My friend Chris and I drove up to the Whites this morning looking for a therapeutic hill to climb. I picked her up at North Station in Boston, just a few miles from my house, and we arrived at Franconia Notch by 8:45 AM. We had been planning to hike a section of the AT I need called the Fishin Jimmy Trail near the Lonesome Lake Hut on Mt Kinsman, but the mountain was shrouded by clouds. With the forecast calling for rain, we opted for a lower elevation hike on the Appalachian Trail that runs though Zealand Notch on the Ethan Pond Trail. This trail was surprisingly easy and flat, but very scenic nonetheless, and we made excellent time, hiking 14.2 miles in under 7 hours including lunch, waterfall, and snack breaks.
We started from the Zealand Trail Head up on Zealand Road, which is closed in the winter, and had to walk a few miles to get to the trail junction just below Zealand Falls where we could pick up the Appalachian Trail. On our way, we passed several large beaver ponds. The bugs were out, but then again so were the flowers and little goslings, which were happily swimming around in the ponds under the watchful eyes of their mothers.
After the trail junction (heading south), the trail runs through Zealand Notch paralleling the cliffs on Whitewall Mountain (3,405 ft) to the east. Chris is an ice climber and loves finding places like this; you can almost hear the gears in her head planning a winter expedition.
As usual, I was testing some gear out in preparation for my next major section hike, a 4 day trip through Mahoosic Notch, which is coming up in a few days. Last week, I finally broke down and ordered a new Mariposa Plus from Gossamer Gear, so that I could send the old one back for repairs to the external mesh pockets. In addition, Gossamer Gear is retrofitting older Mariposas with a new single piece aluminum stay that replaces the carbon fiber stays that came in their older packs. The new stay, which I got to test for the first time today, dramatically reduces the gap between the back of the pack and your shoulders resulting in a much better carry. I was really impressed and look forward to doing a high mileage walk with the new Mariposa this weekend.
In addition, I decided to test the lightweight pair of Keen Targhee Mids that I got last month on a longer hike. I waterproofed the seams on these boots a few days ago, using Sno-seal, and I wanted to see if that would make them more waterproof under wet conditions. There's been a lot of rain in New England over the past week, and as we hiked further we encountered a lot of mud and water on the trail. Perfect test conditions! The mud was so bad in spots that it reminded me of The Long Trail.
Continuing for another mile, we came to the short side trail to Thoreau Falls, a magnificent waterfall, which had benefited from the recent rainfall in the area. The waterfall consists mostly of cascades and slides dropping 80-feet and was roaring today.
After a short break, we hiked back to the AT and continued hiking to Ethan Pond. From here on, the trail got a lot rougher, muddier, and wetter. The drizzle had stopped by this point but the air was still quite humid. After another hour of hiking, and a lot of splashing, we arrived at Ethan Pond and hiked down the-blue-blazed trail to the shelter.
While the pond is quite nice, the shelter is not. It's seen better days and there are lots of signs about bear activity in the area. If you're looking for a shelter within a few miles of the road, I'd give this one a pass.
After a quick break, we turned around and hiked back to the car, the way we came. We were flying even though neither of us are very fast hikers. As we neared the trail head, the weather finally started to clear and we could feel the wind picking up. We had walked quite a distance to bag another 5.1 miles of the Appalachian Trail, but it felt good to get out today, despite the dire storm warnings. Just a few more days, and I'll be back at it again, a bit farther north.
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