Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Baldface Mountain Weekend Backpack

Matt summiting South Baldface Mountain

When the extra blanket makes it onto my bed and the window fans are removed from the windows, I know that that the best backpacking season has arrived. That magic time when the summer tourists have left the Granite State and the leaf peepers have yet to arrive, is in my opinion, the best time to go backpacking.  Matt and I decided to take advantage of the fair weather and weekend freedom to do a one night backpack on the Baldface Mountain Loop on the eastern edge of the White Mountain National Forest.

First Trail Junction of Baldface Loop Trail
Although I've hiked most of the peaks in the Whites, this pair - the North and South Baldface - had somehow escaped me.  Matt proposed the hike since the last time he tackled the hike was when he was 10 years old!

This one night backpack included everything a good backpacking trip should - stream crossings, 360 degree summit views, ridge walks, and a technical rock scramble.  I recommend this adventure for those hikers looking for a moderate to difficult one night backpack in the White Mountains with access to an AMC lean-to, privy, bare summits, and free parking. 

Here is how to recreate this adventure...
Follow the yellow blazes

Adventure:  One night backpacking in the Baldface Mountains, NH.

Getting there:  The trailhead to the Baldface Mountains is located in Conway, New Hampshire.  We took 302 to 113 North about 30 minutes from Center Conway and parked in the lot on the right across from the trail head. A brown hiking sign marks the Baldface Loop Trail.  Parking is free and there is an outhouse at the parking lot. 

Trail:  On the first day, Matt and I crossed Rt 113 from the parking lot and took the Baldface Circle Trail 0.7 miles to the first junction at Emerald Pool.  Here, we admired the pristine waters of the stream and ventured on about 2 miles the South Baldface Shelter. 

We arrived at the Shelter around 4:30 pm and were the only hikers there (another sign of fall!)  The campsite offers a generous lean-to as well as a few impacted tent sites.  The site also has a privy (bring your own toilet paper) and trickling stream for a water source. 

Tent set up in South Baldface Shelter
Matt and I set up our tent inside the lean-to and settled into our comfy, dry clothes.  A few hours later, another group of three showed up and joined us at the lean-to.  We all fit comfortably in the shelter and enjoyed swapping stories and conversing before settling down for the night.

In the morning, Matt and I arose and began our ascent up South Baldface.  This is where the trail got exciting!  The one mile section between the shelter and the summit of South Baldface is technical and challenging.  At one point, Matt and I even abandoned our strict LNT code, and bushwhacked through partial alpine vegetation in order to avoid the steep and wet rock scramble.  At points, the slab and rock reminded me of White Horse Ledge - a favorite multi-pitch climb in North Conway - except that when I tackle that section, I'm harnessed and roped up!

The summit of South Baldface was clear and magnificent.  Photos and words cannot express the beauty of the 360 degree views on this crystal-clear day.  I delighted in the clarity of two of my favorite and most recognizable peaks - Mt. Washington to the north and Mt. Chocorua to the south.  It was the perfect place for us to sit, soak up the scene, and enjoy our breakfast. 
Morning fog below from  Baldface Loop Trial

From here, we continued onward 2 miles to the summit of North Baldface peak, where another
majestic and clear view greeted us.  We took a short respite, then started our descent on the Bicknell Ridge Trail.  This 3.2 mile trail travels through ridgeline and forest, providing multiple views back at the ridge we had recently conquered.  It is a moderate trail that eventually evens out into an easy wooded stroll. 

At Emerald Pool, we reconnected with the Baldface Loop Trail with an adventurous river crossing and retraced the 0.7 miles to Rt 113 from the day before.

This one night backpack was a wonderful adventure for those looking for clear views, a peaceful lean-to, and a challenging hike.  

Challenging section from shelter to summit of S. Baldface
Difficulty: The difficulty depended on the section of hike we were tackling.  See below:
Baldface Loop Trail from 113 to Shelter- Easy to Moderate
Baldface Loop Trail from Shelter to South Baldface Summit- Challenging/Difficult
Baldface Loop Trail from South Baldface Summit to North Baldface Summit - Moderate
Bicknell Ridge Trail from North Baldface Trail to 113 - Easy to Moderate

Distance: 9.5 round trip.


Enjoying the view from South Baldface
Gear - Early to mid September can be chilly.  Matt used at 20 degree sleeping bag, but I chose a 30 degree below bag to ensure warmth.  We carried 3-4 liters of water each in addition to food, warm clothing, first aid, an AMC White Mountain Map #5, compass, rain gear, and a camera. 

More info - I recommend making sure to hike these peaks during clear, dry days.  Even though the summits are only 3570 ft and 3610 ft, the slabby rock and open peaks simulate a mountain far higher in altitude.  The steep, treacherous section near the summit of South Baldface is intimidating and could be extremely dangerous under poor conditions.  Take care.  I recommend hikers have a basic rock climbing/scrambling skills before attempting this section with a large pack.

Summit adventures

This is the perfect weekend backpack for hikers looking for open summit views, varied/challenging terrain, comfy AMC shelter camping, and no crowds.  Because this hike is not one of the peak-bagging 4,000 footers, it gets far less foot traffic.  It is the perfect one night trip for those seeking solitude in the natural beauty of the White Mountains.  Happy hiking.

Please leave questions and comments below...

River Crossing at Emerald Pool