Friday, June 13, 2014

Whitewall Mountain 6/12/14

Working title: Incomparable wildness

Peak: Whitewall Mountain (3405')

Trails: Kedron Flume Trail, Ethan Pond Trail, Ethan Pond Shelter spur, Thoreau Falls Trail, bushwhack, A-Z Trail, Zealand Trail

Mileage/time: ~12 miles, ~3250' of gain, book time of "it doesn't matter", actual time of 9:15

New red-lining miles: 1.4

"I am fearful that beautiful places I cherish may be violated by what I write... you could say, I guess, that Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle applies: if I describe a place, some people will be encouraged to go there and simply by going, will alter it." ~ Colin Fletcher

Such is the conundrum of the outdoor writer, to divulge or not to divulge. Part of this hike involved a bushwhack to an unnamed pond, which I will give no direction to. Those interested in exploring it, will doubtless be able to locate it on a map, and find it on their own. While people have assuredly been there before, I feel it would be a disservice to the place and to man's exploratory nature, to publish the details. A little mystery goes a long way.

Whitewall Mountain from Zeacliff, September 27, 2012

Ever since I first laid eyes on Whitewall Mountain, more than three years ago at this point, I knew I wanted to climb it. Some cursory research revealed a number of routes to the southern ledges, some easier, some more difficult. How about we choose the MOST difficult one? Mike and I had originally planned to do this over the winter, but it never came to pass. Some more planning (perhaps a bit of scheming), and waiting for a good weather day, netted this day. All will soon be revealed.

Much like last week, a drizzly ride up ensued. The radar looked ugly when I woke up, but I dug deep, and drove north to meet Mike. We made a (planned) detour for breakfast at the Sunrise Shack, then dropped my car at the end of Zealand Road, before shuttling back around to our starting point. I have to give Mike credit, he's very accommodating with my red-lining fixation, even if it's only for a few 1/10th's... thanks buddy!

The rain stopped just before we pulled into the lot, and we started up Kedron Flume Trail just before 10, pack-covers on, but rain gear stowed. This proved to be a really nice trail, with a soft footbed for most of its length, though steep in spots. Kedron Flume itself begged for exploration, and while we did a little, there is much more up and downstream from the crossing to be seen.

Kedron Flume Trail approaching the railroad crossing

Kedron Flume

Kedron Flume

Verdant mosses

Reaching the Ethan Pond Trail, we soldiered onward, planning on a stop at Ethan Pond Shelter. Along the trail we saw a couple and two solo hikers, presumably coming from the shelter. They would prove to be the only people we'd see for the rest of the day. Reaching the spur, we took it, and got some nice views over the pond, before our break. Red-lining for the day, done!

Ethan Pond

Returning to the trail proper, we continued toward our destination, on many, multiple, bog-bridges, and not without some detours. I spied a former section of Ethan Pond Trail, complete with a white blaze, slowly re-vegetating. We also took a bit to check out a nice area along the North Fork, before crossing it on a bridge. The vast Pemi lowlands are special, a testament to the tenacity of the forest, battling back from (mostly) human wrought devastation.

Former section of Ethan Pond Trail

Boulder in the North Fork

North Fork idyll

Old bridge supports

Since it was right there, only 0.1 miles off route, I wanted to show Thoreau Falls to Mike. This is a great spot, just inside the Pemigewasset Wilderness, though many miles from the nearest trailhead. A deterrent that makes the journey there more worth it.

Bond and Guyot from Thoreau Falls

The top of Thoreau Falls

Following the curve of Thoreau Falls

Returning to Ethan Pond Trail, we entered the railroad grade, and swung into Zealand Notch. The cliffs of Whitewall looming to our right, and Zeacliff towering over the notch to our left, with Hale in the background. A short distance north of the junction with Zeacliff Trail, we sighted the notch at the top of the ridge of Whitewall, and started up the talus.

The wall of Zeacliff, with Mt. Hale in the distance

Shoal Pond Peak flanked by Carrigain and the Hancocks

The "notch" we were aiming for on Whitewall

While we had both been on slides before, we had never been on one that was so unstable. Careful foot and hand placement was of the utmost importance, though even then, sometimes putting a hand on a large rock would cause it to shift. Starting out, we were able to stay on different sections of the slide, parallel to each other, occasionally uttering "uh oh", "whoa", "yikes", "shit", and the like when our climbing surfaces decided to move. Several times, I would weight a rock with my foot, and the whole jumble of rocks in front of me (including the ones I was standing on) would shift downward. In times like that, you freeze, every muscle tenses, then you try and search for a way off your crumbling perch. Tenuously, we worked our way up the slide, which narrowed nearing the cleft in the cliffs, with the rocks only becoming more stable right as we entered the scrub at the top. Alarming to the last!

Rocky prow jutting out on the slide

Undulatus Asperatus

Looking down at the tarn in floor of the notch

The wall closes in

View out to the Hancocks and Scar Ridge

Up next to the wall

Scrubbier, but no more stable

The tarn from about 800' up the slide

Moving into the scrub, we picked up a herd path which brought us out to the massive ledge complex to the south of the summit. The views here didn't disappoint, though I will return on a better weather day, as it began to rain lightly, and the cloud ceiling began to drop. I pointed out the actual summit, a short distance away to the northeast, where I knew there was a canister. Some off and on herd paths, and a couple false summits, led us up to the true summit where fog had descended.

Looking directly into Carrigain Notch from Whitewall's south ledges

The long ridge of Mt. Hale

Zealand Ridge

Looking down the valley of the North Fork of the Pemigewasset River

The true summit of Whitewall

Canister ho!

Our break here included donning rain gear, as we were now on the actual bushwhack leg of the trip, and things were getting wet quickly in the light rain. Compasses out, and course plotted, we set off for the pond. After skirting a small bog, and some steep areas, we emerged into a bushwhackers paradise, an open birch glade with a ferny understory... unparalleled beauty. Several animal herd paths crossed our direction of travel, though we didn't see a single beast. After not nearly long enough in the glade, we sadly had to leave it, and after some more scrappy woods, we emerged at the shore of the pond. We decided to name it Little Duck Pond, as we saw two small ducklings make their way across. While not very big, and only about a mile from the nearest trail, this had a feeling of remoteness all its own. Maybe it was the lack of a trail here, maybe it was the lack of a name, and maybe it was the fog and wind... but this was the apex of wilderness experience for me. Standing unmolested (at least for many decades), between two mountains, a little gem of a pond, yet unsullied.

Small bog just off the summit


More paradise

Little Duck Pond

Little Duck Pond

After a short break here, we took a new bearing, and headed out to the trail. The woods weren't terrible, though there were some very thick sections, and many rotting blowdowns to deal with. Nothing at all like the birch we had encountered on our way to the pond. Slow progress was made, and before long, Mike spotted a bog bridge, and we popped out on A-Z Trail, at right around 2900'. Bushwhack, successful!

Down A-Z and Zealand trails we went, the rain coming in sheets at times, blown in on stiff winds. With the exception of my feet (they weren't unhappy), we were both dry and happy.

A-Z Trail

The drained beaver pond near Zealand Trail

Boardwalk on Zealand Trail

Back to the car, I drove Mike back around to his vehicle, then headed for home. A shower, dinner, and sleeps ensued. Not a perfect day for a hike, but a perfect hike. Thanks Mike, for making the most of it, and sharing the wilderness experience!


  1. A 'top notch' (pun intended) report Bill! Your narrative and your photos are truly impressive!

    Whitewall ranks highly among my favorite destinations in the Whites! Have been there on 3 separate occasions, and used 3 different approaches, i.e. from the north, the south, and once by going up the slide, as you did.

    I loved your Colin Fletcher quote at the beginning of your report. So appropriate, and so true!


    1. Thanks John! I've already begun the scheming for a trip in there this coming winter (I know, it's not even summer yet!), for some possible skiing opportunities. A good snow winter, and some futher scouting of the surrounding area will be required!

  2. Yet more wonderfulness. Think I went up Willey this way if I recall correctly. Never would have thunk to go seeking wild pondage. So cool.

    1. I think the masochist in me prefers the southern approach to Willey, love those ladders. I'm planning to scour my maps in search of more wild, unnamed ponds to adventure to!

  3. Great report, Bill - Whitewall is a wonderful destination! The pond is an added bonus. Nicely done all around.


    1. Thanks Steve! Having now been there, I'm left wondering what took me so long to get there in the first place! The pond was the icing on the cake for this hike... the rain didn't even dampen our spirits! Thanks again.