Whiteface and Passaconaway: Blueberry Ledge Isn't as Innocent as it Sounds
An impromptu day off of work called for a rare weekday solo hike. A loop to grab Whiteface and Passaconaway seemed like a good idea since the Sandwich Range is relatively south as far as the 4,000 footers are concerned. I've been looking at the Terrifying 25 (T25) list and starting to try to work some of those trails into my remaining 4,000 footers, so this is the first one that I have done intentionally with the purpose of the T25 list in mind. In fact I think this is the first time I've chosen a trail that wasn't the easiest or most convenient way to the summit (except the Pemi loop and the Presi traverse those were NOT the easiest ways to bag those peaks).
Just for a little bit of explanation, the Terrifying 25 are a collection of trails that have lots of slides, scrambles, and boulder caves, making them more frightening than the typical trail. There are 20 required trails that are very difficult, the hardest being Huntington's Ravine Tr up to the summit of Mt. Washington. There are 10 additional easier but still challenging trails of which you must do 5 of to complete the list. Blueberry Ledge is the first T25 trail that I've intentionally done so far, and it is on the list of 10 easier choices. The other ones that I've done are the Willey Range Tr and Osseo Tr, which are both on the list of 10 because they have ladders.
Yesterday started off super early with a 4:30am departure from my house in Boston. I found out that I was going to have the day off Thursday afternoon, and knowing that I wouldn't be able to hike for a the next ten days I thought it was the perfect opportunity to squeeze in a couple more 4,000 footers. I usually stay in NH when I'm hiking, but this was a pretty last minute plan so I decided to drive up the day of. Because I got such an early start there was no traffic coming out of the city. Crazy I know!
I pulled into Ferncroft parking lot at 6:50, and to my surprise there was a pretty nice setup for hikers there. It seemed like a really residential road, so it was nice to feel welcome there! Not to mention it was a beautiful area! After checking out the trailhead and getting all of my stuff together, I hit the trail at 7:15. All of the signs were painted with blue lettering and blazes to match the name, which was cute. Blueberry Ledge trail started out pretty flat which was nice to warm up and then got steeper about two miles in. The trail was beautiful with lots of big slabs of mostly flat rock yielding amazing views almost the entire way up.
About a mile from the summit there were a couple pretty steep scrambles that land Blueberry Ledge on the T25 list. This was my favorite part of the whole hike! They weren't too hard to maneuver but took a little bit of planning before climbing up. You can see where there used to be ladders to help you get up the steep spots. I tried to video it with my friend's sports action camera. I had it clipped to the shoulder strap on my bag, but it was moving so much while I was scrambling that the video was super shaky. I guess I didn't think that plan through! Next time I'll try putting the camera down somewhere and have it video from further away.
After the steep parts the trail led to an open granite cliff with amazing view. I got there at 9:20 and sat for a while to eat a snack and take in the sights. At this point I had been hiking for just over two hours and I hadn't yet seen anyone at all. It was actually kind of nice having some time to myself especially on this beautiful trail.
After a nice break at the cliffs, I continued on Rollins Tr where I passed the official summit of Whiteface. Rollins Tr was really mucky and it seemed to go downhill forever. There were some nice views along Rollins but I'm going to be honest and say that I'm not a fan of that trail. Maybe because it was so wet and the bugs were relentless, but either way this was probably my least favorite trail experience I've had so far hiking the 4,000 footers. I was also getting kind of bored of hiking by myself and I still hadn't seen anyone, so it just seemed to stretch on and on.
Eventually I made it to the intersection of Dicey's Mill trail and turned left to get to the summit of Passaconaway. Thankfully there was a paper sign telling me which way to go. The trail to the summit of Passaconaway was just under a mile with a bunch of big switchbacks. It wasn't super steep but it definitely gained what felt like a lot of elevation after losing so much on Rollins. When I got to the summit of Passaconaway at 11:25 there was a small cairn in the wooded area. I found a rocky lookout just past there to sit and eat lunch instead of going down the view spur because I was pretty tired and sore at that point.
After eating a quick lunch I made my way back down Dicey's Mill back to the road, but let me tell you it felt a lot longer than 4.4 miles! The trail seemed to go on and on and on. It looked like perfect bear territory though, so I was keeping an eye out the whole time. I was using the Gaia GPS app on my phone for the first time so I knew how far I had gone and how much trail was left. This was great for giving me an extra piece of mind as far as directions go, but knowing exactly where I was at any given point was actually kind of a downside. I usually just kind of zone out when I'm hiking long stretches without many landmarks to look forward to so that it goes by more quickly. This time being able to check where I was made me a little discouraged every time I thought I had covered a lot of ground only to find out I didn't go as far as I had expected.
There were a few stream crossings, one of which was a bit tricky but not too bad. Rock hopping isn't my strong suit since I'm so clumsy, but I made it over without getting wet so that's a win in my book. Finally I got to a bridge and realized I was really close to the road. When I got out of the forest I ended up in a family's backyard on a dirt path. I was a little worried I had taken a wrong turn, but the GPS showed me on the trail so I followed it. The family was in their front yard playing corn hole when I realized these were the first people I had seen all day! I said a quick hello and one of them asked if I was hiking by myself. When I said yes, he was surprised and asked how I don't get scared with all the bears being by myself out there. I replied that I was on the look out but didn't see any today, and being with someone else probably wouldn't help me with a bear anyway. He laughed and I kept going down their driveway. They were super nice about me just wandering around their property, and when I got to the gate that led to the road I noticed this sign along with one of the official trail signs off to the side.
As I walked along the road back to the parking lot I though about how many people must come through there hiking all the time and how gracious those people were to let everyone on their property. I know there have been some conflicts between hikers and property owners forcing some trails to be closed to the public, so it was nice to see the other side of people who welcome us. I finally saw some other hikers close to the parking lot, so I talked to them while walking back. It was nice to talk to people after my day of solitude in the forest!
I got back to my car around 1:45 and started back towards Boston. As soon as I pulled out onto the main road, big drops of rain started splattering on my windshield. I was glad to have missed the rain while I was hiking! On my way home I stopped in Concord at my favorite Mexican place, Dos Amigos Burritos. I go there a lot on my way up and down from hiking and was glad to have a nice big burrito after the long hike. As soon as I got back on the highway I found myself in a huge thunderstorm that followed me all the way south well into Mass. It was raining so hard I could barely see the cars in front of me! I'm really glad I didn't get caught in that while I was out there. The weather had actually been perfect all morning, 65 degrees and sunny. I guess it was my lucky day!
Overall this was one of my favorite and least favorite hikes I've done so far. In some spots I loved it, but other areas tried my patience. Blueberry Ledge is probably one of my favorite trails so far and that part of the hike was lots of fun. Rollins and Dicey's Mill not so much. It was good to check of both Whiteface and Passaconaway in one go though because just doing Passaconaway probably wouldn't be worth it for me on its own. I'll definitely be adding Whiteface to my list of peaks I want to do again though! It was a pretty great day off and I'm glad I got to get out there for a nice day hike before my little break coming up.
#29 Mt. Whiteface (4,019 ft) and #30 Mt. Passaconaway (4,043 ft) via Blueberry Ledge Tr, Rollins Tr, and Dicey's Mill Tr [11.4 mi, 3780 ft, 6:32].
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