Recently, I returned to an old local favorite, Mount Whiteface (4,020 feet) in the Sandwich Range. You know you are heading into the mountains on the Blueberry Ledge Trail, opened in 1899, with its consistent uphill climb, ledge scrambling, and great views in the last half mile and on top as a reward.
The trail is 3.9 miles to the South Ledges, which I consider the summit. The true summit is 0.3 miles further on the Rollins Trail, and in the woods.
Living in Tamworth, I like the quick commute of 7.5 miles on 113A to the Ferncroft parking lot. Actually, any trip out though Wonalancet is a pleasure.
It was a weekday morning, and I found a parking space in the Ferncroft lot at 9:30 a.m. This summer on weekends that would have been highly unlikely, and many parked out on the dirt Ferncroft road, causing it to be one way.
One of the most common scenarios for hikers that park there is to bag the two 4,000-footers in one hike — Mount Whiteface and Mount Passaconaway (4,043 feet). My scenario was to be in the mountains.
From my car, I reached the Blueberry Ledge Trail by walking back out to the dirt road, taking a right into the old neighborhood, then a left on Squirrel Bridge, an immediate right after the bridge and then a few hundred feet to the trail sign.
Soon, I passed one hiker. I would meet many more, further up. The trail was populated.
Still, most of the time I hiked alone. The lower trail transitioned from woods to partially open ledges, and I arrived at the turnoff for the Blueberry Ledge Cutoff.
The 3.7-mile Blueberry Ledge Loop — starting up the main trail and descending the cutoff — is a very popular, shorter hike, frequented by locals. In fact, I did it a few days ago, finding some early red maple foliage up on the ledges. I recommend this lower loop hike on Mount Whiteface. There are a couple attractive alternatives for returning to your car.
Continuing upward from that junction, the trail got consistently steep, yet there were great stone steps. It was hot in the valley, but I started to feel a cool breeze through the conifers as I climbed the ridge. Finally, I reached the junction with the Tom Wiggin Trail.
This is a steep trail that descends east directly to the valley of Wonalancet Brook and the Bowl Research Natural Area. At that point, I had not yet decided to go down that way.
I reached the first great southern lookout on the Blueberry Ledge Trail, and further on, started up the series of ledge scrambles that give this hike its character.
A series of viewpoints make for immediate gratification as you climb there. On the right, you look down into the deep Bowl Research Natural Area, with Mount Passaconaway just beyond, and to the left of it over a saddle, Mount Washington in the distance.
On the left, there is a unique viewpoint reached by walking a few steps through stunted trees to look out at the big south ledge on Whiteface that gives it its name.
I met a few people on the scrambles. I got into an interesting talk with an anesthesiologist from Massachusetts who was getting some solitary time away from his family. We continued our talk past the ledges as we climbed the last section in the woods and bore left at a junction out onto the rounded south ledges on top.
Many hikers sit on the immediate ledges there, but if you bear right and descend 20 feet further, you come out a great flat ledge with no stunted tree obstructions. Few southern lookouts from the mountains are as dramatic at this one.
In a while, my acquaintance continued on the Rollins Trail toward Mount Passaconaway and I headed back down the Blueberry Ledge Trail, meeting people often.
Because of that, I decided to take the Tom Wiggin Trail down to the Dicey Mill Trail and return to my car that way. Lightly used and steep, the Tom Wiggin Trail was built in 1895 and nicknamed the “Fire Escape.”
The sign at its lower end actually says “steep and not recommended.” Surprisingly, I met two pairs of hikers heading up that trail, both new to the area and both questioning me if the trail got any steeper further up. I said no.
Nearing the base of the ravine at Wonalancet Brook, I enjoyed seeing the giant birch and maples in the virgin forest of the Bowl Research Natural Area.