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Escape the stress of work at Nash Stream State Forest

By Ed Parsons

Kim Nilsen's book "50 Hikes North of the White Mountains" has increased awareness of some good hikes up north. When my friend Carl from New York came up this summer for his vacation from running a biochemistry lab at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, he needed to get out in the wilds where the stress of work would naturally drain away.

We headed north — first to Dartmouth's Second College Grant, then to Nash Stream State Forest.

At the college grant, you need to be a key holder to drive past the gate, though there are some great hikes from the gate, including the Diamond Peaks. At Nash Stream, however, you can drive right in. I think you could say that the 39, 601 acre Nash Stream Forest is a state treasure. It was purchased by various cooperating agencies in 1988 during a period when Diamond International was selling off its land holdings in Vermont and New Hampshire.

The crown jewel of Nash Stream Forest are the granite domed Percy Peaks. Yet north of those are other good destinations like Sugarloaf Mountain, Pond Brook Falls and the East Side Trail. These and other places in Nash Stream are in Nilsen's guidebook.

One hot July day, I went north with Carl and his wife Joan and did the East Side Trail.

To get there we drove northwest from Berlin on Route 110 to Stark. We had planned to go over the famous covered bridge into the village, but the bridge was closed for repairs, and we had to continue north a few miles on 110 and take a right on Emerson Road. That brought us to the junction with the dirt Nash Stream Road, and soon we were driving in the long wild valley. In about 8.5 miles we pulled off to the right just before a bridge and parked. There was only room for one or two cars, but there was little hiking pressure on the East Side Trail.

The East Side Trail is part of the 162 mile Cohos Trail that extends from the White Mountains to the Canadian border. It travels about 2.5 miles around the east side of Nash Stream Bog, then reaches the Nash Stream Road again just before the public road ends. The trail links old logging roads and newer sections of trail, and there is a short spur trail out to the edge of the bog itself.

Years ago, I had seen the long and attractive Nash Stream Bog from the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain, just to the west. I was curious about it. I knew it had a fascinating human history that covered more than a century.

The narrow Nash Stream valley was once a busy logging area with annual drives down Nash Stream. Three dams were built to hold back water that was released for the log drives. Construction of the uppermost Big Bog Dam began in 1896 and by 1900 held back water. Soon a 25 foot deep lake rose above it.

Log drives phased out over time. But in 1969, the Big Bog Dam was still there, and the water level monitored regularly. In a recent publication about the Cohos Trail, Kim Nilsen (who founded the Cohos Trail) wrote about what happened after a heavy rain that year.

"A Groveton Paper Company employee by the name of Ralph Rowden (who doubled as the Groveton Municipal Court Justice) was charged with taking care of the Nash Bog Dam at mile 9 on the Nash Stream Road, a long logging tote road, far up the Nash Stream Valley. The earthen log crib dam held back a 70 acre lake that was lined with camps on its long western shore.

"In August of that year, if I remember correctly, it rained heavily for some three days. Mr. Rowden went to check on the dam during the rains and opened the sluice gates as wide as they could go to relieve pressure
on the dam and to be sure water did not start running over the top of the dam.

"One afternoon, he had completed his work on the dam and had left the dam site. He was about three quarters of a mile below the dam when the structure ruptured and the lake began a violent descent through the valley.

"While driving south, he heard the sound of cannon fire and stopped his truck. When he turned to look up the road, he witnessed a wall of water sweep through the forest to the north. He determined then and there that
he could not outrun the flood on the old tote road, so he left his truck and ran into the woods and found a cluster of trees with limbs low enough so that he could climb into the trees and scramble up 15 feet or so.

"As night fell, and in driving rain, the Nash Bog waters tore apart the Nash Stream Valley and began sweeping away trees upstream from where Rowden was perched. Fortunate for him, uprooted trees to the north built
up a mangled dam of debris ahead of where he sat in the trees.

"After an hour or two, the lake completely drained away and the man came down off his perch. He descended into a moonscape of destruction. With no road remaining in the valley now, Rowden had to walk out in pitch darkness. It was quite some time before people knew he was spared.

"The flood was moderated in the Upper Ammonoosuc River Valley because of a wide floodplain east of Groveton village, and towns along the river were spared extensive damage because the flood could spread out and lose its
destructive power. But the Nash Stream Valley was an ecological disaster following the breach of the dam.

"Rowden's story of survival became a thing of local legend. Someone fashioned a sign that stated Rowden's Roost and placed it in the trees where he had saved himself. That sign or a refurbished sign is still tacked onto the trees and can be seen if you know what to look for."

Back when I climbed Mount Sugarloaf the forest had mostly grown in, yet I remember hearing about great efforts to restore Nash Stream to being a productive and healthy trout stream. That took years, but today is frequented by fishermen again. Today the forest hides most of the scars of the flood, and Nash Stream Bog is what remains of the lake above the dam.

Anyway, back to the three of us hiking the East Side Trail. Leaving the car we hit the trail and hiked up the stream in spindly aspens above an uneven jumble of stones and boulders—signs of the flood that started only a half mile upstream.Yet change and renewal in nature is a full time project, and if we hadn't known beforehand we wouldn't have even noticed.

As we walked the trail rose higher above the stream, and I looked for a spur trail to the Devil's Jaccuzzi, a swimming hole with a bubbly pool. Walking down to it, it was smaller than I imagined but looked very inviting. Yet I needed to catch up with my friends, and saved it for another time.

The trail rose on an old logging road to a low height of land. Consulting my friends, I decided to leave them and return to the car and drive it around to the northern end of the trail and walk in and meet them where a short spur goes out to the bog itself.

In the guidebook, Nilsen suggested doing a loop by completing the trail and walking three miles back to your car on the Nash Stream Road, past the small camps that were once on the shore of the pond above the dam but are now deep in the woods. Instead of spending our time doing that, later we wanted to walk into Pond Brook Falls, a beautiful series of cascades further back on Nash Stream Road.

So, I retraced my steps alone, always an interesting activity when hiking with others. The solitude is enhanced by the previous comradery.

I reached the car and drove further up the road to the other end of the trail, then walked in on a wide grassy logging road into an old logging yard in full bloom with grass, berries and vines. The sun beat down. I was glad to reach the shady woods and wind down the trail until I could hear them ahead.

I walked out to the bog to meet them. It was wet and you couldn't go far out into it, but far enough to get a good view of the ridge of Sugarloaf across the way about a sea of flowering marsh grass.

Later on the way out to the car, we heard something ahead that sounded like a power saw. But it turned out to be a weed whacker, and a man was actually whacking the trail through the thick grass on the sunny logging road. He turned it off and we chatted.

He was Ken Vallery of Lancaster, Vice President of the Cohos Trail Association. He had adopted and maintained the East Side Trail for about five years and usually worked on it four times a year. He said we were about the second group of day hikers he had seen on the trail in that time.

This was the kind of trail that Carl and I came north for—quiet and wild; a place where you can be totally relaxed yet swept up in the unending activity of nature.

 

Last Updated on Friday, 15 August 2014 04:34

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'50 More Hikes in New Hampshire' improving with time

8-2-14-parsons---ruth-doan-mcdougalRuth Doan MacDougallBy Ed Parsons

White Mountain hikers of the Baby Boomer generation remember well the publishing of the guidebook "50 Hikes in the White Mountains" by Daniel Doan, which came out in 1973, and was the seed that started a long list of 50 hikes books that span the country.

By 1978 there had been three new editions to the original guidebook and 50,000 copies sold. In that year Doan, a prolific New Hampshire writer who wrote novels, histories, reminiscences and guidebooks about his beloved state, came out with "50 More Hikes in New Hampshire," which covered more hikes in the north/central part of the state plus many classic hikes in the southern part.

When Doan passed away in 1993 his daughter Ruth Doan MacDougall, who had hiked with her father since she was very young, willingly took over creating new editions of the two books. Last year, the seventh edition of "50 Hikes in the White Mountains" came out, and this week the new sixth edition of "50 More Hikes in New Hampshire" has arrived in bookstores.

This is a review of the new "50 More Hikes in New Hampshire." One can honestly say that the book has improved with time, incorporating 21st Century technology and publishing skill in a way that enhances the strong message that began with the first edition. Talking to Ruth Doan MacDougall, I suggested that her father might be proud of today's guidebook. "I think he would be very happy with it," she gladly responded.

Ruth has been careful to keep her father's award-winning writing in each new edition. Only when changes are necessary — in the details of a hike or adding new hikes — does she change or add something. "I don't touch a word unless there is a change in the trail," she confirmed. "We have a family voice. I feel it is a form of harmonizing when I inject something."

Last Updated on Friday, 01 August 2014 05:46

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A bike/hike to Bondcliff with close friends

7-26-14-parsons-bondcliffA dramatic rock on the edge of Bondcliff, located just after the trail emerges from the trees. Franconia Ridge in the distance. (ED PARSONS PHOTO)By Ed Parsons

On a beautiful Friday last week, six of us biked/hiked into Bondcliff (4,265 feet) in the Pemigewassett Wilderness. It is 9.1 miles one way, 18.2 miles round trip. Starting at the Lincoln Woods Visitor Center on the Kancamagus Highway, we biked across the suspension bridge on the Lincoln Woods Trail and 2.9 miles on the old railroad bed to the bridge over Franconia Brook. There we chained our bikes to a tree, and crossed the bridge to the Bondcliff Trail.

We had entered the wilderness area where mountain bikes weren't allowed, and that was fine with us. We hiked another 1.8 miles on the railroad bed and then the trail turned sharply left up the mountain. It was 4.4 miles from there — basically a long hike in itself — to the flat ledges on top of Bondcliff, one of the premier hiking destinations in the White Mountains.

That description of Bondcliff has remained constant since the early days. In the useful tome "The 4,000 Footers of the White Mountains" by Steve Smith and Mike Dickerman, there is a great quote from 1929 about Bondcliff by the noted mountaineer of his day, Robert Underhill: "No one within grasp of the opportunity should forgo visiting it."

Despite today's great access trails and the ever increasing number of hikers, Bondcliff has remained a place where one can sit on top of remote and dramatic cliffs and look out over a sea of peaks.

Last Updated on Friday, 25 July 2014 04:16

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Discovering a magical place

7-19-14-parsons-mud-pond-and-mount-moosilaukeMud Pond and Mount Moosilauke from the Tunnel Brook Trail. (ED PARSONS PHOTO)By Ed Parsons

Recently, a visiting friend and I drove west across the mountains and hiked up to the small and spectacular ponds located on the Tunnel Brook Trail. This hike, located just west of Mount Moosilauke, is unique.

This 4.4 mile north/south trail was frequently approached from the north end, but Hurricane Irene damaged the access road, making a road walk necessary, and presently it is often approached from the south.

From Conway, we drove over the Kancamagus Highway, and in Lincoln stopped to talk to Steve Smith at his Mountain Wanderer Map and Book Store. He was enthusiastic about our choice. "The Tunnel Brook Trail is my favorite," he enthused.

We continued under NH 93 and in Woodstock took Route 112, soon turning left onto Route 118, which brought us around the south side of Mount Moosilauke and into the town of Warren. At the junction with Route 25 we turned right, and in a few miles entered the village of Glencliff and took a right on High Street. One mile up High Street brought us to the left hand turn for the dirt Long Pond Road (care must be taken as neither High Street nor Long Pond Road had visible street signs when we were there). About a quarter mile up Long Pond Road, we saw the sign for the Tunnel Brook Trail on our right and parked in a tiny pull off. Though a busy summer day, we were alone.

We donned our packs and started along the gentle trail. In the first mile, there were many brook crossings, the first on Jeffers Brook, then a few crossings over Slide Brook, which descended from Slide Ravine on Mount Moosilaukee.

This summer the water has been high, and these crossings took extra care.

Last Updated on Friday, 18 July 2014 06:18

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A different view of Mount Paugus

By Ed Parsons

Mount Paugus (3198 feet) in the Sandwich Range is a destination of mine a few times a year. The 5.8 mile loop up the Old Paugus Trail and down the Beeline and Bolles Trails is a quick and varied hike.

There is another hike — one with a bushwhack descent — that I did there more than a decade ago. I wanted to repeat it, but didn't. It was slightly intimidating. I finally repeated it last week on a hot day.

The actual high point of Mount Paugus is a forested and viewless point to the north of the trail. The well known South Ledges viewpoint is, for all intents and purposes, the summit for those seeking a view, and is reached on a short southern spur trail on ledge. It has a dramatic view of Mount Passaconaway and Mount Whiteface to the west, and a great south and southwest vista over the low ridge of Mount Mexico above Wonalancet.

Located below the South Ledges and not visible to hikers who rest there, is a unique scar of rotten rock and ledge on the south slope. This scar is also not visible looking north from the Bearcamp River valley to the south. The wooded summit of Mount Paugus is visible from many points in the valley, but the scar on its south slope is not visible because of the intervening ridge of Mount Mexico. Also, in between that low ridge and Mount Paugus is the quiet valley of Whiten Brook.

Years ago I climbed Paugus via the Cabin Trail and Lawrence Trail from the west, and from the South Ledges bushwhacked down the wooded slope to the scar, and made my way down it — sometimes just stepping down in rotten rock the consistency of corn snow, sometimes having to take more care on loose rocks with a tendency to slide or stepping down smooth ledge. At the base of the scar I walked across the silent valley to Whiten Brook and walked down it to the Whiten Brook Trail.

To get back to my car I had to cross Whiten Brook to Big Rock Cave and then up over Mount Mexico on the Big Rock Cave Trail. That was fine, except the weather prediction was off that day. After the rain the day before, it was supposed to be clear and sunny, and dry out the forest. But when I bushwhacked down from the South Ledges, the trees were still wet, despite it being partly sunny, and I got wet. Down in the Whiten Brook valley it returned to being cloudy and cool, and I remained wet and cold. The climb over Mount Mexico warmed me a little, but it was good to get back to my car and home.

That chilly experience might have tempered my enthusiasm to repeat the hike. But why would I want to do it in the first place? Open areas in the northeast mountains are special and often you work for them, like hiking above timberline.

When I recently showed AMC guidebook author Steve Smith my pictures of the hike down to the scar, he called the landscape "almost Arizona-ish." Years ago he had hiked across the trackless Whiten Brook Valley to the base of the scar and looked up at it, but without the intention of going up it. "It looked too gnarly to go that way to the South summit," he commented. I replied that it wasn't too bad going down.

I also had some curiosity about what caused the scar itself. After my hike down it last week, I called geologist friend Brian Fowler of Madison. I asked about "rotten rock" and told him that I had heard somewhere that such a thing didn't really exist, though I forgot the exact language. He countered that immediately. After a career as a consulting geologist, he was very familiar with the material. He said it had once been used for building roads.

"There is a phase of Conway granite that has some potash in the felspar. Felspar is the glue that holds granite together {granite is made up of quartz, mica and felspar}. Yet potash is unstable and susceptible to weathering. When it is exposed to a lot of water, like when the glacier melted 15,000 years ago, this type of granite will become rotten."

He reiterated that the rocks of the White Mountains are laid down like marble cake, and very different rocks are found next to each other. For example, the granite on Mount Chocorua, which is right next to Mount Paugus, does not have the potash problem and has remained solid. Fowler mentioned that Cannon Cliff in Franconia Notch is Conway granite, and has a potash issue. "The talus slope below Cannon Cliff is longer and thicker than anywhere else around. Pieces of the cliff are detaching and falling off, and many climbers won't climb there because of it. Actually," he revealed, "the Old Man of the Mountains fell because of this potash problem in its granite." Yet, he said, just across the highway in Walker Ravine on Mount Lafayette, there are big slabs of granite that don't have this problem.

Back to my recent hike, perhaps last Thursday was not the best day to do it. It was excruciatingly hot and humid. Yet I had just spent two days on very social outings with friends and family, and felt like an introspective solitary venture deep in the mountains, and this old bushwhack rose to my consciousness. After telling my usual spotter--the artist Bob Gordon of Conway, with whom I share that responsibility when he goes out alone, I headed.
From the start of the trail at the end of Paugus Mill Road, the bugs were bad. Midges circled, trying to dive into my eyes. My herbal bug dope only humored them. I did what I had learned long ago — wet my T-shirt and hang it over my head, with the wet shirt hanging down my back and the short sleeves swaying back and forth in front of my face. This time I secured it with my cap.

I took the Bolles Trail to the Old Paugus Trail, and headed up alongside Whiten Brook. Before leaving the brook, I soaked my T-shirt again and then took a right up the mountain. I noticed the air getting slightly cooler as I climbed. I left the mosquitoes and midges behind. The trail topped out on the ridge and headed towards the top as I passed the Beeline Trail. Soon I found myself on the open "summit" with a nice steady breeze from the west. I took the short spur down to the south ledges, and sat in the breeze to eat lunch and decide my next move.

I looked south down to a wooded rise in the slope that I would have to climb over to get to the scar. Yes, I wanted to do it.

I put on long hiking pants and donned my T-shirt and descended the ledge into the woods. The forest varied from open to thick and gnarly. It felt good to be making my own way off trail. Soon I topped the rise, descended a little more and climbed out to smooth granite ledges on the top of the scar. Directly below was a long slope of yellow/red rotten granite, interspersed with ledges, boulders and clumps of trees. Above me was a unique view of the Sandwich Range, with a prominent Mount Passaconaway and below it a nearby cliff on the old Lawrence Trail.

I picked a different way down from last time, veering to the west and trying to stay on the stable rotten rock and avoiding loose rocks that slid. Looking along the slope, the open area extended further west than I thought, eventually narrowing down, and that lent itself to an interesting photo.

Many pauses were necessary to scope a route. I rejected a couple that had smooth ledge all the way to the bottom, and took one that was comprised of rotten rock down into the trees at the base of the scar. I wondered how often human foot prints were made in the rotten rock there.

Finally I entered the woods and continued until I was on the flat valley floor. A quarter mile brought me to a great small pool on Whiten Brook, and I immediately lay down in it. Then with a renewed and refreshed perspective, I followed the stream for what seemed like most of a mile before hitting the Whiten Brook Trail. There were many blow downs and obstacles next to the winding brook, and it seemed like a long way.

I must have looked a sight with my brown T-shirt hanging over my head and my eyes and white beard sticking out beneath, as I made my way down to the Old Paugus Trail to the Bolles Trail and my car. But I met no one. There were a couple cars there belonging to hearty souls climbing Mount Chocorua on that hot day, yet it was true there was that blessed breeze above the trees.

For a great color photo of the Mount Paugus south face scar, as seen from the Cabin Trail on the next ridge over, see the section on Mount Paugus in the new 6th edition of "50 More Hikes in the White Mountains" by Daniel Doan and Ruth Doan MacDougal. This is a wonderful new edition in the 50 Hikes series. Daniel Doan, who passed away on September 24, 1993, must know what a wonderful job his daughter Ruth has done in continuing this classic series. I will be doing a review of this new book in the coming weeks.

 

Last Updated on Friday, 11 July 2014 04:06

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