Easy Zealand Backpack
Backpacking DATE: 09/30/2017 - 10/01/2017
Trip/Event Location: Twin Mountain, NH
Max # People: 15
Trip Guiding / Event Fee: No, I will not be asking participants for money
Difficulty Level: Easy
Time for a backpack in beautiful Zealand forest at peak foliage! We won't be slugging up summits or hiking lots of mileage so if you’re looking to peak bag, this isn't the trip for yo... Driving directions to the location and spot to meet at:
The Zealand Trailhead is reached by following Zealand Road, which leaves US 302 at Zealand Campground about 2.3 miles east of Twin Mountain village, to a parking area on the left 3.5 miles from US 302, just before a gate. We will be driving a blue Toyota Tacoma truck.
Jon and I did the same backpacking trip with a friend and his two kids this summer so we thought we'd do the same trip with our GO buddies! We decided to camp off the Ethan Pond Trail that would allow for a visit to nearby Thoreau Falls. On a cloudy fall day with temperature in the 50s we took a leisurely backpack through the Zealand Valley and Zealand Notch, and eventually out to Thoreau Falls.
This was an easy backpack on level terrain so pack weight was not much of a concern. I weighed my pack with water before I left and I came at 33 pounds. The Zealand area is well-known as a classic example of regeneration after the searing fires of 1886 and 1903. There's a special magic in this area, and though Jon and I have been there many times between us, we always relish a Zealand journey.
We started out Saturday morning for the Zealand Trail and arrived there about 10:00 a.m. I did not take long to get everybody ready and headed out about 15 minutes later. We ambled up the familiar Zealand Trail, which offers generally great walking after an initial rough and rocky bypass of the railroad grade, followed by a spruce area with some good cribbing work performed by the trail crew. The cloudy skies made for dull colors with the fall foliage and it was not yet at peak. It seems to be later this year.
At 1.7 miles we reached the first open beaver swamps and ponds, the start of the most scenic stretch of the trail. We reached the famous Z-boardwalk over one of the swamps and took some photos. We admired the view towards Zeacliff from one of the ponds.
There are many picturesque wetland vistas along the way. A favorite of many hikers is this birch-lined corridor approaching the A-Z Trail junction. We arrived at the Zealand Pond area and took some more photos. So beautiful there!
We decided to pass up a side trip to Zealand Falls Hut and continued on towards the Notch. We took the Zeacliff Trail and dropped steeply down 200 feet to Whitewall Brook to find our camping spot for the night. We set up camp, had lunch, gathered firewood for tonight and tomorrow morning, and set up lines for bear bagging.
We then took a visit to Thoreau Falls that was 0.8 mile away. Jon and I took our small pack to carry some items. We climbed back up to the Ethan Pond Trail amidst the spectacular open rocks of Zealand Notch. This is one of the truly special places in the Whites! Zeacliff, the set of crags on the east end of Zealand Ridge, looms impressively across the Notch. Of course, more photos. I love that place!
Above the trail are the ragged cliffs and jumbled, unstable-looking talus of Whitewall Mountain. In places this rocky chaos has spilled across the trail. In the most open area lies a great table-flat sitting rock. A fine place for a group photo.
The railroad bed, hand-built over 100 years ago, provides a marvelous route across the flank of Whitewall. We continued south along the Ethan Pond Trail, with more easy RR grade walking. Soon we reached the Thoreau Falls Trail junction. From here it's only about 0.1 mile to the big open ledge at the top of the falls. We got there around 3:00 p.m.
That ledge is one of the great perches in the mountains, with a wild view up to Mt. Bond, Mt. Guyot and Zealand Mountain. The falls were quiet since we've had little rain the past couple weeks. The falls drop down over steep granite ledges in a sweeping arc.
We spent well almost an hour lounging in various places on the ledges. I went exploring upstream and told everyone there were more cascades and ledge to enjoy, including a swimming hole. That was the magic word as three members of our group went in for a dip!
Eventually we headed back along the Ethan Pond Trail back to our camp. We arrived around 5:00 and time for supper. While supper was cooking we had some wine and shared cheese and crackers. We had our backpacking chairs to sit on.
Jon cooked supper, stove worked great and we enjoyed a tasty supper of pasta, couscous and curry. After cleaning up, we got the campfire going. It was nice and kept us warm as the night got colder. We sat around drinking wine/whiskey. Rick brought his iPod and entertained us with a variety of tunes. We enjoyed the fun banter from everyone around the campfire. What happens in the White Mountains stays in the White Mountains, right boys?
I think it was more the alcohol running out than the fire that led some of us to call it a day. With temperatures in the 30's at night I should have brought a warmer sleeping bag. I slept with all my clothes on and I still was cold so I did not get a restful sleep.
It was a cold morning but thankfully Morning Wood Dan got the fire going the motivated me to get out of my sleeping bag. We got up a bit before 8:00 a.m. We made some coffee and breakfast. Nothing too fancy for breakfast, instant oatmeal. We lounged around a bit and broke camp. We made sure not to leave any trace of our being there except for leaving firewood.
It turned out to be a beautiful sunny day! We climbed back up to Ethan Pond Trail. We paused for a few minutes to once again revel in the glory of Zealand Notch.
The trail was busier today, probably because it was warmer and sunny. Back on the Zealand Trail, I took a lot of photos of the ponds and views since the fall foliage was brighter with the sun. We stopped on some smooth rock on the Zealand River for some sunbathing. We agreed that this easy backpack - with ponds, views, waterfalls, fall foliage - is hard to beat on a fine autumn day.
This trip could not have gone any perfect! Our group worked out well. Fall foliage was decent and no bugs!
~ Mike Boisvert
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JcM Oct 4, 2017 at 8:25 PM
Had a great weekend with a fun group. The Zealand area was beautiful. Thanks Mike and Jon...