I had longed to make this hike since looking out across Grafton Notch at these hills from Old Speck years before. We had a clear, crisp late summer fall-like day on which to make the hike, and we all started out in high spirits for this one. Any time we get to explore new trails and territory is good, but we had a feeling this one was going to be great! A great deal of attention has been paid to the lower sections where stones have been laid in muddy sections and stone steps made to where there are short, steep rises. The trail winds along, rising moderately through deciduous forest and the hiking is easy.
Rising up and skirting around the ridge there is actually quite a bit of downhill at some points which has to be made up on an out and back hike. No matter, as it is gentle and not all that taxing. The trail eventually dips into a gully and then begins to rise steadily after crossing a stream. There was plenty of water for Emma to cool off and drink from as we made several stream crossings. As the trail climbed there were many sets of stone stairs and then there were short switchbacks to help with the steeper sections.
After passing the Baldpate Shelter the trail climbs more steeply until you pass over the round, treed summit of West Baldpate. A hundred feet beyond the views open up to the north. We stopped here for lunch. Some poking around revealed views to the west and east as well as the fantastic view north towards East Baldpate. I stood a long while trying to recognize what the hills and mountains were that I was seeing. Further south I can easily pick out the surrounding mountains, but here in the North Country where I have done scant hiking I have trouble recognizing places I haven't been.
To our west I was sure I could make out the Percys, and from there I could get my bearings. I could recognize and name some of the hills in the Nash Stream Forest along with the Percys. North of them I could only guess, south of them I could make out the mountains that make up the Pliny and Pilot Ranges, from The Horn, The Bulge, Cabot, Terrace, the Weeks, Waumbek and Starr King. To the east I knew nothing, further north I decided that I could see Saddleback and the (other) Horn, but beyond that I failed miserably. There were many that I could but guess at, and some I had no idea. I liked not knowing, I shall have to go to them and find out what they are!
To the northeast and to the west we could see wind farms. As I have stated before I am all for green energy and anything is better than coal burning haze-spewing power plants, but that said I am not sure the cost to the landscape is worth the scant amount of power they produce, most of which gets sold back to the grid anyway. They certainly leave me with mixed feelings to say the least. We owe it to those who will follow us to find better, more affordable ways to produce energy and to leave pristine, wild areas as they are for the future generations to enjoy. Rant over.
We were soon off to East Baldpate. The hike down to the col between hills involved a couple of short ladders,but Emma found ways around them as she always does. We were soon down in a boggy area where puncheons were used to cross muddy sections and I found myself thinking of other spots in the mountains it reminded me of, particularly Shelburne Moriah. Soon the bogs gave way to ledge, and the ledge soon rose above the bogs and the hiking became a bit of scrambling, but nothing too difficult. As we rose up the ledges vistas behind us and to the south were coming into view. Old Speck dominated the landscape beyond West Baldpate, and just left of Old Speck Mount Washington could be seen in the distance.
Suddenly an eagle appeared and did a fly over and I remembered it was 9/11. We spent some time on the summit of East Baldface enjoying the 360* views and remembering the tragic events that changed our world eleven years before. I remembered my time in the military and gave thanks that I was still here to enjoy a day and a hike such as this when so many had made the ultimate sacrifice, both in the military and civilian corps. I took time to remember the generation before mine who went to war to preserve our freedom. More than I can imagine never returned, and many who did, like my own father, were never the same. They gave me a day like this in the mountains and I will forever be grateful.
After much thought and reflection on East Baldpate we started the trip back across to West Peak and enjoyed it as much as we had the first time. Back on the summit we headed back down into the forest, steeply at first, but gradually getting easier. The miles passed easily as they had done earlier in the day. We soon found ourselves at the trail junction with the Table Rock Trail which we had planned to hike back on as it loops back to the main trail near the start. I thought going to it this way would be easier than climbing it first thing in the morning, I was right!
We started out for it passing the sign that says "Extraordinary Views". The extra elevation was negligible from this direction and we soon found ourselves out on yet another Table Rock, where I was fine except for the fear of the dog dropping off the edge, so we did not linger very long. The views were tough across the way to the Eyebrow on Old Speck as the late afternoon sun cast long shadows on it, though what view there was was indeed impressive. We pondered for a moment, then decided to continue the trail down rather than retrace our steps the way we had come, although we knew it would be rough and steep.
As we descended there were piles of jumbled boulders that formed "caves" and we were careful to help Emma around and through these. There were iron rungs on some of the rocks to help the humans, but were no help for little dogs. I was beginning to think I had made a mistake descending this way when it happened: Emma chose a path down between two rocks and got wedged there. A larger dog wouldn't have gone that way. A smaller dog wouldn't have got stuck, but Emma wedged right in and couldn't move. Head down, butt in the air. I moved in to help. I tried pulling and she didn't budge. I tried pushing, no! Judy was horror struck. I whipped off my pack and climbed down below her and tried pushing her up, she wouldn't budge. Judy tried lifting from above while I pushed from below. No good.
I was beginning to freak. A vision of hikers stepping over a dog skeleton wedged in the rocks flashed through my head. I pushed some more. Judy grabbed her collar and pulled, all of a sudden she came free. Because of the way she was wedged I had not thought to try to pull her straight up, but in the end that's how she came free. Whoa! In all of our hikes with her I had never been in fear of her being hurt, and nothing had ever even remotely happened like this. True, she had aggravated an old injury slipping on ice last winter and needed surgery, but that was altogether different than what had just occurred. Thankfully the episode was over and she appeared to be fine, and we continued down and finished the hike without further incident.
Except for the asterisk on Table Rock it had been a great day and we checked off another hike to new territory. We made the drive back to Evans Notch and had a great supper before turning in early. The emotional drain at the end of the hike as we tried to free Emma from the rocks was the most taxing part of the day, but luckily and thankfully the Mountain gods helped us through. Nobody slept all that well that night, but the next morning all was fine. We went out for a paddle on The Basin and relaxed, reflecting on the previous days hike and the glory of the Baldpates. The story of the rest of our trip is here: