Mount Potash is a smaller mountain (2,680') which is surrounded by Mount Hedgehog to the east, Mount Passaconaway to the south, Mount Tripyramid to the west and the Kancamagus Highway to the north. It's a mountain that certainly doesn't get as much publicity as its surrounding peaks and I'm not really sure why. In the past year or so, I've done quite a bit of research, looking for trail reports and good reasons to climb this mountain. However, with the exception of one or two forum postings and a picture or two on generic description type websites, there is very little information on the web. So that made it a good candidate for my list.
View to the northwest, on Mount Potash summit ledges
I truly enjoy climbing all sorts of peaks in the Whites. Low ones and high ones, steep ones and easy ones, wooded trails and rock scrambles...but I think most of all, I like the peaks that are less traveled. I don't know why, really. Maybe it has something to do with going someplace, that from a relative standpoint, not many people hike in a day. Regardless, because of the lack of information on Mount Potash, I wanted to climb it. Now, please understand that in no way was this a bushwhack effort. The trail up is published with a standard description in the AMC WM Guide...but I just couldn't find many people online who have hiked it, or at least wrote about hiking it.
My wife had no desire to hike this mountain with me since we have hiked Mount Hedgehog in the past and there was no information that the hike itself was worth the effort from a "nice view" standpoint. So, I recruited one of my buddies who wanted to try out hiking to a summit. My buddy, Sean (who also writes a dog training blog) is an old college buddy of mine. He has hiked in the past, way back when he was in high school, but never to the top of a mountain. I had many conversations with him prior to the hike regarding how to be a safe hiker and what you should bring into the Whites to be "prepared". He certainly didn't let me down. When I pulled into his driveway at 6:30am, his dense, thirty pound bag was on the lawn ready to go. He had enough food and water for an all day traverse, extra clothes, mult-tool, GPS, camera, compass, trekking poles and everything else I told him he should bring, plus more. He was even sporting new hiking boots!
The Mount Potash Trail is 1.9 miles long and starts off from Downes Brook Trail, 0.3 miles from the Downes Brook Trailhead on the Kanc, making the summit a 2.2 mile, in-and-out hike. This trailhead is pretty popular for trekkers of the Downes Brook Trail as well as the UNH Trail that loops around Mount Hedgehog. but even with a full parking are overflowing on the side of the Kanc, I feel very few of the hikers make their way up the Mount Potash Trail.
The Downes Brook Trail was pretty flat for the short time we were on it and really doesn't feel like 0.3 miles. The Mount Potash Trail leaves the Downes Brook Trail on the right and is very well marked. It isn't too long before you come to the Downes Brook crossing, which the WM Guide says can be difficult in high water. I can see this being the case since at this point on the brook, it is as wide as a river. It was necessary for us to use our trekking poles to get across, hopping on rocks the whole way and submerging our feet just above our toes in a few spots. It was at this point I recall noticing the sound of the wind roaring up. It was certainly a reminder for me that winter in the Whites was almost upon us.
Mount Passaconaway, near the final ascent, showing what I believe to be the old Downes Brook Slide Trail
After the Downes Brook crossing, we came to a logging road which seemed to be in active use. Well used logging roads like this seem very out of place in the woods and I don't enjoy seeing them. However, I suppose if an area is logged properly, it has little impact to the land...but it is still an eyesore.
Tree across the trail. Many of these in the 2.2 miles to the summit.
The trail climbed moderately through beech, white birch and maple trees. It is the first time I have hiked this year that I've had to take caution due to slippery, fallen leaves on the trail, and it will be like this until next spring. The hardwood forest quickly changed to a hemlock forest and the trail climbed a bit more steeply. Through the hemlock forest, the trail was very much eroded and you had to hike on a slabs, but still in the woods, to ascend. Some were slippery, but it was certainly easy to get yourself up, as there were many roots and side paths. This may be a good time to mention that the trail maintenance was less than stellar, compared to more traveled trails. In the whole trip, we probably saw fifteen trees across the trail. Some were much harder to get over than others. I would be surprised if anyone has cleared it this year. On the other hand though, the trail was very well marked with crisp yellow blazes, always within view. I would say the blazes were repainted within the last year or so. There were also many arrow signs pointing the way, which were extremely helpful.
Following the hemlock forest, Sean and I came out to our first view point, which was a medium size ledge on the southwest corner of the mountain. Since the wind was blowing in from the northwest, we were completely shielded, which made it a great point to sit down, snap a few photos and have a snack. We had great views of Mount Chocorua and Mount Passaconaway, draped in autumn colors. The foliage was in full peak and seemed to even be passed in some spots on the landscape, as you could see patches where leaves had left their trees.
Mushroom on the summit ledge
After the view point, we continued traversing the southeast slope of the mountain. The footing was a bit rough at times, but the grade was only moderate. Mount Passaconaway stayed in view most of the time and the slide on its northern slopes finally came into view. I'm not sure, but I believe this is the old Downes Brook Slide trail that was closed many years ago due to it being too dangerous to hike and maintain. There are still people writing trail reports on ascending this peak via this old route.
Sandwich Range Wilderness boundary at the summit
View of Mount Tripyramid from the summit
The final push up to the summit, in the last quarter mile or so, was the steepest part of the journey. It was all slab face, but very manageable and pretty decent footing. When making our way onto the summit, I was surprised to see that instead of the southern view we had been getting on the way up, the ledge opened up to the northwest. The summit itself was marked with a yellow circle with an "X" in it, on the ledge rock. The Sandwich Range Wilderness boundary marker was also up there. The summit provided great views of Mount Tripyramid, and what I believe to be the Handcocks and Mount Carrigain...but I can't be sure. Of course, due to the wind, it was pretty cold up there and we only stayed on the ledges for a short time to snap a few photos. We weren't even able to pull the map out as it would have blown all over the place. We ultimately retreated to the southern portion of the summit that was pretty shielded from the wind and had lunch.
View to the northeast
When we made it back to the truck, what I had suspected happened. The parking lot filled up, but we only passed a couple hiking groups on the Mount Potash Trail. I'm sure everyone else was hiking the Downes Brook or Mount Hedgehog. Mount Potash provided us with a great day of hiking, with no crowds. I'm sure Sean would agree. Hopefully he'll continue to hike and get hooked on hiking as we all are.
Sean and I on the northwest summit ledges
Mount Potash is certainly a good mountain to hike and now I'm even more surprised it doesn't have more online recognition out there. It was a short hike and provided great views for little effort. The northeast ledges at the summit were amazing, and if not for the wind, we could have sat up there for hours, soaking in the beauty of the Whites. I hope this trail report on my blog has convinced some people out there to plan a trip to Mount Potash and help make it a more traveled mountain, since it really deserves to be one!