. Naturally-occurring events such as ice and wind storms, landslides, and ongoing beaver activity can radically alter the landscape and adversely impact hiking trails. Trail relocations are also an ongoing fact of life in the mountains, as are the building of new trails and paths, and the closing of others. Logging activity is another contributing factor when it comes to impacting the mountain trails.

When Smith takes one of his frequent trips into the woods to check out an existing footpath, one of his main objectives is to “compare the description in the guide with the actual experience on the ground.” It helps, too, he says, to look at things differently than he normally would, especially when he’s on a trail that he may have hiked many times before. “Sometimes I try and take a fresh perspective…and pretend that it’s the first time I’ve ever hiked the trail.” When you do that, you see things differently, he said, and that can lead to a very different description than what appeared in the guide previously.

While many of the region’s major trails— like the Crawford Path, the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, or the Mount Willard Trail—admittedly see little change from one edition of the guide to the next, there are a like number of lesser used paths that require frequent field checking. Because these paths get little use, and are frequently difficult to follow in places, it’s absolutely essential that the guidebook description be as accurate as humanly possible for it may very well mean the difference between someone staying on the trail, and someone losing their way. That, says Smith, is where updating the guide regularly can make a difference.

In the course of prepping the next edition of the AMC Guide, Smith said he will consult frequently with groups and organizations such as the Randolph Mountain Club, the Chatham Trails Association, the Wonalancet Outdoor Club, the Dartmouth Outing Club, and the U.S. Forest Service, to see what trail projects they’ve been working on or what projects may be on the near horizon.

He’ll also gladly accept input from the hiking public at large, and will frequently visit internet sites where hiking and hiking trails are the primary interest or focus. “The World Wide Web has certainly been a big help in recent years as there are several excellent bulletin boards where hikers post comments on their experiences and on the condition of the trails,” noted Smith. “I probably rely more on these reports than any other single source.”

Smith said he already knows there will be some changes to trail descriptions in the next guide. As an example, he said a Forest Service trail into remote Albany Notch in the Speckled Mountain region near the Maine-New Hampshire border is slated to be closed due to heavy beaver activity. “The Forest Service has thrown up the white flag in that instance,” quipped Smith. And just recently, Smith said he discovered a relocated section of trail in the Green Hills Preserve near North Conway that he had not previously known about. “There will be more surprises along the way, I’m sure, because there’s always something going on out there.”

With the removal last fall of the old suspension bridge deep in the Pemigewasset Wilderness, lack of a safe place to now cross the East Branch of the Pemi, and some impending name changes to the paths affected by the bridge removal, several trail write-ups for that part of the White Mountain National Forest will also have to be severely altered in the next guide.

Because of the already lengthy nature of the AMC Guide, Smith said there’s not a lot of room to expand or add much new interpretive stuff, but subtle additions such as noting a view or making mention of a particularly nice stand of trees are certainly possibilities.
Previously published.
Mike Dickerman is a longtime hiking enthusiast, award-winning columnist, and author or coauthor of nine books related to the White Mountains region of New Hampshire. He lives in Littleton.

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Save room for the feast for your eyes

In New Hampshire, Franconia Notch State Park presents a startlingly beautiful panorama. In New Hampshire, Franconia Notch State Park presents a startlingly beautiful panorama. (Greg Keeler/N.H. Division of Parks And Recreation)
By Eric Wilbur Boston Globe Staff / July 7, 2010

When it comes to classic New England landscapes, arguably none is more defining than what one can find in Franconia Notch State Park, where rugged, mountainous beauty overwhelms the senses.


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by Mike Dickerman
Mike Dickerman photo The one labeled “Summit Stone Work” depicts some of the intricate stone work found at the height-of-land (1,800 ft. elevation) of the Cobble Hill Trail between the wooded peaks of Cobble Hill and Moody Ledge.

After more than a quarter century of hiking in the western White Mountains, it’s not too often that I find myself tramping on unfamiliar terrain as I’ve pretty much covered all the trails that appear on modern day hiking maps. That being said, recently I found myself hoofing it up a trail that has long been on my radar screen, but one that for some reason I’d successfully managed to skip over time after time in favor of more promising peaks and paths.

The Cobble Hill Trail in Landaff, accessed off Route 112 near the Woodsville Reservoir on the Wild Ammonoosuc River, will never be a magnet for serious hikers because there’s no real reward at the end and no spectacular mountain vistas anywhere along its 2.1-mile course. Truth be told, it’s not really even a hiking path but rather an old woods road that ultimately connects the south end of rural Landaff with its interior sections. The trail does warrant an entry in the venerable AMC White Mountain Guide, and has been included in every edition of the “hiker’s bible” since the early 1960s, but it’s basically an unknown quantity to most trampers, the exception probably being local residents.

Much to my delight, my recent morning walk up Cobble Hill Trail proved far more satisfactory than anticipated as I was captivated throughout the two-and-a-half-hour round-trip journey by the surrounding woods, the mostly gentle grade of the trail, and the numerous remnants left behind from former residents of this isolated pocket on the western fringe of the Whites. What the hike lacked in views and rewards was more than made up for in the overall “walking through the woods” experience that too often is overlooked when one’s primary focus is on the goal and not necessarily the journey.

As far as I’m concerned, the Cobble Hill Trail has all the elements required of a relaxing woods walk. These include the sound of rushing water nearby, a mature mixed forest to walk through, gentle to moderate grades that barely induce one to sweat, and bountiful trailside curiosities. Given that this trail is little used by visitors to the White Mountain National Forest, especially during midweek periods in the off season, the trail also offers up a sense of isolation and serenity that is hard, if not impossible, to obtain on the more frequently used footpaths in this region.

For much of Cobble Hill Trail’s two-mile course, hikers are within sight or sound of Dearth Brook, a pleasant little stream that emanates from the high country between little known Cobble Hill and Moody Ledge to the west. A picturesque cascade along the brook just a hundred yards from the start of the trail (which is actually Forest Road 310) greets hikers almost immediately as you begin ascending the gravel road. Since it had rained the previous day and evening, there was a more-than-ample flow of water, allowing for a quite spectacular scene at the base of the cascade.

As the road climbs and then steers left, the stream mirrors the road’s course, only now it is well below the grade of the trail. As the trail gradually levels out, the road and stream do eventually meet again, at a bridged crossing a little more than a mile from the start. Up to this point, the stream and path have been constant partners and the pleasing sound of the rushing water added to the soothing mix of bird songs and wavering treetops swaying back and forth in a light overhead breeze.

At about the same point that the stream and trail part, local history enters the picture as the footpath is lined for much of its last mile with aging stone walls constructed well over a century ago when hill farms dotted the rough and tumble landscape of South Landaff. Initially there’s a single stone wall spotted in the woods on the right (or east) side of the trail. But eventually walls of fieldstone often coated with a thick layer of spongy, dark green moss line both sides of the trail. And one can’t help but wonder what it must have been like for the farmers of four or five generations past to be working these steep and rugged slopes in an environment already greatly challenged by northern New England’s weather extremes. At more than one point along Cobble Hill Trail you also come across well-manipulated piles of stone that at one time probably served as building foundations.

There is nothing especially thrilling about the end of this mountain trail. It officially ends at the height-of-land between wooded Cobble Hill and Moody Ledge, near a well-marked WMNF boundary, while the old road actually continues north another couple miles into Landaff. You know you’ve reached the official end of the Forest Service portion of the trail, however, when you emerge into a small open area where several slabs of open rock allow for a comfortable resting spot. In the nearby woods to the east more impressive stone work is found just a few yards off the trail, though it’s hard to get a good photograph due to encroaching forest growth.

For me, retracing my steps back to Route 112 was sheer delight as I stopped every few minutes to grab extra shots with my digital camera, or to further investigate things seen on my way up the trail. The only disappointments of the day were the fact that the hike was over so quickly, and the realization that I’d waited far too long to visit this unique, hidden locale that’s practically in my own backyard.

Previously published.

Mike Dickerman is a longtime hiking enthusiast, award-winning columnist, and author or coauthor of nine books related to the White Mountains region of New Hampshire. He lives in Littleton.

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by Mike Dickerman
Mike Dickerman photo One can see up close the rough nature of the boulder-strewn Dilly Trail.

Steep trails are not uncommon here in the White Mountains. Footpaths up many of the region’s higher summits have good long stretches of stiff, take-your-breath-away climbing. A few prime examples that quickly come to mind are the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail on the western slope of Mount Washington, the Twinway between Galehead Hut and the summit of North Twin, and the southern approach to Mount Willey in Crawford Notch via the Willey Range Trail.

These rough and tumble trails are not relegated solely to the 4000-foot peaks of the region, however, as many hikers can attest. And this is something I can personally avow following a fun and adventurous climb recently in the vicinity of Kinsman Notch.

My objective on this warm and sunny day was a high cliff overlooking the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forest’s Lost River Reservation. This narrow ledge, perched high above the Lost River complex of buildings and parking lots, is reached by way of the Dilly Trail, which climbs a respectable 700 feet in a just under a half mile. As signs at the base of the trail warn, this is not a footpath for the casual walker and should only be tackled by persons in good physical condition and with appropriate footwear.

Having climbed this trail just once before, that being some 20 years ago when my body was a bit leaner and my muscles and bones two decades younger, I remembered the trail as being steep, but not outlandishly so. That perspective has changed somewhat now that my middle age body has been put to the test of a follow-up ascent.

Leaving the Lost River parking lot at its northeast end just opposite a gazebo, the Dilly Trail (or Dilly Cliff Trail as it is also known) starts off innocently enough on mostly flat terrain. Just a few yards into the hike, the Society-maintained Kinsman Notch Trail— a self-guided, half-hour long nature walk— departs on the left. The main trail continues straight ahead and soon after crossing a small stream the climbing begins in earnest with the blue-blazed trail going over, through and around one large boulder after another. This, in fact, is not so much a walking path as an uphill obstacle/gymnastics course. If you are not pulling yourself up over one boulder, you are gingerly stepping from one exposed tree root to another, ever aware that your foot could easily slip. In places it took me two or three minutes to figure out how I was going to safely navigate my way through the maze of rocks and roots.

I can assure you that you use every muscle in your body as you carefully ascend some of the trickier spots along its course. This trail is the definition of hand-over-foot hiking, and while it was a lot of fun and managed to bring out a little of the kid still left in me, it’s obvious this trail is not for the faint of heart and that unless one is prepared for the many obstacles and hardships thrown in one’s way, it’s probably best to avoid this particular mountain-climbing route.

As I was in no rush to make the climb, it probably took me 40 to 45 minutes to reach the short side path that leads right to the cliff top view over the Lost River complex and the broad Lost River valley. Here I stopped and admired the view for perhaps 15 minutes, then had to make the call as to whether I would return by the same route, or continue along the Dilly Trail another 0.1 mile to its junction with the Kinsman Ridge Trail, which I would then follow south for 0.7 mile back to Route 112 at the height-of-land in Kinsman Notch.

This was pretty much a no-brainer as I was not keen on trying to make my way back down what seemed an impossibly steep (and probably dangerous) descent route. Considering the Kinsman Ridge Trail (KRT) was just a short walk further, with maybe another 150 feet of vertical climbing, this seemed by far to be the safer and smarter alternative.

Unfortunately, not all is as it seems sometimes in the mountains, and that was the case with the Dilly Trail extension, which has seen little maintenance over the years and apparently even littler actual foot traffic. With blazes now practically non-existent, and a treadway that has all but disappeared in the mountaintop growth, following the Dilly Trail to its junction with the Kinsman Ridge Trail was difficult and near impossible at best. At one point I actually lost the trail and spent close to fifteen minutes wandering around in the woods before finally regaining the path less than a hundred yards from its junction with the KRT. Curious to see where I’d made my mistake, I then followed the path back toward the outlook and eventually found the spot where I’d temporarily lost my way. Even then, staring ahead at where I now knew the trail went, it was obvious that the trail itself was not obvious, and that unless appropriate action is taken soon, others who try and follow this section of the path will most certainly meet up with the same problems I encountered.

Once on Kinsman Ridge, I proceeded north a short distance and stepped off trail briefly to check out a partial east-facing viewpoint that my longtime hiking cohort Steve Smith had mentioned to me the previous day. Reversing direction, I then proceeded south on the trail, which at this point is also link in the Appalachian Trail, and 30 minutes later I was back down to the highway, none the worse for wear despite the short but rigorous climb, a few dozen bug bites, and a severely sweat-soaked t-shirt.

(Previously published)

Mike Dickerman is a longtime hiking enthusiast, award-winning columnist, and author or coauthor of nine books related to the White Mountains region of New Hampshire. He lives in Littleton.

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