Some hikes are especially nice in the spring and worth going back to. This is one I returned to with an old friend.
Speckled Mountain (2,906 feet), located in the Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness in Evans Notch and in the towns of Stow and Stoneham, Maine, is a favorite of many longtime White Mountain trampers. Today, five trails follow five ridges towards its handsome rocky summit, where four cement footings are all that is left of the old fire tower.
My favorite trail on the mountain the last few years has been the Cold Brook Trail on the east side. However, my longtime hiking buddy Bob Gordon — a landscape painter from Conway — suggested we go do a trail on the western Evans Notch side of the mountain that we used to do with our longtime circle of hiking friends years ago — the 4.3-mile Bickford Brook Trail.
It is always an enjoyable drive towards Evans Notch from Conway, and that morning as we drove out Route 113 from Fryeburg, Maine, a heavy morning fog slowly lifted revealing a sparkling green landscape still wet from the rain. Ground fog rose from the saturated brown earth of freshly tilled fields in Fryeburg Harbor, Maine. As we neared the mountains of Evans Notch, the clouds slowly parted as if for us.
0.3 miles past the Cold River Campground on the left, we turned right on the dirt driveway of the historical brick house known as the Brickett Place, and parked in the hiker parking lot behind it at the trailhead for the Bickford Brook Trail.
The brick house has a long story, which began when John Brickett built it in 1803. In the recent past, it was owned and used as a base camp by the Lexington, Mass. Boy Scouts, and today it is a White Mountain National Forest visitors center in mid-summer, which has interesting historical exhibits. At least today, the public can go inside.
As we expected, it wasn’t open yet. Bob Gordon had brought along his beloved dog Champney, a Tibetan terrier. He leashed him before letting him out of the car, and would only unleash him a short way up the trail, away from the road. Champney was a terror on four legs, and would burn up the trail 20 times to our one.
We started up a 0.3-mile section of narrow trail, which soon came out on the old service road for the fire tower on Speckled Mountain‘s summit.
The Speckled Mountain area was acquired by the U.S. Forest Service in 1918, and the next year a wooden fire tower was built on the summit, soon to be replaced with a steel structure. In 1925, the forest service opened the Bickford Brook Trail to the summit, and about the same time a cabin was built near the summit for the fire warden.
Perhaps a primitive road was built in the early years for the fire warden, but it wasn’t until 1960 that forest service employee Ed Jones, now deceased and once a resident of North Fryeburg, Maine, was put in charge of a crew to build a road almost to the top that was be passable by Jeep.
“I was given one man, a backhoe, and a small jeep truck with a dump body,” he told me once. “There was a faint old road in some places. We built the new road starting a tenth of a mile north of the Brickett Place on Route 113 all the way to the bottom of the last ledges below the summit."
“We did get a Jeep to the actual summit once,” he said, “and also managed to get a back hoe up there once, to bring a new stove up for the fire warden. We also laid a wire telephone line up the roadside, but it never worked.”
Jones said that an older telephone line to the top of Speckled Mountain came all the way from Route 2 and down the notch road on telephone poles.
“Once hiking on the Haystack Notch Trail I passed some of the old poles for that line,” he said.
Bob and I had picked the perfect day to do the trail. The wet forest sparkled in the sunshine. It was supposed to be in the 80s in the valley, but the higher we got, a brisk cooling breeze from the west made the leaves on the trees dance.
Following the snake-like path of the road upward, we passed a spot that held one memory for me. The area had been devastated by the 1998 ice storm. A week after the storm, I started up the trail with Sandy and Ginnie Smith of Conway. About a third of the way up, many big birch trees had snapped, leaving sharp spurs of fresh wood on tall stumps.
The forest had the fresh wood smell of a saw mill. Downed limbs created an impenetrable tangle on the ground. We turned a corner and the trail was literally closed by interlocking trees. It looked like something from the "Lord of the Rings" — “No one will pass here.” We turned back.
Gordon, Champney and I passed a couple trail junctions, reached the crest of a ridge and crossed a pleasant green open area. Then we started up the final wooded section, and soon reached the top.
Three women had come up the trail before us, and stood on the summit ledges as we arrived. We helped them take a group picture, then hunkered down in a cool spring breeze. Like Champney we faced into it, and enjoyed the vast green vista. To the west, Mount Washington still held onto snow.