Well, classes start back up on the 29th, and since I’m both taking and teaching a class, and working on my dissertation, and applying for jobs, I really wanted to get out an have a nice long day of hiking while I still can. I decided to go on a weekday in hopes that the trails wouldn’t be too packed, and it was a great decision. So I packed up my stuff Thursday night, and didn’t get a single minute of sleep before I was out the door at 5. I was really excited to climb this mountain and take the little detour over to the falls, and I’d been seriously looking forward to going swimming. I arrived at the trailhead dubbed “The Garden” in Keene at exactly 7am,paid my $7 parking fee, and took almost 30 minutes to get my socks and boots on…in my defense, I had to apply blister bandages, and 3 layers of socks to each foot, and it took a while! It was raining lightly anyway, so I didn’t see the harm in waiting it out a little. At any rate, I signed in at the register at about 7:30am, and took a sharp right to head up the 3 Brothers trail to Big Slide.
The trail starts climbing right out of the gate, and I was SO TIRED from not being able to sleep at all, so I really took my time going up. After about 10 minutes, I came to a junction with the trail to Porter Mountain and stayed to the left to keep on track.
It was so peaceful being in the woods with the sound of light rain hitting the leaves of the canopy above me, I considered curling up to nap under a tree on more than one occasion. But, considering it had only been like 10 minutes since I’d left the register, I figured I shouldn’t go to sleep yet, and kept slowly shambling up. After about 40 minutes, I reached my first incredible view of the surrounding mountains and the storm that was beginning to dissipate. I took about a thousand photos on the way up first brother, since after reaching the first lookout, the rest of the way up is ALL lookouts! I thought I was at the summit so many times. It was like climbing a spiral staircase, but you can’t see through to the other side, and sometimes you cross right through the middle…I know that doesn’t really make any sense, but it would if you’ve climbed this mountain. The views were spectacular, and while the view from each lookout is pretty much the same, the weather was changing constantly and drastically and I was whipping my camera out at every possible opportunity.
Just as I was putting my camera away, the lowest foggiest clouds started floating up on updrafts and dissipating! It was SO COOL! You don’t get to see that many times in your life (well, at least I don’t…) so I brought my camera back out and continued snapping. I must’ve wasted at least 30 minutes just taking pictures.
I eventually decided I needed to get my butt moving if I was ever going to reach all of my destinations, so I packed my camera away continued along the trail. I soon found myself inside of a cloud, and the fast wind was blowing it right through the trees, and it got COLD! My little thermometer indicated 60 degrees (on an 84 degree day), and it was so damp, so I bundled up and moved my legs a little faster to keep warm.
I finally made it to the summit of 1st brother after about 1.5 hours of hiking. I didn’t want to spend too much time taking in the sights, since I still had 3 peaks left to summit, but it was hard to tear myself away.
Not even 10 minutes later, after descending a bit then climbing back up and then some, I reached the summit of 2nd brother. In retrospect, I’m really glad that I chose to go up this path and down the gentler grade, because there were some definite difficult areas climbing up enormous boulders.
The trek over to 3rd brother was a little bit longer, taking me almost 50 minutes, but it wasn’t particularly difficult. Somewhere between 2nd and 3rd brother my stomach started yelling at me to eat some food, so I was eager to get to the summit for a snack break. There wasn’t much in the way of views from this summit, but I sat on a nice rock under a tree where I had a vantage point through some trees and enjoyed some cheese ritz crackers.
After a brief break, I began the descent down to the col and when I turned around to look behind me, I saw that I was again in a cloud and light from the sun was filtering through it in the most amazing way! I threw my pack on the ground and tore through it to find my camera, muttering hurried profanities under my breath because I didn’t want the phenomenon to end before I was ready. Of course, by the time I got my camera pointed in the right direction, the cloud had pretty much passed. UGH! I ran a little ways down the path to where there was still some cloud hanging around, and snapped a picture. I tried, guys, I really did.
About half an hour after leaving the summit of 3rd brother (and 3 hours after leaving the trailhead), I came upon the most gorgeous little creek running through the forest. The whole area was so lush and green, I just had to sit down and enjoy it (and have another snack, of course). I remember thinking I could have lived at that little spot forever.
After another half hour, I had finally reached the col. The signs showing the path I had just come from and the path up Big Slide were very clear, but I was confused because there were two more trails leading from the junction, and they weren’t labelled, so I didn’t know which one was Slide Brook Trail (my intended route back down). I decided I’d figure it out later, and began the 0.3 miles ascent up Big Slide.
This trail was a right bit of work. It was just intimidating! There were several areas where I had to scratch my head for a moment to figure out how to get up and, more importantly, back down without dying. There were two terrifying ladders built up one of the slides, but the second ladder literally only had like 3 rotted wood rungs, so it didn’t do much good.
In all, it took me about 20 minutes to climb to the summit. The views were nice, but I’d already been spoiled by the first two brothers, and was more inclined to lie back and have a nap after chowing on a delicious PB&J Bagel.
Up until this point, I had had the mountains and trail completely to myself, and it was really nice. I was feeling rather antisocial from being so exhausted without sleep, and I welcomed hearing only the sounds of the forest around me. Unfortunately, after about 15 minutes of resting at the summit, I was joined by another group who, for some reason, just struck me as strange. I didn’t really want to share the crowded little summit with them, so I snapped a few more photos of the glistening slides on the distant mountains and what is (presumably) the summit marker, and went on my way.
On my way down, I luckily ran into a really fun group who were just having a blast climbing up the mountain. They were resting after having just climbed the ladders, and told me they’d came up via the Slide Brook Trail, and to go straight when I got back down to the col. We wished each other well and I continued my descent, mostly on my rear. The path was so steep and slick from the recent rain! At the col, I ran into a woman and her daughter, who had also come up via the brook trail, and they reaffirmed that it was indeed the trail straight ahead. So, with a pep in my step and looking forward to following the brook down the mountain, I headed off. The trail was pretty boring for a mile or so, but soon after all of the little streams heading down the slope joined up to form a gorgeous brook. I really wish I’d spent more time here. The brook seemed to be flowing down some old slides, and it would split off and re-converge all the time, forming little islands that the trail followed. It was just constant waterfalls and deep pools all the way down, with crystal clear water and sandy floors. I was apparently really thirsty, because I kept thinking how much I wanted to go swim in those pools. I took a little break here and there, letting my hands soak in the freeeeezing water to try to bring some of the swelling down in my fingers. They were like sausages at this point, I could barely make a fist.
After following the river for quite a while, the trail diverged and led me down a looong slippery slide before coming back to the water.
When I got to the bottom of the trail, I encountered a junction sign that said “Trail <-” as in, go left to stay on the trail. I knew that I had to go right at the bottom of the trail to get to John’s Brook Lodge and Bushnell Falls, but I figured that maybe I just wasn’t totally at the bottom yet, so I followed the stupid sign. I made it to a cool outcropping on the Brook, and had my solitude broken once again by the family from the summit. I took a few pictures, and continued on a little ways, only to discover at a trail register that I had gone the totally wrong direction and turned to head back up the half mile or so that I had gone.
I was a little peeved about that sign at the base of the slide Brook Trail, but I made really good time coming down so even though I went ~1 mile out of my way, I was still right on target, and reached JBL at 2pm. It was my goal from here to make it to the top of the falls 1.8 miles away by 2:45, so I set out at a pretty quick pace. The trail was getting pretty crowded at this point with all sorts of people staying at the lodge, which was super cute, by the way! I’d like to stay there sometime.
The trail got a little confusing about 0.5 mile in, because it leads down onto the base of the river, where you’re just walking on the rocky bank without any direction. So for those of you that plan to go this way, just know that the trail never actually crosses the river! I just kept going until the trail picked up again through the woods. After about a mile of easy walking, the trail really started to climb, until it evened out and I found myself walking along a cool ridge with water flowing far below on either side. After walking for about 40 minutes, I was getting a little nervous that I was somehow on the wrong path again, and resolved to get my map out in another few minutes, when I came to a clearing and saw the sign to Bushnell!
It was a mere 0.1 mile near-vertical drop down to the base of the falls below. I had a lot of close calls and very nearly wiped out more than once, but 10 minutes later I reached the falls!
I quickly changed into my swimsuit, had a little snack and my victory chocolate, and jumped into the FRIGID water. I think they need to rename these falls “Giant’s Icepop” or something. So I pretty much got in, stumbled around on the rocks, and got right the hell back out. Even though it was cold, it felt sooo good, and I felt a little less slimy after 7.5 hours of hiking. I wrapped myself in my nice warm towel, and sat on a rock to rest my body and mind, listening to the falls and enjoying the breeze.
I took my leave about 45 minutes later, managing the ascent back to the top much more easily, taking only about 5 minutes. I had really wanted to make this whole trip in 10 hours, so I really hustled to get back to the garden. After I passed the Lodge though, I came upon a high-water bridge over the river. I steeled myself to go up it, and my legs wobbled because only ONE SIDE of the bridge has a railing! WHAT?! Anyway, I went out about halfway, decided that was enough for me, and scrambled right back down.
A few minutes later I came back to the misleading sign. If you see this, go the opposite way than the sign is point to get to JBL!
Several minutes later, I made it back to the place where I originally had to turn around, and saw that I still had nearly 3 miles to go to get back to the Garden. Luckily the going was easy and could really move quickly.
I finally made it back to the parking lot at 6pm, stripped my socks and boots off of my aching blistered feet, guzzled some water, and talked with the people who had come out just after me. They must have left super early, because I parked next to their truck when I arrived, and they had climbed 3 of the 46! We said our goodbyes, and I headed out of the lot satisfied with a successful and gratifying day.
Big Slide Mountain: 4240′ Elevation Gain: 2800′
Round Trip Distance: 16 miles (according to fitbit), 13 miles according to map (including my getting-lost)
Total Duration: 10.5 hours
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