June 15-16, 2013.
My revenge hike from back in March when there was still three feet of snow on the ground. Today it is sunny and warm and the trees are green with the fresh leaves of spring. Instead of parking at the winter lot off Route 302 next to Sawyer River Road I opt to park further in at the parking lot for Signal Ridge Trail. This puts most of the road walk in the beginning of the hike, a complete opposite of what I usually do.
Arriving at the lot at 10:30 in the morning, no big rush as I want to end my hike closer to night rather than early afternoon, I duck into the woods because of the long drive I really have to piss. Back to the car and as I am putting on my gaiters I notice what looks like some leaves on the tip of my right shoe. Swiping at it I realize it is not forest debris and too late, already touched it, some meathead had carelessly taken a shit in the woods and I obviously stepped in it in my hurriedness to relief my bladder. So much for burying your waste like one is supposed to. Wiping my shoe in the dirt to rid as much of it as I can and then wiping my finger on some leaves and thankfully for whatever reason I packed my hand sanitizer for the first time last night. Great way to start my first overnight adventure, sons of bitches.
Back to re-focusing on getting ready and right where I parked is an interesting specimen of a tree. Look closely at the lower fork and it almost looks like the face of a smiling serpent.
Heading East on Sawyer River Road and back towards Route 302 there is some European Columbine growing along the roadside. Sometimes it is the simplest things I find interesting.
Passing by the old town of Livermore I chose not to take any pictures this time as I have to try and stay on course with the main agenda for today, getting up and over Mt Tremont to a spot where I can bed down for the night. Reaching 302 rather quickly and I head south on it for another mile. The bridge that spans Sawyer River is still being worked on after a year and a half since Irene ripped through NH.
Just pass the bridge and I stop to talk to a motorcyclist, Fathers Day weekend in NH equals Motorcycle Weekend, who is looking for where he is and trying to get to Pinkham Notch to head over to Maine via Route 2. Looking at the billboard map he is stopped at and I show him exactly where he is and the quickest way is to head back south to the traffic light and take a left onto Route 16. I also suggested heading north on 302 to Route 3 North then onto Route 2, which in my opinion is a much more scenic route with a great view of the Presidential's as you come across Route 2. Anyways he headed south and I continued on and at a ridiculously fast pace with a 35 pound pack made the 3.3 miles to the trailhead in an hour. Same trailhead less than three months apart.
The beginning of the trail is just as easy three months ago, a nice easy gradual glade paralleling Stony Brook. Passing a few cascades along the way that were still frozen and covered in snow back in the end of March.
Reaching the spot where a downed tree blocks the trail and the difference from grown in summer hiking and wide open winter hiking is strikingly opposite.
Not much farther up and the first Lady's Slippers are viewed. They are so delicate looking and past their pink prime.
Reaching the steep portion of the trail and I slowly make my way up the never ending trail. It is a little easier this time being well below the branches and not having to duck and get snagged on them when there was three to four feet of snow on the ground. Eventually I reach the viewpoint where Mt Washington was first in view and took me forty-five minutes less time to reach without the snow. The exact same spot from both hikes.
A zoom of old George from the trail.
Just past this point is where I abandoned my first attempt of this trip three months ago. Feeling a little redemption upon passing this spot and the trail is a never ending slog to the summit.
About thirty-five minutes from where I turned around and I make it to the view point just below the summit that looks into the west. Sawyer Pond, tomorrow's destination and Green's Cliff behind it.
A hundred feet up the trail and I've made it to the summit and I beat this mountain. The summit marker and a panorama from the summit.
Spending five minutes with the black flies and one last photo of the next destination, Owls Cliff.
The Brunel Trail off the summit is a steep and eroded mess. This section of the trail is described in the guide book as little used. It is also little cared for as growth and blowdowns are blocking the trail sometimes making it hard to find the trail. A few times I have to stop and survey the area and try to find the trail. It is actually fun and challenging on these types of trails as it breaks up the monotony sometimes. Forty-five minutes from leaving Mt Tremont and I arrive at the spur trail to Owls Cliff. Just before the cliffs and probably one of the only info signs in the White Mountains explaining a lightning fire that happened back in 1963.
The view approaching the cliffs and from the cliffs looking towards Passaconaway to Scaur Peak.
Back down to Brunel Trail and time to head down toward the Swift River to find a spot for supper. From this point on Brunel Trail is a fairly easy hike through the woods. Passing one glacial erratic that has been split over time looking like a 3-D jigsaw puzzle.
Finally, an hour and a half after leaving Owls Cliff, at five o'clock I reach the junction with Rob Brook Road. Turning right onto this old Forest Service Road. This turns into a boring nine tenths of a mile walk and all the while afraid that I had missed the turn off for the rest of Brunel Trail. I had failed to pay attention to how long this section is when reviewing the guidebook. Along the way I finally find a Lady's Slipper showing off it's pink glory.
Twenty-five minutes after turning onto Rob Brook Road and I see what I thought I had already passed by. If I wasn't looking for it I would have most likely past right by it.
Five more minutes and I am on Sawyer Pond Trail heading for the Swift River. This trail is a straight trail heading all the way until just before the river where it goes through an overgrown marshy area. Spotting moose tracks in this little section that are fairly fresh.
Reaching the river and I spot a little sandy area off to my left and make my way through the brush to stop and have my supper. Using the river water I boil up some water and enjoy some mac and cheese. Spending about an hour here I finally decide to head back up the trail and start looking for a spot to set up for the night.
Heading back up the trail and having enough of the mosquitos and black flies I see a spot to my left that is pretty open and looks perfect for my hammock. Granted it was not the required 200 feet from the trail but then again this section of trail is hardly used and I had had enough of the bugs. It's about seven o'clock when I finally stop and rush to set up my hammock so I can get inside and out away from the blood thirsty little bastards.
Settling in and I lay there reading my Ed Stafford "Walking the Amazon" book listening to the roaring of motorcycles out on the Kancamagus Highway. Slowly the temperature begins to drop as I lay there on top of my sleeping bag waiting for the cool night air. Not long after it gets dark I turn out my light and lightly fall asleep with the motorcycles finally disappearing around ten. Sometime in the night it is finally cool enough that I have to crawl inside my sleeping bag. The night goes by fairly quickly but not a sound deep sleep, it seems like I didn't really fall asleep but when I awake the next morning I do feel refreshed.
I awake about 4:30 and having one of my coughing fits from a recent bug I got I hear tramping off in the woods behind me where the marshy area is. It is loud and definitely has to be the moose whose tracks I saw the previous day just before the river. I reach for my socks which are hanging on my guy line inside my hammock and they are damp from the cool night air. Putting them in my sleeping bag with me to warm them up and dry them out before getting going. An hour later and I get up and start packing hoping to beat the bugs in the early morning. I was going to make some oatmeal but didn't want to wait for it and get bitten some more by my pesky little friends. So a couple of snacks on the fly and I am off heading back up the trail a bit before six. I pass the Brunel Trail junction and reach the next junction on Sawyer Pond Trail with Rob Brook Road. This time crossing it and crossing the last Forest Service Road a little over an hour after starting back up.
Not much elevation is gained or lost on this trail as I make my way towards Sawyer Pond. The woods are tranquil and slowly warming up which gets the bugs stirring. A curious tree with a split in its middle, the second such tree I have seen on a trail, and a boulder smothered by a trees trunk.
Just over two hours from my campsite and I make it to Sawyer Pond. Just a few people a stirring at their tent sites as it is a little after eight in the morning. The pond is very still and quiet looking towards Mt Tremont and Owls Cliff.
Heading up the spur trail that leads from the shelter and I reach the junction with Sawyer Pond Trail and realize I have to go back to where I crossed the outlet stream to ensure I do the whole trail. When I crossed the outlet I missed the trail to the left as there was a family there on the rocks blocking the way across. I went to the right and around a tree and followed the path along the pond to the shelter. The trail sign was on the other side of the tree I went around. Not a total loss as I did see the best Lady's Slipper of the trip on my out and back on Sawyer Pond Trail.
Back on track and I make my way down the trail to Sawyer River and Sawyer River Road. One bridge over the outlet brook and another over Sawyer River.
Turning left onto Sawyer River Trail and crossing another bridge I head up the old road that is gated just before the Sawyer River Bridge. I wanted to get this section of trail now as it was still fairly early, nine o'clock, and I wouldn't have to come this way when I do a loop on Hancock Notch Trail and Sawyer River Trail with the Kancamagus as the connector. It's a quick and easy 1.2 miles up and then a return of the same mileage. A quick thirty minutes up to the junction which is known as The Switch when this area was part of the logging railroad back in the late 1800's and early 1900's.
I don't know what I was thinking at the time but when I turned around I noticed a narrow opening in the trees and thought the sign said snowmobiles. I thought to myself that seems kind of odd for a snowmobile trail as it is pretty narrow. Not thinking too much about it I headed back down the road I came and stopped at an opening that had a view of Carrigain and Signal Ridge.
Getting closer to the bridge and I catch something out of the corner of my eye on my left side. Crap! Coming up the road I had missed this because quite a while back I had taken my towel and draped it over my head to keep the bugs out of my ears and had blocked my peripheral vision so I completely missed the trail on my right coming up.
Soooo...keeping true to my red-lining I head down the trail and drop my pack so I can bang out this section as quickly as possible.
Everything was going great as it follows right next to the old railroad logging bed and Sawyer River. That is until I got to a spot where the trail ducked into the woods and then petered out into a swampy section. I mean it just ended, no sign of it at all. Heading back a little ways and I am looking for any sign of where it could possibly deviate from this trail. This section is pretty bad as there is a lot of washout from Irene back in 2011 but the trail is still pretty evident until this spot that looks like a redirect/herd trail. Heading back along this for the second time and I get back to the same dead end by the swamp. Going back to the spot where this section starts and I look across the stream and see what looks like a trail but this crossing is not on the map.
Running out of options I figure I might as well try this and see where it leads to. Crossing onto this "island" and making another crossing it is definitely a trail and it doesn't take long until it brings me back to The Switch. Seems that section of the trail with the two crossings was created when Irene came through redirecting portions of the Sawyer River.
Remember the trail that I thought was for snowmobiles? Well it was a sign for "NO" snowmobiles and this is Sawyer River Trail! So I put in an extra 2.4 miles onto this trip thanks to my head down and towel blocked view. Heading back and after the two crossings I notice a strange rock that is completely square. I pick it up and it is quite heavy for a rock this size and realize it isn't a rock but a steel square head from a bolt.
Leaving it on the trail and some pictures of the damage Irene did to this portion of the trail.
Just before reaching the spot where I dropped my back there is a herd path heading down to the river so I decide to explore it and it is a nice flat spot where a lot of debris/trash has been left behind. Looking at the logging railroad map it appears to be the old logging camp called Greens Cliff Camp.
Back to my pack and turning onto Sawyer River Road and a 1.7 mile walk back to the car reaching it at 11:35. My first overnighter and other than the little hiccup with Sawyer River Trail a great time in the woods with a lot of solitude time.
Final numbers: 24.5 miles, 13 hours and 45 minutes.
Redline Miles: 11.4, Total to Date: 368.8