This week the Sidekick and I headed up the Mud Brook Trail in the White Mountain National Forest. Situated in Evan’s Notch the parking for the trail is right off of RT 113 just a little south of Hasting’s Campground. The Caribou Trail is also located in the same parking lot along with a latrine. We hiked the whole length of the Mud Brook Trail and returned back along the Caribou Trail so that we could hike in a loop and not retrace our steps.
The first part of the trail heads out from the parking lot and parallels RT113 for a little ways before heading away from the road and deeper into the woods. For this section the trail is fairly open and smooth going. Once meeting up with Mud Brook though (WP Meet the Brook) the trail starts get a little bit more difficult and some extra care should be taken. The trail follows the Mud Brook for a while. Through this section the trail starts to get a rougher and often very narrow. Often in places the trail will drop off sharply into the brook so keep an eye on the sidekick if they are trying to do this part of the trail on their own. Along the way there will be a few water crossings (WP Rocks and Stream Crossing) that can be a little difficult depending on how high the water is. For the most part this part of the trail was pretty dry with just a few wet spots in low laying areas.
Shortly before reaching the Caribou – Speckled Mountain Wilderness Boundary you will find yourself crossing Mud Brook (WP Mud Brook Crossing) in the spring months or after a hard rain this could be a difficult and maybe even dangerous crossing. During this time of year though it was a fairly easy crossing. Once the crossing is achieved the Wilderness line is just a short distance away. The trail once again starts to become a bit more difficult mainly because of the erosion that has occurred to the trail. This erosion has caused root and rocks to roughen the trail greatly take extra care that you don’t twist an ankle or trip. The trail still won’t experience much of an incline during this section of the trail. Its not until the trail crosses Mud Brook for a second time that the trail begins to climb.
The trail starts to climb sharply in a series of switchbacks (WP Switchbacks) at the beginning, after a few switchbacks it starts to climb continually higher up the mountainside. Occasionally the trail will flatten out to give you a rest but steadily climb higher, don’t forget to occasionally look behind you there in the gaps of the trees off to the right you can start to see the valley open up under you. Eventually the deciduous trees start to give way as you climb up onto a ridge and the forest opens out in a huge stand of conifers (WP Conifer Stand). I really enjoyed the trail in this section. Not only does it seem that the trail has not suffered as much erosion as the lower sections but also the conifers are not as tightly packed as the deciduous trees a little lower so this section is a bit more open allowing for breeze to blow through and help cool you off. There are a few tricky spots in this conifer stand though, in a few areas the granite from the mountain side start to break through the forest floor making for difficult clamber with a kid carrier on your back. Take time to ensure a good path is open before you.
Shortly after passing through the conifer stand the trail will break out of the tree cover for a moment and start to follow along the top of a ledge (WP Outlook) extra care needs to be taken long this way because it is a long way down. From this vantage point you can see out over the mountain valley towards the eastern section of Evan’s Notch. This also begins a certain game called almost there but not quite yet. The trail starts to follow high point to high point with an occasional dip into a saddle between the highpoints. At a few points you can just see the peak (WP Almost) and it can be a little tease that the top is so close but just needs a little bit more work.
Once reaching the top though it is more then worth it. From various vantage points almost all of Evan’s Notch is laid open for your viewing. Caribou Mountain has an interesting mountain top almost a table top with plenty of spots for an easy seat and enjoyment of the view. Blueberry bushes abound along the edges of the boulders with berries aplenty. From here Mud Brook trail continues down off the peak towards Caribou Trail or you can return back over the section of Mud Brook Trail that we already traveled. The first section after we come off the peak is easy traveling as long as you try to take extra effort to keep an eye out for the blazes along the way. In a few spots the blazes for the trail that have been painted on the rocks have faded to almost invisible marks. Once dropping down off of the peak and the alpine region the trail turns to….well crap.
From the termination of the alpine zone to the Caribou and Mud Brook Trail intersection the trail is miserable. This side of the mountain either gets more rain or retains moisture much better because the trail has been deeply eroded by water leaving wet rocks and roots prevalent in the trail. Also there is not as much tree cover so more sunshine has reached the undergrowth. There were multiple stretches of the trail that the undergrowth was so thick that I had difficulty seeing the path and where I was placing my feet on the wet rocks. Mud Brook Trail meets and ends (or begins) with Caribou Trail (WP Trail Intersection) The intersection is at a small open flat spot that opens out widely and offers a brief respite from the tangled undergrowth that infested this section of the trail. Between the top of Caribou Mountain and this intersection the trail passes the former site of the Caribou Shelter and the Caribou Spring. Most likely this is source of how wet this side of the mountain is.
After the trail leaves the intersection (WP Trail Intersection) and starts to trend down hill again. The trail is slightly better and a little drier making it a little easier to pick your steps soon though we will meet Morrison Brook. The trail parallels Morrison Brook for most of the way. Shortly after meeting the brook the trail will cross the brook, and then will cross the brook again, and again. Eventually Caribou trail crosses Morrison Brook five times. One of the crossings though are at Kees Falls (WP Fourth Crossing) the trail crosses just above the falls so be careful because it could be a rough slide down if you slip. There are side trails that lead down to the pool under the falls. They are not the most of gentle trails especially if you have a kid carrier on your back. After crossing the falls the trail drys out a little as the trail cuts along the side of the hill and the brook travels along beside you down in the ravine so be careful as it can be a steep drop off in a few locations.
Shortly after the fifth crossing of Morrison Brook (WP Yet Again) the trail will start to mellow out and open out a bit as the trees start to mature around you and the undergrowth starts to recede. Eventually there will be one more water crossing (WP No More Bridge) and the trail will start to loop back to the trail head. At time this section of the trail can be a bit deceiving if you are not tracking your progress on a GPS because the trail will turn towards a few clearings and will cause one to think that the parking lot is close.
This section of Caribou Trail that we traversed probably should be avoided in the spring during the melt or after a period of heavy rains. Some of the crossing could be quite difficult if not very dangerous.