May 23, 2015.
My first foray into the Caribou Speckled Wilderness area of the White Mountains. I have 75 miles of trail to complete in this region and big plans to spend three days out to make a dent in it. The goal is to make the most of these trips into Maine since it is so far of a drive. However other factors would change the plans but all in all I still had a great time tramping through the woods.
Today's agenda took me into new territory once I got past Conway. At the split where Route 16 turns off I continue straight on Route 113. At the next intersection with Route 302 the GPS had me turn left which I found odd since the trailhead is located off Route 113. Further up I turn right onto East Conway Road which after a few miles brings me to Route 113. What I didn't know is that this 113 is not the same as the 113 I was on in NH. This is the Maine Route 113 which even though I was still in NH confused the heck out of me. So in essence NH has two Route 113's which is probably a very rare occurrence. Passing through some pretty farm country in Fryeburg Maine and I can soon see my destinations for the day/weekend. In the center are Spruce Hill, Ames Mt, Speckled Mt and Blueberry Mt.
Ten minutes up the road and I pull into the lot where Brickett Place is. This house is made of handmade bricks and construction dates back to 1812. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. After getting all prepped up I am off on the trail with my full pack. First up is Bickford Brook Trail.
The temps are cool in the low 40's as I set out and the winds are gusting into the 20's making for a chilly day. The good thing is the bugs are non-existent thanks to the constant breeze. Immediately the trail begins to climb up helping to warm me up. I have a general plan but today I am letting the conditions rule and just winging it as I go. Ten minutes up the trail and I make it to the Wilderness border.
Beyond that and the first intersection with Blueberry Ridge Trail which I go by as my tentative plan is to hike all the way up Bickford Brook Trail to Spruce Hill Trail. Next I wanted to head down to Evans Notch and hike north on Route 113 to Haystack Notch Trail then over to Miles Notch Trail spending the night somewhere out there. Only problem is I have been dealing with some apprehension about sleeping out ever since quitting the AT a year ago. I have yet to spend a night out and there is a big mental block I need to work out. So at the next junction which is Bickford Slides Loop I turn on that as I still contemplate what to do. Between the wind and cold temps I am just finding reasons not to stay out tonight. Reaching Bickford Brook and the first set of slides are below the brook crossing and I see no good spot to get a picture of them as the trail heads down parallel to the brook. There is a tree obscured shot of it but no way of getting down at brook level to check it.
I am about thirty feet above the brook as the trail skirts the side of the deep drop off. Making it to the middle slides and again I find myself at the top. Further down the trail dips into a valley and steep down the embankment I make it to the bottom of the slide where the brook cascades down into a pool.
Just down the trail and I reach the brook bed and I can find no evidence of the trail or where it crosses the brook. It just dies out at the edge of the brook. I look around and find nothing. Retracing my steps and I try to figure out the logical path when I notice the only option is across a section of the brook that looks like a overflow section. Sticking with this path and two more crossings later my instinct was right as I find a trail marker on a tree at the last crossing.
Down at the junction with Blueberry Ridge Trail and one more crossing of Bickford Brook there is a path down to the lower slides. This one starts out in a small sluice carved into the brook bed and then drops down about thirty feet.
Back up to the junction and a left turn onto Blueberry Ridge Trail to get the short section between here and Bickford Brook Trail that I passed first thing this morning. A quick out and back and again crossing Bickford Brook and the trail begins a steep and rocky climb up towards Blueberry Mt.
Breaking out onto a set of ledges and the first views of the day and they are spectacular even at this low elevation. Starting to feel better and leaning towards staying out tonight as this helps the mental game I am having in my head. On the other side of Evans Notch are West and East Royce, a trip for another time. To the west in NH are the Baldfaces another set of mountains I need to do. In between the Baldfaces and Royces are South, Middle and North Carter.
Nearing the summit the trail levels out and Rhodora is in bloom. I see the first of many boulders leftover from the glacial retreat. To think these boulders were plucked from somewhere and left behind and the last to see the glaciers before their disappearance.
I reach the White Cairn Trail junction and stop to check the map. Still winging this one I debate on whether I should go down and get this trail now or later. This trail makes it way down to Shell Pond and another trail loops around the pond with Stone House Trail coming back up to Blueberry Mt at the other end of the Overlook Loop trail. It's about a seven mile loop down and back up and I figured it would eat into a good portion of the day if I do it now. I still wasn't sure if I was staying out tonight but if I do I need to get to a place that has water and trees to hang the hammock. So I bypass the trail for now and just beyond is the beginning of Overlook Loop which I take in a counter clockwise direction.
The trail meanders over to a ledge outlook to the south and west. Below me are Shell Pond with Deer Hill and Little Deer Hill. Both hills have trails that I need to do also. Pleasant Mt is in the distance behind Shell Pond and Black Cap Mt (one of the peaks from last week) is visible along with Kearsarge North.
Just before reaching the end of Overlook Loop the trail goes over the high point of Blueberry Mt. It is just a ledge outcrop right above where the Overlook Loop remerges with Blueberry Ridge Trail. From this vantage point I can see the next destination in front of me, Ames Mt and Speckled Mt.
But first I have to get the small portion of trail between the two Loop ends. A quick out and I stop to refuel and figure out where I could spend the night after hitting up Speckled Mt. I can either head across the ridge towards Miles Notch or head down off Speckled via Cold Brook Trail. Time to move on and back across Blueberry Ridge Trail and a drop down into the woods after passing the junction with Stone House Trail. This trail turns into one of the better trails in the Whites. It keeps alternating from the woods to open ledges reminding me of Carter Moriah Trail heading up to Moriah from Stony Brook Trail.
At the first open ledge an unobstructed view into NH with East Royce representing the State of Maine.
To say it doesn't get any better than this is an understatement as each ledge reveals a little bit more than the last. The further up I climb the more I turn around to appreciate the views. A shoulder of Mt Washington begins to appear behind Mt Hight.
Blueberry Ridge Trail definitely does not fail to deliver as I make my way towards Ames Mt which I occasionally get a peek at.
Reaching the last open ledge and Washington's Summit is just poking out behind Mt Hight. Beyond the trail makes a hard left into the woods. I was looking for a possible herd path that would lead to the trailless Mt Ames which is not too far off the trail. At first I thought this might be the path but soon realized it was the still the trail. So at one point I just dove into the woods and looked for the high point.
The woods are really thick and with a full pack a little challenging. I find a high point that even had some flagging and until I got home to check my track thought I had reached the summit of Ames Mt. Turns out it was a high point for a sub-peak of Ames hence the "NOT" in the title of this trip report. Returning back to the trail and just a few minutes I was at the junction with Bickford Brook Trail.
Turning left onto Bickford Brook Trail and I off heading towards Speckled Mt. Not far up the trail and the last vestiges of snow which I found surprising considering the elevation. Passing through the blowdown patch I could see from Blueberry Mt and I am not far from the summit. The woods open up at the summit and the bald summit of Speckled is truly amazing. The footings of a long gone fire tower are still here.
What about the views? All I can say is "Outstanding"! A long drive to get here but it is worth every mile. For being a sub 3000 foot peak it is fantastic. First up is Mt Washington and if you look closely you can see the peaks of Jefferson, Adams and Madison just visible behind the Carter Range.
Turning clockwise and the Appalachian Trail can be followed from Mt Success all the way to the Baldplates.
Across the valley and Mt Caribou, another trailed peak I need to do in this area. Not lingering long due to the high winds I move on down off the summit to the junction with Red Rock Trail. At this point I am planning on spending the night as I am going to make my way across the ridge and find a place to set up down by Miles Notch Trail.
Heading down of the ledges and into the woods the day takes a turn. There are broken limbs and downed trees on the trail. I gingerly make it through the first batch and then there is another and then another. The trail crews I saw up on the ridge earlier haven't made it to this side of Speckled Mt. I haven't seen a section of trail this bad in all my hiking. Staying on the trail is a huge challenge as I make my way over the downed debris. At one point I lose the trail and skirt uphill to find it twenty feet away. After the fourth set I call it and turn around. If it is this bad here who knows how long it extends and what it is like on the other trails I was planning to take.
I accept the defeat knowing I still have some trails to finish before heading home. This is a great area with some fantastic views so I won't mind coming back a few times to do all the other trails. There's a little over 75 miles of trails in the Speckled Region of the AMC Guide and if the rest of the trails are anything like today's then other than the drive this will be a fantastic area to explore. So back up and over Speckled Mt and a return trip down Bickford Brook Trail. Passing the junction of Blueberry Ridge Trail and I make my way down to the next junction with Spruce Hill Trail. This section of trail is mild and as it makes its way down. At the junction I run into a group of four trail maintainers from the Chatham Trails Association. I jokingly complain to them about the Red Rock Trail and they tell me that it is not one of their trails that they maintain. After talking with them for a bit I head down on Spruce Hill Trail as it heads into a little col before climbing up towards the summit of Spruce Hill.
Coming down off Spruce Hill I run into more volunteers clearing the trails as they are out for the weekend using Cold River Camp as their base. The trail leads down into Evans Notch and I knew this was going to be tough especially on the return. The original plan was to come down this in the morning and roadwalk up Route 113 to Haystack Notch Trail. The trail is the usual rocks and roots with a somewhat steep descent into Evans Notch. Getting closer to the bottom I can see East Royce across the notch through the trees. Finally through the spring leaves I make out the road just below.
At the road where Spruce Hill Trail and East Royce Trail heads are I sit down on the pavement to take a break. Looking south down the road, which is closed during the winter season, I can see either the same lenticular cloud I saw from Speckled or this is another one.
After relaxing for about twenty minutes I get ready to leave and the trail maintainers I met up at the junction are coming out of the woods for the day. We chat again as one asks if I am waiting for a ride back down to my car. I laugh and tell him no I was just taking a break and heading back up Spruce Hill Trail to get the missing portion of Bickford Brook Trail before calling it a day. This is the life of a solo redliner. A lot of out and backs to get trails completed off the list. Heading back into the woods to the dreaded climb back up to Spruce Hill. It's a hard climb back up until I reach the ridge line meeting a few more trail volunteers on the way up getting the quizzical looks that I am so used to when they see me again this time going up. I reach the junction and turn right on Bickford Brook Trail knowing it is all downhill from here.
The trip down is uneventful and easy as this trail is the old access road up to the fire tower that once stood on Speckled Mt. I stop once to get some cold fresh brook water to treat my parched thirst. The trail is lined with young saplings draped in that bright spring green color. Finally two hours after leaving the road at Evans Notch I am back at Brickett Place as the buildings come into view through the trees.
While I didn't accomplish what I had set out to do and I still have some overnight issues to work out I did have a great time in this secluded area of Maine's White Mountains. I'm looking forward to returning in the near future as the area has some interesting features waiting to be explored.
Final numbers: 14.4 miles, 10 hours and 20 minutes.
Redline Miles: 10.2, Total to Date: 788.2