December 22, 2012.
The weather is calling for snow showers off and on all day so views are not in the plan. Sticking around the Holderness/Sandwich area a trip up Mt Israel and some surrounding trails are in order for today. On the road at 5:30 AM and on trail by 7:35. Parking at the Mead Base Conservation Center and heading up Wentworth Trail.
There is a blanket of crunchy 3-4 inches of snow on this side of the mountain and the trail has been used in the last couple of days. I didn't even think about putting my snowshoes in the car and on top of that left the poles in the car. About a quarter mile up the trail and I even entertained turning around to go get my poles but did not want to climb back up to where I was.
A few brook crossings and about three quarters of the way up I decide that at least a walking stick would come in handy. So keeping my eyes peeled and I finally spot a stick that should do the trick. Pulling out my latest investment, Leatherman Sidekick Multitool, to trim off the branches and cut to length. Such a difference sometimes when having poles or a walking stick to help climb and steady oneself. Up the trail until I reach the ridge of Mt Israel and a quick but obscured view of Sandwich Dome. It never does come out of the clouds not now nor the rest of the day.
A few minutes and I am at the official peak of Mt Israel. There is not much to see today as the clouds are becoming lower and lower. Much of what I expected for the day so not a big deal.
Back down the short spur trail and a right turn down the untracked Mead Trail. The snow is deeper here about 6-8 inches. Now I wish I had brought my snowshoes. Every step is brand new in the snow as no one has been down this trail since the snowfall and rain. Step, crunch, sink repeat. That is the method for the rest of the day. On down the trail and once again Mother Nature never fails to amaze me as there is a tree bent over and looks like it is growing from both ends.
At one point before the last brook crossing on this trail I think I lost the trail. There are remnants of the trail but the blazes have been scraped off the trees in a few spots. Not sure if this is intentional or mischievous. The brook is to my left and I just stay the course and follow the path I am until I cross the brook. I finally reach the power lines and cross under them to the opening on the other side. Ten minutes later and I pop out onto Guinea Pond Trail. I turn right and immediately am faced with an obstacle, The Beebe River. It is high and flowing and there are no rocks to hop across on.
Then it hits me the guide book mentioned something about a path along the banking to avoid the two crossings in high water. I look to my right and sure enough there is evidence of a path following the river. Off I go and those two crossings are taken care of. The Guinea Pond Trail is an old railroad bed for the Beebe River Railroad Company and it is pretty much straight and flat all the way. I keep my eyes peeled for the Guinea Pond Spur that is supposed to be off to my left and questionable as to its passability according to the book. But I never see it and figure it must be gone due to the beavers. The trail continues relatively flat and straight at least until I reach the flooded area thanks to another family of beavers.
The trail just disappears into the swamp and I don't see any evidence of it diverging it (reading the guide book after I get home says the trail goes left to avoid this obstacle but I never saw evidence of it on either side of the swamp). Stepping out onto the swamp I poke my stick into the ice to see how thick and frozen it is. It breaks through about an inch deep and hits another layer underneath. Feeling like it will support me I slowly and gingerly walk out onto it and across.
I make it across the first section but the next section I can see the beaver dam at the end of it and it does not look as safe as the previous area.
Time to duck into the woods which are thick and the swamped area just spreads out into that direction. Picking my way across the open sections of water and the not so boggy areas I finally make it to the other side of the damn dam area and now start looking for the trail. Heading perpendicular to where the trail should cross I can not seem to find it. I pull my GPS out and it says I already crossed it, crap! Heading diagonally away from the pond/swamp and towards where the trail is supposed to be I tromp through the woods. Finally I make it back after quite some distance and breathe a sigh of relief. Next obstacle is the Cold River.
It is only about 1.2 more miles to my turn around point where the trail meets Flat Mountain Pond Trail. But this crossing is major. The water is flowing fast and high and there is definitely nowhere to cross here. I look downstream and the river drops quickly and rule that out figuring it would be worse so upstream I go. A couple hundred yards up and I do not see anything I am comfortable with, even trying a few spots but some of the rocks seem just a little too far to make that next step. And I also remind myself that even if I make a chancy crossing and succeed I still have to return this way and play the odds of making it back across safely. I make the decision to abandon this part of the trail and when I return to do Bennett Street Trail on the other side I'll make the extra trip to get this last section of Guinea Pond Trail.
Turning back around I am now curious as to where I missed the trail when I diverted around the swamp. There has to be a set of footprints crossing the trail at some point. I make it back to where I popped out of the woods onto the trail and now it is just a matter of finding my prints crossing the trail. Four minutes later and there they are, son of a bitch, why I never looked to my left is beyond me, but if I had there was the darn trail. It's funny because I remember coming down that berm and seeing that wet section but never looked left just straight ahead.
Back across the swamp and the next mission is where is the spur trail to Guinea Pond? Being ever vigilant as I get closer to where it should be and finally I find it. I noticed this stump of a tree as I was heading in because it looked kind of odd, about three inches in diameter and six feet high stripped of bark. Coming back I saw it again and figured it had to be the remnants of something. As I was approaching it I noticed two more worn signs just beyond it. This was the spur it had to be. Down I go and surprisingly it is not flooded as stated in the guide, the guide states impassible. I reach the pond and there is not much here for views thanks to the clouds.
Back out to Guinea Pond Trail and passing the point where I came out from Mead Trail the diverges left into the woods to avoid a section of trail that has been flooded out.
After the diversion the trail meets back up with the old railroad bed and for quite a while is a wet almost flooded trail. It constantly changes from standing water on the rail bed to streams running through it coming off the hillside to the left. It seems like a long trip along this section probably due to the condition of the trail and the crusty walking in the snow but only takes forty-five minutes to reach Sandwich Notch Road. In my mind I am thinking relief but reality is this road is not maintained in the winter. There are tire tracks since the last snowstorm but they have been iced over from the recent rain. Walking in the tracks is tedious trying not to slip eventually I give up and go back to breaking through the snow.
I pass the trailhead of Crawford-Ridgepole Trail and start looking for Bearcamp River Trail to return to the car. Going a bit up the road and I pull out the GPS and notice that according to it I have passed the trail even though I didn't see any sign or evidence of the trail. Turning around I head back up the road and to my right over the banking I can see Bearcamp River. I reach the point where the GPS says the trail should be but there is no trail. Looking down the embankment it kind of looks trailish but not quite, so I head down and reach a brook with a small log across it. On the other side it again resembles a trail but not distinctive enough to feel comfortable about being on the right track. I continue and it resembles more of a herd path than a trail. Squam lake Association, from what I have seen so far, is usually pretty good about signage and I am not convinced this is the trail. Especially one to a "major" attraction like Beebe Falls. I reach the bottom where the river is and lo and behold there is a waterfall, yet it still does not feel right.
Following the river down and a few minutes later there is another.
I pass one more and the herd path is getting harder to follow and looking at the GPS again the trail is more up towards the road than down by the river where I am. So back into the brush and heading towards where the trail is supposed to be I reach the point where the GPS says it should be. I stop and turn 360° and there is nothing, not even a hint of a trail. I do not know about Delorme sometimes and their trail maps but this time they are way off. I head straight up to the road and come out right next to the "Leaving the White Mountain National Forest". Pulling out my paper map I try to make out the border on it and the shading is hard to discern. I head down the road a bit and it starts to go downhill. Rather then go down and find out I have to come back up I head back the other way and maybe I missed something in between where I originally turned around and where I just came out. As luck would have it I find no trail and end up returning to where I originally went in. I follow my trail all the way back to where I headed out and just keep on plugging away following the river figuring it will eventually have to come out to the real trail. Another waterfall comes up.
Then another, first a shot from the top and after making my way down and a shaky crossing of the river a shot straight on.
One more small cascade and then I see something through the trees in the distance. Wooden bridges this has to be where I am supposed to be. Climbing down the banking and to my right is a good size fall.
Making my way over the sets of bridges and I have finally made it to the trail. Boy is Delorme way off on this one. I couldn't even find an old map that puts this trail where the GPS thinks it should be. Well turning a bad into a good was easy for me, if not for the GPS being way off I would not have dove into the woods and seen all the water features that I saw, kind of a bonus for me today. Crossing the last bridge and I see blazes heading off to the left where the trail must meet up with the road. Next time I am out this way to do Crawford-Ridgepole Trail I will make it a point to do this section. I know it is probably a short ways but I've done enough for today and still need to make it back to the car. The weather has been spitting snow showers most of the afternoon and the temperature has been dropping. Some pictures of Beebe Falls and down the trail I head.
A short ways down the trail and I reach the last feature of the day, the Cow Cave. Story is that a cow survived here through a winter once. Somehow I can see it possible, the pictures do not do it justice. Picture a long length/slab of rock overhanging almost to the ground and it is open inside protected by the elements.
Passing the Mead Camp and back at the car. Time to warm up and make my way home. On the way out where the road intersects with Sandwich Notch Road I am waved down by a kid and pull around to see what it is he needs. As I pull up behind him I figure it out and laugh to myself for what he was trying to do. Driving an Audi car he or she because a girl got out of the drivers side tried to drive up Sandwich Notch Road and got stuck on the snow berm created by where they stop plowing that section of road. Of course just coming down that road hiking I know the condition of it and if they had made it over the berm they would have gotten stuck further up with the icy track left by others. Unfortunately I did not have any way of pulling them out and let him know and he told me someone was coming anyways. Guess we all have done something stupid like that once in our lifetime.
Final numbers: 12.3 miles, 8 hours and 5 minutes.
Redline Miles: 7.4, Total to Date: 275.2