Basch: A tale and trail of two ponds

  • East Pond sits at the base of Scar Ridge in the White Mountain National Forest. The pond is reached during a five-mile circuit not far from Waterville Valley. MARTY BASCH / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Sunday, September 24, 2017

On the south side of trailless Scar Ridge in the White Mountains, a pair of remote ponds sit peacefully under its graces. One is tiny, shallow and cloaked with thickly wooded shores. The other is twice the size of its neighbor about a mile and a half away with deep welcoming water, a beaver dam, stony shores and fish jumping to break the silence.

Both sit at nearly 2,600 feet in elevation.

There are trails to each, yet it’s possible to visit both in a mellow to moderate five-mile loop hike off dirt Tripoli Road not far from Waterville Valley.

The East Ponds Loop in the White Mountain National Forest links the diverse Little East Pond and East Pond during an outing that can last a half-day.

Access to the pleasant journey begins about five miles down Tripoli Road (Exit 31 on Interstate-93), known for its simple roadside dispersed camping area. The road through the national forest is closed November through May.

Though it is the beauty that attracts hikers to the ponds, the trek also is a walk through mining and railroad history.

Nearly seven acre big East Pond was once mined for diatomaceous earth, also called Tripoli, used as an abrasive compound like silver polish a good 100-plus years ago, according to the excellent website. Photographers back then would use it to clean the silver surfaces of their daguerreotype plates.

Diatomaceous earth was formed millions of years ago. Types of single celled algae called diatoms died and sunk to the bottom of ponds and lakes. Their silica skeletons gathered to become sediment When processed, that sediment became diatomaceous earth.

The Livermore Tripoli Co. existed from 1911 to 1919 and used the Woodstock and Thornton Gore Railroad to transport the material from the mill and its buildings.

A small clearing just off the trail, about a third of a mile into the hike, is where the mill was and where blackberry bushes now grow.

It’s also near a junction of the Little East Pond Trail and East Pond Trail. Certainly either direction will have rises and dips, and allow vistas for both waterways, but going clockwise saves the best for last. That’s the way my wife Jan and I went on a delightful cloudless September morning that had temps in the high 50s before nearly nudging 80. As the hike progressed we saw flashes of autumnal color through fringes of the forest.

The trek on the Little East Pond Trail is a pleasant footpath following the old Woodstock and Thornton Gore Railroad bed with its several brook crossings and downed trees. Birch and fir dominated the closed in woods as the trail sharpened in intensity as we climbed to the first of the ponds.

There the forest canopy dissipated and there sat the wild pond under the watchful eye of 3,774-foot Scar Ridge and its humps. Lily pads stagnated on the placid water. Dragon flies buzzed by. Dry driftwood was scattered among the muddy shore with tracks from visitors – both two- and four-legged –left behind.

From Little East Pond, the connector trail was readily negated through hemlocks and along fern gullies. It was decidedly drier, with no water flowing at brook crossings and many downed evergreens looking like skeletons littered through the dense timberland.

Once again the woodland canopy dissolved and opened upon a glorious alpine scene – this time East Pond. At 2,580 feet in elevation –16 feet less than Little East Pond – East Pond looked vastly bigger than its six and a half acres. A welcome breeze blew across the water as we explored the rocky shore of the pond along the ridge between Scar Ridge and Mount Osceola.

We hopped over what looked like a small rock barrier on the southern shore that perhaps was once used by those mining for Tripoli, who also used pipe in the process to get the water from the pond down to the mill. Far down on the northern front, we spotted a beaver dam.

We had the pond to ourselves and lingered over a chicken cutlet lunch to drink in the views.

When it was time to say good-bye, we took the forgiving East Pond Trail walking side by side along the old woods road through the birch and fir during the invigorating trek to the two peaceful ponds.