Exploring the trails on small mountains is very enjoyable. Those who give themselves the time to do that, instead of focusing only on climbing the 4,000 footers, are fortunate.
Allowing yourself to enjoy nature for its own sake yields many rewards. Knowing beforehand that when you start up a trail the landscape will reveal itself in countless ways, is helpful.
Of course, this perspective can be taken to the higher peaks as well. But small mountain hikes are there for the taking, requiring less time and effort. On them, you can focus easily on “being aware” in nature, rather than conquering.
Early this week, I drove over to Chatham and climbed the two Deer Hills. Little Deer Hill is 1,090 feet, Big Deer Hill is 1,367 feet. The Deer Hills Trail traverses both. They are situated above the intervales south of Evans Notch.
The Cold River flows south below Little Deer Hill, the AMC Cold River Camp just beyond it. Across the valley to the west is picturesque South Baldface with its bare shoulder of exfoliating granite.
Big Deer Hill is just to the east of Little Deer Hill. A short way beyond it’s summit is a great southern lookout. Continuing downhill, it is fun to visit Deer Hill Spring in a dark glade of evergreens. It is thoroughly unique.
Its water bubbles up through white sand that is actually quartz and feldspar that has been ground into sand over millennia. Because of this vertical flow, the spring is quicksand.
There are stories about it. In the past someone observed a deer disappearing in it. The other day a friend reminisced: “Almost lost my dog in that spring. Very cold, too.”
There is a bypass trail that can bring you back around the base of the twin peaks to your starting point.
To get to the trail from Conway, take Route 302 to Fryeburg, Maine, and take a left just before the post office on Route 113. Continue out through East Conway, North Fryeburg, Maine, Stow, Maine, and Chatham, and in about 17.6 miles from Fryeburg park in the Baldface Circle Trail parking lot on the right.
Next to the outhouse in the parking lot is a trail sign for the 0.4-mile Deer Hill Connector. Take that, first along Charles Brook, then bear right along the Cold River until you reach the dam that crosses the river. Walk across the dam, which is especially built for foot travel.
Another option is to stay at the fabulous AMC Cold River Camp and just walk down to the dam from the camp.
From this point, I will describe my own hike. At the three-trail junction beyond the dam, I took the middle one — the Deer Hills Trail — up Little Deer Hill. The woods were wet from a good soaking rain the day before. Looking for mushrooms, I spied only one chanterelle, too small to keep. The trail was steep enough to get some cardio.
On a small ledge, I passed a great view of South Baldface across the Cold River valley, where low morning clouds were evaporating. Soon, I reached the summit ledges where a multiple trail sign stood on a post embedded in a stone cairn. The view west, partially blocked by trees, was nice.
I continued on the Deer Hills Trail down to a saddle and up Big Deer Hill. On top there was no view but I could see light through the trees below and continued down the trail a short way to a great southern lookout. Morning clouds continued to lift. They partially covered the modest Mount Adams to the east. On the far side of that peak were remains of the old Evergreen Valley Ski Area.
I continued down to the next junction, where the Deer Hill Bypass bore right. That was my route back, but first I took a left on the last section of the Deer Hill Trail. I wanted to see Deer Hill Spring, which I hadn’t seen in years.
Soon, I took the left-hand spur down to the spring. I didn’t have any expectations, as the last time I was there the water was low and hardly moving. This time, I was pleasantly surprised.
In the middle of the spring was an area of white sand on the bottom about five feet in diameter. Individual bubbles of sand rose like larva and disappeared; rose and disappeared with the rising water. The surrounding silence added to the unique phenomenon. The water was exceptionally cold, coming from depths.
After a cool pause, I headed back up to the Deer Hill Bypass and took that west below the two peaks. I wanted to see two other trails. I took the Frost Trail from the Bypass back to the summit of Little Deer, then descended the Ledges Trail back to the Bypass.
I had been on the Ledges Trail before and was attracted to it rugged aspect. This time, extreme care was needed descending it in the drying conditions, and I gladly veered off of it into the woods a couple times, finally arriving back on the Deer Hill Bypass. I continued on that trail back out to the dam over the Cold River which I had crossed in the other direction a couple hours earlier.
It was good to get to know the quiet Deer Hills better.