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Thread: Shoal Pond Pemi Traverse

  1. #1
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Gorham NH

    Shoal Pond Pemi Traverse

    It has been quite few years since I hiked the Shoal Pond trail and the eastern end of the Wilderness Trail. Back in high school a friend and I hiked the entire Wilderness trail including the long since renamed section that was Lincoln Woods Trail. A friend of mine and I planned to do Shoal Pond trail this summer and given the forecast Saturday was the day.

    We met at Lincoln Woods lot around 7 AM and the lot had just gotten full to capacity and folks were starting to park along the road. The state has cut back a bit on the no parking signs along the highway so we were just down from the former Wilderness trail parking lot (now blocked off with barricades). We headed up to Zealand road and parked in the overflow lot as the main lot was full. The hike out to the upper Thoreau trails junction went quick. We passed a few family groups coming out and some older backpackers on the stretch long Whitewall Mountain. Once we hit the upper Thoreau junction we didn’t see anyone after that. We took the bridge over the North Fork and noted that it is starting to need some attention. I wonder if the WMNF is going to allow it to remain although maybe the AT will protect it . The initial turn on Shoal Pond trail is a nice dry broad route, there a few wet stretches a sign of things to come but it’s mostly nice walk in the woods up from the pond. There is a short spur to lookout on the Pond and nice views to the surrounding hills. Once past a few campsites and some threading of the trail we left the pond and heading into the boggy area. The trail goes over a nearly flat headlands that divides the North Fork Water Shed and the East Branch. Its boggy territory with no overstory and the brush is growing in both sides of the trail. There are the remains of bog bridges that can be carefully used but many are not long for this world. There are occasional mud puts where the bridges have failed. Eventually the trail transitions to drier softwoods, lots of small spruce stands, not real large but a hint of what the logging crews were after when it was virgin timber.

    Eventually after a stream crossing we picked up the former logging railroad bed and the footing got good although the trail is littered with blowdowns. Most can be stepped over or ducked under but we did stop and cut one hip high one. We did stop for a while by a very pleasant stretch of stream that consist of flat smooth slabs and a big pool. It was obvious by the surrounding woods that this area was quite popular in the past. It’s slowly growing back in but plenty of signs of heavy use at one point. We then passed an older logging camp site and eventually came out at the junction with the Wilderness trail. When I did this long ago the trail was mix of straight railbed and trails along the south bank to avoid the numerous crossings of the East Branch of the Pemi. Some of the side hill sections are in rough shape in spots. They were just dug into steep slope and the downhill support is failing. After going through one of the other former logging camps we came out at the Thoreau falls Junction.

    We did want to see the Thoreau Falls bridge site so we headed over and took a break. I was surprised, unlike the mess left for months at the former suspension bridge removal site, the place was pretty well cleaned up. It looks like they did attempt to clean up the sawdust from cutting the stringers up in pieces. Looking at the cross sections, there was center rot in the larger diameters but surrounded by good wood. I expect epoxy injection would have stabilized the stringers for years. There are several piles off to the side of the cut stringers and then two carefully stacked piles of the decking and handrails off in the woods presumable left over from when the ripped the deck off. The look like they were set up for bonfire but there are a lot of trees nearby that would get damaged if the stacks were lit off. There is also a small pile of cut hardware on top of the rounds. I wonder when the remaining trash becomes historical relics? . Abutments and the USGS disk remain as a testament to the bridge.

    We then needed to decide our options to head back to Lincoln Woods. We were considering checking out an obvious dugway on the north bank of the river that presumably would be a “Maggie” route but weren’t in the mood for the bushwhack given the time of day. Rather than taking the trail we elected to hike down the East Branch river bed. The water levels are quite low so it made for nice rock hopping and good views from the channel. We did have to head up the bank a couple of times and encountered a fair share of flat level campsites long the bank. We soon caught sight of the old railroad piers that were near the former Suspension Bridge. We headed up slope and quickly got on the old Wilderness trail. The trail bed is good shape but there are numerous blowdowns, mostly step overs but a few go arounds.

    We then came the former Black Brook Trestle. This is the only remaining example of logging railroad trestles in the whites. It at one point, was the bridge over Back Brook for hikers and then as it deteriorated there was a new bridge run parallel to it (since removed with some fanfare. At one point the original trestle was covered with metal roofing to protect the structure. It is not just a bridge, about of the length is trestle over the ground where it slopes down to the actual streambed. This section is in good shape with the majority of the structure intact. Sadly the section over the actual brook is not. It looks to be combination of rotting of the post bases and a flooding event tipped the structure over turning it into heap of timbers and metal. I would expect in many other parks and national forests there would be trail and interpretive signs but the WMNF approach seems to be hide it and hope it goes away. Sad to see and expect many folks hiking by on Bondcliff trail don’t realize the history they walked by.

    We quickly made to the former junction of the Bondcliff trail. This stretch along the old railroad bed formerly was part of the Wilderness trail but given the removal of the suspension bridge it was renamed the Bondcliff trail. At this point on long traverses the railroad bed is bit of death march, it is convenient in that it would be real difficult to get lost and nice on night with full moon but definitely it gets old after many years of using it. We eventually got to the turn for the parking and decided to keep going out to the highway skipping the lot. When I approaching my car I was annoyed as I was boxed in by two cars. At best I had 16” from the front and rear bumper on both sides. Luckily someone had just come out the woods and had just got in his car. If he hadn’t have been there I may have left gift for the two drivers who blocked me in. We then headed back to Zealand to get my friends truck. It was Highland Games weekend so the traffic into Lincoln was backed up half way to Loon. We waited in line until Pollard Brook road and then escaped the crowds. When we got to Zealand road there was car parked below the overflow lot in narrow parts of the road. I had my Fiesta so I could make it by but folks with larger vehicles would have had a tough time.

    Overall while on the trail it was great day to transition between the seasons. The colors have definitely brightened up with the cold temps earlier in the week. With the exception of the trail from Zealand to the upper Thoreau Falls junction to where we joined the Bondcliff trail we had the trails to ourselves. We saw one person crossing the river at the old bridge site and someone near the junction of North Fork and the East Branch of the Pemi as we hiked down the riverbed. With the redlining hikes I have done this summer it has convinced me there are plenty of quiet spaces to go in the whites as long as you are a few miles in from a trailhead and not on route to a 4K or busy developed campsite. Given the swampy footing on a section of Shoal Pond trail I expect it will not have a popular trail running following even if someone cleans up the blowdowns on the railroad grade.
    Last edited by peakbagger; 09-23-2019 at 09:32 AM. Reason: Swapped East Branch for South Fork

  2. #2
    Senior Member Scubahhh's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    Woodstock VT
    Am I dreaming or was there a bridge made of two cables, one about 6' above the other, at Stillwater Junction back in the '70s?
    Add life to your years!

  3. #3
    Senior Member TJsName's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    'Springtime' on the Carters (Tamworth, NH)
    Quote Originally Posted by Scubahhh View Post
    Am I dreaming or was there a bridge made of two cables, one about 6' above the other, at Stillwater Junction back in the '70s?
    I recall some old abutments, so a bridge was probably there at some point. Or maybe we are both crazy?
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