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Thread: In Praise of Ice Gulch

  1. #1
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    In Praise of Ice Gulch

    I usually visit Ice Gulch in Randolph NH every few years or so, generally on a hot day in the summer where the summits are in the haze and the humidity high. Of all the trails in the whites this loop offers some of the most unusual hiking terrain to be found yet it tends to be ignored by most hikers as its not a "numbers trail" It doesn't climb any significant elevation, doesn't have any 4 Ks and the actual trail mileages make it look like its a half day hike. Logistically its even less attractive for a destination as the new RMC trailhead and the closing of the Boothman Spring trail adds some to the roadwalk between trailheads. Although I don't mind a roadwalk along Randolph Hill road, there is a gravel road that could be used as an alternative that would cut some distance out.

    I tend to the agree with the traditional RMC direction of travel descending down thru the gulch (clockwise) and despite the AMC recommendation of ascending (CCW), feel that descending is preferable to ascending. One major warning is that this route through the gulch is not dog friendly, there are numerous deep holes and crevices that a dog could fall into which would require a major effort to get the dog out of.

    As for the Gulch itself, there really is no way to fully describe it and photographs don't do it justice. It is an adult "jungle gym. " The rocks and occasional roots are inherently slippery due to the temperature difference between the bottom of the notch and the air above. there generally is ice visible down in the crevices even in late august and in some spots is downright cold. The rocks are basically at or near dewpoint. Three point contact is needed in many places and in some places, butt sliding is required. In more than a few places there are no options to skip "interesting" spots so on occasion gong forward requires some planning. The gulch is not one ravine as much as its a series of somewhat separately distinct ravines and microclimates interconnected by choke points. On occasion, a hiker thinks they are at the end and instead comes out into another somewhat wider ravine. Unlike Mahoosuc Notch or the Subway in Kings Ravine, the boulders are smaller and more numerous so the trail rarely goes underground

    For those descending, the final treat is Fairy Spring. In a fairly short section of the trail, the bottom of the ravine shifts from dry to a wide stream bed due to the presence of two underground springs and third stream cascading down into the ravine.

    The one area that I would consider skipping is the section of trail to Peboamauk waterfall and would rather take "Out Direct" which skips the falls. The falls are still there and impressive but a major blow down occurred in the area at some point uprooting the majority of the mature trees and what exists now is intense regrowth. That and the multiple brook crossings upstream of the water fall make this something to consider skipping at least for another 10 or twenty years.

    As for length of time to do this hike, its going to vary widely. I have done it in the past in 3-1/2 hours and have taken as long as 6 and I have known of groups taking 7 hours. Its really comes down to the groups scrambling ability, folks new to scrambling will take longer and those used to it will take less. As for time of year, anytime between July and early September. A nice bonus on the walk out is the walk through the Gorham Town Forest, it was hammered during the Ice storm of 98 but the canopy is starting to recover nicely and there are still quite a few nice hardwoods that give a slight glimpse into what existed before the storm. As mentioned there is a gravel road that runs past the new RMC trailhead that is crossed by the Ice gulch on the way out, this road can be used to cut out the road walk on Randolph Hill road
    Last edited by peakbagger; 08-27-2015 at 06:41 AM.

  2. #2
    Senior Member chinooktrail's Avatar
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    Love Ice Gulch! It has been far too long since I did that trail.
    Your description of it is perfect, thanks for the reminder.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Stan's Avatar
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    My only question, is the ice of sufficient quality to chill bourbon back at the tailgate? I have a tradition of gathering glacial ice, hailstones etc. expressly for that purpose.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Amicus's Avatar
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    Excellent description of a fun scramble, but let me put in a word for the AMC Guide-recommended upward, not downward, direction. The Gulch is like Mahoosuc Notch in miniature, with smaller boulders, but the same slippery scrambles. I would always rather go up than down a steep slippery patch and was relieved to be going up last year. I think this will depend on a particular hiker's size and agility. I note your point about the views, but I made sure to stop and look backwards at regular intervals.

  5. #5
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    I agree that I typically like to climb up slippery stuff but I find that the vast majority of the scrambles can be controlled buttslides. I will point out that the vast majority of thru hikers descend Mahoosuc Notch. Incidentally, when hikers ask me to lead a hike through Mahoosuc Notch I run them through Ice Gulch, if the lake the gulch they like notch but if they don't like the gulch they will hate the notch.

  6. #6
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    Dragging an old thread to life. I visited Ice Gulch on Friday with some folks. I did my normal clockwise loop (contrary to the trail guide recommendations but my preference). The two updates are that the Cook Path is a major PITA to find and follow from the new RMC trailhead from Randolph Hill Road. The signage is confusing and the Peeks path that connects from the trailhead crossing Crescent Ridge trail to the Cook path route is not well used with a indistinct trail bed. It is blazed but it is somewhat hard to follow as it makes twists and turns through open hardwoods. The locals recommend heading east on the Jimtown Logging road a short distance and catching the Cook Path where it crosses an skipping the Peeks Path. I haven't tried it but compared to the Peeks Path it looks to be the better approach.

    The second item is that the last 1/2 mile of the Cook Path before the head of the gulch is littered with blowdowns. There are workarounds and I sawed a few stubs but the trees are large so expect some gymnastics. Only one really blocked the trailbed in its entirely but its pretty obvious once you work your way around the mess. Not enough to cancel a trip but expect a slow down. There are several blowdowns in the upper gulch but they are cut out of the way.

    Still plenty of ice and some snow in the upper gulch until the section where it opens up with a big talus slope to the north side.

    We made a detour to South Black Crescent. The woods were thick with recent and older big blowdown. Navigation was easy but not much to see at the summit other than the canister. There are some ledges visible on google maps but we just headed down and intercepted the Gulch trail just after Hunters Pass.
    Last edited by peakbagger; 07-15-2018 at 08:44 AM.

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