November 1, 2014.
Been kind of saving this hike for a rainy day as it doesn't reach any heights for views. Not that today was supposed to rain all day but there was the chance for it later in the day. Both trails, Greeley Ponds and Flume Brook, have portions of them closed since Hurricane Irene ripped through here three years ago. Last year at this time I made an attempt on the Flume Brook portion but was thwarted when I came to a section where the trail completely disappeared. So hopefully a little redemption on my part. Technically I do not have to do these for red-lining but it is the stubbornness and curiosity that draws me to complete these two trails.
Parking at the Greeley Ponds Trail head off the Kancamagus Highway and the boots are on the trail just before eight. Been a long time since I was on this trail back when I was doing the 48. It was a little over three years ago and conditions are pretty close to the same, overcast. The temps are in the low 30's with a threat of rain later. Hopefully I'll be out by then as the hiking is easy with the weather we have been having.
Within a half hour I reach the junction with Mt Osceola Trail. Beyond this point it is all new to me. A short ways up is the height of land of Mad River Notch with a lone glacial erratic sitting in the middle of the trail.
Just beyond and I am standing on the north gravelly shore of Upper Greeley Pond. Approaching the southern end and across the pond is another sandy spot looking very peaceful.
At the southern end of the pond is a spur path that ends up leading around to that sandy beach. The path continues through the woods along the pond and after a ways I turn back around. I am not sure where this leads or if it is part of the winter skiing route. It is not on the map and the guidebook mentions the path leading to the sandy beach and nothing beyond. Who knows maybe it leads up to Mt Kancamagus, something to research for another day. The pano shot of Greeley Pond and East Osceola from the beach.
Ten minutes down the trail and Lower Greeley Pond starts to come into view from the trail. Further down a view back looking up towards Mad River Notch.
The trail crosses the outlet of Lower Greeley Pond which is a source of the Mad River. The river actually begins at Upper Greeley Pond which in turn feeds Lower Greeley Pond. On the other side of the embankment a path/ski trail leads off to the left towards the southern shore of Lower Greeley Pond. It takes just an hour and a half from the parking lot to reach this part of the shore.
From this vantage point I get a different perspective of the Painted Cliff on the side of East Osceola. The first time I saw this feature was last year when I was on the Old Skidder Trail trying to do Flume Brook Trail from the other end.
Back down the ski trail to the junction and I am about to enter into no mans land. From this spot I don't see any reason for the closure and as I continue down the trail looks like it probably did three years ago before Irene. Within five minutes the only thing I see out of the ordinary is that some sort of heavy equipment has been out here grading a few spots. It actually has made the trail much softer as I sink in while crossing these sections.
Another five minutes down the trail and the new relocation, which is not officially open yet, veers off to the left and the old trail is blocked by a boulder and tree slash on the right. At first it still looks to be in decent shape and I do not understand the reason for the closure.
Then, just after, I see the reason for the closed trail and the future reroute. I stand on this "sandbar" for a few minutes trying to absorb my surroundings and figure out where the trail once went.
I don't see any evidence of the trail nor a blaze anywhere. I start to wonder what I've gotten myself into until it finally dawns on me that the stream is the trail. I slowly pick my way along the flooded trail and get relief that I am on the right course when I see an occasional blaze or a bog bridge.
The reason, as I understand it, this section will not be reclaimed is it sits lower than Mad River and when Irene came through here it changed the river's course to where the trail is. It is just a ten minute section from the boulder blocked trail to where I spy the new bridge that spans the Mad River for the new relocated trail.
Passing by the bridge and I continue down kind of unsure if this is still the old section of Greeley Ponds Trail. Every once in a while I get some reassurance when I spot a blaze on a tree. Fifteen minutes beyond the bridge and I reach the junction with the Kancamagus Ski Trail. There is nothing to note in between these two landmarks as the "old" trail is part of the old logging road that use to go through this valley.
I do not recall hearing of any damage on the ski trail so I can only assume that they will keep this section between the junction and the bridge open for the cross country skiers. But I can tell you with certainty that beyond this point is complete obliteration. Two main brooks, Kancamagus and Flume Brooks, converge on this spot and dump into the Mad River.
There are remnants of a footbridge everywhere and stacks of trees that got lodged against other trees. This must have been one amazing spot three years ago when Irene rolled through. I can't even begin to imagine the amount of water flowing through this area that day. Poking around I try to find the trail on the other side and finally spot it. The other issue of more concern is finding a way across this rapidly moving stream. After about five minutes and a couple of failed attempts I finally find a spot and cross with no incident.
Finally across and I pass what must be the opening for Flume Brook Trail but I am not totally convinced as there is no sign marking it anymore. I still have a small section of trail to get between here and the Knights Bridge crossing of Mad River. The trail between the last crossing and Knights Bridge is eroded but fixable in my opinion. Sorry I am a sentimentalist when it comes to keeping these trails on their original path created many years ago. At the site of where Knights Bridge used to be and I was on the other side in February of 2013 and the crossing looked dicey during the winter. Today it is swollen and dicey in another way.
I want to get to the other side just so I can feel comfortable with my project that I have done every inch of the trail to the best of the conditions afforded me. I look up the stream as down stream is definitely out. Nothing looks good and I keep going up and at this point the effort is futile. But the reward is I come across more debris from what I assume was a bridge across the Flume/Kancamagus Brooks.
A quick search confirms my suspicions and there were even more bridges upstream explaining the debris way back at the gravel section.
This excerpt is from the WVAIA describing the trail pre-Irene.
Shortly after that, it crosses the river on Knight’s Bridge, and then it passes the Flume Brook Trail [40 min.], on the right, crosses another bridge and then the Kancamagus Brook Ski Trail, [not suitable for hiking], also on the right. For the rest of the distance to the ponds, the trail stays close to the diminishing river as it ascends the Mad River Notch. There are 6 wooden planked footbridges over rills and run-offs adding to the river; and then the trail descends some log steps and crosses the river [difficult in high water], at a point where a X-C ski trail continues straight ahead [blazed blue].
Cutting back over to the trail and I get back on Greeley Ponds trail and at the point I think is Flume Brook Trail I turn right. The very beginning is an open area with the trail kind of hidden and very quickly I can see a definite trail corridor.
This end of the trail is reminiscent of the opposite end that I was on a year ago. Debris all laid across the trail, purposely I think, to discourage people form using it. It is a minor annoyance but not a deterrent as I head up. About fifteen minutes up and the trail is high above the brook but I spy down below a campsite that has seen some recent use.
Further up and there is definitive proof of why the trail is closed as when the trail gets back down next to the brook a section of fifteen feet is wiped out. Beyond that another section is completely gone as the trail and brook coincide.
This next section is just before where I turned around last year and had I known where the trail was I would of just kept on going. The embankment on the right is eroded right where the trail used to be.
Climbing up and across the eroded embankment is no issue as the gravel banking is hard packed. I reach the other side and then some rock hopping to make it to the spot I was at last year when I lost the trail.
Interesting the snow on the trail at this time last year and today there is not a hint anywhere. Satisfied I turn back around and head back to the spot where Knight's Bridge once was and I am determined I am crossing the Mad River to complete my red-lining of this trail. I head in straight across on the rocks that are exposed and some that are slightly submerged. At this point in the hike I do not care if the feet get wet. A comparison shot of the same spot today and February 2013.
Not wanting to cross again and more so back at the crossing before this one plus I wanted to see the new diverted sections of Greeley Ponds Trail I head down to the junction with Timber Camp Trail. It is here that I meet the first and only people of the day as they are coming up from the Waterville Valley side. I stop to chat but quickly get a move on as it has been spitting rain since I was heading up Flume Brook Trail. I move quickly up the moderate climb of Timber Camp Trail/Greeley Ponds Trail. The trail makes me cringe as there's been heavy equipment up through here and takes the charm away from the trail.
I move along so quickly and with my head down that I miss the spot where Timber Camp Trail turns off to the left. The new trail makes a hairpin turn and descends down to the new bridge. Across the bridge and back up the trail climbs before winding back down to the spot where the boulder was blocking the trail. Keeping the pace and I have to take a shot at Upper Greeley Pond and how the clouds have settled in since I was there four hours ago.
Back up and over the height of land and down to the parking lot and these trails are done for my list. I got to see the old and the new and personally I much prefer the old.
Final numbers: 10.9 miles, 5 hours and 25 minutes.
Redline Miles: 3.8, Total to Date: 635.1