With gorgeous weather after Thanksgiving forecast, I opted for a Friday hike instead of hooking up with the guys for their Saturday NH200 finish (and then some). I was finally going to do something I've been wanting to do for a long time. Back near the turn of the century, J.E. Henry had a railroad built off of the Franconia Branch of the main East Branch and Lincoln line. While the Franconia Brook Trail mainly follows the branch line, the Owl's Head branch line basically makes a semicircle around the east-south-west sides of the mountain. Luckily for me, satellite photos provided ample evidence of where it was in many places, so I would have to hunt too much.
It was a cold start, but the sky was clear, and it was supposed to get up to the 50's, so I moved quickly up the Lincoln Woods Trail, stopping to take a few shots, and a quick perusal of Camp 7, which I had blindly missed the last time I was out camp hunting. I made the junction of the Franconia Brook Trail in 50 minutes. I was moving quickly to warm up, but also to allow plenty of time to explore when it mattered. From here, it was all new to me. Sort of. I used this trail in a Galehead/Bonds loop back in 1986, but of course I remembered nothing of it.
I liked it. It had the sense of being used little, and it was clear I was on a railroad grade, which was good as I was trying to track these. And then I noticed a clear path going left, while the trail went right. Hmmm, sure enough it was a section the trail rerouted around, and it was clear from the map where that was. It was clear why, too. The locals beavers are apparently prolific around here, and, ummm, busy as beavers. What you get in return is a nice view of Owl's Head.
The rail and the trail merged and I tooled along, watching for Camp 10. I passed where I thought it might be, noting a road going left, but no obvious camp. I hit a big brook, and noted a benchmark. Crap, I'd gone all the way to Redrock Brook, too far. I went back to the road, which I was sure was the railroad branching off, and came to Franconia Brook. I had hoped the crossing would be easy given a lack of rain. Nope. Every time I found some rocks, there was always a big gap that was pushing my comfort level. I tried walking a tree, but had no place to put my poles for balance and backed off that, too. Finally I found a spot with a gap that was large, but hopefully manageable and I couldn't find anything else. One large step that I hoped wouldn't slip led to my back foot starting to go and I scrambled across the rest of the way. Phew. I couldn't waded in bare feet, but really preferred to not have to in freezing water.
I headed back downstream to try to find the railroad grade with no luck. I finally headed uphill and found the road, backtracking to a turn-around and finding a bit of the road going towards the brook. This thing was amazingly obvious.
I'm astonished that something around 100 years old is still in such good shape, especially considering so few people set foot on this. One thing I noticed quickly was that the road was fringed with fir, while I was otherwise surrounded by hardwoods. While I saw no artifacts, I did notice where boulders were piled beside the road. I kept having anxiety about losing the railroad with every fir thicket, but I was having no issue. There were a couple of deep, wide ravines, so I'd look back, and take a forward bearing on the direction and plunge on down the steep slopes. At the bottom, I'd get reassured when I'd see logs lining the banking.
There were some nice through the trees views of the Bonds.
This included an interesting view of Bondcliff, but with the crappy camera, I couldn't get a real good shot of it. I was hoping to head up to one of the talus fields above the railroad, but the fast moving on the trails pretty much killed any thoughts of an ascent, plus I was keeping the time in mind.
I came to a big slab that the railroad just skirted. I'm sure this was a landmark to the workers.
Time and distance passed quickly, and I started noticing the sun moving left as I started to turn towards the Lincoln Brook side.
As I turned north, the railroad became a little more hobblebushy, and there were a number of mucky spots that were now thawing, making for what looked like mud jumping, but was really just a clumsy attempt to get out of mud holes quickly. I at last could hear Lincoln Brook gushing below, and came to an abutment with nothing but low ground below me. Hmmm. No indication of where the track ran. I scrambled down the steep slope and went searching to no avail, instead ending up in stick woods. Screw it, I'd search for this some other time. With the trail just on the other side of Lincoln Brook, it'd be easy.... Crap, Lincoln Brook looked marginally easier to cross than Franconia. I finally found a spot, just about as sketchy as the other I did, and managed to keep my feet mostly dry. A little climb brought me to the trail. I searched for a little bit for the railbed coming in, but couldn't locate it, and finally just focused on getting out.
After the brook crossing, I decided to do the Black Pond bushwhack instead of having to cross Lincoln and Franconia brooks again. It would shave some distance as well. I checked the map and decided to go in where the trail turns northeast, but a steep slope and questionable woods put that off. I saw a spot with good woods, set my compass to 150 degrees, and set off. Today would be a test. I wouldn't look at the GPS at all. I would either hit the pond, Birch Island Brook, or Franconia Brook. This route involved a few ups and downs that what I think is the usual route, but was plenty open and muck free.
I churned along, frequently checking my compass as I moved (I get turned way too easily) until I noticed a prominent peak directly on the bearing (Hitchcock as it turns out). Unfortunately, I forgot to set my altimeter, so after what I sure was too far, I did glance at my GPS to get an altimeter reading, saw I was too high still, and then accidentally saw 0.12 miles to go and I was right on target. Dammit. Sorta kinda cheated, but I rationalized it didn't change anything, as I'd stay on the same bearing. I wish I had a watch too, which would've given me an idea of how far I had gone. Sigh.
So staying on my bearing, I eventually saw to my left a big sunny opening and headed down, sure enough hitting the pond, only off course by about 100 feet. And there was a very exuberant and happy Pemi, a 7 month old Golden. The couple had just come back from Owl's Head and this dog had plenty of energy to go. Not a bad doggy day. I got to pet this one and an Old English I saw on the way up, two of my favorite breeds.
Why, oh why, does the Black Pond Trail always screw me up? I ended up on abandoned sections twice before (happily) hitting the Lincoln Woods Trail. Where I saw something interesting. A group of 10 or so, no backpacks in evidence, sauntering along towards the falls. Not usually an issue, but it was 3:00, 3 miles from the trailhead, going the other way, and it'd be dark in an hour and a half. This trail is famous for making people shake their heads in wonder. Besides the usual groups blocking the entire trail, one guy was pushing a baby carriage trying to get around the railroad ties.
16.9 miles and 7 hours later I got back to the parking lot. Geez, not a bad daytrip. Now I was convinced I could visit Redrock Pond in a day and a number of of other goodies deep in the Pemi. Great day, neat bit of history, and some ideas for other hikes. Can't beat that.