White Horse and Cathedral Ledges Hike
Hiking/Walk DATE: 12/29/2018 - 12/29/2018
Trip/Event Location: North Conway, NH
Max # People: 15
Trip Guiding / Event Fee: No, I will not be asking participants for money
Difficulty Level: Moderate
White Horse [1450 ft.] and Cathedral [1159 ft.], these little cliff-faced peaks are far better known to rock climbers than hikers, but they each boast good view ledges accessible to ordinary folks!...
Trailhead is at Echo Lake State Park is located off from West Side Road.
From I-93: Exit 23 onto Route 104 East. Follow Route 104 east to Route 25 North. Turn left onto NH 16 North to North Conway. Follow signs to Echo Lake State Park off River Road.
From I-95: Take Route 16 North to North Conway and turn left onto River Road. Follow signs to Echo Lake State Park.
White Horse [1450 ft.] and Cathedral [1159 ft.], these little cliff-faced peaks are far better known to rock climbers than hikers, but they each boast good views from ledges accessible to ordinary folks! The loop made for an excellent half-day winter adventure that was tailored to suit GO members of any ability level! The loop was 4.9 miles round trip with 1,400' elevation gain.
We met at the Echo Lake State Park beach area for 10:30AM. While the gate to the beach lot is closed during the winter there is parking space just outside the gate at the corner of Echo Lake Road and Old West Side Road. We were under partly cloudy skies with the temperature around 35 degrees. It was breezy around the lake making it feel colder than 35 degrees!
It was nice to get reacquainted with our GO friends from Maine, Bob and John from Sugar Hill, Jim and James from Somersworth, Rick from Manchester and a special shout out to Richard who drove all the way from New York with his partner Gabe! Richard spent Friday night with us. Gabe decided to spend the day inside the house while Richard hiked with us. What a fine collection of GO members we had on this day!
The trail conditions were slushy snow so I did not put my MicroSpikes on. Everyone else did. From here it’s a quick walk to the lake where we appreciated the sheer magnitude of the cliff faces over-shadowing the lake!
We followed Echo Lake Trail to get to Bryce Path. The soft, slushy snow made the hike more difficult because at times it felt like walking in beach sand! The Bryce Path junction sign was confusing because it had arrows going both directions when there should have just been an arrow going right. We took the right onto Bryce Path and asked a couple a few minutes later if this trail took us to Cathedral Ledge. They said yes but warned us it was very steep!
We came to the junction of Bryce Path, Bryce Link and Whitehorse Ledge trails. We reached the beginning of the loop. The White Horse Ledge trail intersects here; we would return to this spot on our way out.
From this point on, the trail became steeper and more difficult. Micro-spikes came in handy on this section of the climb as we encountered a combination of ice, slush, and snow but I continued to bareboot it. We're no strangers to steeps. Still, the combination of snow and small patches of ice slowed our ascent. I was in front of the pack barebooting and slipping a bit. Everyone started joking how I made wearing MicroSpikes mandatory in the trip description but here I was breaking my own rule! Too funny! OK, I deserved it…LOL. I finally relented when we reached the col between Cathedral and Whitehorse ledges where I put on my MicroSpikes. We were glad to be done with this section of trail, short as it is. Everyone was relieved when I told them we were not going down that way!
At the col we took some time to catch our breath. Here the trail is comfy, with softer snow and shelter from the wind. That is, until we started the last short push to Cathedral Ledge. Wow, we thought the previous steep section was tough! It took us about 15 minutes just to get up the approximately two-tenths of a mile section to the ledges.
We reached the top of Cathedral Ledge Road and felt the breeze once more. From there it was a short walk through stunted pines to reach the top of Cathedral Ledge. The fenced in open area at the top of the ledge provides some incredible views of the White Mountains and Saco River Valley below! On the other side of downtown North Conway the slopes of Cranmore Ski Area appeared and we could barely make out tiny ant-sized skiers carving down the mountain.
It's possible to drive up to Cathedral Ledge. The road is closed in winter but in the event you're doing this hike in these conditions and the words, "I'm not going down this way!" creep into your head, you can simply walk down the road to make it a nice loop hike without visiting Whitehorse Ledge.
Going back down the path was tricky too. Descending steep areas with slushy snow is never fun.
Back at the junction sign we checked the time and headed up to White Horse Ledge. The going is better here, less steep, but breezy, and we were up on the slabs in no time. In 0.2 mile from the junction we reached an open ledge with a fine vista east across the valley to Kearsarge North and the Green Hills and down to Echo Lake. It was a perfect location for lunch!
After lunch we reached the crest of the ridge and emerged on a large ledge where we had views west. We missed the right turn [flagged with tape on a branch] and started down where had a fine view of Moat Mountain. Once we realized we were not on the trail we retraced our steps back up the crest of the ridge. The guidebook trail description said follow the yellow blazes on the ledge but they were covered with snow! I then figured out that the tape on the branch was where the trail continued and in a couple minutes found the sign to confirm.
The trail down is a nice meander in the shelter of the woods. Large boulders that found themselves "unstuck" from the face of the ledge lay haphazardly around. We found a small section with beautiful ice bulges. We descended by switchbacks and weaved through large boulders at the base of the Whitehorse Ledge cliffs, with minor ups and downs.
On the return, we found an incredible old relic! We stopped to inspect the ruins of an old 1950s era automobile rusting away before moving along.
Six members of our group returned back to our house to socialize beside a warm fire in the fireplace followed by a delicious turkey dinner cooked by Jon! We were so full we didn't have room for the blueberry pie! Next time!!
Terrific weather, fun on the steeps to provide a sense of adventure, awesome views and good spirits all around. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
Mike and Jon
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What Members Are Saying About This Trip/Event
TIMber64 Jan 2, 2019 at 3:51 AM
Comment: Great winter hike with spectacular views! This hike would be a must any time of year for its local steady ascent, breathtaking cliffs, views, and forest floor covered in boulders. Thanks Mike & Jon for hosting!
baezfred Jan 1, 2019 at 7:14 PM
Comment: Another wonderful GO experience! Thanks for putting it together!