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Backpacking Goose Eye Mountain and the Wright Trail

Goose Eye Mtn and East Goose Eye on the Maine Appalachian Trail
Goose Eye Mountain and East Goose Eye on the Maine Appalachian Trail

Goose Eye Mountain is located about five miles south of famed Mahoosuc Notch, the hardest mile on the Appalachian Trail. The only way to get there is to hike along the Appalachian Trail or one of the blue-blazed side trails that provide access to it. Either way, the hiking here is tough, with plenty of above treeline exposure, continuous ups and downs over rocky knolls, perpetually wet, and scrambly. I guess I forgot how challenging it was.

The last time I’d hiked this section of the AT was in 2009 when I was section hiking the New Hampshire and Maine Appalachian Trail. Only this time, I wasn’t hiking north along the AT, but perpendicular to it, along the east-to-west blue-blazed trails that provide access to it from the gravel-topped lumber and backcountry roads that parallel the AT as it heads north. While it was fun to revisit and hook up with thru-hikers sprinting north to Katahdin, I was drawn to explore new ground and new trails that I’d never hiked before.

Chief among these were the Goose Eye Trail, the Carlo Col Trail, and the little known Wright Trail which make an excellent one night loop hike that traverses long stretches of open ledge above treeline.  I also paid a visit to The Outlook on the Success Trail, a remote cliff with excellent southern views just south of the New Hampshire/Maine State line. It was truly magnificent backpacking in a region full of superlatives.

Goose Eye Mtn - Wright Trail Loop with side trip to the Outlook on the Success Trail
Goose Eye Mtn – Wright Trail Loop with side trip to the Outlook on the Success Trail (click for printable/downloadable PDF map)

Success Pond Road

But first, I had to get there, driving along a private lumber road named Success Pond Road used by the lumber trucks that transport freshly cut logs from the north country to the mill in Berlin, NH. Success Pond Road can get really chewed up by the heavy trucks and equipment that travel up and down it. While it is open to public traffic, it’s mainly used by people with beefy 4×4 pickups and ATVs, not low clearance passengers cars like my little Mazda. Having driven on this road the previous summer, I was worried that I’d trash my car and have to walk a long way out to get help. Forget cell phone access. This is New England backcountry.

Success Pond Road was in surprisingly good condition, although there were still a few white knuckle sections for my little car.
Success Pond Road was in surprisingly good condition, although there were still a few white knuckle sections for my little car.

The call of wild prevailed, but I was still nervous when I pulled off the pavement on the outskirts of Berlin. I’d heard rumors that the road had been regraded since my last visit, and while there were a few white knuckle moments during the first few miles, the road bed improved the farther I drove. I was relieved but still a bit paranoid about breaking down so far from help. My car’s been acting up this summer.

The Carlo Col Trail

I found the trailhead I was looking for using my odometer to find the correct side road (most are unmarked or in lumber company code.) It which was clearly signed with an AMC trail sign marker, which kind of surprised me. It looked new. I parked my car, got organized, and started up the Carlo Col Trail, the blue-blazed trail that would take me to the Appalachian Trail.

The Carlo Col Trails provides a surprisingly easy route to the Appalachian Trail at height of land.
The Carlo Col Trails provides a surprisingly easy route to the Appalachian Trail at height of land.

I walked a short distance up an old gravel lumber road, passing the junction where the Goose Eye Trail loops back to the beginning of the Carlo Col Trail. I’d be coming out this way on my way back. The trail plunged abruptly into the trees and I was in a different world, surrounded by lush understory and wet earth.

As I neared the Appalachian Trail, the Carlo Col trail became awash in water. It figures, I mused. New Hampshire is suffering from a severe drought, but it rains every day in the Mahoosucs! I’d forgotten what a wet, damp section of trail this was.

When I reached the AT, I headed south to get to the Success Trail for my little detour to The Outlook. I was going back for the views as much as to hike the top 0.7 miles of that trail. I’d had to skip the top portion last summer because a hiker on the trip I was leading had run out of gas before we reached the top.

The New Hampshire/Maine State Line on the Appalachian Trail
The New Hampshire/Maine State Line on the Appalachian Trail.

I crossed over from the New Hampshire/Maine state line and encountered a steady stream of NOBOs and SOBOS on the AT. It’d rained heavily the night before and they were slow to get back on the trail the following morning. They were all excited to have finally reached Maine and greeted me by saying, “Welcome to Maine!.”

The Success Trail

I turned north on to the Success Trail, which was also awash in water, and hiked down to the Outlook, where I hung out for a while on the cliffs and admired the view of Mt Success and North Bald Mountain. I thought about the last time I’d climbed Mt Success and had been trapped near the summit during a thunderstorm. That was 6 years ago, but the fear of that moment was still clear and present.

North Bald Cap Mtn seen from The Outlook on the Success Trail.
North Bald Cap Mtn seen from The Outlook on the Success Trail.

Time was a wasting, so I retraced my steps up the Success Trail, back north along the AT, and back to the Carlo Trail junction before my little side trip. From here, I hiked 1.8 miles along the AT to the ridge that links Goose Eye Mtn to East Goose Eye Mtn and provides access to the Goose Eye Trail and the Wright Trail. It sounds a bit complex, but it really wasn’t. The signage is very clear, even though my AMC North Country Trail Map was a little out of date. The USGS maps on Caltopo.com don’t show the Wright Trail, so I turned on my Gaia GPS App in order to map it for future reference.

The climb up to the junction was a scramble, running down into a col before ascending the Goose Eye Ridge, complete with metal rungs attached to the sketchy parts of a chimney. My memory was still drawing a blank for this section of the AT even though I have trail journal entires and old photos that show I’d covered this ground.

East Goose Eye Mtn in the Mahoosuc Range.
East Goose Eye Mtn in the Mahoosuc Range.

When I made it to the Goose Eye Ridge, I dropped my pack and hiked the 0.1 miles to the summit of the main peak even though I planned to summit it again the following day. It was sunny and clear with great views, but a swarm of bugs drove me off quickly. Back on the AT, I headed south toward East Goose Eye, forking off down the Wright Trail just before reaching that peak. This was new ground with new memories to be made.

The Wright Trail

I couldn’t find anyone who had any good beta about the Wright Trail before my trip, so I really didn’t know what to expect as I headed down the steep trail to the valley below. But now that I am the wiser, I recommend the Wright Trail to everyone I meet!

The Wright Trail is a blue blazed side trail off the Maine A.
The Wright Trail is a blue blazed side trail off the Maine AT.

The top of the trail runs over a sequence of treeless bald knobs following the Goose Eye Ridgeline to the valley below. It was quite windy and a bit unnerving to descend, but the trail is well-marked by stone cairns and blue blaze painted on stunted trees. I knew I’d have a heck of a climb ahead of me the next morning, since I intended to hike back up this ridge to the Goose Eye Trail and follow that back to my car.

Down, down, the trail plunged over numerous rocks and roots, until I arrived at a designated tent site, situated next to a set of beautiful cascades. The day was waning, so I decided to make camp here, even though it was less than ideal for hammock camping. It took me a while to find two suitable trees, but I was ready for a rest and a sleep in the cool night air. I went about my camp chores and read a few pages of the new Colin Fletcher Biography on my phone before falling into a deep slumber.

The Wright Trail runs over a set of bald treeless knobs as it drops to the valley below.
The Wright Trail runs over a set of bald treeless knobs as it drops to the valley below.

The next morning, I decided to continue down the Wright Trail to its beginning before retracing my steps up to Goose Eye and hiking down its north face. I packed up and followed the trail to the trailhead, a distance of 2.5 miles. The hiking got a lot easier and a lot faster as I dropped elevation, hiking along a beautiful stream, just the right size for Tenkara Fly Fishing.

I was impressed by the amount of water in this stream, given the severity of the drought in neighboring New Hampshire. While it was running at least a foot low, there were still plenty of deep pools to hold trout, and drop pools that went on for miles. I didn’t have a rod with me, but I will definitely come back this way for some backcountry fishing the next time I’m up near Bethel, Maine. Chalk this locale up for another expedition.

One of many great swimming holes along the Wright Trail.
One of many great swimming holes along the Wright Trail.

I hiked down to the trailhead and about-faced, hiking back up to the tent site. I’d completed the five-mile out and back in two hours, but it was time to get down the business and climb back up Goose Eye for my exit. I’d been dreading this climb, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d imagined and soon I was standing on top of the summit once more.

The Goose Eye Trail

The Goose Eye Trail runs up and over the mountain’s summit, dropping down precipitously on its north side. I had to laugh at the steepness because it was borderline absurd. You don’t want to climb the peak from the north side and you certainly don’t want to hike this section of the trail when the rock is wet.

The trail flattens out eventually at about 2500′ when you reach Sucker Brook, but it’s hell on wheels vertical until that point. Below the brook, it was an easy hike through forest back to my car at the foot of the Carlo Col Trail.

View of the Goose Eye Ridge - Climbing back up the Wright Trail.
View of the Goose Eye Ridge – Climbing back up the Wright Trail.

Total Distance: About 20 miles with 7000 feet of elevation gain.

Alternate Routes

I backpacked these crazy in-and-out trail segments because I’m hell-bent on hiking all 608 trails in the White Mountain Guide. But there’s no need for you to hike the same crazy route I took to enjoy these trails and their great views. I’d you’re interested in day hiking them, I’d suggest two alternative routes.

The first is to hike a Carlo Col Tr – Goose Eye Tr loop starting from their common trailhead. The second requires a very long car spot but gives you the opportunity to climb the Wright Trail and descend by Goose Eye Trail (or vice versa.) Leave one car at the end of the Carlo Col/Goose Eye Trail trail head and then drive around to the Wright Trail Trailhead near the Sunday River Ski Resort in Bethel, Maine. The White Mountain Guide provides directions to get to all of these trailheads.

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3 comments

  1. Love your description of the Goose Eye Trail.

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