Grafton Loop Trail

August 12, 2017.

A return trip to the Mahoosucs but this time something a little more tamer. I have been contemplating for quite some time on how I was going to do this trail, the western portion of Grafton Loop Trail. It is 13.3 miles from Route 26 to the summit of Old Speck all uphill. Overnighter was an option but I really didn't want to. So for quite some time I have researched other options possibly splitting in half. I had come across a way to use an old logging road that on maps looks like a snowmobile route in the winter. The Maine snowmobile maps show a corridor going upslope almost to Sunday River Whitecap. A report I read mentioned this route and an old trail that heads up to Miles Notch making part of the Grafton Loop Trail doable as a day hike. While driving down Route 26 last week I spotted the logging road and the plan was in place for this week. Andy would be joining me again and we car spotted again to cut off a long roadwalk.

We met up at the parking lot located just north of the western loop junction, this is where the eastern portion begins. The western portion which we would be hiking is located a bit over a half a mile south of the parking lot. Up the road to the logging road located just after Screw Auger Falls and we got ready for our excursion not knowing what to expect. I was going off of a blog post and no real map of the actual trail just a description of where it begins. The logging road is gated at the bottom and not bad at first. The growth become more prevalent as the higher up we went and didn't take long before our pants were wet from the evening rain still clinging to the tall grasses. Reaching the tee junction and we headed left.

 

Passing by two old logging landings that were still clear of any trees and three snowmobile bridges that were in different states of rot. After the third bridge the trail we were hoping for headed off into the woods on our right. Closed in but very discernible as we started up.

 

The unmaintained trail was pretty easy to follow even though it got quite closed in in some spots. We reached an old skidder road and turned right onto it and that also soon closed in on us. Any chances of staying dry this morning was a fantasy.

 

Shortly after the trail took a dramatic turn as we continued up in a more mature forest. The terrain began to level out also after crossing the brook that leads down to the third bridge we crossed over earlier. I knew we were getting closer to Miles Notch as the grade eased up even more.

 

Just over an hour from starting and we reached the intersection with the Grafton Loop Trail. What a great saving on mileage and time finding out about this approach. The GPS says we travelled two miles to reach Miles Notch from Route 26. A short break before we started to head south along the Grafton Loop Trail towards Sunday River Whitecap.

 

Up the trail across varying terrain of rock steps, bog bridges and the usual roots and rocks along the way. Before too long we break out to the first views of the day. Unfortunately the low hanging clouds weren't willing to blow out to afford us some decent views. A look north and Grafton Notch is just barely visible with Table Rock being the only notable feature not shrouded in the clouds.

 

To make up for the views the blueberries were ripe and I can never resist one of nature's best fruity snacks! Out in the Alpine Zone for a bit as we cross the scrub, blueberries and ledges.

 

Another short trip back into the woods. And in true Mahoosuc fashion the trails would not be complete without a wooden ladder.

 

Then we break out of the trees for the rest of the trip up to Sunday River Whitecap. This is one of the gems in the White Mountains that does not see a lot of traffic due to its remoteness. Stopping along the whole way to pick more blueberries as we make our way up the exposed ledges. I munched down handfuls along the whole way up as they were wicked sweet. Reaching the summit and the first time I have seen elevated bog bridges held up by rebar to protect the fragile alpine environment.

 

Andy takes a break as I check put the two outlooks lined by rock scree walls to keep the people off the plants. Nothing to see today as the clouds are just socked in. But down in the valley I spy a farm house that goes back to the 19th century. A couple of articles can be found here and here. This house is located near where we parked last weekend off of Bull Branch Road.

 

The other outlook also does not offer anything for views today. Partially obscured is the ridge we will be following to get back to Route 26 about five miles via the road from where we parked. The hike along the trail is over seven miles. Returning to the summit and we move along as it's a bit chilly up here in the exposed cooler climate.

 

More elevated boardwalks as we exit the summit proper and we reenter the woods. As we descend the clouds have invaded the woods making the forest seem more quieter than it is. The eerie look/feel kind of makes up for the lack of views. I actually like this effect as it adds to the experience of trekking in the woods. Kind of like when it is sprinkling and everything gets that shiny glean to it and the woods become silent except for the patter of the rain hitting the leaves.

 

This trail is a good one in respects to the terrain. It is not that old as it was opened up in 2003. The woods are pretty much open as is the trail only closing in where there are blowdowns and the ferns encroach on the trail. We reach the spur trail for Sargent Brook Tentsite which is off to the right.

 

I take off down it as I need it for my redlining. I cross its namesake before reaching the tentsites where I come across at least four. The last one is at the end of the spur trail and in between there is a privy and a bearbox to store your food rather than hanging it.

 

Returning back up the trail and Andy has taken off ahead of me. More sections of fern lined trail as I can't get over how nice and quiet this trail is. Easily a new favorite and I am already looking forward to a return to do the upper portion. I finally catch back up to Andy on some scrubby blueberry lined ledges where we stop for a few minutes.

 

Why stop? Blueberry break of course!. Just can not get enough of the little violet sweetness. In front of us is Stowe Mt, a wooded hump we need to traverse over.

 

In typical fashion the trail dips down in a small col where a brook flows. Up a pretty easy pitch and then a walk across the thick wooded summit of Stowe Mt. There is no discernible bump along the way so suffice it to say that this is what I will call the high point.

 

Down off Stowe and some more Mahoosuc structures inherent to this area...ladders.

 

This part of the trail is as rough as it gets. After that it settles back down again and we eventually reach the last peak of the day, Bald Mt, another viewless woodsy summit. We stop here for a break before the final 3.2 mile hike to the parking lot.

 

The Grafton Loop Trail continues along some more great treadway with the grades being mild. Reaching the Bald Mt Campsite and this is my last diversion of the day even though it is not on the spreadsheet.

 

It is a very short trip across the brook where on the other side there are two tent platforms and a bearbox plus a privy..

 

Andy once again continued on ahead of me as I returned to the trail which pretty much parallels a brook along the way. Crossing it several times there are small pools along the way and even a rock lined sluice where the water is just a trickle right now. During the spring melt I bet this is a remarkable sight.

 

The trail crosses a grassy opening that looks like an old logging road. Back into the woods and another pool along the brook.

 

Getting close to the end and a reminder of civilization just after crossing the brook again. Exiting out of the woods just after the trashed refrigerators and it is old logging roads for the rest of the way.

 

I finally catch back up to Andy at the suspension bridge that spans Bear River. On the other side we head up to a field not sure if the trail leads this way. Seeing the red barn I know this is not right as there is a house just beyond it. From the photos I have seen of the beginning of the trail I know we shouldn't cross here.

 

We head back down and turn right (a left as you come off of the bridge) and there is a trail sign pointing the way about twenty yards up, not well placed. Reaching the correct field and we skirt the edge that leads to the road. A look north along the field and in true fashion the cloud deck has lifted enough that the Baldplates are visible now. A short roadwalk and just before the parking lot there is a view back to where we were hiking to Bald Mt And Stowe Mt.

 

A drive back up Route 26 to where we started this morning and this day is done. Even though we didn't get the views it was a memorable hike along a great trail and I'll definitely be back to do some more hiking on this one. Especially for some redemption for the views. Another huge thank you to Andy for helping me get this part of trail as it was a logistical nightmare trying to figure out how I would have done it by myself. Almost fifty miles left on this journey!


Final numbers: 10.9 miles, 7 hours 15 minutes.

Redline Miles: 8.4, Total to Date: 1390.1