Monday, August 25, 2014

Wonalancet Meanderings 8/21/14

Working title: Ursine encounters of the first kind

Peak: Mt. Paugus - South Peak (3080')

Trails: Kelley Trail, Lawrence Trail, Old Paugus Trail, Bolles Trail, Brook Trail, Bickford Trail, Brook Path, Gordon Path, roadwalks

Mileage/time: 17.2 miles, 4076' of gain, book time of 10:40, actual time of 7:41

New red-lining miles: 14.6

Since I started hiking again, I've gotten into the habit of setting a small (or big) goal or two for the year. This year has me in the throes of a red-lining battle, trying to get myself to 75% complete with the AMC White Mountain Guide. Running the numbers, with 18 weeks remaining in the year, I'll need to hike an average of 10.2 NEW miles per week. This will be compounded by a week and a half long trip to Montana smack dab in the middle of September (not a bad thing), the impending winter, and the sobering (though expected) fact that there are just less trails to choose from! All this means, is that my hike plans will just have to get more efficient.

With a long day planned, I got up early, and hit the road. I wasn't expecting much in the way of sunrise action, but I was pleasantly surprised when some color started to appear. Needless to say, I stopped a couple of times along the way.

Chocorua Lake reflection

Mt. Chocorua over Chocorua Lake

Whiteface, Passaconaway, and Paugus from Chocorua Lake

Sandwich Dome on the right, just before sunrise

Whiteface and Passaconaway

Some bumps on 113A later, I soon pulled in to Ferncroft, which was empty. While I prepared, one other vehicle pulled in, its occupant heading up to do Whiteface and Passaconaway. Wishing him well, I set off.

The classic Ferncroft view

Thistle in the field

Heading into the woods, I came to the beginning of three trails, Old Mast Road, Kelley Trail, and Gordon Path. Taking a right, Old Mast Road and Kelley Trail coincide for about a quarter mile, before splitting. Since I've done the Old Mast Road, it's a foregone conclusion that I'd take the trail untraveled. The lower part of Kelley Trail was great, with easy grades, a soft footbed, and remnants of last years leaf litter. The upper part was much steeper, more rocky, and fairly moss covered. It leads up through a small ravine that was ephemerally an outlet of a meltwater lake, that once filled the Albany Intervale to the north, at the end of the last ice age. When an ice dam blocked the eastern outlet (today's Swift River), the lake drained through Paugus Pass, carving out some interesting rock formations.

Nice trail structure!

Reaching Paugus Pass, I took a left on Lawrence Trail, and red-lined out the 0.3 mile section between Kelley Trail and Old Mast Road. Quickly returning, I started the climb up to Mt. Paugus. Lawrence Trail used to be a lot more challenging, but in 2006 and 2008, major work was done by the WODC to mitigate the hazards of a very steep, eroded section of trail. The trail now does most of its climbing on switchbacks, a relative luxury (and rarity) in the Whites. Some sweating, and a few stops along the way, I soon came out to the south summit of Mt. Paugus. A few steps down a brushy herd path to the south (marked by a piece of flagging), brought me out to vast ledges, with great views south and west.

Lawrence Trail

Passaconaway and Square Ledge from Lawrence Trail

Whiteface, Wonalancet Hedgehog, Nanamocomuck, Square Ledge and Passaconaway

Southwest view

South view

I took a long (for me) break to soak in the scenery, and give my feet a rest, before returning to the summit, and descending on the Old Paugus Trail. Checking out and off trail ledge, I got a view of Chocorua off to the east, before heading down rather steeply at times. Passing through several areas of blowdowns, which have been mostly cleared out, I started to reach junctions with trails I hoped to finish up later in the day. The lower part of Old Paugus Trail winds through open hardwoods, on a soft footbed, until it finally reaches the Bolles Trail.


Solid axe work

Some blowdowns

A conveniently placed bridge

Lower Old Paugus Trail

What followed my reaching this junction, perhaps only a red-liner (or someone with OCD) can properly understand. Heading south on Bolles Trail, it soon intersected with Brook Trail, which I took down to the trailhead lot. Heading back up the trail, which is pretty much a road at this point, I took a right on Brook Trail, and started to climb. After about 0.9 miles, the Bickford Trail hooked left. So I went all the way down and around, and back up, so I wouldn't leave a 0.7 mile segment of this trail hanging. The goal is to get ALL the segments, so when it's feasible, I do it!

Mostly descending on Bickford Trail, I came back to Bolles Trail, just above where I'd come on to it from Old Paugus Trail. Back up Old Paugus briefly, I headed toward 113A, to finish off Bickford Trail. Here's the point I started experiencing footwear issues. The new trail runners were great in the Kilkenny, but I needed to mess with the lacing a bit, and I had also swapped in a set of Superfeet insoles. There was my mistake. My heels started hurting, and sadly, most of the rest of the hike was fairly painful.

Bickford Trail doesn't appear to see much use, as there was much leaf litter from the previous fall, still on the trail in an un-compacted state. When I reached the height of land and started to descend, I heard rustling off to my left and behind me. Looking back, I saw not one, but TWO bears, lumbering down the slope, perpendicular to the trail. I kept moving, looking back every so often. If they caught my scent, they didn't care, and kept on their bearing (all pun intended). Like a smart guy, I didn't stop and try to get a picture of them. Having never seen bears in the woods before, this was an unexpected treat!

Some old erosion on Bickford Trail

Bickford Trail

Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora)

The trail passes along the edge of a field in someones backyard, then crosses directly through a camp, before coming out on the road. A conveniently placed rock gave me a place to sit, and look at my map. There was a 1.2 mile roadwalk ahead of me, to get to the eastern end of Brook Path, so I shortly started down the road. There was no signage indicating where it was, and I ended up overshooting it by about 0.3 miles, before realizing my mistake. Reaching the unmarked dirt road, I did see a sign, about 10 yards in... I hadn't craned my neck enough apparently.

Brook Path was a very easy 2 mile walk alongside the Wonalancet River, with very easy grades, and bridged crossings. It passes by what appears to have been an old mill building, complete with a huge pipe coming into it from upriver. It also passes by the very picturesque Wonalancet Falls.

Brook Path

Wonalancet Falls

Coming back out to the road, I had a decision to make. The remaining trails I'd hoped to knock off (Big Rock Cave, Whitin Brook, and Cabin) were across the road, beckoning. My feet were saying no, another 7.5 miles and 2200' of gain didn't seem like a great idea. That, and it had been drizzling off and on since I had gotten on Brook Path (really though, the rain is a non-issue). Turning left on the road, I made my way a quarter mile to the west, and was soon on Gordon Path.

The rule of thumb with this trail, is to follow the driveway in, and before you reach the last house, hang a left along the trees at the edge of the field... this will be the trail. It meanders, much as I had been doing all day, climbing and crossing a small ridge, before dropping down to some old roads, and ending up back at the Ferncroft lot. The lot had filled up quite a bit during the day, and there were a dozen other vehicles now, in addition to my own.

Shoes off (thankfully), and shirt changed, I headed home. Another successful day in the mountains was at a close. It may not have been all I wanted it to be, but one can't complain about another 14+ miles!


  1. All the pics are great with the two smoky waterfalls being especially nice.

  2. Just writing a short trip about my Brook Path hike. What a hidden gem. I bet there are trout in there...going to go back and check next spring or early summer.