Friday, June 6, 2014

Tracing the Wild River 6/5/14

Working title: In which a trail learns to play hide and seek

Peak: West Royce

Trails: Highwater Trail, Black Angel Trail, Blue Brook Connector, Basin Rim Trail, Royce Trail, Burnt Mill Brook Trail, Wild River Road

Mileage/time: 21 miles, ~4500' of gain, book time of 12:45, actual time of 8:48

New red-lining miles: 14.8

With a less than stellar forecast for the day, I decided to go solo and take out some rather low hanging fruit. I didn't follow my plan for the day exactly, but that's pretty much par for the course as far as my hiking is concerned. The Wild River area is pretty sweet too, so that factored heavily into my decision-making.

A drizzly start in Portland, and a drizzly ride up, led me to immediately change my plan. There would be no stashing my longboard at the height-of-land in Evans Notch today... but soon, I tell you, soon. Parking at the north end of Wild River Road, I got myself ready and headed in just before 7. The northern end of the Highwater Trail has been well-nigh inaccessible for the better part of two years, thanks to the wildness of the aptly named Wild River took out the bridge that spanned it. That bridge has since been replaced, though the 2011 storm (Irene) left its mark on this trail in more ways than one.

Crossing said bridge, the trail hangs a left, and hugs the river, the footbed narrow. Verdant greens were the rule of the day, the canopy and understory aglow. Temperatures were in the low 50's, and the clouds hung low, but nothing fell from them. A way better start to June than last year!

Crossing the bridge over the Wild River

Highwater Trail

While the trail follows the river, there are many, many (did I say many?) ups and downs. Some would call them PUDS (pointless ups and downs), but not this guy. The trail crosses many small feeder streams along the way, and variably runs close to, or upslope from the river. This northern section was pretty easy to follow (I thought), but was littered with blowdowns, new and old, and the brush encroached in some areas.

A babbling feeder stream

A fungus among us!

Remnants of a landslide alongside the trail

Sweet lichen

Yellow Clintonia (Clintonia borealis)

After pulling away from the river for a stretch, the trail approaches again, then disappeared at the top of a 15 foot high banking, into the river. Huh... I had read about washouts, but this was unexpected. Sticking close to the bank payed dividends, as the trail soon reappeared. This same scenario played out no less than four times, on either side of the junction with Shelburne Trail, with some downed trees thrown in for good measure. The crossing of Bull Brook was a bit sketchy as well, accomplished on a couple of downed trees and rocks, its flow significantly altered by Irene. This trail would be a LOT less interesting if it wasn't for all the obstacles... though it is still a pleasant walk in the woods.

Reappearing from the river

Clouded ridgelines

Highwater Trail

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)

Disappearing back into the river

Just beyond Shelburne Trail, I ran into the only two people I'd see all day, a couple out backpacking. Pretty sure they were just starting, because they looked too clean to have been out more than an hour or so. Working my way ever upstream, I soon reached the suspension bridge that Moriah Brook Trail crosses the Wild River on, and entered into the wilderness. The Wild River Wilderness is the newest wilderness area in the WMNF, being designated in 2006, and is a testament to the power of nature, bouncing back from a shortlived, but devastating human presence. Crossing Moriah Brook, the trail took on a more primeval feel, with more brush encroaching, and the footbed narrowing and becoming hard to discern. A steep ascent later, and the trail leveled off in a mixed forest, the sound of the river a constant to the left.

White Lady's Slipper (Cypripredium candidum)

Moriah Brook

Highwater Trail

One final major crossing, of Cypress Brook, was left on this trail, and after more than 9 miles of hiking with dry feet, my streak came to an end. No big deal, but still a bit vexing. Reaching the end of Highwater Trail, my plan changed yet again. Instead of hitting the rest of Wild River Trail, and going up Eagle Link, I decided to get the rest of Black Angel Trail, and see what happened from there.

Cypress Brook

The former Spider Bridge, washed away in 2005

Upon reaching the crossing of the Wild River, it quickly became apparent, that I wasn't crossing it without getting wet. Off with the shoes it was! Bear in mind, that with the exception of picture taking, I hadn't really stopped at all. It was now that the bugs descended. With one shoe and sock partially off, I got to swatting... and swatted my glasses right into the river! Retrieving them, I quickly took the other shoe off, and started across. If I bothered to use poles outside of winter (and backpacking), the second injustice might not have befallen me. Instead, the rocks underwater were slick on my bare feet, and upon slipping on one of them, I nearly went in, and dunked my shoes! So much for keeping those dry! Picking my way to the other side, the bugs didn't seem as bad, and I was able to wring out my socks, and pour the water out of my shoes, without too much additional hassle.

No further insults from water crossings in sight, it was now on to the eastern section of Black Angel Trail. Right away, it lacked the character of the western section, though this only lasted for a little while. The trail parallels Cedar Brook (a different Cedar Brook), following an old logging road up to a small col between two unnamed ~2500' peaks, then dropping steeply off the other side. Here is where the wildness became more apparent, as the trail now became muddy, cloud and fog sat idly in the woods.

Black Angel Trail

Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum)

A bit foggy on the trail


Reaching the Blue Brook Tentsite, I decided to red-line out the 0.3 mile Blue Brook Connector, which undulates mildly northeastward to its intersection with Basin Trail. Alongside the trail, near the middle, was a huge patch of Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides), standing nearly 8 feet tall! Talk about a bushwhackers' nightmare. I then returned the way I came, and ascended the last 0.5 miles to Rim Junction, where I would reassess.

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) along Blue Brook Connector


After slamming my two sandwiches (super chunky peanut butter and blackberry jam is delicious!), I took a look at the time, and it was only 12:20! While the un-redlined western half of Basin Trail lay right there, it would have to wait for another time, as the equally un-redlined Burnt Mill Brook Trail lay on the other side of West Royce. I hadn't planned on hitting it (as I've been there twice before), but it was kind of in the way, so it came to pass.

While far from the most scenic ridgewalk in the Whites, the ridgeline leading north from Rim Junction is a treat for the senses, even with clouds and fog obscuring the viewpoints. Numerous ups and downs, along with some scrambly bits, make for an interesting 2.5 mile stretch. When I reached West Royce, I poked around the fire tower remains for a bit, then hit the summit and headed down the other side. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Basin Rim Trail

What should be a viewpoint along Basin Rim Trail

Basin Rim Trail



Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense)

A very unafraid female Spruce Grouse (Dendragapus canadensis)

Fire tower remains on West Royce

The "view" from West Royce

Reaching the East Royce/West Royce col, I took another left, and hit the last new section of trail for the day, the Burnt Mill Brook Trail. This was a great descent trail, not too rocky, soft footing, and got the job done without too much mucking around. The upper reaches were a bit steep, and eroded in spots, but after crossing Burnt Mill Brook, the grade eased and the hiking was fine and fast. I'll need to come back and check out some of the off trail cascades on Burnt Mill Brook, though I did take the time to descend down to the bank and check some of them out. Before too long, I reached Wild River Road, and began my 2.7 mile exit. It passed, as most roadwalks do, with only one vehicle passing me on its way out to 113. Reaching my car just before 3:45, having donated some blood to the local insect population, I headed home, where I was promptly taken to dinner and fed an inordinate amount of delicious hibachi offerings... and sake.

Mushroom festooned tree on Burnt Mill Brook Trail

Burnt Mill Brook Trail

A small drop on Burnt Mill Brook

A nice slide on Burnt Mill Brook

The state line on Wild River Road

This post is my 100th since I started these writings back in 2012. It is my sincere hope that they've been entertaining, informative, and perhaps inspirational (legible?!) to you, the reader, as much as they've been a joy for me to put together. Thanks for reading, and here's to 100 more!