There’s nothing like a backpacking trip to shed your worries and restore lost serenity. A night spent in moonlight under the stars, surrounded by trees, with the sound of a nearby stream is all it takes to calm my busy mind and soothe my soul.
The weather forecast was favorable so I grabbed the chance for one last trip before the fury of winter arrives in the White Mountains. I headed deep into the Wild River Wilderness, one of the most remote sections of the National Forest on the border between New Hampshire and Maine. Perhaps better named the “Wet River Wilderness,” the place where waterproof boots go to die, I hoped to scout out a few streams for fly fishing next spring when the snow recedes enough to get back into the backcountry.
It had rained heavily the day before, so the creeks and streams were running high. I soon encountered my first challenge, crossing the stream just above the Emerald Pool on the Baldface Circle Trail. The water was too high at the regular crossing point and it took me a while to find a spot lower down where I could avoid getting my boots wet. With temperatures dropping close to freezing at night, I was wary of having my boots freeze overnight.
Once across, I hiked up the trail to Eagle Cascade, a massive waterfall that drains the Charles Ravine on the east face of the Baldfaces. You can only see a small part from the trail unless you inch close to the edge and see how far it drops below. It was magnificent with the recent rain. After passing the cascade, I headed up to the Bicknell Ridge Trail which has great views of South and Notch Baldface from its open ledges. The ledges were wet but the traction was good.
Reaching the top of the trail, I made my way over to Eagle Crag (0.3 miles distant) and soaked up the view of Evans Notch, the Baldfaces, and the Carter Moriah Range to the west. This is one of my favorite spots in the White Mountains for its views and solitude. I was alone.
Eagle Crag is a crossroads for several trails, one of them Eagle Link, which I headed down to enter the Wild River Wilderness. My goal for the day was to hike to the Wild River Trail and head north a tributary called Red Brook where I’d stopped my previous explorations, two summers prior. From there, I’d head south towards Perkins Notch, and then up to height of land on the East Branch Trail below Black Mountain. There’s a high elevation bog there, one of many in this area, which is incredibly wet.
Being close to the Maine coast, my guess is that the maritime fronts hit the Carter Range as they comes in from the coast, dumping their rain into the Wild River Wilderness which acts like a big sponge for the precipitation. I’d be curious to know how much snow falls here in winter, although it’s hard to know, since the area becomes virtually inaccessible when the forest roads leading into it close for the season.
The Eagle Link Trail was as wet as I expected. I’d last hiked it in September 2013 with my friends Guthook and Steve on another backpacking trip. I had virtually no memory of it however, so it was like hiking it for the first time. I suppose I’d been chatting the last time and not taking the time to fully experience it. I don’t mind solo backpacking for this very reason; it gives me a chance to see more and remember it.
The trail doesn’t climb or drop much elevation to start, but contours around the back of North Baldface Mountain. It passes through an interesting habitat, moose heaven it looks like, with numerous flowing streams, and open birch glades filled with soft grass and hobble bush. I didn’t see any moose, but I felt their eyes watching me….just kidding. I’m sure they were around though, just lurking.
I arrived at the Wild River Trail junction and headed north a short distance to the Red Brook stream crossing. There’s a nice series of falls here and a big pool, good fishing, before the tributary joins the Wild River. The best place to cross Red Brook is not the official trail, but slightly west, where a small island splits the stream. I filed away that fact and headed back south toward Perkins Notch.
This section of the Wild River Trail is incredibly wet, in part due to beaver activity which has flooded or diverted sections of the trail. I did remember this section of the trail from my last trip through the area. It was almost comic how wet it was with the recent rains. My waterproof boots died.
I found the East Branch Trail junction and hiked up the height of land to my intended destination, but daylight was waning and I wanted to find a good campsite for the night. I intended to hike partway back to where I’d started and camp out. I’d marked a few waypoints on my way in with good campsites – flat, reasonably dry, near water, and arrived at a good one by 4:00 pm, just 15 minutes before sunset. It was going to be a long autumn night.
I pitched my tent and set up camp, filtered water, and started my stove. I was feeling pleasantly tired from hiking all day. The sun went down fast and it got very dark. I finished dinner and cleaned up, before crawling into my tent and getting comfortable under my quilt. I had a few hours before I’d be ready to go to bed, so I read and watched a few videos on my phone, then crashed.
I awoke at 2:15 am. My tent was filled with light and I wondered where it was coming from. I looked outside and the forest around me was filed with moonlight so bright, that I didn’t need a headlamp to see. The stars were bright in a clear night sky and I stared in wonder at the silvered birches surrounding my camp like silent sentinels. It’s moments like these that make backpacking so special. I doubt I’ll even forget that scene.
When I woke the next morning, I lay in bed for a while which is my habit on backpacking trips, not thinking about much, but not dozing either. It was a chilly morning and but thankfully my boots, water filter, and water bottles hadn’t frozen overnight. I ate hot cereal for breakfast and drank a huge pot of tea, before packing up and hiking out.
I felt cleansed, emerging from the sodden forest into the bright sunshine of a new day. It’d been a short trip, but perfect for my needs. I’d explored new territory and been awed by nature. This was probably my last solo backpack of the year, something to celebrate and give thanks for.