Outdoor Adventures: Lookout Ledge is worth the trip

  • King Ravine on Mount Adams holds fingers of snow as spotted from Lookout Ledge in Randolph. The ledge and its trails are maintained by the Randolph Mountain Club. MARTY BASCH / Courtesy

For the Monitor
Saturday, June 17, 2017

What a showcase.

Looking out from the welcoming ledge, the vibrant Randolph Valley was on display. Durand Lake, itself a worthy outlook to the northern Presidential Range, shimmered like the jewel it is. Motorists piloted their way along U.S. Route 2, paralleled by the vital Presidential Range Rail Trail. Mounts Madison, Adams and Jefferson, clearly kings of the Alpine court, stood regally as smaller minions, like Pine Mountain, held its head high on the northeast end of the Presidentials, sandwiched between that lofty range and the Carter Range.

On this early June day, a day with sun, hungry buzzing insects and blissfully no rain, long-lingering streaks of snow pockmarked King Ravine, the huge glacial cirque on Mount Adams known for holding hidden pockets of ice well into summer and often year-round along its boulder-strewn floor.

To see this, all one had to do was hike to a prominence about 2,260 feet high on the southeast side of 3,081-foot Mount Randolph in the Crescent Range.

The cliff is aptly named – Lookout Ledge.

The trails up Mount Randolph are part of the 100-plus miles of pathways maintained by the Randolph Mountain Club largely on the northern slopes of Mounts Jefferson, Adams and Madison in the White Mountain National Forest as well as the Crescent Range in Randolph.

The club also maintains four reasonably priced shelters. Crag Camp, a cabin, sits on the edge of King Ravine at 4,247 feet. Gray Knob, also a cabin, is situated below treeline on Mount Adams’s Nowell Ridge. The Perch at 4,313 feet is a lean-to with four tent platforms on the Perch Path, near treelike in Cascade Ravine also on Adams. The three-sided Log Cabin is the lowest of the RMC shelters at 3,263 feet on Lowe’s Path.

The RMC also publishes its hiking bible, “Randolph Paths.” The guide has been recently updated in a ninth edition available at the organization’s website, randolphmountainclub.org.

Though many may be familiar with the trailheads leading up to the northern Presidentials from “mountain” side trailheads like Appalachia on U.S. Route 2, there are several low-key trailheads nestled near homes on the “hill” side accessible off Randolph Hill Road. No doubt Randolph is a hiking town.

The most direct way to Lookout Ledge is a moderately steep 2.6-mile out and back trek along the Ledge Trail from Durand Road. But on this day, my wife Jan and I opted for a longer and more gentle way, using Grassy Lane, Pasture Path and the Ledge Trail for a 3.2-mile roundtrip excursion from the small Randolph Hill Road trailhead.

With temps in the low 70s and appreciated low humidity, we set out on lovely wide Grassy Lane between a few homes for a spell before venturing on to Pasture Path. The trail was fairly level for some time with several bog bridges and well-placed stones for navigating the many wet areas. Due to recent rains days before the venture, brook and stream crossings encompassing Carlton Brook, which eventually flows into the Moose River, included relatively fast-moving water.

Patches of wildflowers added color to the greenery as we passed by a clearing with a slight teasing view of what was ahead, before the way turning rockier and steeper up to and along the Ledge Trail. An appreciated bench with views to King Ravine was a welcome quick rest spot before going the final steps along the narrow way to Lookout Ledge, complete with sign.

There, with a map before us, it was easy to find the alpine landmarks. Durand Lake, the town’s recreation area, has a summer-only swimming pool created by damming the Moose River. The summit of Pine Mountain with its wonderful views contains the Horton Center, owned and operated by the New Hampshire Conference of the United Church of Christ. Three of the five highest peaks in the state are spotted from the stage; Adams at 5,774 is second, Jefferson at 5,712 is third and Madison at 5367 is fifth.

Gaze out at other peaks beyond the northern Presidentials and reminisce about other hikes you’ve done like the playful Imp and its ledges with views to Wildcat and Mount Washington, under-the-radar Mount Hayes above the Androscoggin River Valley and the wonderful Shelburne Moriah on the edge of the Wild River Wilderness – all seen from an Alpine stage with a stunning outlook.