I headed back to the Three Ponds area in the Southwestern corner of the White Mountains last Saturday to climb Carr Mountain. There’s something about this area that really resonates with me. It’s wilder and less visited than other parts of the White Mountains, but still accessible with a mix of moderate peaks, open forest, and an abundance of streams and ponds.
I started my hike at the Three Ponds Trailhead outside of Rumney, an eclectic town near Plymouth, New Hampshire, which was one of the birthplaces of modern (aid-free) rock climbing. Once through Rumney, I drove past Stinson Lake and onto a dirt road to the trailhead parking lot. A lot of the unpaved roads in these areas are “seasonal” so you need to be prepared for slippery conditions or closed roads if it snows.
It was cold and overcast when I arrived at the trailhead and there were already snow flurries in the air. I bundled up and headed over to the Kiosk to see what it had to say.
There isn’t a lot of information about the Three Ponds Area online, although I knew from my last trip here in October (see Skurka’s White Mountain Trip) that the area is crisscrossed by logging roads and popular with snowmobilers in winter. By reading the Kiosk, I also learned that trout fishing is popular on the Three Ponds and along Sucker Brook, one of the main watercourses through the area. I filed that fact away for next spring and summer. I really need to get some use out of the Tenkara rod I bought last year. I don’t enjoy hiking in the Whites in July and August (too hot, too many bugs, too many people), so perhaps the area would be good for a long fishing trip.
It was chilly, so I got started on my hike. The first 0.5 miles are on the Three Ponds Trail which is followed by 2.9 miles to the summit of Carr and site of the since-removed fire tower. At the onset, I hiked up a steep and quite wide logging road. The area has been carefully maintained, probably by snowmobilers, and there’s plenty of evidence of blowdown clearing and chainsaw use along the trailside.
After 0.5 miles, I came to the Carr Mountain Trail sign and got on a much narrower forested track which leads to Sucker Brook, and what must be a formidable water crossing in high water conditions. I managed to pick my way across, but many of the rocks were covered in ice. There are some nice looking waterholes just downstream of this point which might make good swimming in summer.
After the stream crossing, the Carr Mountain Trail climbs steeply, and I shed a layer. I had brought along 2 liters of water because I didn’t know how much water would be available on this hike, but there were ample seasonal and permanent streams crossing the trail and throughout the day. There’s no need to carry a lot of water in the area.
The trail got wetter and muddier the higher I climbed, but it was all frozen so I was spared that experience. Still, thick flowing ice had formed on the trail and over the bog bridges, which forced me to don microspikes for the second half of the ascent. The surrounding woods and ledges are covered in a heavy carpet of moss, suggesting that the area receives significant rainfall and mist year-round.
The ascent levels off near the top of Carr and eventually comes to an open summit. I stopped just before breaking cover to put on my hard shell, drink some water, and have a snack, before venturing into the open. The skies were still overcast and clouds covered most of the adjacent peaks. While Carr used to be on the 52 with a View Peak list, it was removed because the trees on the summit have grown and blocked visibility. I tried climbing up on the fire tower pilings and surrounding rocky outcrops but really couldn’t see much of anything.
What did strike my eye were snow hare print, traversing the open summit. I couldn’t tell how old they were although they must have been pretty recent. Why do rabbits (technically, hares) climb mountains? You have to wonder if they like the views too.
Once at the summit, it is possible to hike down the other side of the Carr Mountain Trail to Highway 25. didn’t feel like going all the way, but figured it would be nice to hike down a mile or so and check it out. I’d read that this section of the trail is very poorly maintained, which turns out to be utterly false or out-of-date, at least for the section I hiked.
This section of the trail descends steeply, at first through a now-frozen blast zone, and then paralleling a partially frozen stream with lovely frozen cascades.
I followed the trail for about 40 minutes until the stream pulled away from the trail. I assume it continues down to Waternomee Falls and the spur trail to it further downslope. I turned and hiked back up the way I’d come, passing by the summit clearing and headed back down to the Sucker Brook Crossing and the Three Ponds Trail junction.
By then it was 1:30 pm, but still only 5 hours into my hike. Rather than drive home, I decided it would be fun to go and check out the Three Ponds Shelter, two more miles up the Three Ponds Trail. We’d walked by this on Andrew’s trip in October without stopping for a visit and I wanted to see what condition the shelter was in for future reference. I also wanted to see if I could get some more views of Carr Mountain from below and did a little bushwhacking along the adjacent beaver ponds to get a better view.
I followed the trail back over Sucker Brook, this time over a snowmobile bridge to a trail junction not marked on my map. There’s clearly a logging road/snowmobile trail called Annies Loop that runs from this point to Stinson Lake and is probably worth exploring someday. There are maps you can find with these snowmobile trails on them, but they’re rarely marked on the maps published by the AMC or Forest Service, which is a little frustrating.
I continued walking towards the Three Ponds shelter and came across a huge beaver dam that I admired for a while. I think beavers are the coolest animals. There’s a hiker spur trail that forks off the snowmobile road at this damn and follows Sucker Brook for about 1/4 miles past several picturesque cascades. There aren’t many good camping sites on it, but there may be on the other side of the stream.
After two easy stream crossings, I arrived at the Three Ponds Shelter and checked it out. The Kiosk had said that it was a five-man shelter, but it was considerably larger than that. It’s situated on higher ground, up from the bank of a large pond so there’s good water nearby, but it’s pretty run down with plastic bags weighted down by rocks to cover holes in the roof. I’ve slept in worse. My guess is that you could probably get 10 people in here if you had to. Definitely worth checking out though. There aren’t many shelters left in the White Mountains anymore.
I turned around at the point and hiked out the 2.5 miles back to my car. The sun had still failed to make an appearance and it was starting to snow. I thought about how I’d enjoyed my solitary walk: I hadn’t seen anyone all day, which is pretty rare for the White Mountains. The Three Ponds area definitely requires some more exploration in the future.
Totals – time 8:00, distance: 12.8 miles, elevation gain: 3000 feet
Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:
- Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide, 30th ed.
- AMC White Mountain National Forest Map Set
- White Mountains Map: New Hampshire and Maine