Three Ponds Loop

March 16, 2014.

After last weeks snafu of forgetting my hiking boots I returned to the scene and this time all gear is present and accounted for. On the way up the snow started fluttering around Manchester and just after the sharp turn in Concord I pulled over for a shot of the full moon in the western sky.

Two minutes later the moon would disappear behind the clouds and for most of the way up it was a snow squall. Pulling off at the Plymouth exit and the skies were better and the squall had already passed through. Arriving at the trail head parking and there was no way I was pulling in this time due to the 12" of new snow from the other day. I parked along the side of the road and enjoyed my breakfast as the sun came up to my left.

The plan is simple for today, an out and back to Carr Mt and then a loop around Three Ponds.

Someone had been up to Mt Carr from this side a few weeks ago and that is why I wanted to do this last week. The beginning of the trail, Three Ponds Trail, doubles as a snowmobile trail in the winter.

Passing the return trail, Mt Kineo Trail and it looks somewhat discernible so hopefully the rest of that trail is the same or I am in for a long day. Three Ponds Trail climbs up for a short ways and quickly I am at the junction with Carr Mt Trail. Unfortunately it has not seen any traffic since the snow storm.

 

The depression in the trail is visible and thankfully I only sink in a few inches as I start to head down into a valley towards Sucker Brook. As long as I can stay on the packed part of the trail this is doable as it is 2.9 miles to the summit of Carr Mt. Sucker Brook (would love the name origin of that one) is frozen and the crossing is a breeze.

Crossing the bridged stream and the steady climb begins and the trough is still easy to see and staying on the hard pack is not an issue.

Sinking in more like 6" now but still not an issue. However, as the elevation increases so does the fresh snow and it is not long before the depression is no longer visible. The only track out here is a lynx that pops in and out on the trail corridor. The snowshoe track is completely gone and sinking into a foot of snow just plain sucks. Occasionally I by chance find the packed path but only for short stints. Over an hour from starting on this trail and enough is enough. When it no longer is fun and just plain exhausting then time to turn around. The track is no longer there and sinking in a foot with every step and I make the 180° turn to head back down. I still had about two miles to go and doing this alone is tough work.

The return path.

Back down I go and turning back onto Three Ponds Trail and the groomed walk continues for now. The unknown is how far this hiking/snowmobiling trail will last until I have to be breaking trail again. It is 4.7 miles around this loop and I have no idea what is up ahead. For now the trail is a highway and the only people I see is a groomer on his way out and back.

The wind is howling above the trees and again I can hear the phenomenon of it coming through the valley towards me. Not much for pictures today but it is a great walk in the woods and the solitude is consolation for not making it up Carr Mt. Reaching the Three Ponds Shelter and the only other people I see for the day is a family of three who just spent the night at the shelter.

They are heading across the pond as they parked at the northern end of Three Ponds Trail off Route 118. I do not envy them as they cross the open pond exposed to the biting winds. I stay to the edge in the woods making my way around its eastern shore.

Reaching the northern end of the pond and the snowmobile trail is no longer following the hiking trail. Back to breaking trail and guessing where the trail continues. I see an opening that I hope is the right way and shortly I am reassured by the junction with Three Ponds Trail and Donkey Hill Cutoff.

The Cutoff is 1.1 miles in length and not broken at all. Carefully picking my way keeping eyes peeled for blazes to make sure I am heading in the right direction. The trail winds around the frozen wetlands and I am glad I am doing this in winter to avoid all the wet areas. I think at this point I'd rather break the trail than hike through swampland during the non-winter seasons. Crossing a tributary and I sink in all the way to my hip and thankfully it was all snow. Plugging along the Donkey Hill Cutoff and it is easy to follow once away from the wetland section.

Maybe a quarter of the way in on this trail and I look up and can not believe my eyes! Someone is smiling down on me and not sure it is visible in this photo.

Coming in from the left is the snowmobile trail and merges with the Donkey Hill Cutoff straight ahead. With spirits lifted and relief from having to not break trail for a while I pick up the pace. Even though the winds are strong the sun is strong also and feels good in these open woods. The trail makes it way over to a beaver swamp and an unobstructed view of Mt Kineo.

At the other end of the swamp the trail heads into the woods while the snowmobile trail heads left. I resign to myself that this is probably the end of the easy hike untill I reach some part of Mt Kineo Trail. Winding through an odd section of the woods and the trail, lo and behold, merges right back out onto the snowmobile track. Up around the bend and somebody left their toy behind in the middle of the woods.

It is the junction of Donkey Hill Cutoff and Mt Kineo Trail. On the ground and the explanation is found for why the backhoe is out here.

Looking up the Mt Kineo Trail and the snowmobile tracks continue up that way as well. I think to myself that next week would be a great plan to finish Three Ponds Trail and Mt Kineo Trail and hopefully Hubbard Brook Road and Trail are broken out for a 13 mile loop all on snowmobile tracks. Making quick time heading down Mt Kineo trail and I reach the right turn where the trail diverges away from the snowmobile trail. The trail has not seen any use in this section at least since the most recent snow.

 

The good thing is the depression is very visible and the snow not so deep here. It is a short winding up and down hike through these open woods and forty minutes later I am back on the Tree Ponds Trail and just a few minutes more back to the road and car. So Carr Mt 2 and me 0, third times a charm? It will have to wait until the snow is gone and I'll attempt it from the Route 25 end to complete that section of trail.


Final numbers: 7.7 miles, 4 hours and 50 minutes.

Redline Miles: 6.4, Total to Date: 487