February 2, 2013.
My first trip to Ferncroft, a small village in the town of Albany and where a lot of trails originate from. A return to Passaconaway, this time approaching from the south whereas the first time I came in from the Kancamagus. Making today a loop hike will include a total of 5 peaks that surround The Bowl, a glacial cirque that has reportedly never been logged with some trees being up to 400 years old.
Arriving at the trailhead at 8:05 and just before turning onto Ferncroft road I stop to get a shot of Whiteface and Wonalancet.
Third car in the lot this AM and ten minutes later on the road heading over to the trail. Coming up to the fence that crosses some peoples property and there is a sign on it: PRIVATE HIKERS WELCOME. A few minutes later and, what has now become a tradition with me, the blue sky shot looking up through the trees.
Heading up Dicey's Mill Trail and the grade is pretty gradual with the temperature at 10° and no wind. What a gorgeous start but I know that the report is for snow showers later on so I am enjoying it while I can. Not a lot of snow cover on the ground, goes from a couple of packed inches to thinning out in spots. Spikes and snowshoes not required but were carried.
Making it into the Bowl and shortly afterwards the first and only brook crossing, the guide book says river, what do I know. Last time I was up here Downes Brook is wider than this. Oh, and crossing it looks easier than it actually is. It took four tries before I made it across, the mind plays terrible tricks on someone not wanting to get wet.
First two attempts consisted of stepping on the log with one foot, one pole in front on the log and the other on land. Taking that next step was the pain in the ass one. Lifting that foot up off the ground and then balancing on the log was OK until lifting the back pole and trying to maintain balance. Both times I got shaky and stepped back onto land. The third time I made it out about five feet and started to lose my balance before jumping back to the edge, barely making it I might add. A few minutes of convincing myself I could do this and laughing at myself for not being able to do it I tried again. This time side stepping instead of trying to walk straight ahead. Across I go and with no incidents this time. Heading up through the Bowl on this section of trail was a little steeper but in open hardwoods.
About half way up this section and a quick stop to put on the microspikes. The changes in conditions and steepness make a necessary item. Forty-five minutes after leaving the log crossing and I reach the junction with Rollins Trail. Taking a right and just before the junction with East Loop trail there is a small stream crossing at 3400' and the water is flowing, 3400' and 10° and water is moving, go figure. A short distance up and a left turn onto Walden Trail and the trail is a frozen icicle.
I remember this section of trail being treacherous when I was up here in December of 2011 and it hasn't changed. Ice flows are everywhere and it is one steep climb up to Passaconaway. With careful steps and exhausting breaks I slowly make my way up the trail. At one spot while taking a breather I look around and I am in bear country. There are quite a few trees stripped of their bark and it is fairly fresh, possibly a few months old. On the other side of the mountain, that same December hike, on Downes Brook Trail is where I saw my first bear tracks. The claw marks are very evident and I am glad I am not a tree.
Just below the summit and there is an open spot on the trail with views south. A shot looking into the Bowl and across at Whiteface with it's distinctive unimpressive bump of a summit.
There is more to see in the changing sky from bluebird start to getting cloudy. Off in the distance I can see Mt Kearsarge. Lingering for about five minutes to enjoy the views and time to move on. About a half hour from turning onto Walden Trail and I make it to the first outlook on the summit. Chocorua looking very stoic and Washington in the clouds as usual.
Heading along the trail and this time I am committed to making it down the view spur path. Last time I started down it but turned back, between it being a foggy day and the trail not broken I made it down about a third of the way before abandoning it. Reaching the end this time and the views are outstanding. All of the White Mountains are on display looking north. On the west the Kinsmans are visible as well as Lincoln, Lafayette and Garfield. Eisenhower off in the distance with Monroe and Washington in the clouds. Tom, Field and Willey plus the Wildcats and Carter Dome. Pleasant Mt in Maine and again Chocorua. The only thing that would be better is perfectly blue skies against this panoramic vantage point
Time to go and hit the famous summit in the woods of Passaconaway. Back up to the main trail taking a right at the junction and a few yards up the way a left onto the summit spur. Just like Zealand, nothing but a high point in the woods minus the sign.
While there I met up with three other hikers, a solo and a man and women. Hung around after they all left and then headed back down to the trail making the decision to come down off the summit the other way, Dicey's Mill Trail down to get back on the East Loop Trail. This way is less steeper and not as icy if my memory served me right. On the way out I ran into the couple again at a look-out towards the Tripyramids and he made the comment I looked familiar. Turns out he remembered me from two Decembers ago on Middle Tripyramid and a year ago in January doing the Twins. Didn't put the face together but did remember him and another guy and meeting them on both trips, small world and one hell of a memory on his part. Shot of the Tripyramids.
This section of trail was much easier than the other side with only one icy section at the top. After that it is just a series of switchbacks heading down. Was kind of glad I came down this way because I wanted to stop at the old Camp Rich site which last time I inadvertently walked into by missing the trail. Down towards the bottom I found it again and the now and then picture before they tore it down.
A little history.
Poking around the site this time and I found a curious artifact and then a short hike up the hill.
Funny how they demo out some stuff but not all. Oh well, making my way back to East Loop Trail and across again onto Walden Trail this time heading south on it. No traffic on this trail recently and this section is through a gentle woodsy area, kind of eerie and so peaceful. A climb up to Nanamocomuck Peak, one of Passaconaway's sons, and then a steep descent into the valley below. This section was also just as icy as going up Passaconaway.
Down in the ravine between Nanamocomuck and Wonalancet-Hedgehog and the trail was a little difficult to follow. With some stopping and looking around I finally got on track and headed up to the next trail junction, Walden and Wonalancet Range Trails. According to the map, once I got to the junction there wasn't much elevation gain to reach Wonalancet-Hedgehog so I figured I'd head over. A spur trail before the summit provided a view towards the next two peaks, Hibbard and Wonalancet, the latter being another of Passaconaway's sons. Also a shot of where I parked at the trailhead.
One of the amazing things in this area is the amount of glacial erratics, at the spur path for the view there was one and another at the summit of Wonalancet-Hedgehog. Heading along Wonalancet-Hedgehog there were even more along the trail, one with a tree growing on top!.
Passing over Mt Hibbard and a peak at Whiteface and Passaconaway through the trees and then down the trail. There is a spur path on the left and not one to pass up a spur I head over. At the end is another huge boulder and a view towards the south to Wonalancet. The curious thing about the boulder is the blue dot blaze on it as if the trail once came through here. Not sure if it ever did or what the purpose of it is/was.
Back to the trail and I make it to the junction with Wonalancet Range Trail and Wonalancet Range Trail cutoff. I decide to go up Wonalancet first and then an out and back to hit the cutoff trail. Wonalancet is another non-descript summit passing the high point unknowingly and then going down to meet up with the cutoff. This was another horrible section of trail with all the ice, steep and icy.
Reaching a good size ledge and Mt Paugus is across the way.
Having enough of the icy trails for one day I can not wait to get off these trails. Finally reaching the cutoff trail and a pretty uneventful out and back on a no ice trail. Heading back down on the Wonalancet Range Trail again and one more nasty wide patch of ice on the last steep section of the trail. Picking my way across diagonally to the left and then the right and I have had enough of ice. A short ways down and the trail is iceless and I stop to take of my spikes. Not less than a couple 100 yards and I hit a patch and down I go cursing loud for the woods to hear. Made it all this way on steeps and everything and I hit one patch on the level trail and wipe out, go figure. Finally reaching the Old Mast Road and a few minutes later back at the car. Great day but just a little too much ice.
Final numbers: 12.5 miles, 8 hours and 5 minutes.
Redline Miles: 9.3, Total to Date: 313.1