Saturday morning Lindsay ran out first thing in the morning to do her volunteer work for the Androscoggin River Watershed Council, testing the water in Gorham and Shelburne. Andrew was fine being left home so he could go to the Post Office and do some homework. We reconvened mid-morning wondering if and when the thunderstorms would hit. We had some business errands in Lancaster, so Andrew suggested “How about we go explore Devil’s Hopyard again?” Andrew had recently read that this hike had made it to a list called the “Terrible 25”, and recent discussions with other trekkers made him wonder if we had missed something on our first visit there. We never found that the trail was “terrible” or overly rugged, and never saw a waterfall. So off we drove to the South Pond Recreation Area that is part of the White Mountain National Forest, in Stark, NH.
It was raining when we pulled into the lot and we slipped our $5 into the iron ranger. There were a few families at the picnic area: a father still flipping burgers under an umbrella and a few brave kids splashing around in South Pond. We grabbed our umbrellas and found the trail on the south end of the picnic area. For the first 888 feet, the trail is level and handicap accessible, providing fishing access along South Pond. Beyond that, the trail starts to pull away from the shore. As we said above, we’ve hiked this trail before, but other people keep commenting about a waterfall at the end of the trail that we thought we just hadn’t gone far enough (even though there is a sign that says “end of trail”). We also recently heard someone describe Devil’s Hopyard as “dramatically impressive” and from what we remembered it wasn’t overly spectacular. So, here we are, checking it out again.
At the Kilkenny Ridge Trail junction, we veered right to go into Devil’s Hopyard. We walked along side the brook that flows out of Devil’s Hopyard and Andrew touched it “Yup, it’s pretty f-ing cold!” Soon the trail turns a corner and the scramble through and on the boulders begins. It isn’t too rough compared to Ice Gulch, but it is slightly harder than Devil’s Gulch inVermont. Large cliffs loom overhead, while you hike over boulders, listening to the rushing water below ground. We tried to guess where we had turned around the last time, but when we reached the “end of trail” sign, we knew that this was where we had stopped before. Andrew checked his GPS and found that he had even put that point into his map and Lindsay remembered taking a photo of the large cliff wall. Andrew had been researching a few older trail descriptions that put the sign right at the base of a waterfall, after a section of trail described as a steep rugged ascent at the headwall.
At the “end of the trail” sign we could hear the large waterfall up stream. We peered into the forest and wondered how we could get there. We tried following what looked like a trail skirting the towering cliffs at the head of the gorge, but it seemed to disappear quickly. We scrambled up the side bank pulling ourselves up teetering rock slabs and testing our footing before taking a step. Alas, our hard work paid off: we made it to the waterfall.
We perched on a seemingly stable ledge shelf just below what appeared to be the top of the gorge, listening to much of the waterfalls flowing below us hidden in the rocks. Looking out we could see across the floor of the gorge at piled talus slopes and towering ledges that gave more credence to its wild reputation. We both checked our perspective GPS maps to reference a couple of older maps trail locations we had seen, and the terrain and GPS maps suggested another gorge and headwall just above us. Hmm… another gorge…an older trail just above it coming from the other side of the ridge.., looks like another possible adventure for the future.
On the way back down to the trail we stayed close together, wondering how long ago the rock cliff had given way to these piles of rocks we were stumbling over. We both felt a lot safer once we were back on the trail.
We took a break, ate some snacks and watched the sun filter through the trees while enjoying the cool air permeating the hopyard. Andrew’s ecological assessment found fewer black spruce than his beloved Ice Gulch, as well as a discussion over the possible forest harvest history of the immediate area; while Lindsay played her usual game of ‘try to photograph the dragonfly’.
The hike alone along the official trail could hardly be described as “terrible”, it barely climbs elevation and even after a good rain, neither one of us slipped on the rocks or logs. However the bushwack we did to get to the waterfalls could be described as terribly hard. Without an established trail, scrambling up the side of a crumbling cliff side is not the safest, leaves covered hidden ankle breaking holes and recently fallen rocks tipped in odd directions under foot.
We walked back to the South Pond Recreation Area just before another round of thunderstorms. This is great hike to do if you just have a short amount of time (or showers prevent you from doing an exposed hike). It is about 3 miles round trip. The Rec Area has bathrooms, picnic tables and grills, a swimming area, and boat launch. We’ve also canoed this pond several times and have found some great hidden ponds and wetlands to explore at the south end.