Revenge of Three Ponds Trail (The Hard Way)

December 26, 2014.

So where does one go after getting its buck kicked a week ago? Right back to the same spot and armed with some new beta and a better mental attitude I am determined to do this trail. Getting to the trailhead a half hour earlier today than last week and I am off on my way by 7:00.

I found a way to download the most current trail to my GPS so staying on or at least near the trail will be less of a challenge. As you can see in the left picture below this is my actual GPS track. The dotted black line is the map trail that comes with the GPS. The picture on the right has the actual GPS trail overlayed on my GPS track (hence the darker red line) and I actually was on Three Ponds Trail the whole way. The first black dotted line where the trail deviates from is where I got lost last week and kept bouncing left and right trying to stay on it. The guidebook does not mention this reroute but it does mention the one directly below Whitcher Hill, which I had no trouble following when I got to that area. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

 

The first part of the hike goes without incident. I have on my snowshoes today since we got some more snow since last week and it is a lot more softer this time. I push through the trouble spots of last week and the hobblebush. Reaching the spot where the trail crosses the logging road and I notice flagging on the other side that I missed last time. There is flagging behind me but I do not remember this piece.

The trail goes right over those two bare spots and passes to the left of that fallen tree. I continue moving up the trail more confident than last week. At the spot where I diverted from the trail I chuckle to myself as it is obvious which way I should have gone last week. There are no footprints from last week to follow as the snow was a hard crust then. Along the way I spy a tree with three red stripes painted on it. The marks are a boundary marker for a previous lumber cut through this area.

 

Further up and I approach the spot where the downed tree was last week and I had to turn while coming down. I recognize the spot but turn too early and quickly realize this is not the tread way. I look around for a bit confused as to why I can not see the trail corridor and then realize my mistake. I turned ten feet too early. The rest of the way up is uneventful and then I reach the spot of the "last blaze" from last week. I head down past the rock where I got stumped the week before and stop to look around. To my right is the swamp clearing I headed to last time. To my left is definitely not the trail. I slowly move forward towards a little stream by a tree and stop to take in the surroundings. Then I spot what I was looking for and never saw a week ago, a faint yellow blaze on the tree to the right in the picture.

 

I never went down this extra ten feet because of the branches blocking the trail masking it from looking like the trail. Besides by that point I was so frazzled that blaze could have been right next to me and I would have probably missed it. From here on out I am in new territory and the BS of last week is behind me. The trail drops down into a very wet and open area where I see the first signs of moose. This area is very similar to my Hubbard Brook Trail jaunt of last March.

 

The trail twists up and down, left and right, through some very wet areas and dryer spots. An hour after finding my mistake of last week and I reach a spot where the trail crosses a major snowmobile route. It is quite wide and has been groomed in the last few days but there is no evidence of any traffic on it. The trail parallels Brown Brook and I soon reach the first crossing of it. A couple crossings up and I reach this spot looking for a way across to the trail on the other side.

 

I didn't like the looks of that opening between the rock and slab so I crossed to the right of the picture where there was a blowdown and a much shallower ledge. The trail opens up on a snowmobile route before reaching Foxglove Pond where I get a view of my other nemesis, Mt Carr.

 

Crossing the eastern boggy shore of Foxglove Pond and on the other side the trail is still wide and fairly straight. I cross an unnamed brook that feeds out of Foxglove Pond into Upper Three Ponds. Motoring along on this straight section and fifteen minutes from the brook crossing I reach the shore of Middle Three Ponds. Only problem is the trail ends right into the water which is frozen. I remember last year that across the pond is the shelter and a couple was walking across the pond towards this area. This must be the winter route.

 

No way I am crossing this pond even with the ice. Plus this is not the actual trail so back up to find out where I missed the trail. Heading back up and I see a tree with a sign, arrow and red flagging tape that I completely missed on the way down. I was supposed to turn left here onto the trail.

 

Ten minutes later and a left turn at a tee junction and this trail leads to the edge of Upper Three Ponds with Mt Kineo stoically in the background.

Back up the trail past the tee junction and the trail dumps onto the northeastern shore of Middle Three Ponds. A sharp left and just beyond is the questionable crossing over an old beaver dam.

 

Not liking this crossing I poke around on both ends looking for another way across. There is nothing that looks safe nor any better than the deteriorated beaver dam. Sucking it up I must cross as I am not going to leave this fifty foot section of "trail" without getting across. The water is high for this time of year and I really wish it was frozen but there is too much of a flow in it to freeze. The trail sign on the far side looks ominously far away.

 

Just one foot/step at a time. Slowly I start out stepping on those mounds of snow and brush trying to keep the snowshoes and feet dry. I zig zag across getting about a third of the way out. I keep having flashes in my head of stepping in a spot and my foot sinking and then losing my balance and getting soaked. I am too far away from the car to have an accident now. Halfway across and I look back at where I came across and where I still have to get.

 

The end is so close now but you just never know how stable the snow is or if there is a pocket of water underneath. I reach the bog bridge that is hidden in the snow and then just ten more feet I've made it across. Three Ponds Trail is redlined!

 

Last March there was quite a bit more snow out here.

 

I remember from being out here nine months ago that on the other side of this swamp there was a snowmobile trail that came up the hill beside Donkey Hill Cutoff and veered off to the left as I was heading down the trail. I'm hoping this is the same snowmobile trail that I crossed up by Brown Brook so I could skip recrossing the beaver dam. It would be nice to complete Mt Kineo Trail while I am out here but that would mean another good 8.5 miles of hiking to complete the loop back to the car. Knowing Hubbard Brook Trail will probably be a wet mess and unbroken as well as most of Mt Kineo Trail I just planned to head back the way I came. Knowing what I know now I am glad that my trip out on Hubbard Brook Trail last March didn't pan out. I was breaking trail all the way across Hubbard Brook Trail and Hubbard Brook Road to the northern end of Mt Kineo Trail. Mt Kineo was not broken out either and having to break another 3.5 miles of trail and then get to Three Ponds Trail, which was hell these past two weeks trying to follow, would have been a disaster. Crossing through the wetlands on Donkey Hill Cutoff, which I have no idea where this name came from as a search of old maps shows no Donkey Hill, and I am on the straight section of trail where just ahead is the snowmobile trail from last year. These are the shots from last year.

 

So this is where the plan goes to hell. I reach the spot that is in that right hand picture and there is no snowmobile trail. Zip, Nada, and I start doubting the location I remember it at. I head down the trail a bit where it ends up along the marsh at the bottom. I know it wasn't this far down and I distinctly remember it back at the top of the hill. Back up I go and I can not even see a corridor where the snowmobile trail would have gone. Rather than head back to the beaver dam and cross it a second time I just decide to duck into the woods and bushwhack my way back to Three Ponds Trail on the other side of Upper Three Ponds. The woods are thick but passable and I just can't figure where a snowmobile trail would go through here. A mystery to be solved at another time I guess. I head around the pond and making my way down to the edge where it is flatter for a bit and then away from the shore heading uphill. I cross the unnamed brook and pop out onto Three Ponds Trail halfway in between the brook crossing and where the winter trail splits off.

 

Heading all the way back up to the snowmobile crossing and, a decision I would end up regretting, I turn onto it. I just didn't feel like going through the wet section and the climb back up Whitcher Hill. I figured this was the same snowmobile trail that split off of Three Ponds Trail a mile before the trailhead and this just paralleled the hiking trail. This would be quicker and easier hiking. Well, was I way off and completely wrong as you can see by my track. I didn't know it at the time how far out of the way it would go and at some point I was too far committed to turn around or bushwhack over to the trail. Just down the trail and in an open area there was Whitcher Hill just to my right so at the time I felt it was a good choice.

 

Down the snowmobile trail a ways and it begins to descend and there are good views to northwest where I was a few weeks ago, Mt Mist and Webster Slide Mt. To the right of that a place I still have not hiked, Blueberry Mt with the trailless Mt Jeffers behind.

 

By two in the afternoon I have reached a junction and even though I have only been on this snowmobile trail for an hour it sure seems longer. I am nervous as to which way to go. It is a four way junction and one sign points to a store in Warren to the west. Definitely do not want to go that way. Straight ahead I assume will bring me to the road, Route 118, but depending where on the road it goes to it could mean a long roadwalk back to the car. To the right the trail points to Lincoln and of the three choices this is the only one that makes sense. I stand here and reassure myself I am doing the right thing as there is only a couple of hours of daylight left. And I have no guarantees of exactly where this trail is going to lead to. In theory it has to intercept Three Ponds Trail somewhere but where.

 

Heading up towards Patch Hill and the trail is a tough climb as I am getting to that point of this day taking its toll on me physically and mentally. What I thought was supposed to be an easy route back is turning into a very long detour and I still have no idea where this trail goes. It is also not groomed heading up this softening snow. I am the only one who has been on this trail so far this winter. The trail rounds a corner and levels out for a bit as it is staying along the contour of the hill. It then turns again and starts climbing some more before making a u-turn and then levels out one more time. As if mocking me the trail opens up and to my left is Whitcher Hill and I most likely would have been close to being done with this hike by now if I hadn't taken these snowmobile trails. Just down the trail and I have now been on this detour for two hours and I have to stop to eat and regain my composure, I need to get back into this mentally. Feeling better I get up and move out and finally the trail starts heading downhill. I come across a tree that was fairly recently cut to clear the trail and out of curiosity I count the rings. I have it at 92 years old.

 

A few minutes after the downed tree and another opening and a view of Moosilauke's South Summit.

 

Twenty minutes further down the trail and the only view of Moosilauke of the day with the setting sun close to alpenglow. And just fifteen minutes after that the junction that I was at over eight hours ago makes its presence.

 

Oh the relief and joy of this finally working out. I would have never guessed that the snowmobile trail was going to go that far out of the way. I really expected it to parallel the trail. Lesson learned and I should rethink the title of this trip because now I am not sure who got the revenge in the end. Anyways, back at the car in under thirty minutes and I am rewarded with a moon shot in the clear evening sky.

 


Final numbers: 13.6 miles, 9 hours and 30 minutes.

Redline Miles: 2.2, Total to Date: 665.1