Monday, September 26, 2016

Packer's Falls - Exploration and Some History!

Not too long ago, a buddy of mine at work mentioned that his wife and kids were up my neck of the woods. When I asked where, he said they had checked out a small swimming area called Packer’s Falls. I had never heard of an actual falls in my area, but knew there was a Packer’s Fall Road very close by. After doing some Google searching, I found that there was in fact a Packer’s Falls on the Lamprey River located not too far from my house. I also found out that there is a New Hampshire Historical Highway Marker for Packer’s Falls…which means (drumroll) perfect topic for a blog post!!!

The marker for Packer’s Falls is on NH Route 108 on the southbound side, at the intersection with Bennett Road. As the marker states, the actual Falls are 1.6 miles west at the intersection with Bennett Road and Packer’s Falls Road. My guess is that they strategically placed the New Hampshire Historical Highway Marker in a location where more commuters might see or view it, hoping to draw attention to the actual landmark. The marker reads:

“These scenic falls, 1.6 miles west of here on the Lamprey River, once provided waterpower and industry for the early settlers. A deed dated April 11, 1694, shows that Capt. Packer, Jonathan Woodman, James Davis, Joseph Meder, and James Thomas were granted "the hole streame of Lamprele River for erecting a saw mill or mills." Thomas Packer of Portsmouth was a merchant, physician, judge, member of the King's council, and father of the famous sheriff Thomas Packer.”

 The Packer's Falls Bridge on Packer's Falls Road

Packer’s Falls is an impressive set of rapids and is the second in line down the Lamprey River after Wiswall Falls. I found that the rapids are typically rated as Class III in the spring (during the snow melt and run-off) and still remain a Class II most summers. When the water is lower and tamer, there are pools that can be used by visitors to lounge, similar to Diana’s Baths in Conway. There’s a great tour guide pamphlet that can be viewed here on the Lamprey and it’s attractions. [Ref. 1]
The only evidence of Packer's Falls running water on the west side of the rapids. I'm sure it's much more dramatic when the river is flowing full!

I found a lot of history on Packer’s Falls in some Google Books and other blogs. As the marker states, the Falls was granted to the men mentioned for use to build mills. Back then, Packer’s Falls actually encompassed a series of falls down the river (Wiswall and Wadleigh Falls presumably), and the rapids that are now referenced as Packer’s Falls were merely the “second falls”.

Captain Thomas Packer, for whom Packer’s Falls was named after, was granted half the land and a stretch of the Lamprey River for a mill or mills. The others mentioned in the marker were granted the other half. At these falls, from what I can tell, there was an old saw mill and an old corn mill which changed hands throughout the years. [Ref. 2]

It’s important to mention that Captain Thomas Packer was “a merchant, physician, judge and member of the King’s council”, not to be confused with his famous son, Sheriff Thomas Packer. Sheriff Thomas Packer is well known for the execution of Ruth Blay, the last woman executed (somewhat unjustly) in New Hampshire. It’s said that he gave the execution the green light to move forward early after hearing that a pardon was on its way from the Governor for the reason that he didn’t want to be late for dinner. The pardon is said to have arrived moments after she died. You can read more on this famous story here. [Ref. 3]

There’s a small parking area on Bennet Road near the intersection with Packer’s Falls road, only large enough for about three cars. I explored the north banks first, east of the bridge. Here, the banks contain a small maze of trails leading out to the river. There are large stone walls built up into the banking. Near the top of these structures, I found an old brick foundation with ancient looking hardware embedded in. I can only assume these are the artifacts left behind from the old saw or corn mill that was once powered here.

 Maps from Google Maps

  Maps from Google Maps

Old Stonewalls and Foundations on the north bank

Out on the river, I found it was easy to rock hop over the blackened granite boulders. These boulders are typically under water and help create the Class II/III rapids that are standardly flowing. Unfortunately, with the severe drought hitting us in southeastern New Hampshire, the falls were a mere trickle. Moving up the banks and eventually over the bridge, the western side of the falls (or up streams) was the fastest moving part, but still not something I would consider to be concerning rapids. One good thing about the lower river depths is that it makes for lounging in the brisk pools more enjoyable as well as easier to wade into.

This image really shows how dry the river is. Under normal conditions, this would be submerged.

Looking down the Lamprey River toward the east from the bridge.

Trough Foundation, I wonder if this housed the wheel that the water pushed creating power.
Embedded Hardware
It always amazes me how many cool, natural features are in New Hampshire. These features are always tied to history in some way and many times, artifacts are left behind to help tell its story. I know I won’t live long enough to visit every spot on my list of places to checkout in New Hampshire because I add to that list faster than I can visit them! I was happy, though, to find a small waterfall with an abundance of history close to my own backyard to explore.

Facts about this New Hampshire Historical Marker:
  • Marker Title: Packer's Falls
  • Marker Number: #0154
  • Location: On the southbound side of NH Rt. 108 at the intersection with Bennett Road in Durham, NH
  • Installed: 1985 [Ref. 4]....Note the sign has a "1989" cast in it...not sure why the discrepancy in dates.
  • Text: Same on both sides, see beginning of post for full text. 
[Ref. 1] Explore the Lamprey River, By Lamprey River Advisory Committee, pg. 4 http://www.lampreyriver.org/UploadedFiles/Files/LampreyTourGuide.pdf
[Ref. 3] Seacoast NH, The Tragic Story of Ruth Blay http://www.seacoastnh.com/dead/blay.html
[Ref. 4] Mike in New Hampshire Blog, Post Marker #154 Packer’s Falls https://mikenh.wordpress.com/2009/11/28/marker-154-packers-falls/


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Washington Boulder in Jackson, NH

Earlier this month, we visited Jackson, NH for a little rest and relaxation. At some point over the weekend, I activated my Facebook news feed on my phone and to my surprise I saw a posting of a rock formation profile I had never seen before. It was called the Washington Boulder and was of the resemblance of George Washington overlooking Mount Washington in the background. The Facebook post that caught my eye is below.

The image was posted by New Hampshire-then and now, which is a phenomenal Facebook site that posts great, older images of New Hampshire's heritage...many of the White Mountains. The caption for this photo is quoted below:

"This is the George Washington Profile Boulder in Jackson,N.H. In the background is Mt. Washington. The Washington Boulder is located on Tin Mine Road, shortly after Middle Mountain Trail, on the left. It is located close to the road, and is easily seen when driving by, as the boulder is on ground level (not on a ledge like the Old Man profile was). Photo taken by Dick Smith about 1964. www.facebook.com/NewHampshireThenAndNow"

So obviously I set out to find it and make sure it was still there! The directions in the post served me well. The drive up Tin Mine Road was nice. It had a decent uphill grade with lots of great houses and views. Shortly after Middle Mountain Trail (which is really a road) enters on the left, there's a sign on a tree that reads "Washington Boulder". Behind the sign, is a giant boulder on the side of the road between two property lots.

In order to see the profile, you have to stand in the end of someone's gravel driveway and look north. Unfortunately, unlike Dick Smith's photo from 1964, the trees in the background have grown up a bit and Mount Washington would have been obstructed by tree branches if it wasn't already cloudy. My attempts at trying to capture George Washington's profile are below.

From the iPhone (came out a bit dark)

From the point-and-shoot

Below is a comparison of Dick Smith's older photo with my more recent one. The obvious observation is that the photographic skill set of Dick Smith is much, much...much higher than mine. But once you get over that, my goal is to illustrate how much the trees have grown in and show how restricted the view to Mount Washington has become.

 Profile from 1964 vs. Profile from 2016...big difference in the viewpoint!

Lastly, I wanted to share a couple images of old postcards I found online. The first is from 1958 and was published by Bromley and Company. I captured the image from cardcow.com

The next one seems much older, but I couldn't find much information with regards to the date or publishing company. The image was captured from http://www.ohcroo.com/postcard_131052.cfm

It amazes me how many rock formation face profiles exist in New Hampshire. The Old Man of the Mountains is by far the most popular one, however there are several others in New Hampshire that just don't get the recognition that others do. Based on the postcard images I found and the great viewpoints displayed in earlier photos, Washington Boulder was probably a more well known attraction than what it is today. After all, I've stayed in Jackson more times than I can recall over the past 10 years and I had never heard of this rock formation. I'm hoping this post may bring some interest back to good old George Washington's profile sitting up in Jackson, NH!


Friday, September 16, 2016

First Ascent of Mount Washington: New Hampshire Historical Highway Marker #0011

To start off my exploration of New Hampshire’s Historical Highway Markers, I thought it fitting to look into one that was both hiking and White Mountains related. We were up in Jackson this past weekend and I was able to locate the perfect marker for my first topic. It’s marker #0011, First Ascent of Mount Washington.

The marker is located roughly 0.5 miles north of the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, on the northbound side of NH Route 16 (in the Pinkham Notch, just south of the Wildcat Ski Area entrance). The marker text reads on both sides the following:

"Darby Field, a New Hampshire settler, accomplished this difficult feat in 1642 from a southerly approach. Partly guided by Indians and with only primitive equipment at his disposal, he is thus alleged to be the originator of all Mount Washington ascensions."

It’s a pretty amazing accomplishment if you think about it. Just over 20 years earlier, the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620 which puts into perspective how unpopulated the New England region was around that time. Darby Field, who was a settler in Durham, NH (at the time this land was Exeter, NH) was a known explorer and mountaineer back in Europe. The account of his ascent of Mount Washington was documented by Governor John Winthrop of Massachusetts Bay Colony in his journal which read:

"One Darby Field, an Irishman, living about Piscataquack, being accompanied with two Indians, went to the top of the white hill. He made his journey in 18 days. His relation at his return was, that it was about one hundred miles from Saco, that after 40 miles travel, he did, for the most part, ascend; and within 12 miles of the top was neither tree nor grass, but low savins [shrubs], which they went upon the top of sometimes, but a continual ascent upon rocks, on a ridge between two valleys filled with snow, out of which came two branches of Saco river, which met at the foot of the hill where was an Indian town of some 200 people. Some of them accompanied him within 8 miles of the top, but durst go no further, telling him that no Indian ever dared to go higher, and that he would die if he went. So they staid there till his return, and his two Indians took courage by his example and went with him. They went divers times through the thick clouds for a good space, and within 4 miles of the top, they had no clouds but very cold. By the way among the rocks, there were two ponds, one a blackish water, and the other reddish [the Lakes of the Clouds]. The top of all was plain about 60 feet square. On the north side was such a precipice [the Great Gulf], as they could scarcely discern to the bottom. They had neither cloud nor wind on the top, and moderate heat. All the country about him seemed a level, except here and there a hill rising above the rest, and far beneath them. He saw to the north, a great water which he judged to be 100 miles broad, but could see no land beyond it." [1]

"The White Hill"...Mount Washington from South Moat

There was also another account of his travels in a letter by Thomas Gorges to his cousin, Sir Ferdinando Gorges, the Governor of the Province of Maine. It is believed this letter came after Governor John Winthrop’s journal entry and is said to be more accurate…but who can really substantiate that? The letter read (and note, I did fix some of the 17th century spelling to modern English due to spell check going crazy):

“…you desire a relation of the white hills. This much I certify of according as it was sent to me by him that discovered them whose name was Darby Field of Pascataqua who about a month since with some 3 or 4 Indians undertook the voyage, went first to Pigwackett, a place on the Saco river according to my draught now 23 leagues from Mr. Vines his house, hence he travailed some 80 miles as he sayeth & came to a mountain, went over it, & a 2d & a 3d, at length came to a ledge of rocks which he conceived to be 12 miles high, very steep, upon which he travailed going to a rock that was at the end of that which he judged 2 miles high, very steep, yet he adventured up, but one Indian accompaynge him, the most being fearful. At the top it was not above 20 foot square, where he sat with much fear some 5 hours time the clouds passing under him making a terrible noise against the mountains. Thence he discovered some 80 miles farther a very glorious white mountain & between 2 other great mountains as he judged some 100 miles…a mighty river bearing North & by East from him of which like or sea he could see no end. On this mountain, he met with terrible freezing weather and, as I took it, on the top of the ledge or rock & at the foot of them were 2 little ponds, 1 of a curious red color, the other black. The latter dyed his handkerchief very black, the former did not alter the colors. There were many rattle snakes but he received no harm. He intends as I hear from them a 2d voyage…about a fortnight hence. I intend with Mr. Vines & Mr. Jocelyn for Pascataqua & to take an ampler account. Our resolution hold for the voyage as yet about the end of August.” [2]

Mount Washington from the southern Presidentials

So, very cool stuff, right! Most feel these accounts allude to Darby Field ascending from the southeast, up over Boott Spur. Most also believe that one of the bodies of water (the red one) that is referenced is the well-known Lake of the Clouds. In Winthrop’s account, Darby Field witnessed a large body of water to the north that he could not see an end too, similar to a sea or ocean. Many people think this was simply a cloud bank playing tricks on him at the time.

This is all very interesting and the fact that someone was brave enough to explore this rugged terrain and ascend Mount Washington in the mid-1600 is notable enough for one of these historical markers, in my opinion. But I have to believe, like many do, that this was not the first ascent of the highest point east of the Mississippi and north of the Carolinas. It’s documented that many Native American tribes believed the mountain to be sacred and would not climb it for religious regions. However, it’s tough to think that this belief holds true through to the beginning of human beings in New England. At some point I’m sure another indigenous person or possibly an earlier explorer set their primitive hiking boot at the summit of the Rock Pile before Darby Field. I think the marker may be more accurate if it said “The First Documented Ascent of Mount Washington” or something to that degree.

By checking out my first marker, I accomplished what I set out to do. I learned something cool about my State, the mountains I love and our history and heritage. I hope you enjoyed this little history lesson as I’ll be posting more in upcoming months!

Facts about this New Hampshire Historical Highway Marker:

  • Marker Title: First Ascent of Mount Washington
  • Marker Number: 0011
  • Location: Pinkham Grant, NH Route 16 – Northbound, approx. 0.5 miles north of AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor’s Center
  • Installed: 1963
  • Text: Same on both sides, see beginning of post for full text.

One thing I must mention is that there are many before me that have done a great job documenting this marker and the history behind it. They’ve been more thorough and are better writers. Please take a minute to check out their posts. Links are below.

Ref [1] - Wikipedia of Darby Field

Ref [2] - The White Mountains: Alps of New England: pg. 27-30 (Google Books)


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Cannon Mountain via Hi-Cannon Trail

We took a late Labor Day holiday this past weekend and headed up to hike a 4,000 footer on Friday. The one we chose was Cannon Mountain for the well-known 360 degree views from the observation tower. We decided to ascend Cannon via the Hi-Cannon Trail due to its reasonable length since we got a late start.
At Lafayette Campground, beginning of the Lonesome Lake Trail

Our hike started at Lafayette Campground, where the Lonesome Lake Trail begins. The parking area can be reached on the southbound side of the Franconia Notch Parkway (if you’re northbound, you need to reverse direction at the Tramway exit). We first worked our way through the campsites to the true trailhead of the Lonesome Lake Trail. The trail ascended gently and moved smoothly over the terrain. There was one part of the trail that was flooded due to some drainage issues. There was a culvert pipe under the trail at this point so my guess is it was clogged in some way.
Lonesome Lake Trail flooded due to a culvert issue

 Some cool trail features

Soon, we came to a junction where the Lonesome Lake Trail continued straight and the Hi-Cannon Trail began on the right. The trail description for the Hi-Cannon Trail illustrates it to be very rough and steep. Simply put, it was just that. The first portion had a lot of roots as well as a lot of loose gravel. This made for tough footing along the steep sections…which was most of the length. Soon we came to a junction where the Joe Dodge Cutoff Trail entered from the left. We took a quick break here and continued on.

The second portion (above the Joe Dodge Cutoff) of this trail was still very steep but the terrain also become much rougher. The gravel and roots gave way to large boulders and stones. In a few places, there were even trees growing up in the middle of the trail making it hard to squeeze through at times. There was a slightly restricted viewpoint toward the Franconia Ridge just before the trail made a sharp turn back to the south. This is photographed below.
Lincoln, Little Haysack and Liberty from the first viewpoint on Hi-Cannon Trail
Mount Liberty and Loon to the southeast

After the trail makes a sharp right, there is a natural rock formation on the right side of the trail called the “Cliff House”. Apparently, it is located just before the ladders and you need to bushwhack a short distance up the slope to see it. I was looking for it while we hiked but never did locate it. I did do some research after I returned home and found this Mountain Wanderer blog post which describes it with a photograph.

We soon came to the ladder, which is a major contributing feature that lands this trail on the Terrifying 25 list as an elective hike. The ladder was tedious but not too long. Shortly after the ladder climb, there were many viewpoints south toward Lonesome Lake and the Lonesome Lake AMC Hut. The trail continued steeply in spots and the scrub trees really crowded the trail in at this point, making it a bit claustrophobic.
Ladder on Hi-Cannon Trail
Lonesome Lake from the viewpoint above the ladder section

Zoomed in Lonesome Lake AMC Hut

The Hi-Cannon Trail finally dumped us off on the Kinsman Ridge Trail which we were relieved about. This portion of the Kinsman Ridge Trail had a very gradual grade and was much nicer terrain.

Soon we hit the Rim Trail, which circles the perimeter of the summit, leading you to the observation tower, café/bar and some great viewpoints to the Franconia Ridge. As we stepped onto the Rim Trail, we were quickly cutoff by some tourists that had just got off the Tram and were heading to the observation deck. After such a tough hike, we felt very out of place next to the many tourists in khaki shorts and polo shirts, because our clothes were soaked in sweat, stinky and we were utterly exhausted!
The Rim Trail terrain
From the deck, view north with the ski lift house in center, tram house to the right (I think) and the Mittersill Trail on the left (I think...and currently closed I think)
From the deck, view south with the Kinsmans and Moosilauke (I think) in the background
From the deck, pano of the Franconia Ridge (east) to meandering 93 (south)

When we got to the observation deck, I first  checked out the underneath and found the USGS Benchmark. We then climbed the stairs to the top platform, awarding us 360 degree views all around. After snapping some photos and enjoying the views, we visited the Summit Café, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and headed to the viewpoints via the Rim Trail. We then started our long, slow trek back down the way we ascended.
Summit foot shot!
USGS Benchmark
The Summit Cafe
Probably my favorite shot from the day. Franconia Ridge from the Rim Trail

Honestly, this hike was tough. The Lonesome Lake Trail and Kinsman Ridge Trail are in great shape, but the Hi-Cannon Trail is extremely steep and rough, especially above the Joe Dodge Cutoff. As I mentioned, there are portions that are so narrow due to trees growing up in the middle of the trail, I could barely get myself with my pack through. Cannon’s summit was worth the trip, though. We had great views in all directions and a comfortable place to sit and rest. We also checked off another 4K and a Terrifying 25 from the lists.
Map from Fraconia State Park PDF Map vs. GPS track from Garmin 620 Watch

 Signage from this trip

More signage from this trip