Adventures in Pinkham Notch!

Square Ledge Trail
My favorite part of the Square Ledge Trail: a perfect roof over the trail, typically surrounded by broad flows of ice. (Fun fact: in this case, flows instead of floes. Floes are floating sheets of ice.)

I’m back at Pinkham Notch after about 8 months away, but I haven’t done much on account of being sick. I’ve only gone out to play a few times, and even then I have not strayed far. Not to worry though, there is plenty of fun to have near the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.

Square Ledge from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center entrance.
Square Ledge from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center entrance.

Yesterday afternoon before work, I went for a quick jaunt up to Square Ledge. The trailhead is just across the street, and it’s only half a mile to the top. Owing to the warm temperatures and lack of snow, the way up is pretty quick. For the most part, the trail has soft and slushy snow on a thin but solid base. Still, light traction is a good choice because a couple sections are a bit icy. The trail is moderate, with the most challenging part being the final climb. The trail approaches the base of Square Ledge, ascends the occasionally-icy stone steps to the right, and then takes a hairpin turn onto the top of the ledge. The reward is a great view of Mount Washington – Gulf of Slides, Tuckerman Ravine, and Huntington Ravine-all clearly visible as well as the summit on a clear day. It was a bit cloudy today, so I’ll let you check it out and get your own picture.

Square Ledge
I didn’t even know these were here.

The day before, I ran up Old Jackson Road to Low’s Bald Spot. Old Jackson Road is a moderate trail that heads north from the visitor center. The trail hits the Mount Washington Auto Road just short of two miles later. On the opposite side of the Auto Road, the Madison Gulf Trail enters the Great GulfWilderness. From here, it’s only a few tenths of a mile to the spur trail. If you wanted to go on, the Madison Gulf Trail would take you to a network of trails going all over the Wilderness.

Last winter, I ran to Low’s Bald Spot at least once a week. On Wednesday, I was surprised to find many more rocks, roots, and puncheon than I expected. The rumors are true: there is a serious lack of snow cover right now. There’s actually a nicely built stone staircase right before the Raymond Path hits Old Jackson Road, which I always thought was just a small snow covered scramble. There are a few sections of puncheon that I had just simply never seen before.

At any rate, Low’s Bald Spot is just that – a bald spot, a rock from which you can get a near-360 degree view of the Presidential Range. You can also catch a nice glimpse of Wildcat Ski Area across Route 16. It’s a 4.4 mile round trip from the visitor center. One more perk: the elevation changes are relatively gradual, and it’s nearly all downhill on the way back. My favorite part of the trail is on the way back, when there’s a straight and flat stretch that runs in between spruce and fir trees.

Old Jackson Road
My favorite stretch of the Old Jackson Road.
Ice climbing
Blue ice, blue rope, nothing to be blue about.

Last weekend, I went on a short adventure with my friend Dylan. Driving up to Pinkham the other day, he noticed some ice off the west side of Route 16, and being a rational human being, thought “I want to climb that.” He told me about it, and being a rational human being, I said “we should climb that.” It wasn’t the large but short bulges at the sharp turn, and it wasn’t the low angle Pinkham Cascades. I’m not sure it even has a name, but it afforded about 50 feet of fun climbing and there were good trees to set up a top rope.

Getting to the top to anchor the rope was a bit of a challenge as there was no path to follow. Dylan and I wandered west until we hit the steeper section and then found a snow gully that led to the top. We cautiously made our way across the top until we found our climb. We slung a cordalette around a solid tree, clipped in our personal anchors, and got the rope set. We rappelled down and then did two laps each – an easy warmup and one steeper climb a few feet to the side. After pulling the rope down, we drove the minute or two back to Pinkham and I went to work.

The Mount Washington Valley Ice Fest is this weekend! Hosted by International Mountain Climbing School in North Conway NH, this annual event is now in its 23rd year. There are numerous clinics for ice climbing, mountaineering, and other winter skills, taught by renowned climbers and guides – many of them local. There is plenty of gear to demo for free, good food and drink, and intriguing presentations each night. I’m taking an ice climbing course, so hopefully I can snag some pictures in addition to beta to share in another post! Stay tuned…

If interested in either Square Ledge or Low’s Bald Spot as hikes, use the AMC Presidential Map #1. You will find both hikes listed in the AMC White Mountain Guide. The ice climb may be called “Icemen Don’t Eat Quiche”, listed in Rick Wilcox’s An Ice Climber’s Guide to Northern New England. The book is currently out of print but many are eagerly awaiting a new edition!

We are available here at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center by phone at (603)466-2721 every day from 6:30 AM to 9:00 PM or by email at amcpinkhaminfo@outdoors.org. To make reservations at AMC Lodges and Huts, please call (603) 466-2727 available Monday through Saturday 9am-5pm. Come spend a weekend at Joe Dodge Lodge and have adventures in Pinkham Notch!

Happy Adventuring!
Chris
AMC Backcountry Information Specialist

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