Westside, Kedron Flume, Arethusa-Ripley, Frankenstein & Falcon Cliff | 9/17/23
Over dinner at Kingdom Tap and Table, an idea finally came to us after hours of deliberation for our last hike of the long weekend.
Though we’d intended to make the trip to Gorham to mix it up, neither wanted to travel all that far to do something too challenging on fatigued legs. That said, we were confined to the nearby Moosilauke tab for some time until I pulled a very random loop out of the spreadsheet about when the appetizer came out.
After an (always) amazing time at Kingdom, we got to bed early and departed Eastern Vermont around 6 a.m. for Crawford Notch. We dropped Liz’s car at Arethusa Falls (WMNF pass) and mine at Ethan Pond since the latter is a State Park and I’ve got park plates. From the base of Willey House Station Road, we got going on the Westside Trail, which despite it’s “newish” status, was anything but new feeling. The day prior’s violent winds certainly didn’t help, but the landscape was littered with blowdowns, constant ups and downs, and the fallen branches drew a little blood when I got caught in an awkward trip. And on top of all that, I believe this trail is also where my Chacos fell out of my backpack. A tragedy larger than I knew. When I returned to school I realized I don't wear any other shoes, so I've already emergency purchased new ones.
Besides the uneventful 1.2 miles across the Westside trail, the rest of the day only got better. Once we intersected Kedron Flume, for which I returned to claim the last 0.2 in the afternoon, we started gaining immediately and knew it was steep as there were ACTUALLY switchbacks. Since when do we do that in New England!?
Shortly after crossing the train tracks, the trail was less moveable underfoot, despite maintaining it’s purposeful grades. However, the gain went by quickly and was well worth it. When we emerged at Kedron Flume, the trees were parted just enough to see some newly changing trees and some restricted yet stunning views of Webster Cliffs. Looking up the Flume, the falls went on just as far as the eye count see, yet still afforded us a relatively simple water crossing. Talk about the best of both worlds!
Beyond the Flume, we gained 450 feet to Ethan Pond, which entailed one baby scramble and a fat chunk of wet slab. The terrain provided no obstacles on this beautiful summer day, but I did cringe as I looked down at crampon-scratched rocks imagining doing this in the winter. I can see how it would be worth it for views, but it is not something I’d be volunteering to break trail on.
As expected, our short jaunt down Ethan Pond Trail lent the most person sightings but was otherwise uneventful. Some new steps and water bars are going in on the lower portion of the trail, but everything else was just as plain and constantly graded as I remembered from a couple of years back. Nothing wrong with that!
Before we popped back out to the road, we swung the hairpin turn created by Ethan Pond Trail and the Arethusa-Ripley connector, where we had just 0.4 miles down to the falls. Despite my last visit to Ripley occurring during peak snow melt, the falls were just as magnificent and roaring on this September day. Ahead of us were some new miles for the day and we got going with a bang as we climbed atop Ripley Falls. Though the trail never skirts too close to the waterfall, we were eerily close to the point where you could technically walk out to the very top of it. Neither of us took up that opportunity.
As we continued up the gulley carved by Avalanche Brook, the grades soon enough eased and the trail got thicker with hobblebrush. Despite this, the trail was never difficult to follow and wasn’t too scratchy on my exposed legs. However, I will say that the sign marking the top of the trail is a bit tucked back behind the brush, so people hiking from top to bottom should be cautious of that.
When we emerged onto Frankenstein Cliff Trail, we quickly saw more effects from the day prior’s hurricane through several blowdowns. None of them was too much of a bother, but they did distract me enough to miss the Falcon Cliff Spur by a couple of yards, which we thankfully noticed before it was too late to turn around. Despite the sign saying Falcon Cliff is 0.5 miles, it was about 0.2 with some 150 gain. The spur was at times hard to follow but was no worse than most spurs of its kind. At the top, there is a slightly damaged sign reading Falcon Cliff, 2400. The outlook, while similar to the lower views atop Frankenstein’s, provided a pretty rad view of 302.
As we carried downhill, we got to walk right through last June’s forest fire just before the primary Frankenstein outlook. Not only did I forget this happened, but I was also surprised to discover burnt trees sort of smell like mustard. Interesting!
The Frankenstein outlook was as stunning as always, and the descent quickly reminded me why it was so empty for a Sunday… While I had ascended this route before, I soon remembered why I had thought, "Wow, I would never want to go down this!” Oh well, I survived.
Some of the early sections of loose gravel just required small steps, but the section that crossed beneath the exposed face was a bit heart-jolting for me, particularly because every step was marvelously slick. I think that it took me nearly 8 minutes to cross a distance I could’ve passed an eye test across. Eventually, I sped up. Mostly just because I heard the train coming and wanted to see it.
After we watched the Conway Scenic Train pass overhead, we shuffled over to the parking lot and concluded our lovely Crawford Loop under a clear sky. On our way out, we stopped by the car show at Willey House, ran up the rest of Kedron, and headed back to Vermont.
Man, I love long weekends.
1 Conway Scenic Train