Member Trip report
Mts Whiteface & Passaconaway Slide Hike
Trip Report/Photos from shep5
The Downes Brook Slide Trail (also known as the Passaconaway Slide Trail) was a trail which connected the current Downes Brook Trail with the summit of Mt. Passaconaway. It followed an old slide which apparently opened up in the early 1890's. The trail was opened in 1906. In the 1940 and 1948 AMC guides the trail was detailed with a warning that the trail was dangerous and that for that reason the trail was not recommended for amateur climbers and was purposely not signed. It was officially abandoned in the 1950's. Subsequently in recent decades, the trail had been illegally re-cleared and re-blazed.
I had hiked this slide a couple of years ago in the uphill direction, but about halfway up I had to bushwhack up along the slide as I wasn't able to find the old trail and the slide's ledges were too steep and slippery. I had read that the old trail was easier to find from the top, so I intended to re-hike this in the opposite direction.
I arrived at the Downes Brook Trailhead parking lot at about 7:15AM and I quickly got ready. I started up the trail at roughly 7:30. The day started out in the 50's with slightly hazy and partly overcast skies. The trail's grade was relatively easy as it criss-crossed the brook four times before entering the Sandwich Range Wilderness. After 2 miles I reached the bottom of the obvious slide, which intersects with the trail (the slide's initial ledges can be seen from the trail). It was 8:05 and I continued up the main trail, as I would be returning via the slide this time. The trail maintained a mostly modest grade as it climbed up the valley, crossing the brook another five times. Along the way I got a good look at two major slides off the western side of Mt. Whiteface and thought one of these might be good for a possible future trip. I reached the top of the trail at the intersection with the Kate Sleeper Trail by 9:30 and I immediately turned east. This trail climbed a little more aggresively in spots and it was only a half-hour later when I ran into the Rollins Trail. I took a short break here before starting to climb the summit which was just a little further north from this junction. I reached the Mt. Whiteface cairn (4020') at 10:10AM. I continued along the the Rollins Trail and finally was starting to run into other hikers. The trail passed by a number of ledges with prominent views eastward towards Mt. Passaconaway and Mt. Chocorua. Later ledges along the trail also had views back to Whiteface. Views to the south were much too hazy. I intersected with the Dicey's Mill Trail at 11:30. I started up the trail for the final push for the summit. In about 10 minutes I reached the junction with the main and loop trails and here there was a ranger replacing the trail signs. We chatted a bit and then I continued on. The trail steepened considerably for the final stretch and I scrambled up the rocky ledge just prior to the view at 12:20PM. The view of the Tripyramids was wonderful, but the peaks further away were more hazy. I headed for the wooded Passaconaway summit (4043'), which was only another few mintues away down a spur. I sat down and had a bit of lunch. Surprisingly, I didn't run into anyone while I was up there.
After lunch I returned from the summit spur and headed east along the Walden Trail. It wasn't long before I reached the view spur trail. I had actually never descended for the view here, but I knew this was part of the old Downes Brook Slide Trail and that the slide trail continued from the view. It was 12:50, when I reached the ledge with nice northward views. Unfortunately, it was a bit hazy and it would be nice to see this again on a clearer day. I had read that the old trail was purposely obscurred with branches, but this wasn't the case. If you didn't know the trail was here, you probably would think twice about anything. As it turned out the old trail veered to the left about 10-feet before the ledge. Almost immediately, the trail was very obvious and it wasn't long before I ran across an old trail placard. There was nothing currently posted, but apparently not too long ago, it provided a warning of fines and/or jail time for anyone who further maintained the trail. There were additional views from the old trail alittle further. Apparently after the trail had been re-blazed with ax cuts, rangers filled these in with a resin. Unfortunately for the rangers, the resin turned black and so the blazes are still quite obvious. The trail continued to be easy to follow through the woods. At 1:15, the trail made a sharp left turn toward the top of the slide and began to descend it. This part was still in the woods, but as I descended it became more rocky and increasingly moss-covered (and slippery). By 1:30 the slide was beginning to open up and widen. In a short distance I reached a massive ledge with about a 70-80 foot drop. As the trail entered this part of the slide, I didn't see the trail and even though the slide itself was wet and slippery I attempted to cross the ledge thinking the trail was on the opposite side. In any case I took it slow, but about half-way across, I slipped and landed flat on my back being caught by some vegetation along the ledge. I finally got across and entered the woods in order to descend to the bottom. This wasn't the trail, but the woods were open enough and I quickly descended to the bottom of the ledge. Crossing back over the slide, I ran into the trail again...it had stayed on the western side of the slide. The trail paralleled the slide for the most difficult portions and continued to be easy to follow around the more difficult ledges. Finally by 2PM I was following the part of the slide that I remembered. For the remaining part of the descent, the trail pretty much coincided with the slide except for a few spots, where there was small herd paths around more slippery ledges. The bottom of this slide widened out significantly and there were great views Mt. Potash and at one point back towards the summit of Mt. Passaconaway. It was 2:45 when I finally re-joined the Downes Brook Trail. From here I just had to follow the trail for the 2 miles back to the trailhead, which I reached by 4PM (it had reached the 80's during the afternoon and I also stopped to filter additional water on my way back).
This was a great loop hike and the old slide trail provided a nice alternative to the usual loop around these two peaks from the other side. It was relatively easy to follow and in good shape (it must see a decent amount of traffic still). The trail does avoid the more difficult portions of the slide (it turned out I didn't need to cross the first ledge, which was dangerous). Still, parts of the slide are wet and very slippery. It was also clearer to follow this in a downward direction, which is generally not the typical wisedom for a slide. Comparing my route to my previous attempt on the slide, last time I had followed a different branch of the slide about half-way up (this other branch is further to the east). The two branches parallel one another separated by about 0.1 mile. Anyway, it was nice to find and explore this old trail in its entirety and its great that it still exists for the more adventurous.
Mileage and Elevation Gain: Approximately 12.8 miles with about 3800 feet cumulative elevation gain.
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