Shelburne Trail in the Wild River Wilderness

Trip Report:
Saturday & Sunday, November 19 & 20, 2016
Outside starting temp: 26 degrees F
Outside ending temp: 40 degrees F
Trails taken: Highwater Trail, Shelburne Trail, the D&E Bushwhacked non-trail
Total distance (Out and Back): approximately 14 miles
Total adventure time: 27 hours
This weekend we returned to the Wild River Wilderness off of Rte 113 in New Hampshire. Our primary purpose was to try out our new Alps Mountaineering Tasmania 2 4-season tent. Our secondary purpose was to summit Shelburne-Moriah, one of the 52-with-a-View peaks.

We parked in the lot at the junction of the Wild River Road and Rte 113. We had a 5.3 mile hike along the Highwater Trail to reach the Shelburne Trail. That was pretty easy hiking on a cold (26 degrees Fahrenheit) Saturday morning. We stopped to watch the sun rise over the mountains to the east.

Shortly after we started up the Shelburne Trail we lost the trail. It happens. Because this trail was in a wilderness area, one that we were not sure was regularly maintained, we didn’t know if we had actually lost the trail or if the trail was just overgrown.

Earl has a GPS app on his phone called, Gaia GPS. We checked the app and saw where the trail was. We bushwhacked our way over to it. We still didn’t see anything that looked like a trail, but we kept hiking, checking in with the app every few minutes to see if we were still on track.

For those of you who have never used a GPS app when hiking, you have to understand that GPS apps are not exact. They get you to the right neighborhood, but it may be to the wrong house. Helpful, but not exact.

As I wrote above, we were not sure if the trail, as we are used to seeing trails, actually existed. Neither of us had done any trail report research on the Shelburne Trail so we just didn’t know. We continued bushwhacking our way following the trail as shown on the Gaia GPS app. ​

Let me tell you, bushwhacking is hard work. The heavy leaf cover on the ground hid rocks, roots, and muddy pits. It’s hard on your legs. It’s hard on your feet. I was getting tired. We had shed all the layers that we could and we were still sweating. Each time we checked the Gaia GPS app I asked the question, “What’s our elevation?”

Shelburne Moriah Mountain is 3,735 feet high. We were at approximately 1,800 feet elevation. We kept walking around blow-downs, trees, and thick scrub making our way up the invisible trail. Finally, the safety monitor in me said, “We should set a turn around time.”

Earl said, “What do you mean? Ready to give up already?”

“No,” I said, but yes, it what I meant. Instead I made my argument. “If we want to be home by 4 p.m. tomorrow to watch the Patriots play, we need to be back to the car by 2 p.m.

“We started hiking at 7 a.m. this morning. It is now 11:30 a.m. We will have to bushwhack our way back down to a good place to spend the night. Tomorrow we will need to find the Wild River and the Highwater Trail. We will have at least 5 miles to hike on the Highwater Trail to reach the car. It is doubtful we will be hiking by 7 a.m. tomorrow, because the sun will just be coming up. So if we don’t turn around by 2 p.m., it’s not likely we will be home in time for the Pats to play. That’s all I’m thinking.”

Earl continued moving up the trail. A few minutes later he pointed to a grassy, flat area below us. “That could be a good place to camp. Want to check it out?”

“Not really,” I said. “It isn’t likely that we’ll be able to find it again.”

We continued slowly making our way up the trail that was denoted by dotted lines on Earl’s phone.

Then Earl stopped.

“Look,” he said.

I looked. There in front of him was a trail. An obvious trail!


“What does the app show for our elevation?”

“Two thousand feet,” he said.

“We still have 1,700 feet of elevation in about a mile and a half,” I said.

Time wise, it would be close. We could probably make it to the summit by 2 p.m. But knowing we were on the established, it-did-exist, trail, our descent shouldn’t be quite as time or energy consuming.

We continued up the trail with renewed vigor and hope for reaching the summit.

A short distance later Earl stopped. “I’m tired. Let’s just head back down.”

I offered no argument!

Now the question became, where did we lose the trail? Would we know it when we saw it? We had a theory. Time and distance would tell us if we were right.

We started down the trail keeping our eyes peeled for good places the spend the night. The two primary considerations were a water source and flat ground.

Earl pointed to our right. There was a flat, grassy area. We laughed. It was the spot we’d seen earlier, the one I did not want to hike down to to check it out. The trail was just on the other side of it!

Now you might think we started kicking ourselves, or that Earl said, “See? If we had checked this out, we would have found the trail sooner!” but that was not the case. You see, the area was wet. We would have looked at it from the side we’d approached from and never would have continued across it to find the trail.

The spot where we deviated from the trail was, indeed, the place we thought it might be. We had hiked around several trees that covered the trail. We found what appeared to be the trail on the other side of them. We still stopped to look around to be sure. We thought the trail might have veered off to the right and up a hill. We checked the Gaia GPS app. It indicated we were on the trail.

See what I mean about GPSs apps being close but not exact?

We now think that we were within 10 – 15 yards of the trail most of the time we were bushwhacking. ​

We found a wonderful spot to camp near a babbling brook at around 1:30 p.m. We set up the new tent, then remembered to look for “widow makers,” dead trees or branches that might fall on unsuspecting campers. We saw one. We picked up the tent (that was so sweet) and moved it a few feet farther away from the widow maker.

We finished setting up our home for the night, filtered water, made dinner and relaxed for the couple of hours before dark. By 4:30 p.m. we were bundled up for the night.

Let me talk about the tent for a paragraph or two. It was great. Set up was easy. The portability of moving it when we discovered the widow maker was enough to make me giddy with joy. Of course we were fortunate that there were not trees or high scrub brush that would make lifting and moving it unwise.

The Alps Mountaineering Tasmania 2 tent has two vestibules. I loved having a place to store our packs overnight out of the weather. I always tucked mine under the small tarp of our other tent, and Earl typically left his outside. The other vestibule protected us from the weather as we crawled in and out of it. I put a piece of Tyvek at the opening so we tracked fewer leaves and dirt into the tent. We left our shoes outside, but they were still protected from the weather.

The interior of the tent was plenty roomy for us and our clothes. Mesh pockets run the full length of the sidewalls of the tent so we had a place to put lightweight stuff (glasses, cell phones). ​

One thing to know about late fall/winter camping is that the nights are extremely long! It was dark at 4:30 p.m. and would not get light until 6:30 a.m. At 9:30 p.m. I woke up and had to go pee. I scooted to the foot of the tent, unzipped the door, and put my camp shoes on. Then I unzipped the vestibule door and went outside.

The stars in that black sky were so bright! I peed then went to wake Earl. This was definitely worth sharing. We stood outside in the cold for just a few minutes before crawling back in the tent. We laughed at the idea that we still had another eight hours of dark before morning.

Sometime in the night those stars disappeared behind storm clouds. I woke at around 2 a.m. to hear light rain falling on the tent. I dozed and woke many times. I heard critters scuffling around outside and the rain fell harder.

It was just getting light when we crawled out of our sleeping bags and began the day. It was still raining, but our thermometers read 40 degrees. We were surprised at how warm it felt. We had expected to wake up to snow.

Breakfast in the rain consisted of a Poptart, oatmeal, and hot cocoa. A good hiker breakfast!
Breakfast in the rain consisted of a Poptart, oatmeal, and hot cocoa. A good hiker breakfast!

​While the water was heating for breakfast, we broke down camp. At 7:33 a.m. we started the 6-mile hike back to the car.

For the first time, our entire hiking day was spent in the rain. The trail was a bit treacherous in spots where wet leaves met steep descents. We arrived back to the car, soggy and safe, at 10 a.m.

Rather than stopping for breakfast or lunch, as we typically would do after a hike, we opted to drive straight home. We unloaded the car, set the tent up in the living room to dry, and unpacked our wet gear. By 1 p.m. we were in our places to watch the Baltimore Ravens play the Dallas Cowboys.

A weekend full of hiking and football. Life is good!




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