Cathedral and White Horse Ledges

March 26, 2016.

Getting lucky last week with pretty much no snow trails while hiking the Shelburne area last week I figured some trails in North Conway would be even less snow laden. The target for today would be Cathedral Ledge and White Horse Ledge and if I have time a trip up Red Ridge Trail which is situated behind the two ledges. Getting up at my usual time and I had a massive headache combined with not feeling well at all. So I just said the heck with and resigned myself to staying off the trails. A couple hours later and the odd feeling past and out the door in a flash.

On the way up I got a scenic look at Washington right before you enter Conway. This clear shot is just after passing the intersection for the Kancamagus Highway on Route 16. Finally arriving at the trailhead and off I go at 10:15. The conditions are night and day compared to last week which I find quite peculiar since this is 30 miles south. The parking lot is covered in a layer of ice and snow and reaching the trail it is the same.


Luckily traction is not needed as it is pretty beaten up by all the traffic this place sees. A short distance down and a path leads down to the shoreline of Echo Lake and my first up close look at the two ledges.


I head back up to the trail and make my way around the lake counter clockwise. At the junction with Bryce Path I turn right onto it going towards Cathedral Ledge first. Pass some bike trails and then a broken down 1949 Ford Coupe left to slowly rust away in the woods. Beyond is a huge block of rock that must have broken off of the cliff face of Cathedral Ledge long ago.


The next junction is with Bryce Link which leads out to the road that one can drive to the top of Cathedral Ledge. It is as short walk to the road and then a return trip back to the junction where I continue up Bryce Path. Right after the junction there is the stone foundation of a maple sap house. Beside the foundation is a large shallow galvanized pan that was probably used to evaporate the water out of the maple sap.


Up to this point the trail was an easy flat walk in the woods. The climb is fairly steep now and at one point I lost the trail as I thought it turned to the right but instead scooted around a large tree that was kind of blocking the obvious foot path. Passing a small outcropping complete with a overhanging slab to protect one from the elements and there is a rotting wooden ladder. It is slowly melting into the incline that it was meant to climb.


Passing another junction, Cathedral Ledge Trail, and the trail eases up through this section. Soon I reach the high point of Cathedral Ledge which is a large smooth granite outcropping. Beyond it is a ledge with a dramatic view over to North Moat and the bump the Red Ridge Trail traverses.


On the same ledge a good side view of White Horse Ledge. The woods below are where I just came up through and also where the Cathedral Ledge Trail is that will take me over to White Horse Ledge. Way down below I can see the starting point of the iced over Echo Lake with it's emerald colored water.


I make my way over to the main ledge that is enclosed with a fence. Here the views are fantastic and expansive. Right across the way is Kearsarge North and I remember the great day I had up there this past fall. A turn to the left and a clear shot of Carter Notch flanked on the left by Wildcat and on the right by Carter Dome. There are trails on this side of Carter Notch that I still need to explore and can't wait for the ice to melt so I can get in there.


Between Carter Notch and Kearsarge North is another area I still have a lot of hiking to do. I can see all the way to Chandler, Sable, South Baldface and Eastman. Having my fill and there is another ledge over to the left as I make my way down to the parking lot and then a short walk in the woods to the ledge that drops off sharply to the woods below. It affords a good view back at the ledge I was just standing on.


Back to Bryce Path and the junction with Cathedral Ledge Trail. A short climb up and a brief break out onto a ledge with a look ahead to where I want to go. Across the flat valley of Conway and I faintly make out a large antenna that seems ridiculously tall. Google Earth says it is Burnt Meadow Mountains located in Brownfield Maine. North Peak is on the left and Stone Mt is on the right. The antenna is in the sag on North Peak but there is no mention of it anywhere nor does it show up on Google Earth. I'll have to add that one to the to do list to check out later.


Back off the ledges and into the woods and soon I am on the massive open ledge that is the high point of White Horse Ledge. Climbing to the top and there are no views here. There is an opening past the hump where three little erratics have found a permanent resting spot with a great view to all three Moats. Spent a great day up there traversing that ridge with Andy and Kevin on a blueberry picking hike a few years ago.


I wander back down as there has to be access to the edge of White Horse Ledge that I could see from down below. Down towards the right and then an opening in the line of trees that leads out onto another expansive ledge where you can go right or left. I head right first and then back to the left. Along the way I get a good look back to Cathedral Ledge and continue on.


Persistently making my way across and I finally get rewarded as I see some white caps off in the distance. Ladies and gentlemen we have a Washington sighting complete with Adams and Madison! Feeling super satisfied I stop here and plop down for a good long break to have some snacks and thoroughly enjoy the views.


Across the way and another memorable day I spent hiking the Green Hills back last May. Down below and a better view of the slowly melting Echo Lake.


Refreshed it is time to get the legs moving again as I make my way back up to the top and just beyond the junction with the Red Ridge Link. A short trip down the spruce treed forest to the junction with the Red Ridge Link Trail where I stop to pause on what to do next. My heart says go for it, bang out the Red Ridge Trail, but my conscience says not a good idea. It's just past 1:30 and to redline the whole trail will take some time especially not having my trail legs back yet. Plus with the ice and snow I have already come across today it can only get worse higher up. Reluctantly I turn back around and head back up but know I made the right decision. Besides this is such a beautiful area I don't mind coming back again.


Up to the junction and then down the rest of the Cathedral Ledge Trail. A few minutes down the trail and there is a signed junction that is not on the map and I start to get worried again like last week. Thankfully the sign is for a bike path that leads up to White Horse Ledge and not a hiking path so I continue down the trail. The open spring woods combined with the sunny day make for a great descent. The woods are mostly beech trees and a smattering of boulders becomes a plethora of boulders the further down I go. Down below the cliff where I get the occasional tree obstructed view back up to White Horse Ledge the rocks become huge boulders.


Paralleling the cliff face now the humongous boulders line the trail all the way until I pass behind the White Mountain Hotel. At the northern end of the hotel there is a huge cliff face off to the left. It is not far off the trail and draws me in like a magnet. Standing at the base and it is impressive and daunting with how large and smooth it is.


A few minutes up the trail and I am back at the junction with Bryce Path and to the left there is a path and I can hear voices that are annoyingly loud in these quiet woods. I head up the path and soon figure out it is a path for rock climbers and there is a group climbing the first ledge below White Horse Ledge. A return to Bryce Path and then a right at the junction with Saco Lake Trail to finish up my hike. For a late start it turned out to be a pretty good day and this small hike filled the time perfectly offering a big bang for some small miles.

Final numbers: 7.6 miles, 5 hours and 25 minutes.

Redline Miles: 4.9, Total to Date: 1070.2