Peaks: Puzzle Mountain - Southwest Peak (3080'), Puzzle Mountain - Southeast Peak (3120')
Trails: Grafton Loop Trail, herd path, Woodsum Spur Trail
Mileage/time: 7.2 miles, 3003' of gain, book time of 5:08, actual time of 5:26
In addition to the various lists I'm keeping track of (or working on, depending on how you look at it), there's a personal list of peaks to climb, whether they're on an official list or not. This was one of the many.
With an early-ish start, and some delicious breakfast sandwiches, Shanna and I arrived near Grafton Notch around 9:30. A few cars were parked at the trailhead, all but one had out of state plates. Starting out, the trail winds up through a young hardwood forest, at easy grades, occasionally crossing logging roads of various vintages. All was quiet, and we hoped it would stay that way.
Much of the eastern half of the Grafton Loop Trail is on private land, and the upper slopes and summits of Puzzle Mountain are enclosed within the Stewart Family Preserve. Upon reaching the boundary of the preserve, the forest abruptly changes to predominantly spruce, and the trail becomes more rootbound and rocky. Fern-topped boulders were strewn about alongside the trail, and there were mosses for days. Some scattered open ledges provided views, which I'm sure are much more spectacular on a clear day, but low clouds obscured any distant views.
Reaching the lower junction with the Woodsum Spur, we continued on. The trail continues up on striated ledges, with some decent scrambling thrown in. Along the way, a short signed spur path leads to some large boulders that form a small cave. There was some flagging in here, and it looks like some work is being done to allow it to hook back into the Grafton Loop Trail. I had to give Shanna grief (in a playful way of course), as she kept trying to go down drainages, and paths that were not the trail. Before long, the trail reaches the southwest summit of Puzzle, with its 360 degree views. Clouds continued to rule, but the views were still pretty vast, and the temperatures were comfortable for lounging on the rocks.
|Looking northwest toward Grafton Notch|
|Dramatic clouds over Sunday River ski area|
|Sunday River Whitecap|
Break over, we found our way down off the summit, following a couple of cairns into the woods. Undulating a bit, we climbed up across the shoulder of the north peak of Puzzle (the true summit at 3133'), and intersected with the other end of Woodsum Spur. Taking it, the trail took on a different character. Soft mosses were underfoot, there was some mud, and you got a general feeling that it doesn't receive much traffic. In one of the muddy areas, there was a very distinct print of a bear. Rising again, the trail reached the southeast summit of Puzzle, where we found a vista, in the clouds. Dropping down below the cloud deck, the trail passes over many more sections of open ledge, before descending into the woods again, and climbing to reach the Grafton Loop Trail again. There were a couple of trees along the way that seemed to be experiencing what I'll call "seasonal discombobulation disorder" (or SDD for short), where they didn't seem to realize that it was still summer!
Descending now, we ran into a couple on their way up, and near the trailhead, a pair of ladies walking their dog. The hike down was very pleasant, as the grade lent itself to smooth walking. Shanna even got me, trying to send her down something that was plainly not the trail! Back to the car, we headed into Bethel for lunch. Stopping by the Good Food Store on Rt. 26, we procured some sandwiches and beverages, which we enjoyed outside on a picnic table. I definitely recommend a stop here, and if not for the sandwiches, try the BBQ, which is sold out of the trailer in the parking lot. After a stop at the indoor flea market in Oxford (where Shanna found herself a small table for her kitchen), the clouds which had silently menaced most of the day, finally let forth a torrent of rain.
Another great day on the trails, another personal peak visited, and a return visit assured.