Tuesday, August 4, 2015

August 4 (Tuesday)

August 4 (Tuesday) - Met up with Ryan from his sprawling remote palatial estate in Tamworth for an exploration of the Skull Cairn Tr.  He mentioned to me last time we were at the junction of Hammond Tr. and Liberty Tr. up near Chocorua, that there was an old trail that came out about 100 yards down the Hammond Tr. and it was long since closed.  It looks like the trail (from the research I did) was decommissioned in possibly around the early 1940's or so.  It was last referenced in the 1940 AMC guide as:

1940 AMC White Mountain Guide - Skull Cairn Trail
Ascending the mountain from the S, this trail cannot readily be followed by one unfamiliar with it, as the blazes are obscure. It leaves the highway from Chocorua to Wonalancet, 1 5/8 m. W of Lake, near the top of a Sandy Hill, and follows the Old Mail Road R (NW) to a cairn in the N part of a pasture a few yds. S of the town line and National Forest Boundary (red stake). The Old Mail Road turns R (E) to the Hammond Farm. After crossing brook (last sure water), it ascends through hardwood and over ledges. Its upper end is on the Hammond Trail about 100 yds. below the Liberty Trail and is marked with three blazes set vertically.
Distances. Highway to junction with Hammond Trail 3 ½ m.; to summit of Mt. Chocorua 4 ¼ m. 

1934 AMC Map (from Franklin Sites) showing the Skull Cairn Trail between the Liberty and Hammond Trails.

So we kind of knew where the top was (I wish I took a picture of the tree w/ three blazes set vertically)...but to find the bottom was a little more challenging.  I did a little research and knew the trail from the bottom was off of a small clearing/junction called 'Blacky's Flats' where Old Mail Road meets the Highland Trail (two trails in the Chocorua Conservation Lands trails).   I did some planning from Ryan's house where it looked to be about 2 miles to Blacky's Flats via the snowmobile trail that heads up around James Pond.  Looking at some old USGS maps and Strava I planned the route and we took off to find the trailhead (which according to people online was obstructed and grown in).  We hit the snowmobile trail about a quarter mile from Ryan's and headed up around the James Pond area and overshot the trail we were looking for.  We popped out back onto the road inadvertently and just hopped down on Old Mail Road for a more direct shot up to Blacky's Flats.  We got to the junction about 1.5 miles longer than originally planned but as soon as we were there (and saw the little trail sign for Blacky's Flats) we saw the trailhead immediately behind some downed trees.

We hopped on the trail, almost immediately crossed over the National Forest boundary and proceeded to follow a very obvious and nice old trail up a ways until we saw the welcoming sight below:

About a quarter mile or so up the trail at a hard right turn

From there it climbed up pretty steep in spots but there were a lot of blowdowns and the trail was very rugged.  Once we got up to the large cliffs, we lost the trail for a bit.  Ryan finally found that it cut up between the two huge cliffs via a very steep cut in between (with root steps).  It was a pretty tough and slippery climb as it's not obviously well travelled and was filled in with leaves.  Once at the top, we got some nice views of Chocorua Lake:

Chocorua Lake w/ a nice rainbow to the east

From there, it climbed up some nice trail at times and other times it was a blowdown filled mess.  We came to a small swamp and lost the trail again.  We cut right across it because it was bone dry.  We searched for 10 min. or so until we found the trail over to the far left behind a lot of blowdowns and a gnarled mess of bushes and trees.  Once through that, it was too much further up some windy, grown in trails until we finally reached the top junction of the Hammond Tr.   We saw the tree mentioned in the 1930s/1940 AMC guide with the three blazes on it which was pretty cool.  Then we headed back down the Liberty Trail and out to Ryan's again.   Just over 9 miles total and 2100+ feet of elevation gain.

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