Outdoor Adventures: Eastman Mountain serves up sweet surprise
Mountaintops are the goals of hikers. Oft-visited, they are, oddly, places hikers don’t stay for long as the true aim is to return home safely. With an eye to the sky, the time and life’s daily duties, trampers all too willingly hump it to the summit, snap selfies and beeline it back.
There are exceptions, of course. Many trekkers routinely have a summit-top lunch. Then there are the welcoming peaks with man-made objects encouraging lingering, like fire towers or the rare observatory. Close-by alpine huts and shelters allow summit-seekers more time on their beloved peaks.
And come this time of year – blueberries.
The copious patches of plump wild berries were found on a sub-3,000-foot peak on the New Hampshire side of craggy Evans Notch in the White Mountains. There’s no worry about unveiling the name of the mountain as there is, or was, some left. Though the mountain is clearly down a quart.
Eastman Mountain is a fairly nonchalant member of the Baldface-Royce Range located between the rocky Wild and Cold rivers. Clearly taking center stage are the ledgy North and South Baldfaces, the highest in the chain. Those two combine for a popular nearly 10-mile excursion from the trailhead just north of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Cold River Camp on Route 113 in Chatham.
But, as Robert Frost might say, the 2,939-foot Eastman Mountain, with its view-heavy ledgy summit, is found along the paths less traveled.
It is the many ledges and outcrops that hold the blueberries, vistas over to a number of readily spotted peaks and landmarks from Chocorua’s crown to South Baldface’s craggy top, and engaging summit cairns. Getting there is fairly straight-forward – Baldface Circle Trail, Slippery Brook Trail and Eastman Mountain Trail. The peak is low-lying and so are the valleys below, so don’t cop an attitude on this one. There’s some climbing to be done during the moderate 8.8-mile round-trip hike.
Map lovers will note trails to Eastman Mountain can be accessed from the White Mountain National Forest’s Slippery Brook Road near Bartlett, too. But that road is still closed to motor vehicles following Irene’s damaging pass through the area in 2011.
With relatively low humidity and temps forecasted in the low 70s, we hit the trail by 8 a.m., taking the few rock steps up from the road to the gentle trail leading in about three-quarters of a mile to a junction where the masses make the circuit or swimming-hole aficionados take the spur path to refreshing Emerald Pool.
To Eastman, it was first along the Slippery Brook Trail, following flowing Chandler Brook a good portion of the way as the pathway ascended a ridge before allowing for a pretty water crossing.
The trail grew wider in spots, as is the case of old logging roads, and became somewhat wet and mucky at times, even steep. But that was almost forgotten when the way led under a gorgeous stand of thick, old birches, many with far-reaching limbs denuded of thinner branches with leaves. The stand continued on the narrow Eastman Trail, the trail sign containing a rare trail typo withstanding the test of time.
In no time, the trail dipped and rose to the peak’s summit and its rocky gateway complete with blueberry bushes.
Upon reaching a summit, many hikers may take off their packs, poke around and eventually sit for a snack. Snooping around yielded those incredible vistas of the Moats to the south, Chandler and Sable Mountains to the west, while Maine’s Lovewell Pond and Pleasant Mountain stood in the east along with valleys, fields and more. There were plenty of stunted conifers around, but when it came time for that snack the abundance of blueberries became clear and female shrieks of joy turned a sweating traveler into a picker with a purpose.
It is tempting to tell together we picked, but that’s not entirely true, as when your partner is picking there is much to do while on your back gazing at the ever-changing cloud formations rolling across the sky from frowning faces to dancing dogs.
But over time, even the most contented cloud watcher must join in for the berry picking, and so it was that day on a mountain most have never heard of that we both spent the most time we ever had on a summit picking berries together under the shape-shifting clouds.
(Marty Basch can be reached through onetankaway.com.)