September 17, 2016: Mts. Whiteface & Passaconaway (4-5/48)

Today was an absolutely gorgeous day for a long hike including a bit of challenging ledge scrambling. I left the house at about 5:20 AM under the light of a full moon in order to reach the trailhead in Wonalancet by 6:15-6:30, so we could begin our hike just after sunrise. The first sign that this would be an awesome day was when I saw my very first bull moose (ever) crossing Route 25 no more than 100 feet in front of me, just before I reached the Tamworth town line. Too dark and passed by too quickly (plus I was driving) to take a picture.

The first 1/3 to 1/2 of the Blueberry Ledge trail was a pretty easy climb through the woods, until we reached the steeper section with step after step after step (built with native rocks). Next, we soon reached some boulder scrambles, just a preview of the huge ledges to come. Oh, the ledges! I loved them, moreso when we had finished with them. The first one was a little tricky. You could see the holes in the rock left from an old ladder that was removed in the 1970’s (as a hiker we spoke with just before the summit had told us – it’s also mentioned in the trail description, but no date of removal was specified there). Since the summit of Whiteface is wooded and viewless (and not at all marked), we made sure to hit all the outlook spots on the way up, including a large rocky knob at the junction of the Blueberry Ledge, McCrillis, and Rollins trails. We saw a few other hikers on our way up, but not many.

After taking a little break on the rocky knob for a snack and views, we headed onto the Rollins trail to pass over the summit of Whiteface (wherever the heck it was, somewhere between the junction with the Kate Sleeper trail and where we started descending into the saddle). We followed the Rollins trail toward Mt. Passaconaway, taking in more views at overlooks along the way until we reached the junction with the Dicey’s Mill Trail. Following the Dicey’s Mill trail up, we turned onto the Walden trail, headed out to see views to the north and east, then backtracked to pick up the summit. In hindsight, it would have been better to hit the (wooded, viewless, unmarked) summit first, as it was a dead end. We had to retrace our steps to the east lookout to continue along the Walden trail to the East Loop trail and return to the Dicey’s Mill trail to begin our descent. We ran into a couple hikers on our way to Passaconaway, and quite a few at the summit and around the loop.

Dicey’s Mill was a nice choice for a descent. The upper section was quite steep and rocky, but nothing we couldn’t handle. After making it through that steep section, the rest was a pleasant walk through the woods, and the last 1.6 miles below the junction with the Tom Wiggin trail was nearly flat most of the way. There were quite a lot of hikers ascending the Dicey’s Mill trail while we made our way down – it’s considered the most popular way to ascend Passaconaway.  When we reached the parking lot, it was packed – far different from the half-dozen or less cars (including ours) that were parked there when we arrived. Now, the parking lot was full, the driveway to the parking lot was full all along the one side where parking is allowed, and cars were beginning to park along Ferncroft Road.

This was a great hike for a clear, dry, non-winter day. The ledges on Whiteface would likely be treacherous in rain or snow/ice. I highly recommend doing both peaks together as a loop if you have the time, since it’s not that much more than doing either of the peaks alone.

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