11-23-19 Parsons Stark Village from the Devil's Slide

Telephoto of Stark Village from the Devil's Slide. (ED PARSONS PHOTO)

It doesn’t matter how you say it. When I describe a short hike with a great view on top, I might say that you get a good bang for your buck there.

In Kim Nilsen’s book “50 Hikes North of the White Mountains,” he says of the Devil’s Slide in Stark: “In none of the other pages of this guidebook will you find so much dramatic turf for so little effort.”

One day in early November a few years ago, I visited the North Country to hike up the Devil’s Slide, and on the way home, hike Mount Jasper in Berlin. It didn’t take long to climb up Devil’s Slide. I wasn’t disappointed.

In previous years, I have headed north and driven through Stark on the way to bigger hikes further on in the Nash Stream Forest. Turning right off Route 110 and crossing the historic covered bridge into Stark village, my eyes have always lit upon the vertical cliffs of Devil’s Slide directly behind the village.

I knew that peregrine falcons nested on the cliff. Back when they were endangered, New Hampshire Audubon’s Chris Martin would annually rappel off the top with a climbing guide to band the chicks. Now peregrines are downgraded to threatened in the state, but thriving.

I also knew there was a short trail to the top of Devil’s Slide. But alas, I had promises to keep and miles to go on longer hikes. So, one day I came north to combine two short hikes.

On that snowless November morning, I drove north through Gorham and Berlin and west on Route 110. As always, returning to the north woods I felt some déjà vu entering a quieter and softer landscape and way of life.

On the highway, I passed the open field with the view west towards Roger’s Ledge in the Kilkenny region. Then the road wound down the valley of the Upper Ammosoosuc River towards Stark. I was getting close when I passed the state historic sign for the Stark World War II prisoner of war camp.

Finally, I reached the picturesque enclosed valley and turned right over the recently restored covered bridge. I passed the Stark Village Inn on the right, now a favorite rest stop for those doing the 160-mile Cohos Trail. At the T in the road, I stopped and looked ahead and up. There was my modest yet spectacular hiking objective.

It seemed strange to call such a vertical cliff a “slide.” Yet, for those pioneers in the early settlement incorporated in 1795, it might, on occasion, have seemed that the devil himself all too easily slid down it from the woeful heights to disrupt their lives.

Another dark-side term from those days was Devil’s Den, for a small cave on a mountainside. There is one 30 feet below the top of the cliff on Mount Willard in Crawford Notch (you can see it from the road), which I visited once with a mountain guide after climbing the face.

There is also a Devil’s Den I visited once in a steep boulder field in the Mink Hills down in Warner. These hills used to be in the older AMC White Mountain Guide because they were on the old road north from Boston. People had time to stop and linger, and probably stay over, on their way north to the White Mountains. Or the Mink Hills was their destination.

Anyway, back in Stark village, I turned left on the Northside Road and followed the swift Upper Ammonoosuc River on the curvy road for almost a mile. I crossed the railroad tracks, passed one house on the right, then passed a small sand pit, then pulled into a modest pullout on the right.

Anxious to get going after a long drive, I grabbed my pack and headed up the trail. Yellow blazes made the foliage covered trail easy to follow.

The woods was wet from recent rain. It reminded me of hiking out in Washington state a few weeks previously, minus the giant Douglas fir trees. Yet, the leaf covered trail was very pleasant as it wound up through the mixed second growth forest. There was the familiar New England autumn smell of vegetal death, inseparable from the spiritual renewal found while passing through the chilly open forest.

At an abrupt change to steepness just before the top, the forest turned dark and coniferous. I climbed the last few yards out to a cliff top lookout.

Great space opened ahead, with the village and river down below. A chilly breeze came from the south. I scrambled about the cliff edge, looking for the best view and good lunch spot. I found it further uphill, settling on a comfortable shelf in the sun with a view eastward. I pulled out Nilsen’s “50 Hikes” and enjoyed reading his take on where I was.

He mentioned that the best lookout was from a wide shelf down below where I had first emerged at the cliff edge. I packed up and headed down there.The closer view of Stark village held my attention.

Satisfied, I headed back down the trail and drove to Mount Jasper in Berlin, another storied mountain indeed.

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