Spruce Hill, Bickford Brook, Miles Notch and Haystack Notch trails loop


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Sep 3, 2003
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Gorham NH
I made a big loop with a few redlining friends yesterday out in the wilds to the East of Evans Notch. I will warn folks up front that I can not recommend this loop to those without spot on trail finding skills or have inherent trust in a GPS ap. We spotted a car at the Haystack Notch Trail on RT 113 and then drove down the notch to the Spruce Hill Trail head which is directly across the street from the East Royce trailhead. A quick note on the East Royce trailhead. There is broken window glass in the parking lot that looks like at least three cars were broken into at some point this summer. We hiked up the Spruce Hill trail to Bickford Brook trail. It is a pleasant trail through nice woods, gaining elevation slowly and consistently. Most views are obscured through the trees. We then met up with the Bickford Brook trail which is a very well graded old woods road that runs up to Speckled Mountain. The summit of Speckled is like many of the Evans Notch summits, if it was just 20 miles to the west in NH it would be trampled. It once had a fire tower but no need for a tower, it has 360 degree views with great views into western maine.

After a quick break we headed east on the Red Rock trail. It was obvious that this is lesser used trail would became the descriptor for the rest of the loop. Trail following skills needed to be cranked up quite a bit. The Red Rock trail is entirely in a Wilderness area so blazing is minimal to non existent. The trail bed is not well worn and in spots it may not go in the direction you would initially think as on occasion other paths my intersect it. The wrong routes are usually subtlety brushed in but there is plenty are blowdowns across the main trail so its easy to ignore the intentional sticks laid down. It just requires the trail finding "radar" to be cranked up a couple of notches. Views along the trail are subtle, occasional views to the north and south and one short spur to the headwall of the top of the cliffs on Red Rock mountain. This is definitely not a route designed for a fastest route between two points, it sticks to the ridgecrest and hits just about every little bump along the way.

We eventually intersected Miles Notch Trail. We took a break and cruised down the trail. This was a nice break, it is an older logging road with great footing and a nice consistent downhill grade. As we headed north its becomes a beauty strip between recent large forest service patch cuts and then eventually turns onto a newer logging road and into an area of extensive logging. The trail is marked with brown fiberglass stakes many flagged with pink ribbons. Eventually its drops into a large regenerating clearing where the Haystack Notch trail is supposed to meet the Miles Notch trail about 0.1 miles in from the gated parking area at the end of Fire Road 5. Its in this area that things get real confusing. The intersection of the Haystack Notch Trail has a recent Forest Service sign that indicates that the Haystack Notch trail is 0.1 miles to the south along Miles Notch trail. Don't believe it, whoever mounted the sign put it in the wrong place. It should have been mounted at the gate at the parking area. The current location of the sign is actually the intersection of the Haystack Notch trail. We met a confused hiker (the first other person we met all day on the trails) from Paris Maine who wanted to check out potential fishing holes along the West Branch of the Pleasant River. From the misplaced sign, one of the brushed trails runs along the edge of the clearing but the actual trail runs across the center of a regenerating clearing and is marked with brown fiberglass stakes. It is growing up in this area and I expect this route will rapidly disappear unless someone cuts a swath. After a short distance through the center of the cut, the main logging cut heads uphill to the left but there is an older opening in the woods to the right that is marked with flagging along with some old paint marks (3 orange dots) from the timber cut. Very quickly it transitions into an old woods road marked with faded blazes. To make things further confusing, some one is maintaining wide paths around the edge of the clearings that don't line up with the trails.

From the point where we entered the woods, the actual trail bed is obscure. Most of the time the approach is try to stay in the center of the older woods roads that really are just a path of less growth delineated with more mature trees to either side. The West Branch is crossed numerous times. At one point the trail is on an obvious woods road following the west branch and Haystack Notch trail takes an abrupt left while the main trail bed goes straight. There is an older double blaze near this turn and a older FS arrow nailed to a tree. Someone had twisted the arrow to point in the wrong direction but by looking at the nails in the tree, I could rotate if back. Once we took the turn, the route finding got even more obscure. The blazing is much more faded, luckily whomever blazed it long ago had been aggressive at scraping the bark on beech trees so there is scar on the bark that is more obvious and then once up close a few traces of yellow paint will frequently be obvious. The broken in trail bed is obscure most of the time and non existent in other places and the woods road tends to disappear. Generally after some searching we could pick up the old trail but there was lot of luck involved. We did see some very old steel FS trail mileage markers grown into trees. At the point where we had a rough time guessing where the trail was, we encountered the wilderness boundary sign. From there the trail becomes even more obscure, the very old blazing still pops up on occasion but the area is open hardwoods so we ended up zigzagging on occasion to try to pick up the old trail. As we approached the notch we lost any evidence of the trail. One of the folks had a GPS track from someone who had recently hiked the trail and using that we occasionally would pick the route up and then quickly lose it again. It was getting late in the day and the sun was setting behind Hancock Mtn so the shadows made route finding even more challenging. Once at the top of the notch we picked the route up again and the trail bed was more obvious. We soon picked up the brook and encountered the Wilderness area boundary. From then on the trail was marked with faded blazes and yellow flagging and got decidedly more used as we approached Rt 113. I rarely advocate "follow the beep" GPS use but Haystack Notch is probably the exception or just get out the map and compass and go cross country. The notch from the east is quite wide with several false drainages but eventually it does turn into a notch with a distinct primary drainage to follow. Thus even if you are a bit off with a compass you will end up at the notch. Given its a wilderness area, trail maintenance options are limited to keep an actual route established. If someone were to adopt the non wilderness areas and renew the blazing it would just lead unprepared folks to getting lost in the wilderness area.

Overall a fairly long day, 16 miles and 3600 feet of total climbing. Only one other hiker encountered. I cannot recommend the trails in the east side of the ridgeline for entry to mid level hikers unless they want some exercise at route finding and have a GPS with good topo. There is zero cell service in this area so that crutch is not available. I was with two redliners who at getting up in their completion percentage and bushwhackers and even they felt it was one of the more challenging days of route-finding. My friend has the saying "its all fun until a bushwhack breaks out" and this was definitely one of those hikes. We got a later than expected start so the low sun angles could be another complicating factor folks don't factor in. The sun sets quite early in the notches and trying to find an obscure trail in the shade and shadows makes things more challenging.
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