February 28, 2015.
With all the snow we have been getting the past month it's time to look for trails that have at least seen some traffic. Breaking trails the last couple of weeks has been fun but tiresome. Seeing a report that Old Speck had seen some traffic recently was just the ticket. Looking at my spreadsheet and the Old Speck Trail is the most northern trail in Maine's portion of the White Mountains that I need to do.
The drive up to Maine is about three and half hours. Even though I got up early I never made it out of the house until a little before five. By the time I got up above Plymouth the sun was starting to come up and I had to pull over on the highway to get some pictures. It has been a long time since I have been up past Plymouth and I realized how much I miss the views up I-93. I am rewarded with some alpenglow on Franconia Ridge and the first sunlight hitting Cannon Mt.
Yes those are clear blue skies first thing in the morning and would stay that way for the day, another reason why I chose to hike Old Speck. Surprisingly this will be the first time I go over 4000 feet since last September when I went up Mt Washington. I make my way to Route 2 through Gorham and stop at the DD for breakfast. This one is always slow with service in all the times I have stopped here. Finally back on the road and soon I cross into Maine for my first foray into redlining this state's portion of trails. A little over thirty minutes from leaving DD and I turn left onto Route 26 and the views are unfamiliar but bring a smile to my face. First into view are the Baldplates which are just across the street from Old Speck. The AT also passes over them as well as Old Speck. Literally a few minutes up the road and the first peek of Old Speck.
There is a thirteen mile trail that leaves Route 26 and heads up this face of Old Speck to the summit that I also have to do sometime, the western section of Grafton Loop Trail. But for today the focus is all on Old Speck Trail and The Eyebrow. At the border of Grafton Notch State Park and a better picture of the destination for the day. In less than ten minutes I am pulling into the plowed parking lot for the trailhead. Right in front of me is The Eyebrow, a precipitous looking cliff that has a trail leading up and over it.
Within ten minutes I am ready to go complete with snowshoes for the trek. Up and over the snowbank to the trail and I am delighted to see the trail well broken out. Just a short ways up and the trail splits in two with the right fork leading to The Eyebrow.
There was one other vehicle in the lot but it does not appear he/she is on either trail. Might be across the street hiking the Baldplates as the trail has no fresh tracks from today. Up past the large boulder that you can see in the above left photo and the track suddenly disappears. Crap! I continue on and soon realize that the track is there just covered over by the wind blown snow. If I probe with my poles I can find the compacted trail and stay afloat on the snow. Thankfully it does not last long and the climbing begins and climb it does. I reach the spot where there are posts and cable to help pull yourself up the steep trail. Not sure if it is ledge under here as the snow is too deep to see.
Across the open ledge on level ground and right back into the woods and more steeps around the corner as the trail circumnavigates the ledge I just passed. There is supposed to be some rebar anchored into the ledge and I can only imagine that this might be the section except they are buried under three feet of snow.
Reaching the top of the open ledge where the trail goes around and it looks like someone went down the ledge as there is a path over the edge. Little too crazy for my blood. Up beyond and the blowdowns that have become so prevalent this winter make their appearance for the day.
Slowly picking my way through the mess and steepness of the trail and finally the trail eases up as I cross the top of The Eyebrow. An hour and fifteen minutes from leaving the parking lot and now I am looking down at it in the opening that is dangerously close to the edge.
That parking lot sure filled up quickly since I left. Looks like it is not going to be a NPD day for me. To my left is Sunday River Whitecap, which Grafton Loop Trail goes up and over, and Old Speck an ominous three plus miles by trail away.
Across the way are the Baldplates with Surplus Mt to its left. The AT heads up and over all three peaks on its way north to Katahdin.
The trail hangs right on the edge of the cliff as it leads across and around the corner a look down from the edge of the trail.
Beyond here the trail begins the drop down off the cliff until reaching the junction with Old Speck Trail five minutes later. From this junction the trail heads up at a moderate grade with a few peeks here and there through the trees. It is a tree lined walk in the forest with the occasional bend over or broken tree over the trail that has been so prevalent this year.
Up the trail and I pop out onto the first open spot with views toward the east and northeast. The Baldplates across the way and off in the distance the long and massive Mt Abraham which the AT passes to the left of.
A few feet along the trail and some views to the west into NH. Cabot Mt and its exposed ledges with Terrace Mt to its left. Way off in the distance a white mass can be seen. At the time I thought it was the Presis but when looking at it at home it didn't make sense. Turns out it is Lafayette with North Twin to its left.
Moving along the trail dips into a sag, one of eight along this trail, and about forty minutes later another open area and a good spot to stop and refuel. An opening provides a look south along Route 26 towards Long and Puzzle Mts.
And of course a pano shot from this spot looking across Grafton Notch.
After my sun soaked break its back on the trail and a few more PUDs mixed in with some very steep pitches and forty minutes later I am just below the ridge line of Old Speck. Making a sharp left hand turn and a look back across where I came from all the way to The Eyebrow.
A few minutes later and I have reached the junction with the Mahoosuc Trail with the sign being a little bit buried in snow. I thought the snow pack was around three to four feet but after a little poking around it appears it might be more like five feet. That is the same sign on the right in the right hand picture.
With the snow being that deep it would explain the constant ducking of tree branches along this final section of trail to Old Speck. But first there is an opening in the trees on my right to NH and the view I have been hoping for all day, The Presis!
It is only three tenths of a mile from the junction to the summit but it is not an easy trek. During summer I'm sure it's a piece of cake but today with the deep snow it is tough ducking almost the whole way. One of the drawbacks of winter hiking especially when you are tall. The trails are usually brushed out but it is for the summer traffic not the winter. Besides who wants to see a ten foot tall trail corridor through the trees.
Finally a little more than four hours from starting and I have made it to the summit of Old Speck complete with a viewing tower. But I will not go up today as it is a very cold day and would require removing my snowshoes to go up the ladder.
Besides I have seen everything I could from that tower from the trail at various spots. Heading out to the edge of the ledge and the views I have been seeing all day to the east/northeast.
Back down the way I came and I meet the first two hikers of the day coming up the ridge to the summit. At the junction I was hoping to pick up the one mile section to Speck Pond but with the snow pack and no tracks down that way my plan is quickly dashed. The return trip gets complicated a little bit as the recurring pain in my right foot makes an appearance which slows down my pace quite a bit. I suppose slowing down is not so bad because it is in the steep sections and during this time I meet the only other hikers out here. Surprisingly I only see four people all day considering the number of vehicles in the lot. Stopping at the first viewpoint I came to while coming up and I can't resist another shot of the Baldplates but this time complete with the rising moon.
I make my way down to the junction with The Eyebrow Trail and continue on Old Speck Trail to get the section I bypassed this morning. Just below the junction there is a ledge where there are ski tracks also. From the ledge a look back up at Old Speck and down into the valley between where I am standing and Old Speck.
Still quite high up and along one of the cutbacks I spy the parking lot down below.
Even though it seemed longer it only takes forty minutes to get back to the lot from the Eyebrow junction. My second Maine four thousand footer, not that I am pursuing them. Ah what the hell I know once I am done with redlining I will need a new project and it will probably be the New England 67. Or maybe the abandoned trails, wait and see as I still have at least two more years before I finish the redlining.
Final numbers: 7.8 miles, 6 hours and 30 minutes.
Redline Miles: 5.3, Total to Date: 717.3