Trip Report: Three day hikes for recovering travellers
Mt. Hale and Zealand
August 24, 1998
Having just returned from Africa and feeling somewhat fragile from a bout of food poisoning and jet-lag, I felt that fresh air and excercise would do me good. The day was beautiful and sunny with a stiff breeze. Starting at the trailhead 2.5 miles from US302, I hiked up the Hale Brook trail. It climbed steadily through lovely forest before achieving the summit at 2.5 miles. The summit, marked by a large rock pile, is a barren clearing ringed by low trees. If you are tall or can stand on the rock pile, a precarious perch in the high winds, you are treated to a full 360 degree panorama of the Presidentials and Willey Range to the east, and the Pemi to the south and west.
Zealand Notch with Mt. Carrigan in the distance from Mt. Hale.
From the summit and after a well-deserved lunch, I took the Lend-a-Hand trail south along the ridge of Mt. Hale. A few tenths of a mile down from the summit, you come upon a marginal side trail to the east which in a few yards leads to a large boulder with an excellant view to the south into Zealand Notch and out towards Carrigan. The trail continues crossing over some fens, finally meeting up with the AT and shortly after Zealand Falls Hut at 2.8 miles. The Falls themselves are interesting and a good place to relax in the sun and even swim. However, clouds had rolled in and thunder was heard. I rested at the hut and enjoyed a wonderful peice of carrot cake.
As I was traversing the steep .2 miles down to the Zealand Pond trail, the rain and thunder started in earnest. Donning rain-gear, I trudged along on another 2.5 miles of relatively easy, rock-free trail past two ponds and a number of lovely swamps. Despite gear, however, I was soon quite damp and disspiritted. After finally reaching the road, it was another mile of trudging in sloshing shoes to get back to the car. Still, a lovely, easy 8 mile trip.
Dream Lake and Gentian Pond Loop, August 26
Another gorgeous day, another restorative hike. This time with my longtime childhood bud Adam. We started from the Peabody Brook trailhead on the North Road in Shelburne and hiked the mile or so over easy terrain to Giant Falls. There is a lengthy side trail which leaves the old AT (which has now been routed over Mt. Hayes and down the Centennial Trail) and wends to the base of the falls, a series of rocks choked with fallen trees and other casualties of the Great Ice Storm.
While I've been to the base of the falls often, I've never gone any farther. We scrambled up through some brush along the left side of the falls and found a series of rocky ledges with increasingly grand views. Water pours from one pool steeply over the rock face into the next in a long series which is probably 200 feet tall in total with perhaps six or seven pitches. In the spring, part of the falls can be seen from the highway and in the winter, when everything is frozen, the falls are a fantasy of frozen icy shapes.
We scrambled to the top; a small gorge with mossy, slippery rocks; and then bushwhacked a short distance to the trail. Continueing upward, we climbed steeply the remaining mile or two to Dream Lake. After lunch on the shores of this unusually un-buggy mountain tarn, we set off on the AT past Moss Pond and down into the bowl that contains Gentian Pond and the shelter of the same name.
Adam Henne at Dream Lake
Now it is well known that Gentian Pond is one of the most perfect spots in the universe. Feeling weary, we lounged about on the large rock overlooking the pond and concidered our place in the larger scheme of things. A sign warned about foregoing camp fires to avoid deforestation, but the ice storm has felled so many branches, that firewood is in ample supply. Nevertheless, we pressed onward and descended the half mile of precipitous trail into the valley, eventually meeting up with the Austin Millbrook road and hiked out to my back yard. A lovely 8 mile hike.
Wildcat Ridge Trail, August 28, 1998
The most ambitious of my three hikes this week, the Wildcat Ridge starts in the southern part of Pinkham Notch, climbs VERY steeply over rocky ledges and cliff faces to the five peaks of Wildcat (E, D, C, B, A from the southern end) before dropping equally steeply into Carter Notch. I parked at Pinkham and hiked the rough though level Lost Pond Trail one mile to the beginning of the ridge trail. This is the AT and, located where it is, is a very popular one mile section for tourists and families. Lost Pond itself is lovely with breathtaking views of Mt. Washington and is frequented by ducks.
The real work began upon hitting the base of the Ridge trail. I immediately began to climb and gained 1000 feet in something like half a mile. At points the trail was a diagonal slice in a very steep rock face and four-limb scrambling was neccessary. Not for the faint of heart! Still, the views from the ledges are simply awesome. Sitting on the higher ledges I could watch a helicopter buzzing around in Tuckerman's Ravine on the other side of the valley either rescuing or filming something.
Towards the 4000' summit of Wildcat E, things calm down a bit and the last mile is a pleasent amble up a moderate grade through evergreen forest and occasional rock ledges. The summit of E is unnoticable, but in the saddle between E and the nearby D (a descent of perhaps 20') is the top of the Wildcat Mountain Ski Area; my former (very former) employer and supplier of complimentary ski passes. The gondola line (oldest in the US and quite obviously so) disgorged a small current of camera-lugging tourists who all troop up to the roof of the lift building, to admire the view shrouded in the diesel fumes from the life engines. I elected to continue to the summit of D where there is a look-out platform and eat my lunch in peace.
From D, the trail drops pretty steadily into Wildcat Col and then rises back up again through classic northern high-elevation forest to the higher peak of C. There is a moderate drop and rise to B and then an even more minor dip to the highest peak, Wildcat A at 4422'. Most of this ridge walk is devoid of views but when you reach the far end of A, you are presented with a small rocky perch where you can spit on Carter Notch Hut 1100' below you in the dramatically rocky Carter Notch. There are two small ponds and some large fields of boulders supplied by the cliff face you are standing on the even taller one on the other side of the notch. The whole thing is very reminiscent of the high-altitude huts and terrain of the Northern Presidentials.
In half a mile, the trail drops all 1100 feet down to the notch in a surprisingly unpainful manner. Carter Notch Hut, the most northerly and smallest of the eight AMC huts, is "self-service" having only a caretaker for croo. I serviced myself to a cup of steaming hot chocolate, being desperate for blood sugar. Since time was pressing, I strode off down the 19-Mile Brook trail 3.8 miles to US16. It is a steady descent providing a nice cross-section of forest at different altitudes. For the second half, you are hiking along the lovely brook which offers ample, though frigid, swimming holes.
By 5:30 I was on the highway hitching back to my car 4 miles distant. After a few minutes, I was picked up by some friendly chaps and taken the rest of the way. The one thing about the White Mountains is how easy it is to hitchhike if you have a pack on your back.
Though this hike was only 10 miles, it felt like a great deal more due to the two steep half miles up and down from the ridge. It is a terrific leg workout and doesn't suffer from the vast over-hiking of trails only a few miles away. Plus the scenery is truely incredible. A definite A+ hike.