December 21, 2014.
Since the conditions this winter have been pretty good in regards to the lack of any substantial snow I'm heading back to my nemesis. My kryptonite, Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest and its surrounding area. Every trip I have made up here I have been thwarted for one reason or another. The first time I forgot my hiking boots. The next time I wasn't prepared mentally for breaking trail in the deep snow. I did make a positive out of it by doing a big loop that day. The third and last time I broke trail for almost 4 miles getting to another trailhead only to discover the rest of the trail was unbroken also. I ended up turning around that day. So as the title suggests I did not succeed (no suspense there) in what I set out to do today. The plan was to head up to the northern end of Tunnel Brook Trail and hike south to get the section of trail I was hoping to get the last time I was up here. Just a straight forward out and back and dependant on the conditions a loop in reverse of the planned loop I had attempted last time I was here.
Arriving at the trailhead off Route 118 and the snow is only a couple of inches deep so the snowshoes stay behind and I am off. Pass the gate that blocks access to the bridge over the West Branch Baker River and up the hill to the junction of Hubbard Brook and Three Ponds Trails junction.
Straight is the way I went last time so this time I turn right onto the trail/snowmobile route. Except there have been no snowmobiles up through this area yet this season. So much for an easy trek I was hoping for. Thankfully the snow depth isn't that bad. A couple of inches of fresh powder on top of maybe a four inch hard base. I did put on the microspikes back at the beginning just for extra traction. Like I said this part of the trail doubles as a snowmobile trail in the winter so it is a wide corridor. The first part is fairly flat then after going through a clearing, which might have been a logging landing at one time, the trail/road begins to climb.
About a mile up and the trail splits off to the left and the snowmobile trail continues straight. Heading in and not far up the bent over trees begin to appear. Victims of the heavy Thanksgiving storm we got that made a mess of the whole state.
The trail meanders through the woods and then it starts, a dead end. I look around for any evidence of a trail bed and see nothing. In front of me a wall of hobblebush with no discerning path through it. To my left and right nothing but woods and no distinct path in either direction. I turn around and head back down looking for a turn that maybe I missed. I find nothing and the map doesn't reflect a turn either. Back up the trail and it must go straight I just can't see it because of the snow.
One of the hazards or challenges of winter hiking is the trails in these situations are hard to follow. Unlike in the non snow season where you can usually make out the foot path by the trampled leaf bed or dirt path. I head straight through the hobblebush and twenty feet past I made the right choice as the trail is right there. A little further up and the trail reaches an old logging road that doesn't show up on the trail map. No biggie as that happens a lot. But the problem is there is no distinguishing trail features on the other side. Behind me there is a piece of landscapers flagging on a tree branch marking the entrance to the trail. Ahead of me nothing. Left looks like a landing and right I assume heads back down to the snowmobile trail. So straight is the only logical choice and I head up through passing an uprooted tree and more hobblebush. Beyond it vaguely resembles a trail but one always has doubts in these situations. The only reassurance I get is the occasional faint blaze on a tree I find.
They are few and far in between each other and with the lack of any trail maintenance it is driving me bonkers. I keep moving forward and hitting these same spots of where the hobblebush has invaded the trail and just plow through hoping this is the correct way. Approaching the flank of Whitcher Hill and I reach another spot where the trail "disappears". Except this time it is in the open woods, no hobblebush issues. Dang it as I scan looking for a corridor or a blaze. Seeing neither I head up flanking on the right as I know the trail does not go directly up and over Whitcher Hill. I keep checking the GPS to see if I am on the trail and its more to the right so I lean towards that way. I find no evidence and check again and start leaning towards the left. I zigzag my way up the hill hoping I intercept the trail and find nothing.
Getting further up in elevation and I see an opening in the trees to my left and hope that is the trail corridor. Making my way up to it and it is an opening but again no evidence of a trail. Checking the GPS one more time and the trail appears to be to my right. Have I crossed it and didn't see it? Is this GPS really that bad? I have learned never to trust it completely but to use it as a guide in case of times like these. I've never gotten lost, yet, gone astray maybe but not lost. And even then it was only for a very short period of time.
The GPS is made by Delorme and is based out of Maine. So one would think that they would do a pretty good job with the trails especially in their own backyard so to speak. But I have come to realize that the GPS is only as good as the maps they provide. And therein lies the one big flaw. The base maps and the trails they have on them are very outdated and inaccurate. Some of the trails I know are newer and I don't expect them to be updated right away. It's the ones that have been in existence for twenty, thirty or even forty years and either don't exist or the track is inaccurate. It can be frustrating and trying at times but only on these rare occasions like today. OK rant over!
So I turn around and slowly head back down and within thirty feet I notice a spot that resembles a trail corridor. I turn left onto it and sure enough this is it. I definitely crossed it on my way to the clearing but never noticed it. I get reassurance further up as I see a faint blaze on a tree. I'm skirting below the high point of Whitcher Hill now and should start descending down from it shortly according to where I think I am on the map. But lo and behold I hit another dead end and the worse part is I just past a tree with the most faintest of faint blazes on it. There is a huge boulder here and I'm not sure if the trail goes past it straight or bearing slightly downhill on my right around it.
You can see the boulder buried in snow to the left of the pine tree in the left photo. I head straight for ten feet or so and the woods do not look anything like a corridor. Even if it had grown in some there is no evidence of tree limbs being trimmed or anything. I turn around and back at the boulder go down to another stopping point about thirty feet down. I look around and see nothing except towards the right there is clearing of sorts and maybe the trail leads over there. I make my way over and it turns out too be a small swampy bog. Nothing here convincing me it is the trail. I head back up past the split boulder and then to the tree with the blaze right before it. I start to wonder if maybe I am on an abandoned section of trail but I don't remember ever reading anything about that. I try one more time in both directions and again am thwarted by any signs of where the trail goes. Enough! Time to throw in the towel and call it a day. Mentally it is exhausting and being really frustrated it is better to head out and call it a day. I head back the way I came came and feel confident that I am on the right track as the trail corridor is quite evident.
At least up to the point I turned around. I reach the spot where I notice a set of footprints crossing the trail coming from the woods on my left heading to the clearing on my right. This confirms I crossed the trail and didn't even see it because I had my eyes on that clearing. Oh well at least I know the answer to that part of the mystery. Making new tracks now on the "found" trail and I head down and to add insult to injury I turn my right ankle pretty good. This is the bad time of year with the snow where it is not deep enough to cover all the roots, rocks and fill in the holes. Well I hit one of those holes and the ankle folded right over and sent me to the ground. It took a few minutes to get up, and yes a few curse words (OK maybe more than a few), as the pain is searing and there is no strength in it right away. Limping off I slowly make my way down favoring it quite a bit. The trail is more rutted in this section so I stay off to the side on more even ground. I reach a spot where the trail looks like it goes straight down but there is a big tree down at this spot. Not sure if it is on purpose or coincidence but I look to my right and that looks like a trail also. Not sure why but I make the ninety degree turn to the right and it turns out to be the right way as I find out thanks to the almost extinct yellow blaze. Farther down and I reach the point where I lost the trail and turning around I see two things. One is some fallen brush that made it not look like the trail so that is why I got confused. The other is about thirty feet up just barely noticeable is a stinking blaze on a tree.
Dang all that time wasted roaming in the woods and there it was. Anyways the rest of the trip out is just retracing my footprints out and when I get to the trailhead there is the Trail Adopter sheet posted on a tree. Curious I walk over to it wondering if anyone has adopted this trail. Funny enough someone has and it is listed as a family. Well whoever you are I give to you the worst maintained trail in the White Mountains Award. Of the over 600 miles of trails I have done so far, out of the 1400 total, this is definitely the worst. Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest and the surrounding area has done me in again.
Final numbers: 5 miles, 3 hours and 45 minutes.
Redline Miles: 2.5, Total to Date: 662.9