We got a later than normally late start to our hike today and didn’t arrive at the trailhead for Puzzle Mountain until 11:45 am. It’s a trail we’ve hiked only once before, but knew the chance to see trees with bear claw marks would be numerous.
The Mahoosuc Land Trust and Maine Appalachian Trail Club maintain the trails. Our starting/ending point were at the trailhead on Route 26 in Newry. The plan, should we wish to complete it, was to hike up the Grafton Loop Trail to the summit, then veer to the right and follow the Woodsum Spur Trail in a clockwise manner back to the GLT.
Our other plan to locate bear claw trees . . . was soon fulfilled. The first we spotted about twenty feet off trail, but once our eyes became accustomed to the pattern, we realized they were everywhere.
And some trees had been visited repeatedly.
A few had hosted other guests such as Pileated Woodpeckers.
For about two miles, we traveled under the summer green leaves of a hardwood cathedral. And within such we noticed numerous bear claw tree both beside the trail and beyond.
Occasionally, we noted others worth mentioning such as spring ephemerals like False Solomon’s Seal that showed us the season on the slopes is a bit delayed as compared to our lower elevations.
At last we reached a false summit where the views to the west enhanced the mountains and their natural communities, so defined by shades of green: darker defining conifers and lighter the deciduous trees.
Sunday River Ski Area was also part of the display.
It was at this ledge that we met two young men. They started up a trail behind us and then made their way back and asked us to take a photo. When we asked where they were from, the older of the two said he lived in a small town outside of New Haven, Connecticut. Being a Nutmegger by birth, (and in fact having been born in New Haven), my ears perked up.
“Where in Connecticut?” I asked.
“A small town called Wallingford,” he said.
“I grew up in North Branford (about 15 minutes or so from Wallingford),” I replied. “And have friends in Wallingford.”
Turns out he’s a teacher at Choate-Rosemary Hall, a private school. And his hiking partner was his nephew from New Jersey. They were on their first day of a multi-day backpack expedition.
I took photos for both and then we sent them on the right path, which was behind their first choice. We paused before following them as we didn’t want to be on their tail, but heard the older of the two exclaim, “Wow, that was fortuitous. If we hadn’t gone back for a photo, we wouldn’t have known where the trail was.” We didn’t have any treats to give them as trail angels do, but perhaps our gift of direction was just as important.
While we waited, I honed in on the newly formed flowers of Mountain Ash. I love these trees for the red stems of their leaves and fruits to come.
At last we began the push to the summit, but I had to pause much to my guy’s dismay for the black flies swarmed us constantly. I discovered, however, one reason to celebrate them–besides the fact that they feed birds and members of the Odonata family. I do believe they pollinate Clintonia for we found them on the anthers of those in flower.
Not long after the false summit that the two guys we’d met thought was the top, we reached the junction with the Woodsum Spur Trail. Our plan was to continue to climb and then locate the other end of the spur to follow down from the top. It would take longer, we knew, but be a wee bit gentler in presentation. A wee bit.
As we continued up, another ledge presented a view of Sunday River and so my guy took a photo and sent a text message to our youngest son, who works in Manhattan, and lives in Brooklyn with two buddies he meet while skiing at Sunday River when they were all in high school.
Onward and upward, the conifer cones added a bit of color to the view.
And then we reached a cairn just below the summit. Mind you, the Black Flies were so incredibly thick that we could barely talk without devouring a few. In fact, we gave thanks for eating our lunch much lower on the trail, but even then we’d devoured PB&J with a side of BF.
The view, however, was one to be envied and as long as the wind blew, we could enjoy it in all its panoramic glory.
Again we spied Sunday River. But what always makes me wonder is the tallest tree in the forest. What makes it stand out?
Still, we weren’t quite at the tippy top and had a few more feet of granite to conquer.
There we found the second of two survey markers. Why two? That was puzzling.
Equally puzzling as had happened to us before, where did the trail go?
From past experience we knew that the descent wasn’t all that well marked, but we found it much more quickly today than in the past. And we made sure to point it out to our fellow hikers from CT, whom we’d somehow passed on our final ascent. Our hope for them is that they made it to the shelter on the GLT where they planned to spend the night and that they were well prepared for the bugs. As we left them at the summit, they looked a bit like deer in headlights.
The descent via the Woodsum Spur is as varied as the ascent, but not always as easy to follow. There were downed trees, overgrown sections, lots of mud, and times when we had to search for the trail, much unlike the carpenter ants who knew exactly where they were going on a tree snag.
We passed through one section that reminded my guy of the Munchkins in the The Wizard of Oz, his favorite movie. Just after that we entered an enchanted forest where the giant in my fairy tale, The Giant’s Shower, could have lived happily every after with Falda the fairy.
It was ledges to woods and back to ledges as we descended. But the mileage was questionable for the signs we encountered that indicated distance didn’t necessarily agree.
What did agree with the Woodsum Trail was a moose or two or three. For much of the trail we spotted scat indicating they’d traveled this way all winter.
It was natural signs like that which we most appreciated, but . . . once we finished the spur trail and rejoined the GLT, we spotted a boulder filled with messages we’d missed upon our ascent. You might be put out that some left messages in the moss, but as Ralph Pope, author of Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts, told us on a Greater Lovell Land Trust walk in 2017, this sort of activity won’t hurt the bryophytes.
When humans leave their initials upon beech trees, however, it does affect them. And I suppose the bear claw marks do as well, but still we are thrilled each time we spy the latter.
Our plan had been to stop for a beer on the way home and make this a Bear to Beer Possibility. But we were pooped for we hiked almost nine miles on a hot summer day and knew if we stopped we might not be able to drive home.
As it happened, driving south on Routes 5/35 and just before the intersection with Vernon Street, a Black Bear ran across the road. For us, it will be another in our shared minds’ eye as I couldn’t take a photo.
Thus today’s hike was a Bear to Bear rather than Bear to Beer Possibility.
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