The White Mountain National Forest is big. I’m not breaking any new ground here, of course, but it is a huge swath of land – 1225 square miles. All the hiking I’d done before this outing was off one loop – along the Kanc from Conway to Lincoln; from Lincoln up through Franconia Notch; over through Crawford Notch; then back to North Conway. There are all kinds of little towns and trailheads and routes that aren’t on this loop, but I never had a chance to check them out before I planned this trip to knock off two 4000-footers, Mount Whiteface and Mount Passaconaway.
After a late Friday at work I didn’t have the time or inclination to drive to the White Mountains and bushwhack into the woods to camp, so I opted to wake up at 5 a.m. and make a pretty straight shot west to Ossipee Lake, then up to the little hamlets of Tamworth and Wonalancet. I’d never taken this route into the mountains before – usually I go into New Hampshire through Fryeburg – and the new scenery made the hour-and-a-half ride go by quickly.
I headed out from the Ferncroft parking lot at 7 a.m. without another hiker in sight. After a short walk down the road I crossed Squirrel Bridge (with a friendly “Hikers Welcome” sign) and hit the trailhead proper.
The going was pretty quick up to the lower Blueberry Ledges, with gradual elevation gain through the woods. The forecast was for a humid day, but this early the air had yet to heat up and there was a cool fog hanging in the trees. I was treated to some of my first views of the day at the junction with the Blueberry Ledge Cutoff (marked by a large cairn on some exposed ledges), then headed back into the woods.
The next mile or so reminded me a lot of my hike up Mount Liberty a month earlier – a long, steady climb, without so much as a peek out of the woods. I hiked in bursts, chugging water as I rested, making good time and hoping to get onto some higher, open ground before the heat became too oppressive.
Finally I passed the junction with the Tom Wiggin trail, where the trees thinned a bit and the trail hit more ledges. I was wary of this final stretch before the summit – the AMC guide warned that it was some of the most difficult hiking in the Whites. In truth, it wasn’t a stretch of difficult hiking, just one somewhat precarious rock face that needed to be scaled. At one time this 10-20 foot face had ladders – the holes drilled in the stone are still there – but now it’s an exercise in finding handholds and doing a little hand-over-hand climbing. The ledge made me a little nervous about hiking alone, but didn’t provide too much of a challenge.
The awards for getting over this rock face were well worth it – sunny, wide-open ledges with views across the Bowl Natural Research Area to Passaconaway and beyond. It seemed I’d beat the humidity to 4000 feet, so I stopped for a quick breakfast and dried off in the breeze.
Above the ledges it was a quick, easy climb to the wooded proper summit of Whiteface (4020′), marked with a flag.
From the summit, Rollins trail took me on a winding, up-and-down path through the wooded col between Whiteface and Passaconaway. I found myself jogging over the downhill and flatter sections – not much to see here. Occasional twists to the brought me close to the edge of the Bowl, affording wonderful views over the unforested area.
After two miles of easy hiking, I connected with Dicey’s Mill Trail, a north-south straight-shot that runs from the parking area straight up through the Bowl. I crossed a small stream and set out on the 1.5-mile loop over the summit of Passaconaway, a deceptively short trail that quickly gains more than 500 feet in elevation.
The loop joins the Walden Trail for the final ascent, which involves a lot of scrambling – some hand over hand, but no bare rock faces like on Whiteface.
The views are pretty restricted, except for a few openings in the trees, and the true summit (4043′) is completely closed in by trees. There is a great outlook to the west just below the summit, where I stopped for a rest and a liberal dose of trail mix.
The trip down Dicey’s Mill went fast, with the assistance of gravity and more jogging. The trail follows an old logging road, meaning pretty easy, consistent grades. There’s one beautiful stream crossing near the bottom, but nothing much in the way of views or challenges.
The trail crosses some private farmland where the owners have graciously allowed hikers access before joining back up with Ferncroft Road and heading back to the parking lot.
This was my longest hike to date – close to 12 miles – but it allowed me to bag two 4000-footers and check out some parts of Maine and New Hampshire I’d never been to before. With tired feet I climbed in my car and left the (now full) parking lot with plans to return already forming in my head.