The newly formed Shelburne Trails Club (STC) is doing a fantastic job of reclaiming many of the abandoned hiking trails in the Shelburne area. Recently, I did several hikes to enjoy the fruits of STC's labor. One of these hikes was a simple "out & back" trek on the Scudder Trail to visit Mt. Ingalls and Ray's Pond. Other hikes included a loop over both Mt. Crag and Middle Mountain, plus a separate loop over Mt. Cabot (not the 4,000 ft peak of the same name in the Kilkenny region!). Each of these treks provided very rewarding views toward the Presidential Range, as well as lovely vistas of the Androscoggin Valley.
Hiking in this area is particularly nice if you want to spend only a few hours out on the trails. Distances are short and even novice hikers should be able to handle the mild-mannered terrain. Yes, there are some short segments of trail that are somewhat steep, but nothing that is extraordinary. And besides, there is a reason why it's called mountain CLIMBING!
Many of the trails in the Shelburne area are described in AMC's "White Mountain Guide". However, the current version of this guidebook doesn't include descriptions of certain trails that were abandoned and only recently reclaimed (such as the Scudder Trail, Middle Mountain Trail, and Judson Pond Trail). Useful sources of information about those trails can be found on old maps and in older versions of the WMG. The next edition of the "White Mountain Guide"(to be published in 2012) is expected to contain descriptions of these recently reclaimed trails.
For my "out & back" trek to Mt. Ingalls, I used the Scudder Trail which begins at a trailhead located on Mill Brook Road (0.5 mile from its intersection with North Rd). For my loop hike over Mt. Crag and Middle Mountain, as well as for the loop over Mt. Cabot, I used the Austin Brook Trail as my starting point and then connected to various other trails to complete those loops. The Austin Brook trailhead is somewhat unique. It's the only one that I've come across in the Whites where there is a turnstile at the trail entrance. However, many years ago I did see a similar set-up while hiking in England.
There are so many good things to be said about my recent hiking experiences in the Shelburne area. However, I'll attempt to limit my comments to some of the more noteworthy aspects. I'll begin by saying that if you are seeking a HUGE payoff for a miniscule amount of effort, then a short (2.4 mile round-trip) hike to Mt. Crag is for you! This little 1,412 ft mountain provides spectacular views of several high peaks in the Presidential Range. In some ways, the view is superior to that offered from nearby outlooks that are higher. Oftentimes, the lower elevation peaks provide a view that is more close-up and intimate. In other words, less can be more!
If you're seeking a hike that's a bit more adventuresome than a short hike to Mt. Crag, then I'd highly recommend Mt. Ingalls (2,242 ft elevation). Of the hikes I've done in this area to date, it is my personal favorite! This six-mile (round trip) trek provides remarkable views from various ledges en route to the summit. However, on the day that I hiked to this mountain, the overcast conditions resulted in poor quality photos of the surrounding high peaks in the Presidential and Carter-Moriah Range.
As a bonus for trekking to Mt. Ingalls, the STC has also reclaimed the short path that leads down to Ray's Pond on the north side of the mountain. This is a picturesque quarter-acre pond that's nestled in a spruce forest. On the day I was there, it had a thin layer of ice on the surface.
Regarding Middle Mountain (2,010 ft elevation), its summit has a unique feature. There is a huge boulder with the word "TOP" painted on it, thus removing any doubt that you have indeed arrived! I don't think the STC is responsible for this unusual signage. Even when I bushwhacked there many years ago, this same rock had the word "TOP" inscribed on it.
There are nice views from Middle Mountain including some enticing glimpses of mountains in the Mahoosuc Range.
The view toward the Presidential Range from the top of Middle Mountain is somewhat obstructed since trees have grown in over the years. Subsequent to my hike, I've been told that there are better views of the Presidentials from a spot located a short distance below the summit. I'm eager to make a return visit to check this out!
Turning my focus now to Mt. Cabot, there are two outlooks near the summit of this 1,512 ft mountain. One is a slanted ledge located a few hundred feet south of the summit, and it provides a restricted view eastward toward Maine. The other outlook is located a few hundred feet nearly due west of the summit. It is reached by following a faint path leading downhill to a flat ledge with views toward the Presidential Range. It's a nice spot for lunch, but the view is too restricted for any eye-popping photos.
As a final note, I'll mention that the Judson Pond Trail was one of the trails used during my loop hike over Mt. Cabot. Although this trail once went to Judson Pond, it currently does not. However, since the pond was only 0.3 mile away, I decided to do a short bushwhack and check it out. As they say, beauty is often in the eye of the beholder. Although I didn't find this pond to be particularly charming, others might feel differently.
I congratulate the Shelburne Trails Club for the superb job they are doing. I'm very much looking forward to other hikes to other destinations in the Shelburne area.