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Thread: Abandoned Downes Brook Slide trail

  1. #1
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    Abandoned Downes Brook Slide trail

    I made a visit to a favorite abandoned trail on Sunday, The Downes Brook Slide trail on the North side of Passaconaway. It makes for a nice loop of Whiteface and Passaconaway from the Kanc which is far less traveled that the options from the south. We started at 8 AM at the Downes Brook trailhead and headed up the trail. There had been heavy rain Saturday evening and the stream crossings were a little high and we crossed most of them unscathed. Some folks like to complain about the trail especially past the wilderness boundary due to occasional blowdowns but realistically for trail in wilderness area its stays in good shape. We made steady time up to the Kate Sleeper junction trail although the remnants of the severe blowdown on the Kate Sleeper trail east of the Downes Brook trail does make for some gymnastics over and under older blowdowns in the area where the damage extended to the Downes Brook trail and did slow us down. Still hard to beat the Downes Brook trail for an very gradual slope to the ridgeline. We swung onto the much wider and better maintained Kate Sleeper trail and made our way up the Rollins Trail where we met the first hikers of the day. From there we made the obligatory hike to the viewpoint ledges and encountered many folks. It was windy and cold at at the viewpoint and I switched to wind block fleece. After answering the standard "where is the summit" questions we headed back along the Rollins trail stopping occasionally at the various viewpoints. Traffic was steady and eventually we hit the Dicey Mill trail.

    From there we went to the Passaconaway summit and then pondered the maps to reconfirm the route to the north viewpoint. Its worth visiting the north viewpoint as the best view north on the entire hike. Whenever I visit this summit I always feel the AMC maps don't reflect what is actually in the field. I expect its related to the scale of the map but when at the summit there are three distinct footways coming into the summit area. One is from the south and two, one coming from the west and one from the east that intersect just north of the summit. The dead end spur to the north viewpoint appears to head north from the summit on maps but in reality it is short distance east down the Walden trail from this intersection. After getting over the confusion we headed to the north view and enjoyed the view before plunging into the woods. The entrance to the old trail is far less brushed in than in the past. The brown FS sign backing was present but the actual sign warning folks to enjoy but not maintain was not present. The trail is still in good shape in many spots but on occasion where it makes abrupt turns its easy to take the path of least resistance and lose the route. The footbed is definitely not well established in spots and the best approach is look where the path is defined by large trees many with old ax blazes healing over. As the trailbed offers the path of least resistance for blowdowns to land on, occasionally its easy to step out of the trail bed to avoid the blowdowns and lose the route. It definitely a case where on occasion you need to stop and possibly retrace your steps where the trail peters out as inevitably you missed a turn. As we dropped down rapidly we on occasion saw recent footprints and signs of passage. Eventually patches of wet moss covered granite appear and the trail does some significant turns to avoid them until coming out to the left of the upper slabs. Over the years I have tried to go down the upper slabs and my advice is to avoid them. They are inevitably far slicker than they look and the slope means once you start moving you may not stop with a abrupt drop over a ledge a distinct possibility. My best advise it to skirt them. The actual old trail runs in the woods to the left of the upper slide. On occasion it will disappear but if you stick to skirting the slide in the woods you will encounter it again. Unlike most bushwhacking I used my hiking poles. Yes they do occasionally get in the way but it far made up keeping footing on the very steep slope.

    At some point the old trail starts to get far less distinct and heads down to the rocky brook that connects the upper slide to the lower slide. There are various false trails on the right side of the brook to avoid the stream and slabs but the best approach is follow the brook on dry granite until it starts to widen out. We were a bit more cautious in this area due the previous nights rain and stayed to the right but with grippier shoes and drier conditions the logical route was follow the lower slabs down. Our traverse around the slabs through this area was different from past trips so I was bit confused exactly where we were but soon came down to what is one of the most spectacular natural swimming holes in the whites. In past years I speculated that this hole was partially created by Humans but looking at it more I think it just may be a natural phenomena. Definitely worth visiting this area up from the Downes Brook trail to see this one spot and just few minutes extra hiking will get you onto the open lower slabs while skipping the gnarlier bushwhacking above.

    Once we passed the pool, the valley closes in a bit and turns into a conventional brook and we headed through the woods occasionally picking up herd paths but losing them quickly. The woods are fairly open and soon we could see the Downes Brook trail and distinct rock wall that was built to direct the brook we were following off the main trail. From there is was quick hike back to the parking lot.

    The standard caveat applies that this trail was abandoned for a reason and there was an ugly incident in the past where someone took it upon themselves to reopen the trail by painting and re-blazing the route. Given the steep slope and thin soils on top of rocks, formalizing the old trail would just lead to serious erosion. In this case its far better to spread out the impact and leave it abandoned as a resource for those willing to seek it out. Given the distance in from the road I expect the lack of a trail would keep the average weekend hiker away.
    Last edited by peakbagger; 08-07-2017 at 10:05 AM.

  2. #2
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    Down the old slide trail! You are a braver soul than I.
    Volunteer Land Steward - SPNHF
    Volunteer Easement Monitoring Steward - Upper Valley Land Trust
    Volunteer Trail Adopter - Mt. Tremont Trail
    Volunteer Trail Adopter - Upper Champney Brook Trail
    Proprietor - NH 52 With A View Facebook group

  3. #3
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    I always go down it, its a lot easier to follow than trying to go up it as the exit off the upper slide isn't obvious

  4. #4
    Senior Member TEO's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by peakbagger View Post
    Given the steep slope and thin soils on top of rocks, formalizing the old trail would just lead to serious erosion. In this case its far better to spread out the impact and leave it abandoned as a resource for those willing to seek it out.
    It is in large part because of these reasons that I refrain from writing online about my hikes on abandoned trails and in other particularly fragile or sensitive areas. Have I benefited from what others have shared online? Do I enjoy reading of other peoples' adventures? Yes. So I recognize that I am somewhat hypocritical, but I have also read end notes and bibliographies, and scoured used book stores for primary sources. I have shared my knowledge with others, even people that I don't know, but just not in a way that is easily searchable.
    Last edited by TEO; 08-08-2017 at 08:31 PM.

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