Hiking In New Hampshire: Put On A Bold Face For Baldfaces

The rain came. This wasn’t such a bad thing and it wasn’t much of a surprise either. The weather prognosticators had forecast a chance of scattered showers in the mountains and while hiking the winding leaf-shrouded trail, the forest was something of a barrier before the wetness reached the raingear.

Up ahead though, there would be no buffer zone. Even if the rain stopped, it would be a challenge. The guidebook had said so. There it was in black and white: the trail “…climbs very steeply in the open on rocks that are dangerous if wet or icy.”

Who listens to this stuff anyway? Who pays any attention to words like: “This is a strenuous trip that should not be underestimated.” This was the Baldface Circle Trail, one of the classic hikes in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. It reaches the beauty and frailty of the alpine zone without touching 4,000 feet. With some four miles of open and covered ledges the trail is the gateway and link to South and North Baldface peaks where mountains such as Washington, Chocorua and Carrigain can be spotted to the west.

A Wonderful Sense
The rugged Mahoosucs lay north while the long ridge of Pleasant Mountain is off to the east. There is the sense of faraway in the roadless expanses. Let that feeling stay. Evans Notch, in the White Mountain National Forest on the New Hampshire-Maine border, is thought of as remote and wild. To get there, one has to travel 17.5 miles north of Fryeburg, Maine, on Route 113 to North Chatham, N.H.

The alpine zone is reached up South Baldface after a one-half mile of daunting rock ledges. Marty Basch photo.

Then there are these ledges, the one-half mile of hell. Maybe it’s more like purgatory to those who are like a mountain goat, or at least it’s a way to get that heart rate going. Mere mortals could have a different opinion though.

The Baldface Circle Trail starts out benignly enough on the 9.8-mile, seven-hour circuit to a horseshoe shaped ravine with wondrous, but tricky ledges and top of the world vistas. The well-signed pathway is easily followed from the roadway for .7 mile to Circle Junction where a spur to the soothing waters of Emerald Pool is offered.

Soon after a brook jump or two, and another spur going to Chandler Gorge, the trail ascends to a ridge and narrows considerably with dense growth giving it a singletrack-like effect, though rocky. The rains came, scattered and almost brief. By the time the Baldface Shelter was reached at 2.5 miles, the raingear was put away.

Now came those granite ledges. Steep, slippery and coated with flowing run-off, these were not steps to the sky. This was an obstacle course over angulated rock where fissures became lifelines and every small slab conquered became cause for celebration before putting on a bold face to scale the next.

Incredibly, loving prose from my companion Jan along the trail disappeared, replaced by choice phrases commonly used for dogs that may have gone to the bathroom, say, on the living room rug. Funny, those words came as I made like a wet, unkempt dog on all fours on those ledges. If I had a tail, it would have been firmly lodged between my legs. I had been a bad boy for choosing this trail. Still, we both patted each others head when we needed encouragement to the next ledge.

Keeping The Boss Happy
Any bad boy wants to make good with the boss. After the shaky jaunt up the ledges, the pay-off was the open expanse of the knob just below the South Baldface summit where a ledge bench — how appropriate — was a good resting spot until Jan asked if we were at the top.

I pointed to the next peak, mumbled something about another one-half mile and opened the door to crawl back into the doghouse. Luckily, from then on in, there wasn’t any terrain to rival the slippery slopes (well, just a bit of a short drop on the way down and a couple of brook crossings) and the highest peaks in the Baldface Range were climbed. They included South Baldface at 3,569 feet and North Baldface at 3,591 feet. It’s not a straight shot between the two peaks, but a rolling trail with little cover from the ever-encroaching elements.

The panorama is truly incredible before returning to the cover of the woods where a grouse could be heard rustling its feathers and two owls hooted back to each other. And a bad boy was able to wag his tail again after the boss thanked him for such a memorable day in the mountains.

Marty Basch can be reached at rodeman@aol.com.

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