My intention in writing this hiking column is to help people enjoy the mountains by sharing my experience about places to go. Also over the years, new maps and guidebooks have raised awareness of where to go, benefiting the hiking public, including me. I have passed some of these hikes along to my readers.
About five years ago, Kim Nilsen’s book “50 Hikes North of the White Mountains” increased awareness of some good hikes up north. Here is a story I wrote back then, when my friend Carl from New York came up during the summer of 2014 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 is the granitedomed Percy Peaks. Yet north of those are other good destinations like Sugarloaf Mountain, Pond Brook Falls and the East Side Trail. These and others 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 for 19 miles to Stark. We turned right past the church and over the covered bridge, and left on Northside Road, following that next to the Upper Ammonoosuc River, past the old fiddler’s contest field on the left, and continuing straight on Nash Stream Road which soon turned to dirt. In about 8.5 miles on that road, 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.
Log drives phased out over time but in 1969 the Big Bog Damn was still there, and the water level monitored regularly. A Groveton Paper Co. employee named Ralph Rowden was the person who checked the dam, located 9 miles up the Nash Stream Road. The dam held back a 70 acre lake.
In August of 1969, it rained heavily for three days. On the last day, Rowden checked the dam and opened the sluice gates wide. He was about three quarters of a mile below the dam in his truck when the dam burst. He heard a blast like cannon fire, and soon spied a wall of water coming through the trees in his direction.
He knew he couldn’t drive faster, so he left the truck and ran into the woods, and climbed as high as he could in a cluster of trees. He could hear trees being uprooted upstream. Lucky for him, they tangled and creating a dam of trees, and his tree remained intact.
After a couple hours, the lake had drained and he spent the night walking out the road. Later, someone fashioned a sign that said “Rowden’s Roost” and tacked it on the tree he had used.
Back when I climbed Mount Sugarloaf, located across the valley, the grassy marsh where the lake once was, was visible below, yet I remember hearing about great efforts to restore Nash Stream to being a productive and healthy trout stream. That took years, strategically laying trees and brush in the river, 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 up 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 thought 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 camaraderie.
I reached the car and drove farther 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 a spur 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, and usually worked on it four times a year. He had done it for five years at that time, and said we were only the second group of day hikers he had seen on it in that time period.
He continues to work on that section today.
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.