Monday, June 2, 2014

Easy to Moderate

This weekend took us to two new waterfalls on our list of 400 we want to visit in the New England Area. One was classified as easy (in terms of hiking time) and the other moderate. I’m not familiar from where the classifications are derived. Is there a scale published by the AMC? In any event, there should be a scale within a scale; easy 1 for no effort at all, to easy 5 for “easy” but a bit of scrambling. This is what came to mind after we visited Pollards Mills (easy 1) and Welton Falls (moderate 3) on Sunday. At Pollards Mills we relaxed a short distance from the Motorcycles and enjoyed a picnic lunch by the falls. For Welton Falls, we had a moderately arduous trek through the woods and nearly gave up the search. While the trail is well maintained by the AMC, the path is prolific with roots easily stumbled upon, steep ups and downs on slippery pine needles, and there is a moderately harrowing leaping from stone to stone across fast moving water to connect with the trail on the other side.

Of the two, it is hard to say which is better. While Pollards Mills Falls themselves are rated a 3 on a scale of 5 being the best, and Welton Falls is rated a 4, there is much more going on in these two places that rating the falls alone can tell you. At Pollards Mills, the South Branch of the Sugar River that carves the granite walls of this place show that no artist can create the beauty that the powers of nature can. The walls on either side tell of how this river can rage at high water, leaving one side with smooth slabs of granite, while the other shows layers upon layer of rock, shaded even at high noon, with mosses and even trees growing from the crevices.
Welton Falls on the other hand is located within the Welton Falls State Forest, and the trail head to the falls starts at the AMC Cardigan Lodge. This should have been our first clue to the nature of this hike. With Mount Cardigan looming above us we start at the trail head with a trail board posted with warnings, one being to watch out for bear. A short distance onto the pathway there are a few AMC camping spots complete with bear bins to lock your food into. As we progress on the trail, the trees become denser, the trail prolific with toe stubbing roots. Along the trail we hike up, and then we hike down. We have to call into service walking sticks to help us maintain our balance. They come in handy on the down slopes, and for pulling us up the next grade. There are so many marvelous treasures on this hike, that the damp skivvies I had from the excursion was well worth it.

Aside from the many simple wonders of nature, are the unexpected trail twists we didn’t anticipate. The first is coming to what we thought was the end of the blazed trail, only to discover the blaze on a tree across the Fowler River. This is where our walking sticks came in handy as we leaped from stone to stone across the fast moving waters to the other side. The next hill climb began, and here near the falls the trail divides left and right. I took the left fork first, which leads to a granite ledge with a serious overhang. I eased my way along the ledge as far as I dared, and could see the first of the plunges below. Getting a photo however filled me with vertigo, so there isn’t much I have to show. What I have is the awesome feeling of standing with nothing more than a wire cable keeping me from doom. The cable here looked more a cautionary device than a safety one.
We backed away from this ledge and took the right fork around to the other side. Here is where the magnificent of this place opens up. The 30 foot drop of these falls in the hard to reach section of the State Forest keeps it protected from the ruins of mankind. The water leaps over the edge of this granite divide in a roar that lets you know Mother Nature is the real boss.
As riding destinations; Pollards Mills is certainly easily doable. Welton Falls on the other hand can only be reached by dirt roads. If you are not comfortable navigating dirt roads you will need to visit Welton Falls by car, but you must visit. If you are a dual sport rider, make this your next destination! As for bear, we did encounter one, but only as she raced across our path while atop the motorcycles.

Special thanks to Marty, Tim and John whom we met at Pollards Mills for their friendly conversation about the history of Pollards Mills and for pointing us to Dale, the owner of the property. While Dale was not about, John was just arriving home and happily agreed to show us a couple of old photos of the mills that used to stand along this stretch of the South branch of Sugar River.

Marty and Tim

Photos from Dale's personal collection.

Pollards Mills Falls

Welton Falls

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