The weather is finally starting to really turn toward spring/early summer. It’s been so cold and wet for so long that everything is starting late. The leaves are mostly out in the lowlands, but there is still very little cover in the mountains. There are still plenty of trail reports with 2-4 feet of snow above 3,500 feet, so I decided to continue redlining the lower elevations this week.
Earlier this week, I updated my redlining list from the 29th edition to the 30th edition of the AMC White Mountain Guide. Due to the various reroutes made over the past few years as well as almost 14 miles of additional trails added to the guide, my percentage of completion dropped from 29.6% to 29.2% prior to this weekend’s hike. I also have some research to continue doing on some trails I’ve already done which had changes and I need to determine whether reroutes and other changes would require me to re-hike the trails or sections of trails I’ve previously done. For now, I’m keeping them completed as-is, but have noted the ones I need to do additional work on.
Since the Moosilauke Region was so nice last weekend, and it’s also one of my lowest completion regions, I decided to go redline some more trail in that area and boost it up the list a bit. My original plan was to hike Hubbard Brook Trail on an out-and-back, followed by some portion of an out-and-back on Three Ponds Trail, which both are served by the same parking area.
I started out following the old forest road up an easy grade to the official trailheads of both Hubbard Brook Trail and Three Ponds Trail. They split at this point and I continued following the forest road which is Hubbard Brook Trail at this point. As it reaches the top of this incline, the trail turns right, into the woods on a fairly nice foot bed. It’s basically level at this point and follows a small stream which runs parallel to the trail on my left. I stopped to take a picture of the brook and as I packed my phone away I realized that the blazes indicated the trail turned here and crossed the stream. It’s obvious that many people have missed that turn, or perhaps the trail straight ahead at this point is an old trail section that was rerouted.
I soon found the reason for the possible reroute. Beavers have dammed up the stream and created a pond. The current trail skirts around the pond and meanders through the woods. A second dam and pond appear up ahead and this one must be newer than the trail reroute because the trail goes right through the pond, although along one edge. A short, minor bushwhack was needed to get around this section.
The trail continues through the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest for a while, eventually passing through an area which was probably an old logging camp. I found evidence of this in the form of an old metal bucket on a moss covered rock. It’s obviously been there for a very long time, but it’s pretty common in the Whites to see remnants of the logging history on hikes through more remote stretches of forest. You just have to look carefully. Sometimes it is old rail sections, or railroad ties. Other times it is abandoned camp items or rail car remnants.
After hitting the height of land on this trail, it descended a bit and I ran across another area where beavers had been very active and built another dam. This section is going to need a major reroute due to the flooding and I had to more actively bushwhack around the flooded sections. Eventually, I got back on the trail and didn’t have any significant issues after that point. I even found a nice little cascade to take a picture of.
After dealing with the beaver activity and bushwhacking, I decided I would change my plans and make this a loop instead of two out-and-backs. Once I reached the eastern trailhead, I followed the forest road for 1.4 miles, where I reached a side road leading another 0.5 miles to the Mount Kineo Trail.
The Mount Kineo Trail ascends moderately from the parking area in a reasonably straight path toward the height-of-land between Mt Kineo and an unnamed mountain. It was fairly wet and several old bog bridges are in disrepair, needing replacement. Waterproof boots are definitely a good option in the Whites, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts.
There was lots of recent moose activity evident as I approached the high point, as well as for a half mile or so after. The south side alternates between steep descents and side-hill level sections. Eventually, Mount Kineo Trail meets up with a network of snowmobile trails. The two types of trails share the path from that point until you reach Donkey Hill Cutoff, which splits off to the right immediately after a bridge while Mount Kineo Trail splits left at the same point, off the snowmobile trail.
I took Donkey Hill Cutoff to reach Three Ponds Trail. It skirts a pond and weaves along the side of a hill, so there is some small up and down activity, but no significant elevation change overall. There is one blow down which will need a sizeable saw or chain saw to remove near the middle, but a bit closer to the Mount Kineo Trail side. Otherwise, the trail is in very good condition other than overall wetness.
Upon reaching Three Ponds Trail, you cross the remnants of an old beaver dam and start an easy climb through the forest toward Foxglove Pond. At one point, about a quarter mile from Donkey Hill Cutoff, there is a herd path that goes straight while the trail takes a hard left. The path leads to a view of a pond with a mountain ridge backdrop. It also appears that this area has been used for camping often in the past, with a fire ring and a blind built to shield the view of the fire from the water.
Continuing on the trail, when I reached Foxglove Pond, the path went right into the water, appearing to cut across a corner of the pond. Either beaver activity has raised the overall water level, or water levels are still high from the spring melt. If it is beaver activity, a reroute should be cut and blazed. After another short bushwhack, I reconnected with the trail on the other side of the pond and continued toward the climb along Whitcher Hill.
At one point, the trail crosses another branch of the snowmobile trail network, but continues immediately on the other side. The trail climbs steadily upward at moderate levels until reaching the high point before leveling off along the top of the ridge line for a while, before the decent to the trail head.
Overall, the trails, outside of the overlap of snowmobile trails and forest roads, has the feel of a wilderness area. The northern halves of these trails appear to be low traffic and as such the vegetation is growing in and obscuring the trails. Also, the yellow blazing on the Mount Kineo Trail, north of its height-of-land, is fairly faded and makes it difficult to find the trail in a few places where it is marshy or eroded from spring runoff.
Donkey Hill Cutoff is well maintained, other than the single blow down, and easy to follow. However, Three Ponds Trail, north of Donkey Hill Cutoff, is overgrown in many places and blazes are very hard to see. The growth makes trail finding difficult at times and when combined with the lack of easily seen blazes caused me to backtrack a couple of times to try to find a faded blaze to verify I was still on the real trail.
On the positive side, someone had been through Three Ponds Trail fairly recently with a saw and cleared a ton of blow downs and large and medium obstacles in the trail, which provided some evidence at times that I was still on the trail.
Overall, this was an excellent day out with some big miles for me, particularly this early in the season. Some added elevation gain due to the change in the route was an added benefit for my long term progression.