Sunday, June 7, 2015

Surreal Hiking through Zealand Notch

We've been tuckering ourselves out before I can manage to write about it for the last couple of weeks!  I regret not recording our epic Memorial Day weekend, as it was full of dog-friendly fun with family.  Someday I will make some notes about our hikes up Sawyer Mountain (Limerick, ME), Tom/Field/Avalon (Whitefield, NH), and more of the Eastern Trail (Saco, ME).  Last weekend we picked up and got our little foster pup, Yogi, settled in and worked on expanding the fenced portion of the yard.  But it's awfully early for digressions, so here we go!

Yesterday, we went on a phenomenal 9.5 mile traverse that began with the Zealand Trail and ended at the Ethan Pond Trail/AT where it meets 302.    Longer, by our current standards, but easy mileage - this is a great hike for those who are comfortable with the distance but not looking for a day of elevation gain.  It also has some of the most unique scenes and vibes we've encountered and I am forever in love with the portion that walks along where a slide and railroad bed converge (thank you Bob and Geri for the history lessons!).

 Under cloudy skies, we reached the Ethan Pond Trailhead around 9:00 for the car spot.  By the time we parked on Zealand Road, the sun was already promising to come out.  The walk to the junction for the hut (which is just beyond, after a very brief, steeper climb), is a meander, mostly over dirt trails, that travels through woods and opens to beautiful beaver ponds.  For the record, if your dog is prone to giardia, keep an eye on him/her, as even our iron-tummied Tango has gotten himself into trouble when he traveled this trail....  And if you have a dog who likes to sniff out beavers and deer-hop through the tall grasses to find them, again, keep an eye on her!  There are beautiful and well-maintained raised boardwalks that carry hikers over the marshy fringes of the ponds.
From there, we turned on to the equally footing-friendly Ethan Pond Trail (also the AT).  The trail is often "one lane" but is still generally hard-packed dirt.  This led us out to one of the most surreal views I've been fortunate enough to experience (and under bluebird skies at this point!!).  No majestic Mount Washington, no endless views, but equally iconic to me.

As I'm told, the trail is an old railroad bed.  Close to the junction for Zeacliff Trail (the wilderness sign is visible below, adding to the remote feeling), the trail breaks from the trees and becomes an awe-inspiring walk through the notch.  Above and below are the consequences of a slide - huge boulders covering the land that the trail traverses briefly.  travelling southbound, to the right is Hale and Zeacliff (another fave!) and to the left, Whitewall looms above.  The combination of being between such great masses, the broad, open trail, and boulder field is unforgettable.

Continuing past the junction, the trail resumes its flat progress through the woods to the Thoreau Falls Trail.  It is a little wider than before the views and sparsely covered by gravel, reminding me of comments from western hikers or maintained state park trails.  The falls is a mere .1 mile detour.  Do not skip it or Tango will hunt you down and eat your pb&j because it is worth it!!

The falls are intimidating and breathtaking.  Take care with adventurous or "green" trail dogs.

Some time after the junction for the Shoal Pond Trail (really, could be a mile or afterwards based on my terrible memory), the footing became more White Mountain-esque - rockier and muddier.  Still no (discernible) elevation changes and the embedded rocks are easily walked on/around.  There a many boardwalks to assist with the mud and standing water.  We took the spur marking the Ethan Pond Shelter for our last scenic detour.

 Ethan Pond is gorgeous; sure there are many beautiful ponds out there but this view is uninterrupted and earned making it that much more breathtaking!  The trail to the hut is partially submerged and a small blue blaze on one of the boulders marks the way.  We walked out onto it for photos and turned around.

The trail continues with the same terrain and begins losing elevation as we made our way towards the last couple of junctions.  Not many photos, as we trail jogged whenever we could to appease the pulling Yogi.  I haven't mentioned him much but he is the new blondie in the photos.  At seven months old, I was fully prepared to carry him when needed but was genuinely curious how he'd take to the trails because we haven't done too much with him in the short week we had him.  That young man pulled for the whole trip (minus the brief carrying stint when he fell asleep nuzzled into my shoulder)!  He LOVES the woods and was not keen on being in last place.  He also has a humorous aversion to water.

Not much to report after that.  The trail became more family-friendly as we hit the spur for Ripley Falls, crossed the tracks, and dumped back at the parking area at the end of the road.
I hadn't expected to be hiking on National Trails Day but a fortuitous change of events, kind invitation, and an "I can finish the fence after the hike" attitude (almost accurate, as it turns out!) turned "homebody weekend" into an exploration everybody enjoyed.  Tango loved being with the pack and easier grades, Ty and her buddy Dusty lead the trip, and Yogi got to hit the trail for the first time.  In terms of elevation, this is a very  easy hike.  And I truly mean that, not like some other posts where I have looked back and thought it to be a very relative term (despite my best efforts at the time)!  There are multiple options to shorten, extend, or modify this hike to fit one's interests and I'll be writing about one such option - the Zealand Falls Hut - next week as well as scouring the interwebz for a weekend backpack opportunity.  For when one wants the quietude and distance of a longer hike but not the difficulty, I highly recommend a hike like this!

**Thanks to Bob and Geri for allowing me to use some of their photos!
Random favorite from Ethan Pond Trail shortly before the junction with the Zeacli

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