North Tripyramid (4,180 feet), Middle Tripyramid (4,140 feet). Waterville Valley, NH. 2021-10-20 (Wednesday.)
Via Pine Bend Brook Trail, Mt Tripyramid Trail. 9.6 miles round-trip. 3,400 feet elevation gain. Also included in the day was a jaunt up Scaur Peak (3,605 feet) via a “herd path” that was, at times, more of a rabbit trail.
60 dF. Winds were negligible in the trees down low, but a felt breeze at the summits, across the col, and even on the descent until about 3,500-3,000 foot level. More sun than clouds, by a long shot, throughout, with a little haze thinning out the view somewhat.
Trailhead: 1030. North summit: 1300. Middle summit: 1330. Car: 1700. (It took literally ten minutes for me to nab Scaur Peak — maybe a quarter mile or so each way, and about 150 feet of elevation above the col.)
It was a frost free day, but not Frost free.
Before I went to bed last night, I’d glanced at something somewhere, making mention of a bushwhack across to Scaur Peak. (Likely, it was a post on New England Trail Conditions, but it doesn’t matter.) I’d no idea whether it was on one of my lists (as it turns out, it isn’t) but that too didn’t matter. It was more important that there was a trail not fully formed, a way that needed to be found, a path through the woods that wanted wear. And with some uncertainty on the side. What would I find?
I got out the door not terribly behind, and to the trailhead only a little later than I’d have preferred. For a ten mile hike, I had about 7 1/2 hours of sunlight. I’d put Scaur Peak on the optional part of my to-do list for the day, just to be safe. Last thing I’d want was to be halfway up an “easy” bushwhack and find out things got screwy, and then have to bail on my bigger goals. But with that much daylight ahead of me, I was feeling confident that I’d see everything I’d wanted to see.
It was a stellar example of a mid-October morning. Driving along the Kancamagus Highway, I felt at home again. A slight bit bracing as I got out of the car, with fallen leaves crunching underfoot; a bit of a breeze ran down the road. Overhead, still the yellows of the birches, and some reds of a few maples here and there. A few trees still sported green leaves, which combined to make quite a sight. Abundant sunshine under a rich blue sky would make the slight nip in the air go away well enough. And so, after gathering together my things, and almost breathless with anticipation, I got going.
There’s the trail, and there are views.
There’s something that sticks in my mind about Tripyramid, where for some irrational reason, I keep thinking it’s a hard hike. In places, yes, that’s true. But the rest of the mountain is actually very welcoming. Look at the map, and it’s the upper mile of Pine Bend Brook trail where the contour lines get tight. The traverse below north summit (between that and Scaur Peak) is quite mild, as is the traverse across the col between the two main peaks. Seriously, it’s just that one mile, and then the final climb up to the summit itself that is any amount of bother. And occasionally, stones were laid out as steps.
Taking care not to make sweeping statements like “there’s nothing to see on that mountain…” yes, the views are attenuated in places where you wish there were a few shorter (or nonexistent) trees. On much of the rest of the hike, the views are inward. But look around. Tripyramid is one of those mountains that has a unique vantage. Here and there, I spied Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, Carrigain, Chocorua, and Moosilauke, just for starters. Inwardly, the trail is pretty wet, which isn’t to say all mud-all the time, but it does follow several brooks and drainages. Moss? Everywhere, softening all the hard edges, and infusing a vibrant verdancy to the understory. Sublime.
Looking back at my photos (even the unedited ones that won’t make this post) I’m taken by the foliage. To be true, this year is something of a wash. The colors just aren’t as vibrant this year as they’ve been in years past. It’s a combination of temperatures and moisture, and this year trended away from “make the colors pop.” It is what it is. But going back to the theme of surprises, down low, things looked pretty good in a lot of places. There was enough to look at, for sure. Coupled with some blue sky, it was a great day to be outside. And in fairness, there were places, here and there, where the birches had indeed turned many-colored.
Goals? Yeah, there are goals.
As I mentioned earlier, this one gives you a boot to the head at the third mile, and again near the summit. The first two miles were quick, starting on the original Swift River logging railroad, but mostly going across an old logging truck road. The trail was wide, and much of the understory was bare. Open forest? Wow, it felt expansive. But shortly after entering the Sandwich Range Wilderness, things get unquestionably rocky. Compounding the situation were the leaves, hiding rocks, roots, and broken branches from view. I had to tread carefully, lest I turn an ankle. (And I’m all too familiar with what can happen from that!)
However (and there’s a lot of however) once past that, things return to reasonable quite quickly. The col was easy enough that I was able to look around… and notice hoof prints. Part of me says “deer” and part “moose.” If the latter, it was a juvenile for sure. Either way, it’s one of those rare times when I’ve noticed evidence of a large mammal at altitude. Weird.
I bagged the summits pretty easily, and then turned to home. But on the way down, there was the optional goal left. On the way up to Scaur Peak, I found the opening to the bushwhack easily enough — I’d read enough to be pretty sure of what I thought I was seeing. At a certain point, you know what a trail should look like, and that goes for the ones not on the map, too. The trail got pretty thin at times, and a few blow-downs complicated route-finding. (Someone with a small hand saw could make an oversized difference with about 10 or even 20 minutes of easy work.) But honestly, it amounts to “go across the flat bit, and then climb steadily to the summit.” If you’re comfortable with taking a bearing using a compass, this one won’t be too hard.
What about that view?
I mean, it’s the Whites. You’re not guaranteed anything. Look at Whiteface. Owl’s Head. Hale. But there are spots, and indeed, there’s an outlook on north peak where commanding views can be had, even if they’re a bit tight. Several places, if you’re content with bobbing your head around, you can see enough. I kept spying Carrigain and Washington here and there, which kept me happy. Perhaps the way to do it is up the north slide, if you’re brave, and at that point, you’d have all the view you could want. But that’s a hard way to do it. Maybe just make do with what you get. If it’s a comparison, somehow, despite the lack of views, I found more places than average that I wanted to photograph. So there’s that.
So having walked that path through the untrammeled undergrowth, I turned for home. On the way down, I picked my way across abundant rocks. It’s steep enough that care must be taken; this isn’t a trail you can just run down — or at least, not until the bottom half. (And even then, the volume of leaves that have fallen on the trail necessitates caution, lest you turn an ankle on a hidden rock. At times, I caught myself laughing out of sheer joy. I’d faked myself out initially, thinking this was a hard hike. But really, it’s no harder than, say, two times up the White Dot on Monadnock, by basis of comparison.
The views weren’t always there, but when they were, they were solid. That bushwhack? Magic. So once again, surprises galore. And on a fine October day, it was priceless.
As always, stay safe out there.
Nuts and Bolts: Nuts and Bolts: Find the trailhead about a mile west of Sabaday Brook picnic area, and about 15 miles out of Lincoln. Once you’re at the hairpin turn, it’s about 5-7 minutes drive-time, depending. Park alongside the road. Be aware that the shoulder is wide enough to park on, but it drops off fast. In wintertime, this trailhead isn’t ploughed, so if your plans include hiking the trail from bottom to top, you’ll need to park at the picnic area and road-walk the mile or so to the trailhead. Last I was here in winter, the snowbank was the size of a delivery truck, and just a thin sliver of the sign was visible.
Blazes are yellow. For much of the hike, you’ll be in the Sandwich Range Wilderness area. Don’t expect abundant blazes, as you’d expect on the AT, or some other trade route — they’re pretty thin in number, but oddly, if I needed one, usually they were there. Route finding isn’t hard, but it’s not the most improved trail you’ll ever see.
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