Hubbard Brook, Three Ponds and Mt. Kineo Trails

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New member
May 7, 2014
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Southern NH
Loop hike: Hubbard Brook trail head on Hubbard Brook Rd to Three Ponds Trail to Donkey Hill Cutoff to Mt. Kineo Trail back to Hubbard Brook Road. Complete loop with a 1.7 mi road walk.

Only a red-liner could enjoy this hike. Hubbard Brook Trail begins with a minor bushwhack around a beaver flood, then proceeds through generally wet, stagnant, buggy areas in a slow, pointless descent to Rt. 118 and the northern terminus of the Three Ponds Trail. The TPT, signed in laminated paper almost as an afterthought, then proceeds for 3.5 miles through uncountable sections of shoulder-high, woody brush that completely obscures the trail. The trail is essentially un-followable without the aid of occasional orange ribbons tied oh-so-impermanently to low branches. In some cases the trail is more choked with vegetation than the surrounding woods, leading an experienced hiker (such as myself) to follow open woods until it becomes obvious that the open route is not the trail after all. Return to the last known good location and try again. And again. Finally press through the dense brush and eventually notice an orange ribbon. The last mile before Donkey Hill Cutoff traverses numerous long stretches of bottomless mud spanned by rotting logs or nothing at all, ending with a spectacularly unmarked section along the edge of a soggy bog where even with extreme attention to foot placement it is impossible to keep the boots dry or to avoid stepping on the profusion of pitcher plants. Then enter the Three Ponds area where all of the unnamed herd paths to unofficial campsites are better defined than the official trail, leading to more opportunities to lose the trail. Finish with a sketchy, unexpected traverse of a beaver dam that "couldn't possibly be the trail" except for the fact that you can see the sign at the junction with Donkey Hill Cutoff.

Donkey Hill Cutoff is actually hiked from time to time, and so is well-defined, although wet. Eventually reach Mt. Kineo Trail to find that it has been massively disrupted by a snowmobile road. The trail sign continues to point to the overgrown footpath to the right of the stream, but clear yellow blazes follow the road uphill in the opposite direction. Maybe they're using standard trail blazes for snowmobile trails now? ... better follow the footpath. In a short distance it joins the road. Some distance after that it diverges from the road into a swamp, where the track is completely unfollowable. Guess that the road is now the "path" to follow. Eventually reach a junction featuring two snowmobile trail maps, one mostly illegible due to water damage, but neither indicates which direction to take to remain on the Mt. Kineo Trail. (If in fact you're even on the Mt. Kineo Trail at this point). Follow the yellow blazes uphill to the right and eventually find an actual sign indicating that the Mt. Kineo *hiking* trail diverges left at that point. Navigation uncertainy ends here, to be followed by a pointless climb to a viewless col and a descent through more sections of vegetation-choked trail (through not nearly as bad as TPT). Reach Hubbard Brook Road and find a sign that notes the disruption of the *other end* of the Mt. Kineo trail by dual-use snowmobile roads. Guess I did the loop in the wrong direction! Endless, buggy road walk back to car.

On second thought, not even a red-liner could enjoy this hike.