After two days of lung-testing climbs and painstaking, knee-jarring descents, Katie and I wanted something gentler for our last day in the White Mountains. The night before, our garrulous campground ranger had said something like “the last thing the Whites need is more trails”. He’s probably right. Trails crisscross the map densely, and all Katie and I needed to do now was find one or two flattish, shortish ones that led somewhere pretty.
SAWYER POND TRAIL: Sawyer Pond is at least a nine-mile roundtrip hike from the Kancamagus Highway, but from the north, Sawyer River Road (smooth dirt) leads to a trailhead just 1.5 miles from the pond. Elevation gain from trailhead to pond is a modest 300 feet. This looked just right for Katie and I, and we arrived at the trailhead soon after 8 a.m.
Sawyer Pond Trail ran through mixed deciduous-conifer woods, the hardwood foliage running the gamut from green to already littering the forest floor. The trail was a breeze – no scrambles, no boulders, no unbridged brooks. We covered in 35 minutes as much distance as took us several hours yesterday. At Sawyer Pond, a young couple was camped at the rustic campsite, and it felt like we had gatecrashed their backcountry idyll. The pond – a quarter-mile across – lies beneath a spur of Mount Tremont and the distinctive hump of Owls Cliff, both splashed in yellows, oranges, and reds. It was grand scenery, but it felt a little flat (no pun intended) so soon after Wildcat Mountain.
GREELEY PONDS TRAIL: If Sawyer Pond inspired me less than it should have, Greeley Ponds risked ending our Whites trip on a low. By early afternoon, the Kancamagus Highway was busy with visitor traffic, and we only managed to squeeze into the trailhead parking lot. But perhaps because rain was expected, most of the walkers we met were heading back to their cars, and we soon had the Greeley Ponds Trail mostly to ourselves. We had picked it for two topographic features – Mad River Notch and the ponds themselves. On the map, the notch is a steep cleft between spurs of mounts Kancamagus and Osceola, but we hardly noticed it from the trail itself. The upper pond – the first we came to – was nice enough, but it was the lower pond I really liked. The northern end was swampy, opening up a view of the notch. And under the arriving rain clouds, there was something raw and wild about that swamp – its blowing rough grasses, the dead stumps and dead trunks. You could forget that a tourist highway lay just two miles to the north.
More photos from these hikes can be found here.