Stillwater-Shoal Pond-Thoreau Falls Loop April 2016

28 Pics from an April Pemi lowlands loop. Less than two weeks after the Bonds trip I found myself headed back to New Hampshire. This time I figured I’d keep the terrain a bit more simple in hopes of keeping my new boots on my feet for more than just one day. Leaving the spare boots at home and bringing only a pair of trail runners as back up gave me good incentive. Thankfully a different lacing technique loosened up the toes a bit and seemed to resolve the problem I had on the last trip.

IMG_5867aSince my last trip there had been a pretty good snowfall. It had melted in the sunny spots down low, but there was still some lingering. It seemed odd because there was no snow at all at this elevation just a few weeks prior.IMG_5869aThe sky was an amazingly clear blue. No haze or stray wisps floating about. Just that beautiful Spring air and sunshine, though the birch buds were being cautious. Can’t blame them for not wanting to be fooled after all the false starts Spring gave us this year.IMG_5871aA littler farther on the snow was more than lingering on the Wilderness Trail. There were spots where it was six inches deep in the places where the sun was hard pressed to reach.IMG_5872aAfter the previous trip spent in spikes for much of the time it was nice to just bare boot my way through the snow. One or two minor slips, but I never felt any need to reach for traction.IMG_5873aHome sweet home! The chilly nights on the early April trip made me decide to bring both quilts along this time. I was super warm both nights as this combo is good below zero and the nights were only around 20°f.IMG_5876aThe days were getting longer and it was still quite light out when I decided to move the party indoors. I sat there for a couple of hours with my legs under the quilts and watched the light fade.IMG_5881aMorning came with another clear sky. I enjoyed breakfast and coffee from my perch above the brook below. As the sun and coffee warmed me I began to shed layers and pack up.IMG_5883aThe Carrigain Branch crossing was amazingly low for April. Most years I’d be worried about crossing with it filled from snow melt, but with no snow there was no melt.IMG_5885aThe Stillwater crossing seemed to be missing a few key hopping rocks this year even with the low water level.  I eventually found my way across and headed up towards Shoal Pond.IMG_5887aThere are some interesting growth patterns along this section with older and newer generations of forest competing as they recover from the clear cutting done here years ago.IMG_5888aIt was a bit cool following this notch up towards the pond and there were multiple crossings of Shoal Pond Brook to deal with. The sun was able to reach down into the open areas, but the shadows were filled with snow.IMG_5889aThe light had that special Spring quality to it; Something about the color tells the brain that even though you see snow Winter is not coming back.IMG_5894aThe icy crossings were a definite challenge though. The water wasn’t all that deep, but you’d hate to fall in. It was hard to tell which rocks had ice on them so I took to tapping with my stick to check before making my next hop.IMG_5895aNot certain if this spike came from a bog board or the old logging rail lines. Either way it counts as an artifact now so I took a picture without disturbing it and moved on.IMG_5896aDid I mention the ice water crossings? This area took me some time to navigate as the first couple of attempts ended mid stream with only questionable next steps.IMG_5898aFinally I reached Shoal Pond where there was no sign of ice. I stopped for some serious snacking and to soak up a little sun. By now the temp was pushing 40°f but it felt nice be out of the trees for a while.IMG_5899aLooking back towards Stillwater gave a nice view of Carrigain beyond. From here it looks quite dramatic and it is a bit hard to imagine the Desolation Trail going pretty much directly from bottom to top. (Insert ominous foreshadowing music here…)IMG_5902aSoon after the pond came the Ethan Pond Trail intersection. I only had a half mile to enjoy it, but this flat, wide section is a rare thing of beauty in the White Mountains.IMG_5905aThis view is from the footbridge looking down stream towards Thoreau Falls. After all that time in the wilderness it seems like such a luxury to come upon this little wooden bridge and I always enjoy the crossing.IMG_5908aSoon it was time to leave the well manicured Appalachian Trail behind and then it was on to Thoreau Falls. The fresh snow since my last visit gave it a very different look. I spent quite a while here soaking up sun, soaking up snacks and of course taking too many pictures.IMG_5909aI never get tired of this spot. You can’t camp here or everyone would and it would be ruined I’m sure. So you stay as long as you can and take as much of it with you when you leave as you can carry.IMG_5911aThis view towards the Bonds never gets old. Snow, greenery or Fall colors, it always makes me stop and say “Oh, that is pretty!”IMG_5912aThis time of year with at least a moderate flow the falls were pretty as well. Much of the year they flow more than fall, but they had a bit of a roar going this time.IMG_5915aOne last look and then it was time to move on. I was a bit concerned about following the trail as the snow was pretty thick in this area and there had been no foot traffic. Then, as soon as I leaped across the falls I was amazed to find a fresh set of footprints in the snow. Someone had walked out to the falls and turned around so they’d done the hard work of trail finding for me! Wilderness trails come without blazes so when you can’t see the ground due to snow or leaves wayfinding can be a real challenge. I was really stoked about these footprints!IMG_5918aLate afternoon along the North Fork. Another few miles on and I set up my camp for the night. I got in early for a change and had a long time to enjoy dinner, soak up some extra water and just relax and watch as the light faded. I was just dozing off in my tent as darkness began to settle in when I heard something that made me sit up. It started out like a coyote but then faded with more of a howl than the coyotes I knew out west. It called three times in quick succession and then fell silent. Not sure what was out there, coyote, banshee or hellhound I opted to zip up the bug net on my tent. I’d planned on sleeping with it open to increase air flow and cut down on fly frost, but decided it was better to close it in order to prevent whatever was out there from licking my face while I slept. As any good woodsman would, I fell asleep a few minutes later without a care as to what demon stalked the night 🙂IMG_5920aMorning dawned chilly again, low 20s so I fueled up and hit the trail. Soon I reached my old friend, the Thoreau Falls Trail bridge. I know they want to pull this bridge and they don’t want to replace it, so every time I pass through I appreciate it while I can. With it gone I’m not sure I’ll be able to come this way any longer and that makes me sad. This river is nothing to mess with though even above the North Branch.IMG_5922aWalking across this old beauty is even more magical than looking at it. The tilt from the broken stringer varies as you cross and there is just a hint of a wobble in the middle. I think they should build a modern duplicate to replace it with that same twisting sag and some old weathered boards under foot, but I don’t think they care what I think heh.

Soon after crossing the bridge I turned onto the Wilderness Trail and was soon surprised to meet a hiker headed the other way so early in the day. We stopped to chat for a moment and it turns out this was the man who had walked out to the falls the day before and left me those wonderful footprints in the snow. He may have thought me a bit mad for thanking him profusely several times, but it really had made my walk so much easier not to have to find the trail on my own. Well and he was the first person I’d seen in three days so I was in a pretty good mood.IMG_5923aSnack break at the Cedar Brook/Eastside/Wilderness intersection. The Bonds and Guyot visible through the leafless birches. Always bittersweet to be here…almost time to go get that cheeseburger, almost time I have to go home, always really happy to be done climbing this hill in either direction 🙂

By the way the boots did pretty well on this trip. The welt still leaks like a sieve, but I think the looser lacing solved the angry toe issue and I was able to put in three days and about 25 miles with no real complaints. Guess maybe next time we’ll have to try some climbing.

(Insert more ominous foreshadowing music here…)

One thought on “Stillwater-Shoal Pond-Thoreau Falls Loop April 2016

Babble Back:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.