Hike: Baldface Circle

Date Hiked: 20 June 2015

Work stress, home-buying stress and Father’s Day weekend found me pining for the mountains. It had been nearly two months since my last hike, nearly three months since my last mountain summit and seven months since my last solo hike. It was a gorgeous weekend, so I volunteered to take the ferry to town to procure the weekly groceries and then stole to the mountains to get a reprieve.

The Baldfaces was one of those hikes that doesn’t make the list of big hikes, but I had heard was one of the better hikes in New Hampshire. So I took the drive to Fryeburg and instead of heading west toward North Conway, I kept north toward Evans Notch. I found the trailhead parking lot overflowing and pulled over on the sandy shoulder and hopped out of the car. I was on a tight time-budget so I threw on my daypack and headed to the trailhead, which was on the opposite side of the road and a few hundred feet north of the parking lot.

The 0.7 mile trail to Emerald Pool was very flat and I took it in a few minutes. I popped down to the pool to take a gander and quickly headed away from the small crowd gathered there and toward the mountains.

Green pool of river water

Emerald Pool

At the spur trail to Emerald Pool was also the intersection with both branches of the Baldface Circle Trail as well as the Slippery Brook Trail. I headed toward Slippery Brook and then turned off to head toward South Baldface via the Baldface Circle Trail. The trail soon became moderately steep and I found the indiscreet Chandler Gorge Loop Trail. I followed it to Chandler Gorge, a small canyon in the forest will a few cascades and pools, and back to the Baldface Circle Trail. Since I was Tracing the White Mountain Trails I briefly hiked downhill to the junction with the Chandler Gorge Loop trail to bag the section of the Baldface Circle Trail between.

A few miles up the trail I hit the Baldface Shelter and sat on the pile of flat stones next to the fire pit for a quick lunch of PBJ and pretzels and pondered over the fact I had seen no one on the trail (aside from the crowd at Emerald Pool). Soon after the shelter the fun began, the trail exited the forest and hit a section of bald granite with cliffs looming above. I picked my way carefully over the boulders and in several places I had to pull myself up short rock faces. It was actually one of the more difficult sections of trails I have hiked in the White Mountains and would definitely not be fun in bad weather. Apparently this section of trail can be skipped if you take the Slippery Brook Trail and Baldface Knob Trail instead, but I was up for the challenge.

A couple of times I had to pause and search around for the trail, neither the blazes painted on the granite nor the cairns were obvious or frequent. I was able to find my way based on the wear from trekking poles and soon found myself on the crown of granite for which the Baldfaces got their name. The trek from there reminded me of hiking up Bondcliff for whatever reason: I suppose because of the spectacular view, the exposed rock and the lack of underbrush. Soon thereafter the ridge leveled off at the junction with the Baldface Knob Trail and was crowned with an enormous cairn and a wonderful view up to South Baldface summit.

Pile of rocks with mountain peak in the background

Looking up at South Baldface

The climb from there to the summit was similar to the Boott Spur Trail: mostly exposed but fairly steep and occasionally dipping in and out of the trees. As it approached the summit, the trail entered the trees but surfaced from them again just prior to the summit. I paused to look back toward the baldfaced ridge before hitting the peak.

Trail climbing up mountain ridge

Looking down from South Baldface

There were several small groups of people gathered around the spacious summit, so I made my way to the south and found some shade beside a large boulder. It was my brother’s 40th birthday and a few days after the birth of his 3rd child so I made him a short video of the summit, including a shot of one of the greatest mountains we’ve stood on top of together, Mount Washington.

Large mountain on horizon

Mount Washington from South Baldface

I began the hike north toward North Baldface and the trail took me into the trees again. Soon after the summit I came upon a spruce grouse in the trail. I slowly walked up to it and came within a few feet before it darted off the trail. It stood frozen as I approached it again, probably suspecting that I could not see it if it held still for long enough. I watched it for several minutes until a couple of hikers came down the trail toward me. I pointed out the grouse to them and started on my way.

Bird hiding under tree

Spruce Grouse

The hike from the col between the mountains up to North Baldface was very rigorous. I was quickly soaked with sweat and breathing heavily but pushed on. I’ve hiked with several people who have said they were near vomiting while keeping up with me. I don’t think I’m the fastest hiker, but I do like to push through hard climbs. To me it is a workout that cleanses the body of the cruft which gathers from the nine-to-five life.

Halfway up to the northern summit I came across a large group of college-age guys and ladies as well as a dog. The dog was sprawled out taking a breather and trying to dissipate as much body heat as possible into the ground. Several of the guys were as well. I uncharacteristically made a few jokes about how the dog looked how I felt and bid them farewell.

Arriving at the summit there was a decent view to the south which was intensified by the haze in the air, but the Presidentials were cloaked by the Carter-Moriah Range. Again there were several groups of people scattered about. I wolfed down my second PB&J as well as an orange and began my descent as the large group of college-age folks were taking the summit.

Layers of mountains in the distant haze

Looking south toward Attitash

The hike from North Baldface toward Eagle Crag was an interesting one. It weaved through the trees and out onto bald rock intermittently, similar to Bamforth Ridge on Camels Hump in Vermont. One of the highlights for me was the spectacular view of the bald ridge and ragged cliffs on the east spur of South Baldface (which I had climbed a few hours earlier).

Rocky ridge viewed from a distance

Baldface East Spur

Once the trail hit the junction with Eagle Crag Link it entered the trees and headed for the trailhead. The trail was steep at first but gradually leveled out until the final flat mile heading from Emerald Pool to the road. Once I hit that section I also hit the crowds. It seemed that many of the vehicles that were overflowing the parking lot belonged to people going for a cool dip in the pool.

The hike up to South Baldface was an impressive one and one I will likely do again. Next time I will probably do a loop of Slippery Brook Trail, Baldface Knob Trail and South Baldface so that I can check out Baldface Knob, which looked interesting from above.

The block of granite which was an obstacle in the pathway of the weak, became a stepping-stone in the pathway of the strong.
—Thomas Carlyle

Map of hike

Map of hike (interactive map)

Highest Elevation: 3566′
Elevation Gain: 3600′
Distance: 9.8 miles
Book Time: 5:42
Actual Time: 4:50
Temperature: 60°s
Weather: mostly sunny
Wind: SW 10mph

Tracing White Mountains Trails:
Baldface Circle Trail
Emerald Pool Spur
Chandler Gorge Loop

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