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Thread: Tri Boulder Cave and Vicinity, Old Speck

  1. #1
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2015
    Essex Co., Mass.

    Tri Boulder Cave and Vicinity, Old Speck

    Tri-Boulder Cave is a feature on the East Spur of Old Speck, near Grafton Notch, Maine. It was mentioned in the 1955 through the 1983 editions of the ‘White Mountain Guide’, as well as in the 1961 through the 1988 editions of the ‘Maine Mountain Guide’. It was usually described there as:

    “About halfway up [the East Spur Trail], the Tri-Boulder Cave is passed (the largest boulder is white and can be seen from above).”

    The cave’s mentions in ‘Guide to the Appalachian Trail in Maine’ and in ‘Appalachian Trail Guide in Maine’ is longer in duration (although I do not have a definitive time period).In 1946, the guide says:

    “About half way up the East Spur Trail is a very interesting cave formation, Known as ‘Tri-boulder Cave.’ It consists of three large boulders; the largest and topmost is very white and can be seen many times from the trail above.”

    In 1996, the guide says:
    “The East Spur Trail leaves east from the cabin site and ascends steeply passing the Tri-boulder Cave…”

    ‘Mountain Climbing in Maine mentions the cave in the c.1939 edition as well as in the 1965 edition (this might represent all editions of that publication.) Here it says:
    “Along the ledge of the East Spur Trail there is a rock formation very properly named Tri-Boulder Cave. It consists of a large rock which rests on two others and forms a cave of quite sizeable dimension.”

    The knowledge of the cave seems to rise and fall with the East Spur Trail. According to Steve Pinkham in ‘The Mountains of Maine: Intriguing Stories Behind Their Names’ (2009),

    “The former East Spur Trail was cleared and opened by fire watchman Dan Wight in September 1936.”

    From descriptions of old trails on Old Speck, as well as old topo maps, we can see that in addition to the current Old Speck Trail/ Appalachian Trail to the summit, there was also the Firewarden’s Trail going up the first major stream to the southeast of the A.T. About two-thirds of the way up the Firewarden’s Trail to the summit was a junction. To the west ran the Link Trail connecting to the A.T. To the east was the lower end of the East Spur Trail. This trail ran east along an east-west ridge, then turned sharply south-west and climbed along the East Spur. Near this bend, I believe, is the closest point to Tri-Boulder Cave, which it is said was below the trail. The East Spur Trail upper end was at the summit. According to the New England’s Lost Hiking Trails website, the Firewarden’s Trail was closed in 1973.

    Now to my explorations. From Satellite images I identified two areas with visible ledges along the East Spur, one at 44.579432, -70.944053 and extending for 200 feet west, and one further uphill at 44.579311, -70.946086.

    In September, 2018 I attempted to reach the first location from the closest spot on Route 26. This was not a good idea as it represented a 2000 foot elevation gain over one half mile. I got halfway there but could go no further.

    In July, 2020, I looked closer at slope angle shading on Cal Topo and planned out a route starting one mile from the target location (starting further south on the highway), with an intermediate waypoint that would send me up a slot between cliffs.

    The hike in was not too bad. It was only moderately steep until near the end. The first cool find was a monstrously large isolated ledge fragment way down at 2480 ft. elevation. I’ve never seen such a large piece of talus. As I ascended, I saw more ledge drop-offs to the northeast, and one open fissures with a cross-connection to a fissure cave. The Tri-Boulder Cave locale itself is within twenty feet of a cliff top that runs along the northeast edge of the spur. I must say that the cave itself is somewhat disappointing. It is a partially roofed wide crack paralleling the cliff face, that is open except for an eleven foot length that is covered by a boulder. I suppose that the name Tri-Boulder is accurate, although it’s really a boulder over a wide crack in the bedrock. Attached to wide crack are two more narrow cracks, one of which is mostly roofed and seems to be quite deep and to connect to other cracks.

    I regret not looking for the old trail above the cave locale, and not exploring at least the rest of the nearby ledge top for other features. I’m not 100% sure that what I saw is Tri-Boulder, but I won’t go back unless someone can definitely tell me one way or the other.

    On the way back, I detoured to a significant cliff on the east side of the spur (about 300 feet south of the cave.) Along the base I found a very large shelter cave (approximately 30 feet wide and twenty feet tall), partially occluded by the large fragment that slid out of the cave to create it.
    Last edited by srhigham; 07-25-2020 at 07:54 PM.
    Steve H.
    NH4000 1976-1984
    NE4000 1984-1991

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