"A Beautiful Calm before the Storm!" (pictures)
It had been a while since Scott and I had been up to the White Mountains for a hike! September 8th to be exact. And with beautiful weather forecasted for Saturday there was no question where we were headed! We decided to try and summit another four thousand footer on our list and I decided on Zealand. I had read many reports and seen pictures on how beautiful this area is and wanted to see it for myself! And with Hurricane Sandy coming in for Monday afternoon and winter ready to swing in at any moment, who knows when we would have another chance of great weather for hiking!
We arrived at the Zealand parking lot which was nearly full, most were from campers at the hut. A sign was posted on the kiosk warning of the approaching hurricane and advising against backcountry hiking. We began our hike at 8:30am. Temps were cool but not too bad. The Zealand trail was very pleasant. You pass through birch glades, pine and through some wet lands with new bridges for dry crossing. We passed the beaver ponds with views across the valley to Zeacliff and Zealand Mt. There were ducks on the far end of one of the ponds, hooded mergansers I believe!
At 2.3 miles you approach Zealand Pond. A picturesque pond with views up to the Zealand Hut and the rock studded Zealand Falls. Birch were reflecting beautifully in the pond and we spotted two more of what I think were hooded mergansers. As we made the climb up Twinway trail a group of young girls were hiking down from the hut as was several adult men carrying beers in there hands. Really!? Must have been a father daughter camp trip? We checked out some cascades and then hiked up to the hut, about a 100 feet of steep climbing. A stone stairway brings you up to the front of the large hut with a magnificent view through Zealand Notch to the Carrigain Range!
There were several chipmunks running around and seemed used to humans and were certainly well fed as evident by their round bellies! Scott couldn't resist and helped them with their gluttony! Moving on we checked out the Zealand Falls and found another attractive fall further up the trail. The trail now becomes steeper and climbs for a seemingly long 1.3 miles to Zeacliff. A cliff that boasts one of the most unique views in the White's. You look across the deep and narrow Zealand Notch to the aptly named Stonewall Mt. and the Willey Range beyond. Beyond that to the left Mt. Washington which was clouded over. And in the distance to the South the Carrigain Range mountain tops thrust into the sky like a line of pyramids in a desert of forest. Climbing down to the far end of the cliff one can even see Bondcliff.
We shared the cliff with about 10 other's as we took a break and re-fueled our bodies. Then we moved on headed for the main goal. You first climb over a knob with views back to Zeacliff and ahead to Zealand Mt. A long wooded ridge lay between and we made haste. We passed by the spur trail down to Zeacliff pond...maybe a stop on our way back...and climbed steeply over ledge, a ladder helping at one particularly steep section.
The hike across the ridge was quite. Some restricted views along the way, mostly of South Twin and it's notable slide, and over to the Presidential's with Lenticular clouds streaking across and hiding the summit cones. We descended slightly, climbed and then descended again. Very confusing when you can't see ahead of you. But we did reach the spur trail to the summit. Soon we were dropping our packs at the Zealand summit, a sign and cairn marking it. Number 35 for us, of the 48 four thousand footers! We had a nice break on this wooded summit before heading back the way we came.
Passing several hikers on their way up, we arrived back at the Zealand Pond spur trail and I decided to climb down to check it out. After negotiating some ledge and rocks along the shoreline I got a good view across the pond to Carrigain. After I had my fill I hiked back up to Scott waiting for me and we continued. At the Zeacliff trail junction we decided if we wanted to go back the way we came, or do a loop which would add an extra 1.2 miles. We decided to make the most of this fabulous day and take a different way down! I also figured it to be more quite instead of going back past the hut.
The trail proved to be difficult and steep. You climb along the base of the Zeacliff ledges around and over boulders. Then it is a steep climb down ledge and hill sides all the way down to the floor of the notch. Views across to Whitewall Mt. from this trail are spectacular! After crossing the river in the Notch below Scott spotted a bright frog. It turned out to be a Northern Wood Frog, only this one was a tan/orange color. They are usually a gray/brown color and I had never seen this color variation before!
There was one final push as our now tired legs and sore feet climbed steeply to meet the Ethan Pond trail on the side of the rock strewn Whitewall Mt. We could now look back to Zeacliff towering above. A couple sitting on the trail taking in the view cheered us on and asked how the trail was. Steep with few switch backs we informed them. The lady turned to her husband and said they were NOT going up that trail!
Ethan Pond trail was a neat trail. Cutting a nearly level path across the rock scarred mountain laden with slides. An interesting, large pile of rocks lay below the trail at one point, as if bulldozed into a pile. We passed two guys also relaxing and taking in the view. We traveled along this section of trail quickly.
Soon enough we were back on Zealand trail and making one final pass through the ponds and marshes. Temps were now reading 70 on Scott's thermometer! It was such a nice day and such a special area. Winds were calm, it was warm and partly sunny/mostly cloudy with a wonderful mix of Cirrus, cumulus and Lenticular clouds. Kinda sad having the hut there and the crowds it draws to what is such a peaceful area. Seems like it would be a great destination in the winter if not for it being gated in winter and thus would be a long road walk.