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Thread: Grafton Loop 7/31-8/2/09. Yet another report

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    Senior Member Guthook's Avatar
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    Grafton Loop 7/31-8/2/09. Yet another report

    I see there are already at least two reports on the GLT from the past few weeks, but I'll add mine to the list. Since my camera battery died before the trip started, I have no pictures. Hopefully Gary will put his online soon, and I'll post a link then.

    Day 1:
    The anticipation for this trip was huge, since Jeremy, Gary and I had been planning the Grafton Loop for months. It would be Jeremy's first lightweight backpacking trip, my first time through the GLT in one shot (I'd done all of it in sections) and Gary's second time through it in one shot. We all knew it was going to be a good time.

    We arrived at the Eddy Road parking lot by noon. The parking area was blocked by a lake-sized puddle, but luckily it was shallow enough for my car to get through without getting stuck. I took my camera out of my pack to get a picture to start the trip, but the battery was dead. Great. At least Gary had a camera. The dead battery set the bar for the rest of the trip, though.

    The rain came down steadily throughout the day until we neared camp. Our first stretch of trail brought us up Puzzle Mountain, which is a steep, rocky, exposed summit with delightful views. I've never seen the views from the summit, but I assume they must be good. It was clouded in when we arrived at the top. No views, but the terrain was challenging and exciting.

    Gary broke one of his REI Peak UL hiking poles on the way up the mountain, only two miles into our weekend. This marks the sixth time he's snapped them since buying them two or three years ago. Tally for the trip: one camera and one hiking pole down.

    The backside of Puzzle Mountain brought us through some lush and beautiful woods, but the trail was flowing like a river in places. The heavy rains throughout the summer have made Vermont's trails muddy and wet, and it looks like Maine has the same problem. However, it seems the Grafton Loop Trail has less traffic, so the trail was generally in better condition. Plenty wet, but fairly little sucking mud.

    We crossed two streams in the afternoon that were probably easy to walk across on rocks in low water, but we had to completely submerge our feet this time. I'm getting so used to wet feet that a dip into the moving water is refreshing, rather than something to completely avoid.

    We made camp at the Knoll Campsite after about twelve miles. There are about half a dozen campsites on the East half of the loop, so it's not hard to set a good mileage for the first day. The campsite consisted of four flat spots for tents, a privy, and an open area for cooking. Nobody there but us. After setting up camp, I found my headlamp batteries were dead, and Jeremy found a pencil-diameter hole in his tent. Add to the trip tally for bum gear: one tent, one headlamp.

    Day 2:
    Saturday morning we got moving pretty early, already mostly dried off from the day before. The trail today wound its way up to Lightning Ledge and Baldpate East Peak, where it connected with the Appalachian Trail for a ways. Before hitting the AT, the trail was a little soggy but otherwise beautiful and in perfect condition. With the sun shining through the trees we were able to enjoy the thick spruce-fir forests, expansive moss undergrowth, and some of the most impressive rock-work I've seen. The first few miles of the day followed a gorgeous stream, crossing and re-crossing above and below several cascades gushing with yesterday's rainfall.

    As we approached Baldpate we could see that the summit was just barely in the clouds. Lightning Ledge, significantly lower in elevation, had unobstructed views across the notch and to the south, but the humidity made for a dense haze in the distance. On top of Baldpate, we waited and had a second breakfast while waiting for the clouds to break. After over half an hour, we started across to West Peak, and the clouds broke as soon as we descended from the first peak.

    From here we stayed on the AT down to Grafton Notch and up to Old Speck. We ran into dozens of day-hikers and a few backpackers, all enjoying the sun and heat, as rare as it's been this summer. The people we saw on the AT section of this hike were the only people we saw during the entire weekend. Part of the beauty of the GLT is how few people seem to hike it. It feels amazingly wild.

    On the way down to the Notch, we saw some evidence of the major trail-building project I've hear the Maine Appalachian Trail Club is working on to replace the heavily eroded and very steep section north of the Baldpate Lean-to, but I couldn't see how close it was to being finished. I understand it's going to be a pretty huge staircase, and I can't wait to see what it looks like.

    On top of Old Speck (the trail up is another beautiful section, although it seems to go on forever) we got some fantastic views of the Mahoosucs from the firetower. I can't identify much in the area, but I could see where the Mahoosuc Notch cut between Fulling Mill and Mahoosuc Arm mountains. It's not hard to see that the trail on either side is one of the steepest sections of trail you'll find in the state.

    From Old Speck to the Slide Mountain campsite, the GLT meanders along contours and avoids the steep stuff that is so common in Maine and New Hampshire. There's not much excitement here, but there is plenty of scenery. The woods were surprisingly open aside from the dense undergrowth of ferns. The forest here looks almost artificial, since the usual for these areas is tightly packed trees and tangled undergrowth.

    We arrived at Slide Mountain campsite, another fine set of tent areas with a main eating/cooking spot, a bear box for food, and a nice new moldering privy. We were asleep before it even got completely dark out.

    Day 3:
    Again, we got out early, already anticipating a lunch at Bob's BBQ in Bethel. The first part of the day brought us through more of what we'd seen the evening before: lush, open hardwood forest with dense ferny undergrowth. The trail was mostly uneventful until beginning to climb Sunday River Whitecap.

    Sunday River Whitecap is a stunning summit, especially when approached from the north side. The trail pops out of tree-line abruptly and starts up a steep and mostly open slab, much like the southern approach to East Baldpate. To make footing less treacherous, and to save some of those fragile alpine plants, the AMC added a few bog bridges to the trail, secured to the stone with rebar drilled into the rock. Until those bog bridges, I hadn't been overly impressed by the AMC's side of the Loop, at least as far as crazy feats of backcountry engineering. The MATC side has lots of great stone work, but those rebar bog bridges are pretty neat.

    The views from Sunday River Whitecap, with it's completely open summit, are right up there with the much taller peaks of the trail. We watched fog disperse from Old Speck and Baldpate, eventually clearing from the valleys and leaving an overcast sky. Amazingly, we were even able to see the fire tower on Old Speck, although it is barely visible above the trees on the summit. When you see it from that distance, you really appreciate how massive that mountain is.

    From Sunday River Whitecap we rushed through the last seven or eight miles to the road. The sky cleared to sunny and cool soon after we left the summit, but the hike down would have been wonderfully pleasant either way. After descending out of the spruce-fir zone on soft, damp, mossy trail, we passed into another wide open hardwood forest and followed a brook for several miles. The brook looked like it had some pretty amazing wading spots, but we scooted by for that barbeque.

    Once we got to the snowmobile trail it was a short walk to the road, and another short walk to the Eddy Road parking lot, now full of cars despite our having not seen a single person on the trail (not counting the AT section). We dried out our gear in minutes with some help from the sun and wind, then headed into town for some much anticipated lunch.

    Notes on the trail:
    I'll agree with some of the other posts about the trail maybe needing some brushing along the sides in some places, but all in all I was stunned by the high quality of the trail. Aside from a section on the AT going up Bald Pate, there were no significant mud pits, and almost all of the water on the trail seemed to be a product of the heavy rainfall. I'll have to check it out after a few days of dry weather. The AMC and the MATC have definitely produced a gem with this trail. I wonder if (and hope) there are any other big projects in their imaginations for the future.

  2. #2
    Senior Member MichaelJ's Avatar
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    Again, we got out early, already anticipating a lunch at Bob's BBQ in Bethel.
    Excellent.

    And an excellent TR as well! If any peak was going to clear off and give you views I'm glad it was Sunday River Whitecap. That really is the gem of the loop. Good also to hear that Knoll is a good campsite. Bummer about the gear failures, at least the camera just needs a new battery and the tent some duct tape?

    I'm surprised that given a "wetter" experience than us on the east side that you didn't have more mud issues down in the section along the clearcut and near Chase Hill Brook. We found ourselves stepping from slick root to slick root with mud surrounding.

    Pulled pork or brisket?
    May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. - Edward Abbey

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    Senior Member Guthook's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelJ View Post
    Excellent.
    Pulled pork or brisket?
    Pulled pork for Gary and me... and baked beans, slaw, cornbread, etc. Jeremy's a vegetarian, so he went with a sammich from the Good Food Store-- which, I must add, has wonderful sandwiches, and should not be overlooked just because of the BBQ pit!

    I definitely came out better than the others as far as gear failures... Gary is now well known at REI for the number of times he's had to replace pole sections. Jeremy's tent was brand new, but will be easy to patch.

    As for mud near the clearcuts... yeah, there was some, but it's nothing compared to what I've been used to in Vermont for the past few months. There were several areas right by the clearcuts that had very nice stepping stone walkways, although they tended to be not quite long enough. I imagine in normal weather they are plenty long to avoid the worst of the wetness. I can't fault MATC for missing a few spots considering how much rock work we came across on the East side. They've obviously put a LOT of work into it.

  4. #4
    Senior Member MichaelJ's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Guthook View Post
    I can't fault MATC for missing a few spots considering how much rock work we came across on the East side. They've obviously put a LOT of work into it.
    We actually wondered if someone on the trailbuilding crew particularly liked (and was clearly good at) stone steps, as there were so many excellent staircases. And of course this one on the side of Puzzle, which really has no need to be there, these 3 steps in the middle of nowhere that's nearly flat, but was fun to come across.

    May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. - Edward Abbey

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    Senior Member Guthook's Avatar
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    Odd... I can't remember that staircase. Those crazy trail crew folks must have had some kind of inside joke

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