February 22, 2014.
Where to go and what to do? One of the hardest decisions I have to deal with each week. More so in the winter time due to the lack of trails being used. It gets more complicated with my red-lining efforts because most of the trails I have left are not as popular so the chances of the trails being broken out is a crap shoot. So the choice for this week is to head back to the Ferncroft area located north of Sandwich. Not quite ready to head up to a 4000 foot summit so the goal is to knock off a network of trails just south of Whiteface.
The early morning drive is uneventful until the left turn onto Route 113 in Holderness. From this point all the way to Ferncroft it is a classic New England winter frost heaved and pot holed road. I always seem to forget about this part of the drive when I head up here. The road conditions are compounded by all the rain we had the day before and the road is slick from freezing overnight and not being treated yet. It is a slow and cumbersome drive but as bad as this section of road can be it is worth it. Whiteface, Passaconaway and Wonalancet from the road.
I doctored the photo as there are three power lines in that picture running across the skyline (look close they are/were there, Thank You Photoshop!). Arriving at Ferncroft just before 8 and the weather is perfect for February. The skies are blue and the temps in the 20's and expected to increase to the 40's as the day goes on.
No fleece jacket needed today as I start out with just a thermal shirt, tee shirt and long sleeve shirt. Looking up towards Whiteface and it looks inviting to just head up but I know the winds are supposed to pick later in the day. There are also some difficult ledges up there and better to be safe than ruin my upcoming AT trip so I'll stay low for the day.
Clomping along the frozen crusty road with my snowshoes and fifteen minutes from starting and I've reached the first trail for the day, Blueberry Ledge Trail. Luckily it is broken out which I had kind of expected as it is a popular route up to Whiteface.
Reaching the junction with Blueberry Ledge Cutoff in just a few minutes and even this trail is somewhat broken out. Things are looking up so far for the day. Turning right on the Cutoff and it meanders in a valley along the Wonalancet River. It is a great day to be walking in the woods and the isolation is re-energizing for my soul.
Ten minutes later and I reach the bridge that crosses over the Wonalancet River and just on the other side is Dicey's Mill Trail. It was just a tad over a year ago I was on this trail and the snow cover was much less and yet I do not remember this spot. The skies are just as blue and I am fortunate to have such good weather. The river looks marshmallowy with all the snow capped boulders as I cross the bridge for this very short diversion before returning back to Blueberry Ledge Cutoff.
Back to the other side and reality sets in as I look up the trail and it is no longer broken out. No one has ventured further in quite some time. The depression is faintly evident and as I take my first steps on the unbroken trail I realize the day just got a little longer. Thanks to the rain, sleet and snow of yesterday the day has a hard crust on top. Unfortunately it does not hold my weight and with each step I sink in 8 to 10 inches. My first hard challenge in quite some time during winter since my failed Wildcat attempt in January of 2012. Back then it was deep powder and very windy on steep terrain. Today it is tolerable but very slow going as I crunch through the crust and take much smaller steps. The snowshoes catch on the crusty edge as I lift to take the next step. This is one heck of a workout but being such a nice day out it is tolerable.
I stop to take off one layer, the long sleeve shirt, as I break out a sweat breaking through this snow. I plug along the relatively easy terrain with just a couple minor rises on the trail. At one point there is a small brook crossing that I have to step down into to cross and then back up the banking, a minor dip in the trail. It takes forty minutes from the bridge to reach the Sandwich Range Wilderness Boundary. Ahead is a steep climb up out of the valley and as I stop to survey the hill I notice my sunglasses are no longer on my hip belt. Do I go back or just keep going? If it were not such a bright sunny day I would opt for another lost item on the trail. So rather than risking snow blindness I drop my backpack and head back the way I came. I have a feeling of where I might have lost them but just in case I keep my eyes peeled along the way. Without the backpack and following in my footsteps the hiking is much easier. I reach the brook crossing and I do not see them and now the decision to how much further back I go is not an easy one. Just when I decide to forget it and suffer without them I look down in the brook and there they are laying in the water! Hallelujah! All is good and I quickly return to my backpack and figured I added about a half mile total for this little adventure.
Busting butt up this steep section while breaking out the trail is one of the hardest parts of hiking alone. It is slow, cumbersome and extremely tiring. But persevering all the way and I make the crest of this section and stop at the top to catch my breath and get a few peeks thru the trees at the surroundings. Straight across is the Ossipee Range, the remnants of an ancient volcanic ring dike dating back about 125 million years ago. It is very evident when looking at a map.
Turning to my left and the first glimpse of the day, Chocorua and it's very intimidating peak.
Plugging along the trail and breaking through the crusty snow the trail makes a left turn up a relatively steep drainage ravine. A slightly cleared area further along and another glimpse at Chocorua. Approaching the ledges and the trail is harder to follow and most of it is left up to guessing as to where the trail resides. Finally two hours and 1.1 miles from the bridge that connected to Dicey's Mill Trail and I reach the junction with Blueberry Ledge Trail.
A look back across the ledge I just came across and broke trail.
The views are limited by the surrounding trees but there are some shots here and there. Across the way are the Ossipees with Mt Shaw dominating the range.
My decision to not head to Whiteface is easily reinforced after spending the last two hours only going a little over a mile. Even though the trail is well trodden from here in both directions it is still 2.2 miles to the summit. The other trails I have planned for the day are unknown in regards to their condition. So heading down is a no brainer in the bright warm sun. Wearing only my long sleeve thermal and a short sleeve shirt it feels good getting an early taste of spring.
Heading down is a welcome relief after the hard trail breaking of earlier and after the ledges the trail heads back into the woods. Making my way down until I reach the junction with McCrillis Path and I decide to pick up the three tenths of Blueberry Ledge trail between here and the Cutoff. Turning back around after reaching Blueberry Cutoff Trail and back up to the junction with McCrillis Path. The timing is much better on the broken trail as it only takes fifty minutes to make the 1.7 mile total trip. The initial part of McCrillis is a steep climb and has not seen any traffic recently. It is better then the Cutoff and shortly levels out and is a nice walk in the woods. This use to be the main highway between Wonalancet and Whiteface Intervale.
A short ten minutes and I reach the junction with my next trail, Tilton Spring Path. Looking at the trail sign and I am amazed at the amount of snow that is in this area.
Tilton Spring Path is also faintly discernible and with the lack of blazing through this area it is a challenge to follow. A few times I have to stop and take notice of the surroundings to figure out which way the trail goes. Although I have never (knock on wood) been lost or lost a trail I actually like these challenges of trying to figure out where the trail is. Along the way a "V" tree brought to you by Sesame Street's "Today is brought to you by the letter".
The next junction is the actual spring site with Pasture Path. I stop to have some snacks and water and figure On my way back from visiting the lofty Mt Katherine I'll replenish my water then.
While snacking at this four way junction I look down at Red Path and notice it hasn't been touched lately either. Beginning to get tired I contemplate my options after doing Mt Katherine. The plan is to do an out and back on Red Path and then down the rest of Pasture Path and return to the car. I do this all the time while hiking, rethinking my game plan because sometimes I bite off more than I can chew. Compounded by being winter and I always think I can still put the miles in that I do during the non-snow months. Which is actually a reality when the trails are well broken out. But that is becoming a hard thing to expect or find as I get deeper into this red-lining list. Anyway I suck it up for now and just head up to Mt Katherine and figure I'll deal with it when I get back to this junction.
Pasture Path is broken out in both directions so that is a good thing. Just as I start up a couple is making their way down. Amazingly only the eighth person I have seen all day and the last I would see. Feeling the tiredness in my legs from the earlier trudging in the snow and this short trip seems longer than it should be. It is a half mile and only takes a little over fifteen minutes but seemed a lot longer in real time. The trail passes through several recently made logging paths as I reach Mt Katherine. OK, so a little bit about this Mt Katherine. Not sure who makes these decisions but it is on the map as a mountain. So even though it is only 1380 feet high it is on the map as a mountain and that qualifies in my book to add to my peak list.
A groomed trail comes up from the south approach presumably for the cross country skiers as it doesn't show up on the hiking maps. The views would have definitely been better earlier this morning. But as the day has worn on the winds have picked up and the clouds are dark and thickening. As I was coming up the trail I could hear the winds coming across the valley. It is such a cool phenomenon hearing the winds approaching. You hear this roar off in the distance and it slowly gets louder as it gets closer. Wonalancet, Passaconaway and Mt Paugus are partially obscured as is Whiteface.
To the east across Intervale Farm is one of the most photographed mountains, Mt Chocorua. Always impressed by the rocky bald summit of this peak no matter how many times I see it and from all angles.
Back down to the four way junction and looks like my decision is made for me. The Red Path is now semi-broken out by the couple that I passed on my way up Pasture Path. But first I want to fill my water bottle. Trying to reach the trickle of water coming out of the pipe is a challenge. I end up putting one foot on the pipe for leverage and the other on a rock hoping to stretch out with my bottle. As I get positioned and reach for the end of the pipe I notice the trickle has stopped! Looking at the situation it doesn't take long to figure out what happened. The pipe is not inserted into anything just lying in the shallow pool of water with all the decaying leaves and when I stepped on it the pipe moved stopping the flow. Not really wanting tannin water I forego the water and head down Red Path.
Red Path is a gradual descent that ends at Ferncroft Road just after the turnoff with Route 113A. It looks like an old road and opens out above a house and hopes for views are soon dashed as it turns right into the woods to bypass the house.
Reaching a gravel road and then a walk out to Ferncroft Road.
Back up Red Path and a right turn onto Pasture Path and day is coming to an end.
Finally reaching the end of Pasture Path and I am back at the junction where I started this morning with Blueberry Ledge Trail. The walk out from here is easy as it follows the semi plowed roads of the summer camps in this area and shortly I am back at the car ready to head home. Tough day but rewarding because I didn't quit and actually added an extra six tenths of a mile doing that small section of Blueberry Ledge Trail that I had not planned on doing.
Final numbers: 8.8 miles, 6 hours and 20 minutes.
Redline Miles: 6.3, Total to Date: 476.2