Hiking by feel - making a near loop around Sable and Chandler


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Sep 3, 2003
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Gorham NH
I joined my redlining friend yesterday for a near loop around Sable and Chandler. We had done a long bushwhack to bag Sable and Chandler a few years ago but it was almost entirely off trail so this time we looped around the summits using Slippery Brook Trail, Baldface Circle Trail, Eagle Link Wild River Trail and the East Branch trail. I have been on Baldface Circle trail many a time and have used the north Slippery Brook approach several times over the years to bring folks on up the Baldfaces to avoid the steep ledges and even have done Eagle link in the remnants of hurricane many years ago. We spotted a car at the end of East Branch road and headed over to the end of Slippery Brook Road. We did the loop CCW to get the elevation out of the way early in the day as the forecast was expected to be hot and muggy as the day progressed. The Slippery Brook trail was relocated at some point to the gated extension of the Slippery Brook trail after a flooding event. On our prior bushwack we had inadvertently encountered and followed the old route and the new routes is definitely faster. The road did have quite a crop of ripe wild strawberries but we kept the pace steady avoiding most of the temptation. Eventually the trail does take a turn off the logging road and back into the woods. The trail bed is good shape but there hasnt been a lot of recent maintenance on the trail so step overs and unders are encountered on occasion. The overstory is pretty dense so not a lot of undergrowth in the path. The trail is quite well graded like the north end that comes up the other side of the ridge. We eventually came up the intersection with the spur to Eastman. The woods in this area are fairly open and there are several nice well established campsites (note water would need to be carried up).

The hike from the south of South Baldface is a nice low excitement alternative to the ledges with some views to the west that the folks using the standard route do not see. The blueberries were just coming in with 3 distinct varieties present. We soon joined the Baldface Circle trail and encountered other hikers. After a few breaks at the summits with a breeze we headed over to Eagle Crag. Once we dropped off the summits it was quite hot and muggier than expected. Once at Eagle Crag we headed down Eagle Link. That is where the navigation by feel started up. The link had some natural event that wiped out large parts of the mature canopy, it could be the ice storm of 1998 which hammered the east side of the ridge. No matter how it occurred the response to the extra sunlight is dense hobblebush with berries mixed in that has choked out any regrowth. The old trail bed is well compacted and beat in but navigation is mostly following a slight depression in the hobblebush and catching occasional views of the trailbed. Plenty of spots where the footing can not be seen so that makes for occasion stubs on rocks and intense looking down. Its the type ot terrain were an albino moose could be 40 feet off to the side and we wouldnt see it. There are on very rare occasion older blazes but those uncomfortable with navigating a densely overgrown trail may not appreciate this one. Its in a wilderness area so blazing is not allowed and given the hobblebush's proclivity to fill in gaps I expect it would be challenge to keep a 4' swath open. These conditions pretty well exist for 2/3rds of the length with it opening up somewhat as we dropped down in the valley. We eventually met the upper reaches of Wild River trail. It was quite a surprise compared to the road like trail bed of the lower Wild River trail. The trail is quite wet in spots and grown in and the bog bridging is rotted in many areas although in other areas there is new very well built bridging.

We eventually made it to the East Branch trail intersection and took a break. The East Branch Trail goes over a height if land where the watershed shifts from the Androscoggin to the Saco River watersheds. We headed south and quickly encountered a bog where the trail bed effectively becomes the bog. There are some rotted out logs that have been thrown in the path but its a wet muddy experience crossing this area even in relatively dry weather. There isnt a lot of trace of the trail so its basically go straight to an opening in the woods on the other side. From there the trail heads into the woods but the trail is effectively a very old most likely winter time logging road with rocky wet and muddy footing in many spots. I am definitely spoiled by the old railroad beds and haul roads in the Pemi. We soon hit the wilderness boundary sign at the height of land and was hoping for a trail maintained to higher standard. We were disappointed. There was no recent or old consistent blazing. There were a couple of newer blue "tin" markers up high in the trees at a level that most likely implies they are for cross country skiing but in no way spaced for navigation. There are numerous branches and trees across the trail and little evidence of any saw work for many years. Unlike many wood roads that usually improve as it gets down in the valley this road gets tedious with occasional boggy sections that require bypassing. We eventually popped out at a very nice campsite on the water where the discontinued section of the trail kept following the riverbed. There is no marker to turn right but there is obvious dirt road to large clearing which is the turnaround at the end of the East Branch road where our car was spotted. Note there is an signpost for a trailhead marker at this point but no trail sign. I expect given how close it is to the campsite with big fire put that it became kindling.

With the exception of the Baldface Circle we did not see anyone all day and even the circle trail was not very busy. There was some evidence that the other trails are getting used. My friend speculates that the big increase in redliners may be the only reason these trails are getting significant use. IMO Slippery Brook trail is "keeper" but East Branch trail may require more work than its worth to rehab without some major relocations, extensive bog bridging, blazing and a lot of cutting. Eagle Link used to be a popular route as it allowed a backpacking loop in the area. I was quite surprised at the condition of the Wild River trail given its the main trail through the area. The recent work is first class but I expect getting caught up is going to take a lot of resources that are very limited.

Over all a nice but somewhat challenging day on lesser used trails. I am still debating if East Branch trail drops to the level of the east end of the Haystack Notch trail ;)
We lucked out on timing. There was a persistent set of thunderstorms yesterday afternoon (the day after we did the loop) that appears to have been centered directly on top of this area. I expect the numerous water crossings and wet areas would have been interesting in an area known for flash flooding.