Blueberry Mountain

Shell Pond Trail

Shell Pond Trail

On Sunday we decided to take a short hike of 2 or 3 miles.  We live very close to Shell Pond in Evans Notch.  We had hiked the easy Shell Pond Trail loop 4 years ago, and to tell you the truth, it wasn’t the most exciting hike in the world, neither visually nor in terms of challenge.  It was interesting, though:  it is home to the Stone House, which is one of the few houses in the area constructed, well over 100 years ago,  with a stone facade  (surprisingly rare since we are surrounded by granite, but in the White Mountains, wood rules) from a quarry dug behind that house.  The land abutting the Stone House and Shell Pond was cleared by colonist settlers, and in the 1940s it was the site of an airstrip, used for practice landings and takeoffs by the military during training exercises during WWII.  Today it is a perfectly flat, grassy meadow.

This newly built home sits adjacent to the old airfield and the Stone House.

This newly built home sits adjacent to the old airfield and the Stone House.  (click to enlarge)

The most popular approach to Shell Pond is via Stone House Road off of Rte. 113 in Evans Notch; but just up the road from us on Deer Hill Rd. there is a small sign indicating a hiking trail that cuts in to Shell Pond, and that’s the route we took.  It’s always thrilling,  knowing that hiking trails, snowmobile trails, colonist history, stories of Indian wars of the 1760s and natural wonders are literally in our backyard.  Incidentally, the entire hike was on private land – – the owners have graciously allowed hikers on their property under the guidance and maintenance of the all-volunteer Chatham Trails Association, provided outdoor enthusiasts  stick to the trail and respect privacy boundaries of the owners.

It was a particularly lovely autumn day, the air cool but the sun kissing our faces; a strong wind the previous night had resulted in a deep carpet of golden leaves covering the trail.  It was a bit of a slog since walking in the leaves was slippery, and necessitated the use of hiking poles to probe the ground to see if the downed foliage was covering up large stones, mud, or deep, hidden puddles.

Shell Pond Trail

Shell Pond Trail

Weird but beautiful fungus growing on a rotten tree trunk

Weird but beautiful fungus growing on a rotten tree trunk

The route was very short and mostly level, and since the day was so nice we decided to continue on an adjacent trail to Rattlesnake Gorge.  A footbridge spanned the narrow granite flume some 30 feet below, fed by a pulsing waterfall.

Before our ascent of Blueberry Hill, this footbridge took us over Rattlesnake Gorge.  My husband, a geek gadgeteer, spent a lot of time consulting his GPS, which he installed with all the trails found in the White Mountains

Before our ascent of Blueberry Hill, this footbridge took us over Rattlesnake Gorge. My husband, a geek gadgeteer, spent a lot of time consulting his GPS, which he loaded with software containing all the trails found in the White Mountains

We continued a few hundred feet up the trail to Rattlesnake Pool.  We almost missed it – the trail marker blended in so well with the woods.

rattlesnakepoolsign

This magnificent swimming hole would provide perfect relief after a hot day of hiking, but we were not in the correct season for dipping in its freezing waters.  Fed by yet another waterfall, the round pool – really a giant glacial pothole – has incredibly green, clear water and is truly magnificent.

This glacial pothole is fed by a rushing waterfall to its left, unfortunately not shown.

Clear, cold Rattlesnake Pool.  This glacial pothole is fed by a rushing waterfall to its left, unfortunately not shown here.

Now we were truly energized, so we kept going.  And going.  We decided to climb to the top of Blueberry Hill, hoping for some nice views.  A couple we met on the trail who were on their way down told us that the climb was well worth the effort.  “And make sure you take the Lookout Loop Trail after you get to the top!” they added.

The climb wasn’t long, but it was extraordinarily steep.  I was huffing and puffing and my heart was beating so hard I thought it would burst out of my chest.  I needed to stop frequently to calm my pulse.  I am up to a challenge, but that nagging little voice inside of me wasn’t so sure.  “It’s going to get dark, and you’re going to be stuck,” it told me.  I was so tired, so winded.  My husband assured me we had plenty of time to complete the hike, but even if in the worst-case scenario it got dark, we could manage with our flashlights.  (We also had appropriate clothing, food, water, and first aid kits in our backpacks.)  “Ok,” I said doubtfully, and continued climbing and resting, climbing and resting.  I tried talking myself out of negative thoughts.  “We can turn around now if you want,” my husband said, and he meant it without any malice, but even though I was filled with doubt, I pushed grimly on. Surely we were so close to the top!  Despite his best intentions, my husband’s constant, cheerful GPS reportage (“1000′ feet to go!  950′ to go!”) was incredibly irritating and got old, fast.  Still, I kept climbing.

Finally, through the dense tree cover:  peeks of blue sky a few feet ahead!  The end really was in sight.  We finally made it to the top.  Blueberry Hill was indeed aptly named.  Although we were long past the July blueberry season, the blueberry leaves had turned a burnished maroon, and the surrounding green lichens were now a frosty white.

blueberrylichens

The view was shrouded by pines, and with the clock ticking, we hurried along the Lookout Loop Trail to a series of clear granite ledges.

lookoutloopsign

It was then that we were blessed with our reward:  probably one of the all-time nicest views I’ve ever seen on a hike, and that’s saying a lot here in the White Mountains!  We felt like we were on top of the world – literally and figuratively.

20131020_150420e

(Click to enlarge) A five-star view:  from Blueberry Hill on the Lookout Loop Trail. Shell Pond lies below, and in the far distance on the left you can see a sliver of Horseshoe Pond and beyond it, Kezar Lake.

Our dog Spencer checks out the view at the top

Our dog Spencer checks out the view at the top

Despite his age (70 in dog years), Spencer still enjoys hiking.

Despite his age (70 in dog years), Spencer still enjoys hiking.  Here he smiles for the camera.

Although we couldn’t linger as long as we might have liked, the arduous climb had been absolutely worthwhile.  The steep, slippery descent was punctuated by my worries (“it’s going to get dark!” and my husband begging me to slow down (‘if you go fast you’re going to take a fall or stress your knees!”)  but soon enough we were indeed down the mountain and walking the last mile of trail.  Never had a soft, grassy, and “boring” flat former airfield been so welcoming to my poor, tired, sore feet!  And indeed, we did make it to the car before dark.

My husband, the gadget geek, was agog with the information spewing from his cellphone apps and GPS.  If you had asked me earlier that day if I was in the mood for a 5.5 hour, 7.2 mile hike climbing 1,870 feet and walking 18,500 steps, I would have said “No way!”  Instead, our spontaneity led to a challenge I wouldn’t have thought I could muster.  Besides being in awe of the incredible beauty we were privileged to see, it was such a positive life lesson.  Go!  Live!  Just do it!  Try!  You might fail, but you can achieve!  Choose happiness!  We had just experienced a taste of heaven, and being a bit tired and sore nevertheless seemed a small price to pay (not to mention the 950 calories my husband’s phone’s app said we burned) – – especially after the hot bath and cold beer that followed 🙂

I was sure HaShem has placed those two people on the trail at the moment I needed the most encouragement, and without the Providence of meeting them we would probably not have attempted the fantastic Lookout Loop Trail since the hour was late.

Since this hike was impetuously conceived, although we could rely on the GPS trail map, we nevertheless had no real information prepared in advance as to what glories awaited us. In the words coined by hiker and author “It’s Not About the Hike” Nancy  Sporborg, we were truly “riding the grace wave.”

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