Mahoosucs Fourth of July Backpack
By Mike Boisvert.
Yes yes yes!!!!! Ray Bean, Dave Nowell, Scott Davison, Jon Normand and I went on the perfect three-day backpack trip over the Fourth of July weekend. The backpack we did was "moderate-strenuous" and it was beautiful!!! While the crowds focused on the 4,000 footers of the White Mountains, the only people we ran into were a few Appalachian Trail (AT) thru-hikers.
Our trip was a loop following the AT from Route 2 north in the Mahoosuc Range up to Gentian Pond Shelter and using the Peabody Brook Trail for the return. The Appalachian Trail used to be on the Peabody Brook Trail.
The weather was perfect for our first day following the Centennial Trail (which is the AT), that brought us to our first lookoff on the left, with a view across the lake formed by a dam in the Androscoggin River, bisected by the Canadian National Railroad. The mountains behind were Shelburne-Moriah and Mt. Moriah. Dave pulled a lower back muscle at the gym a few days earlier so he struggled during this ascent. His spirit always prevailed.
We had lunch near the summit of Mount Hayes (2,555 ft.) and a breeze kept the bugs away –there were not many overall. The humidity began to rise and the rest of the day we found ourselves under scattered showers. From Mt. Hayes we hooked up with the Mahoosuc Trail to descend into a col and then climbed up to Cascade Mountain (2,631 ft.). We descended to Trident Col Tent Site and set up our tents as rain descended upon us.
We scattered ourselves among the four tent sites. Once the rain ended we gathered together to cook supper and then retired for the night. Around 9pm we heard Berlin's fireworks display from inside our tents. From this tent site we heard cars, trains and motorcycles travelling through Berlin below. Hmmm – you would think after walking 6 miles that we would have left this behind.
It started to rain about 3:25am according to Scott since he had to rush out and put his rain fly on his tent. It did not let up until 9am at which point we gathered again for breakfast, broke down our tents and set out for our next leg to Gentian Pond Shelter, a 5 mile day. The weather cleared and we found ourselves under sunny skies.
The Mahoosuc Trail led us eastward to the remote Paige Pond, where dragonflies were abundant and a symphony of bullfrogs could be heard. Despite the boggy bottom, both Dave and Scott stripped down to jump in the cool water. The water was refreshing. However I’m not sure if Dave and Scott would do it again from their cries of having to step onto the boggy bottom to get out. We continued on our journey using a beaver dam to cross the pond.
We then dug for footholds and used spruce roots/branches for hand grips to climb up to Wocket Ledge for lunch. The climb was strenuous and we sat here for lunch to look off at the wild country near and far. Off in the distance through the haze we could make out Mt. Madison, Adams, and Washington towering off in the distance.
Back to the trail and up beyond the ledge, we followed the trail in spruces that led us to a mountain pond called Dream Lake. By accident, Ray found a sign that indicated that a women’s ashes were left here. We agreed – this was a special place. After a break on the shores of this unusually un-buggy mountain tarn, we set off on the AT to Moss Pond, formerly Upper Gentian Pond. We were hot again but found the pond uninviting for a swim. Regardless, Jon and I stripped down and splashed water on us. We remarked how beautiful the cliffs were from behind us.
We then hiked down into the bowl that contains Gentian Pond and the shelter of the same name. We then discovered that Gentian Pond is one of the most perfect spots in the universe. We found Ray hopping from place to place ecstatic with joy. This was a BEAUTIFUL hike every minute!
The AMC lean-to here is FREE and has one of the best views of any shelter on the AT. The lean-to’s large opening faces southeast and sits only a dozen feet from a vegetated precipice that gives way to a 400 foot drop into the Austin Mill Brook drainage.  It's located near the outlet of a Gentian Pond with a great view of the valley below. We saw many mountains – Speckled-Caribou and Carter-Moriah ranges. The view from the huge double-decker lean-to down to the valley below was striking.
The structure is more like a cabin than a shelter. With two levels of sleeping platforms and a broad floor it can accommodate up to 14 hikers. The real treat is Gentian Pond, a perfectly still mountain lake surrounded by thick trees, from which water exits through a waterfall, which is the only sound around. There are a number of tent platforms higher up. It's not especially populated, especially for the Fourth of July weekend – the five of us were the only ones in the shelter Andrea and hunky Dean on one platform, a couple of women on another and a single man on the other.
Feeling weary, we sunbathed on a ledge along the shore of Gentian Pond and dipped ourselves in the small pools formed by the water leaving the pond. It was great for us to be housed together in one place to form a little community versus the night before when we were separated in tents. We watched from the lean-to as the setting sun glowed through a thin layer of cloud in the sky. The view was even lovelier as the sun faded, and we noticed the flickering lights from a few houses down in the valley.
We awoke to a clear, crisp sky with no haze. Visibility was at least 100 miles and we could clearly define the jagged ridges of all the mountains. We were to hike about 6 miles back to our cars. We descended steeply down the Austin Brook Trail to the junction of the Dryad Fall Trail. Taking the Dryad Fall Trail we gradually ascended to the spur trail of Dryad Falls. The spur trail led us to the middle of this 300-foot fall, one of the highest cascades in the White Mountain.
We found a small south-facing swimming hole to sit in while overlooking a magnificent view of the valley below. The water was ice cold but it felt so good. The ledge was warm and the sun dried us off quickly. Dave remarked that this moment alone was worth the trip. Eventually Andrea and Dean caught up with us and we certainly did not mind the bonus view of Dean taking his shirt off. We were hoping that Dean would sit in the swimming hole with us but the water was too cold for him. We easily could have spent hours here but we had to continue on.
The Dryad Fall Trail led us back to Dream Lake where we decided to have lunch. The views were even better today since we could clearly make out Mts. Washington, Madison and Adams. We then steeply descended Peabody Brook Trail 1.9 miles to the spur trail to Giant Falls (no sign). At the base of the falls we found another small swimming hole for dipping into except this time the water was more tolerable.
Ray, Dave and Scott pressed their back against the running water a bit further up for a back massage. Water pours from one pool steeply over the rock face into the next in a long series that is probably 200 feet tall in total with perhaps six or seven pitches. A large group of teens descended upon us and decided to give them their turn so we left. After one more mile we reached North Road. A one mile road walk led us back to our cars and the end of our trip.We REALLY recommend this!!! Depending on the route you take up/down, you can make your days as short as 5 miles or as long as 12. The Gentian Pond lean-to is a gem among the shelters in the White Mountains.
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