Killkenny Ridge Trail Traverse, July 6 & 7, 2004

(Photo of Horn)
The Horn seen over Unknown Pond
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Introduction: The Killkenny Ridge Trail
Tuesday: South Pond to Bunnell Notch
Wednesday: Bunnell Notch to the Starr King Trailhead


The Killkenny Ridge Trail

We got back late Wednesday night after the 4th of July weekend from two very rewarding days of hiking and Climbing in New Hampshire. Funky Freddie and I set out from South Pond at 7:30 AM Tuesday and finished at the Starr King trailhead on Route 2 around 4:30 Wednesday afternoon. These are located in what is known as New Hampshire's "North Country". Basically it's that part of the White Mountains lying north of Route 2. I bagged 6 more of the New England Hundred Highest peaks including two four-thousand footers, and Fred bagged 4 (having already finished the New Hampshire 4000s),
(Photo of Pilot Ridge)
The Pilot Ridge from The Horn
and on not one of the 6 was it raining!

On Tuesday the weather was good (considering it poured the night before) and on Wednesday it was great. This was a bit of a warm-up for an AT section we're doing in Maine later this summer. It was the first full pack multi-day trek for either of us this season - and with plenty of elevation gain (over 7000') to boot.

Great thanks go to Peakbagger who offered to meet us at 6:30 AM in Jefferson where we spotted our car, and drove us all the way around to South Pond before he went off to work. Thanks Peakbagger. And special thanks (from me) to Fred who thought he was finished when we got back to the car, but instead drove a majority of the way on our long trip back to NYC. Thanks Fred.

We planned to camp at the Cabot Cabin Tuesday night, but fate (in the form of a group of 12 from a summer camp ensconced there) moved us to a site down in Bunnell Notch. In a way they did us a favor since we were closer to the actual halfway point and got a head start for Wednesday's trek.


Day 1: Tuesday July 6th
South Pond to Bunnell Notch

The Horn, The Bulge, Mount Cabot

I had been thinking about doing Mount Cabot or Waumbek while I was up visiting my son's family (and my new grand daughter) in the Boston area. I figured if I took off early and returned late from New Hampshire for one day on Thursday or Friday before the 4th of July, they wouldn't miss me. Then Funky Freddie suggested we do the whole Killkenny Ridge Trail That was a temptation too great to resist. Not only would I get to climb Cabot AND Waumbek, but the 4 NE100s along the route as well. Since my family would surely miss me for a trip that long (minimum 3 days and 2 nights including the night before the hike in Gorham), I suggested to Fred we do it AFTER the 4th, when I was planning to leave the Boston area anyway. So we agreed to meet at the Hikers Paradise at 9:00 PM on Monday July 5th. I would take the bus from Boston, and Fred would drive down from Maine where he was spending the long weekend doing some sea kayaking.

The bus ride from Boston was smooth and easy. No post-holiday traffic. The driver had to repeatedly wait at each little town so he wouldn't get too far ahead of his schedule. I got to Gorham before Fred, and Bruno put us in the "executive suite" as he calls it. This is the small set of rooms on the north side of the hostel on the second floor away from the big bunk room in the back. There were two others hikers there. For those who think they are not getting their $15 worth of amenities at HP, ask if you can stay in this area. It's got a nice big kitchen/living room, and two rooms with two bunk beds each (total capacity = 8). I think it's much nicer then the regular bunk room and well worth the price. As Bruno would say "This is a hostel, not the Waldorf!".

We set the alarm for 5:00 AM and after one false start we were eating breakfast at the Dunkin Donuts around 5:30 AM. Then it was off to Jefferson west on Route 2 where we had agreed to meet Peakbagger at the Starr King Trailhead. Both our car and his arrived exactly at 6:30 AM and after quickly moving our packs to his car we were off to South Pond. Peakbagger is a wealth of information about the area and we had a delightful trip back on Route 2, up through Berlin, and over to South Pond. It took us 45 - 50 minutes so if you plan on spotting a car and doing this shuttle,
(Photo of Trail)
The trail up from South Pond
allow plenty of time. The road is definitely the long way around. We got to the gate, which was closed, about 7:20 AM, piled out of the car and were off while Peakbagger was off to work. Thanks for the ride Peakbagger!

We walked the mile or so along the park road to the pond picnic area (where they had thoughtfully placed an out-house), spoke briefly to the caretaker and a little after 7:50 AM we were off on the trail. It had rained on Monday, quite hard at times, and it had drizzled off and on during the night. But although the vegetation was rather wet, the cloudy sky showed signs of breaking up and we hoped the forecast of partly sunny skies by afternoon would come true. We decided to skip the side trail to the Devil's Hopyard since the day was still rather foggy and we had a lot of miles to do with our overnight packs.

At around 9:20 AM, about two hours (and 4.3 miles) after being dropped off at the gate, we passed a set of blue blazes going off diagonally through the forest. Judging from the description in the WMG, we guessed this was the Stark / Killkenny town boundary line. We then trudged on up the occasionally muddy ascent towards Rogers Ledge. At one point I missed a bog log and "post holed" with my right foot up to mid calf in mud. Boy, was I glad I had my gaiters on. I saved myself from a boot full of mud. The affect was mostly aesthetic since the mud eventually was scraped away by wet underbrush, so in the end I just had a rather wet boot. But I'm glad to say the Nikwax I
(Photo of Rogers Ledge)
Rogers Ledge from below
had applied the night before at Hikers Paradise did it's job and my feet stayed dry the whole day.

We got to Rogers Ledge just before 10 AM and were rewarded amply for our work. The views were great. Our only complaint was that the tops of the Presidentials and of Cabot were still socked in by clouds. But the views of the broad valley west of Berlin and of Berlin itself were good. The Mahoosucs across the border in Maine were also visible but a bit foggy. You might say it was a good but not a great day for a view.

We dropped down off the ridge and the trail turned sharply right where we had the opportunity to see Rogers Ledge from below. We stood below a 40' - 50' rock ledge with a smattering of brush and trees. A beautiful New Hampshire back woods picture. We crossed over a puncheon at a beaver dam and had good vies of the lovely Kilback Pond, and then started the long tiring climb to Unknown Pond. It seemed counter intuitive that we had to climb UP so far to get to a pond, but that's how it was. For some reason I found this to be the toughest and most exhausting climb of the entire trail, although not the steepest. When we finally reached the top of the ridge, I jokingly said to Fred "Why don't we bushwhack over and bag that peak off to our left". In this state of tiredness we were in no shape to enter that impenetrable looking thicket, and Fred just laughed at the suggestion.

Shortly, we came to the shores of Unknown Pond, a little known and seldom visited gem. There were some nice campsites and even an out-house. We were lounging by the shore taking some pictures when a couple with a big German Shepard arrived from somewhere. We heard and saw them from a distance but apparently they didn't notice us. Then after a break it was off to the Horn, which stood prominently behind the pond. This climb was rather steep, with lots of
(Photo of Unknown Pond)
Unknown Pond
rocks and roots. Although steeper than the previous climb, I found it easier going. Maybe with the steeper terrain, my legs switched from climb mode to step mode. Whatever!

We took the side trail to the Horn which lies about .3 miles off the main trail, and were treated to the best views of the day. Whatever you do, don't skip the Horn! The Pilot Range was jutting off to the west from Cabot. The Bulge and Cabot stood right in front and the Weeks and Waumbek stood off to the left - with Terrace Mountain in the foreground. On the Horizon stood the Presidentials with the Wildcats and Carters marching off toward the east. Seldom do you get views of these peaks from the north, so I highly recommend checking this out. Thankfully, the weather held and except for the clouds hanging on the tops of the major peaks, the views were unimpeded. We lounged around for a while on one of the rocky outcrops but our solitude was not complete. One couple was leaving as we arrived and another arrived as we were leaving. These two couples on the Horn were the only folks we actually bumped into all day (the distant couple and dog at Unknown Pond didn't count) - except for the surprise awaiting us at Cabot. Read on.

We continued along the ridge and crossed the uninspiring Bulge and eventually reached Mount Cabot about 3:20 in the
(Photo of Papa Bear on The Horn)
Papa Bear on The Horn
afternoon. We took a break and had some food and took the obligatory pictures. The bugs were never bad, but at each summit where we took a break they became annoying. There were mosquitoes in the lower sections and flies or gnats on the summits. Thankfully except for a few mosquito bites, I was unscathed. We got moving again and moved down towards the Cabot Cabin, about a half mile below the summit on a sub peak near the site of a former fire tower. We passed the open area where the tower had been and the views were good but we did not tarry since we figured we would return there after getting settled in the cabin, our intended destination for the night. When we got to the cabin around 3:40 PM, we got a big surprise: 12 campers including 2 leaders from some camp were sprawled all over the area. Considering there were only 8 bunks and no good tenting areas nearby, we had a problem. One of the leaders said the camp brings a group here every Tuesday night during the summer, so be forewarned. After a short consultation, we decided to climb down to Bunnell Notch where Fred had camped on a previous trip and quickly said goodbye to the boys. With a parting shot by Fred: "By the way, did you know this cabin is haunted", we were off.

The slope down was steep, but we made it to the intersection with the Cabot Trail (marked "closed") and next the Bunnell Notch Trail, fairly easily. There was a soft relatively level area off the trail on the right just before
(Photo of Campsite in Bunnell Notch)
Campsite in Bunnell Notch
the Killkenny Trail leaves the Bunnell Notch trail and we set up camp. Being very short of water, I scouted the area for signs of a stream marked on the map, to no avail. But Fred remembered a stream about a half mile down the Bunnell Notch Trail, so we got our filters and bladders and Nalgenes and head lamps and set off down the trail in search of water. It was about 5:30 PM.

We followed the trail and listened carefully for the sound of water in the notch down to the right of the trail. Finally we heard some gurgling and so we carefully whacked down the steep slope about 100' and found a nice flowing stream with some pools perfect for pumping water. We did our task, climbed back up to the trail and back to our tent site where we cooked supper and organized our stuff and got ready for the night. It had been a long hard day with full packs. In retrospect, the camp group who drove us from at the Cabot Cabin was a blessing in disguise. We were now a good mile and a half ahead of where we would have been and well positioned for a good day of hiking tomorrow. Yes life was good.

Day's mileage (including South Pond extra walk plus side trails): 14 miles, elevation gain: 4880'


Day 2: Wednesday July 7th
Bunnell Notch to the Starr King Trailhead

My watch went off at 5:00 AM. After figuring out where I was and what I was doing there I put off getting up till about 5:15, and then sluggishly packed up my sleeping bag and put on my day clothes and crawled out of the tent. Fred was stirring as well. I got the tent down and packed my stuff up and got my Pocket Rocket going and by 6 AM I was eating my oatmeal. Fred soon joined me and added a handful of his great GORP to his oatmeal and we were happy campers. But once again we were short of water. Both the WMG and Audrey's recent trip report of this area mentioned a small brook in Willard Notch, about a mile and a half and one mountain away. So we put our faith in that information and got ourselves going by about 6:40 AM. Why does it always take so long to get moving in the morning. An hour and 40 minutes! You'd thing 30 minutes would do it.
(Photo of Fog in valleys)
Fog in the valleys below
seen from Terrace Mountain

Our first goal was the climb up terrace Mountain. Everything about this small ridge was lovely. The trail (although steep) and mountain was beautiful: the ferns, the forest and when we reached the summit the views. The northern peak (which has the sign "No. Terrace Mt. 3630") has a little view off to one side, but a few bumps later there are nice views from a rocky outcrop about halfway along the ridge. We could see fog in the valleys below and blue sky above. It would be a glorious day. Finally we reached the short spur trail to the South (true) summit and lo and behold, a long gone moose had left his right antler as a token ! Or was it his left? It was 8:15 AM. Here the views were magnificent. The Presidentials and the (fog filled) Berlin valley to the south and east. The Weeks and Waumbek ahead of us and Cabot if you crooked you neck and looked way back to the right - or maybe that was from North Terrace. This, together with the Horn we had visited yesterday were special places worthy of future visits.

But we had water to pump and miles to go before we slept so it was down the long circuitous descent into Willard Notch. And was I seeing right? Switchbacks on the trail? In the White Mountains? Switchbacks? Yes it's true, there
(Photo of Willard Notch)
Willard Notch
were indeed switchbacks, and there would be more when we climbed Weeks.

We got to the bottom and found the little brook near some nice campsites at the bottom of the notch. It was barely flowing and the pools (more like puddles) were clear and just deep enough to pump with our filters so we filled our containers and rested easier. This was the last water we passed all the way to the Starr King descent to Route 2. Be forewarned that the southern section of the trail is pretty dry. Bring plenty of water.

Next up were the 3 Weeks: North, Middle and South. The climb to North Weeks was steep but with a well designed trail (with switchbacks! - did I mention that?), it was not too bad. The Weeks all have wooded summits, but we hit them all. Middle Weeks was not even marked. You just had to notice the height of land. The North-Middle col was about 600' of drop and the Middle-South was no more than half that. The trail was easy and quite beautiful but there were a number of rather nasty blow-downs, some rather recent, judging by the fresh oliage. (Not bushwhack nasty, but cross-the-trail nasty). Here's a good one: Blowdown.

The WMG said there was a canister on the "blowdown infested" summit of South Weeks, but it looked like the blowdowns had been cleaned up and the canister long gone. We searched a bit in the adjoining woods but found no canister. We were certain the summit was the summit, so I guess it's just gone. It was about 12:20 when we got to South Weeks. We took a break, ate some lunch and got going again around 12:50.
(Photo of Presis)
The Presidentials from Starr King

The final climb of the hike to Waumbek was the most unusual and by far the easiest. After dropping off South Weeks, the trail turns right (west) and follows a long narrow ridge which rises ever so gradually. It seems to go on forever (it's actually about 2 miles). Finally we got to a knob with good views to the west and north. Then very shortly thereafter we were at the summit. It was 2:04 PM. I had thought we would make it by 2:00 but it looked like we wouldn't make it when we got to the third Weeks, but the climb was so easy we made it anyway. We felt good so we trooped on to Starr King, which has barely a col at all and is really just the southwest ridge of Waumbek. This actually has fairly nice views: shortly before the summit is a clear rocky area with an old fireplace from a long-gone shelter with excellent views to the south and east. It was just a bit before 2:50. It was tempting to lounge around in the warm sun, but we had to finish, so we moved on over the summit and down the long descent to the car. I'm glad we were going down, not up this trail. It was moderate but very long descent with about 2500' of elevation loss. My legs were tired and they were getting very rubbery. The last mile to the car seems always the longest doesn't it?

But just around 4:30 PM, that reliable old 1978 Olds appeared and welcomed us back. We were done at last. What a wonderful hike on a great trail!

But we weren't really done. That would not come for another 8 hours and many many miles later. But that's another story.

Day 2 mileage: 12.9 miles, elevation gain: 3010'
Total mileage: 26.9 miles, elevation gain: 7890'


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