Bookended by the widely popular hiking destinations of Franconia Ridge and South Twin Mountain on one end, and the Presidential Range on the other, it’s easy to dismiss the New Hampshire Appalachian Trail from Mt. Guyot to Mizpah Spring Hut as the necessary in-between. To an extent this wouldn’t entirely be a mistake (the summit of Mt. Zealand isn’t likely to take anyone’s breath away); however, those who tackle this stretch are treated to ample photo opportunities from Zealand Falls, Zeacliff, Zealand Notch and the Webster Cliffs.
Having stayed at the Guyot Shelter the previous night, this recap begins with the one-mile backtrack to the Appalachian Trail. When section hiking the AT I have a rule about side trails—they’re for day hiking. If it’s more than .03 of a mile, I’m typically going to save it for another day. The AT is hard enough as it is without adding steps. In this case the need for a place to camp made it a necessary evil. The sunny side to this tale is that it afforded me a second viewing of the Pemigewasset Wilderness from the south Guyot summit.
Needless to say, the path over the south Guyot summit was equally as beautiful in the early morning light as it had been the previous afternoon.
On the other hand the main north summit of Mt. Guyot is nothing to blog about. So I won’t. The trek from Guyot to Mt. Zealand is pleasant in spots and challenging in others. Case in point, it was a little early in the morning for this…
It was cool, though, the summit views on Mt. Zealand were totally worth it.
For those of you unfamiliar with my particular brand of sarcasm, please allow me to call a 20-second timeout to sincerely say Zealand is a great get for trail sign photo collectors.
The northbound descent has several flat-rock slopes that are relatively benign in good weather but could be treacherous when wet.
A little man-made assistance can never hurt, either.
Shortly after the southern junction with the Zeacliff Trail there’s a short spur trail—it’s only 100 yards long, so it passes my .3 or less test—that offers a grand view of Zealand Notch and Whitewall Mountain.
From here the Appalachian Trail mysteriously detours in the wrong direction, in the process passing the Zealand Falls Hut. Merely a coincidence, I’m sure. Also on the agenda is Zealand Falls, which offers a good spot to have a snack or eat lunch if you aren’t going to hunker down in the hut. The photo here doesn’t really capture the falls in its full glory.
After the falls the AT connects onto the Ethan Pond Trail and follows an old railroad grade through Zealand Notch with smooth sailing most of the way to the Ethan Pond Shelter. At one point the trail comes out into the open offerring views of Whitewall Mountain and its rock-pile landscape.
By the time I arrived at the Ethan Pond Shelter I wasn’t feeling great. After resting up for a bit and getting a replenishing of water, salty snacks and Ibuprofen, my headache waned and I felt better. Little did I know this would be a harbinger of things to come. Ethan Pond is one to the better places to camp I’ve seen with large tent platforms to go along with the shelter and even a special place setup for cooking. From here the trail gradually descends for about three miles to Rt. 302 and across the Saco River.
The climb up Mt. Webster begins immediately after the river. Switchbacks are frequent, especially in the early going, as the trail snakes up the steep and rocky mountainside. Once an ample amount of punishment has been doled out, the reward is several viewpoints along the Webster Cliffs. The shot below is looking out over Crawford Notch and Mt. Willard. It’s wicked purty.
From the summit of Mt. Webster the trail eases up on the approach to Mt. Jackson.
For most of the morning I wasn’t feeling quite right, the previous day’s headache slowly creeping back in. I kept telling myself that if I could just make it to Mizpah Spring Hut by lunch I could rest-up and recoup there. Seeing the mileage sign atop Mt. Jackson gave me hope. Just 1.7 miles away.
And then I got my first glimpse of the Presidential Range traverse, in the process seeing how far away 1.7 miles was. That white dot is Mizpah Spring Hut.
In need of energy, not to mention a morale boost, I stopped for lunch shortly thereafter. One problem: I couldn’t eat. Everything in my pack, from a tuna wrap to trail mix, made me gag. Something wasn’t right. On the third day of a planned week-long trip, I really didn’t want to throw in the towel. I hemmed and hawed for 20 minutes. Then I succumbed to common sense. I was getting cell reception for the first time in three days, and I wasn’t going anywhere if I couldn’t eat. There’s a fine line between being tough and becoming a headline due to stupidity. I chose to call my wife and get out of there via the Crawford Path.