Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail to Gem Pool

On Saturday, my brother, my 8-year old niece, and I were going to take on Mt. Washington. We had been planning it, and each of us, including my niece, were ready both mentally and physically, and we were excited all week long. The weather Friday night was indicating a beautiful day ahead, and as the morning came, there was no question about it. Before we even got to the trail head, the day was exciting.

Driving through Franconia Notch is always beautiful. It could be covered in ominous clouds or be blanketed with the shadows of the mountains across the road from the mountains morning - always stunning.
Cannon cliffs from Route 93
Once we saw Mt. Washington, the excitement grew. On Route 302 after the Irving Station, we came upon a dead moose on the side of the road. It appeared to have been dead, likely hit by a vehicle. There was a stopped vehicle, but it was not damaged. We suspected the driver came across the moose already hit, and was either just reporting it and waiting for authorities, or perhaps they allow passer-bys to claim the road kill? We turned onto Base Station Road on our way to the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail head. As we were talking about the dead moose, a live one popped out onto the road. It scurried along the right side before trotting into the woods on the left.

Although listed as closed on the Forest Road Status page, the trail head was open and in use. We paid our  $3 fee and got ready for the hike.
Mt. Washington from the Ammonoosuc Ravine parking lot
The weather was gorgeous as we set out around 8:30am. The trail was fairly wet, but not obnoxiously muddy.  The first couple of stream crossings along the way to Gem Pool were all doable, but not without getting the soles of our boots wet. There are pipes that go along the lower portion of the trail. I assume they are related to the cog, but I am not sure. Anyways, the force of the water from tropical storm Irene had something to say about the pipes. They were bent and wrapped around the trees as shown below. I had hiked on this trail in 2007 and 2010. Now, the area next to the trail and along the river is all opened up now. There is a much wider view up the ravine now from the trail.
First crossing on Ammo Trail requiring attention
Damage from Irene on Ammo Trail
As we continued along, the views were becoming much nicer of the higher peaks above. The wind was picking up a little bit making it chilly at times. We made it to Gem Pool where the sun was beaming so brightly into the open space on the path it was a big warm spot. It was a perfect place to take a nice break. After all, we were going at a great pace with the little one, and we didn't have to take nearly as many breaks as the first 4000 footers she did. We had some water, banana bread, vanilla wafers and energy bars.

Gem Pool and the waterfall was as pretty as I have ever seen it.
Gem Pool

As we got going, there is a stream crossing directly in front of Gem Pool. In the years past it was a trickle, but today, it was just more than a trickle. Unfortunately, things did not go smoothly as we left Gem Pool. With her in the middle of me and my brother, somehow her step did not make it to the next rock, and her foot ended up in a pool of water up to her shins. When she stepped in and attempted to prevent the fall, there was a minor tweak of her knee. We didn't see it 100% so we didn't know whether it was a hyper-extension or not. Afterwards, she could walk ok, but just like many hikers have likely experienced, there were certain steps that would cause a zinging pain for her. We waited a few moments after things calmed down, and we took a closer look, and it was just not going to happen at this point.

It was very sad because she wanted to make the summit so bad. She knew it was the perfect day, and she was crushed. Bill and I were crushed too. But I'll tell you what, we learned a lot from this one about the fact that the mountain will be there another day. As much as we wanted to get to the summit too, we had to be strong for her, make the right decision and help her understand the same. With our decision made, we took another 20 minutes or so hanging out in the sun by Gem Pool. We would try to make the rest of the day as fun as possible. There was no reason to not enjoy being out in the woods on such a beautiful day.

I am not ending this trip report here because we had such a great time the rest of the weekend, and we enjoyed a fantastic Mother's Day. On the way out, we made a quick stop to the Mt. Washington Hotel. If you don't know, the hotel has been featured on the show Ghost Hunters twice now with some pretty cool experiences happening there over the years, particularly with the princess who still lives there. Of course, this intrigues an 8-year old (and me too!).  I just as much wanted to see what the inside looked like. We walked in, grabbed a pamphlet and checked out the beautiful lobby (with our muddy hiking boots - oops). The views outside were unbelievable, it truly looks like a world-class resort.
Mt. Washington Hotel with Washington in the background
Mt. Washington Hotel, Bretton Woods
When we got back to Lake Winnisquam, we took my niece to Funspot so we could help add to her stash of saved up tickets for a big prize later this summer. After that, we got back to the camp and enjoyed a great camp fire under the stars. With dad's star mapping app, she had fun checking out the constellations we could see. Our boat was just put into the lake this weekend too, so on Sunday afternoon after a nice lunch and planting Peony and rose bushes for Mom, we all (mom, dad, brother, niece, sister-in-law, and mother-in-law) went out for a beautiful boat ride around Lake Winnisquam. The puffy clouds with sun rays protruding through were just breathtaking. If you like Belknap Mountain, perhaps you've never seen it from Lake Winnisquam. This was an awesome first boat ride of the season.
Belknap Range from Lake Winnisquam (Belknap Mt. is middle)
Looking towards Sanborton from deepest part of Winnisquam
If you want to know what it's like to go for a beautiful afternoon boat ride around Lake Winnisquam, check this out!
All in all, this was no disappointment. Although we did not reach a summit, it was a beautiful weekend, and we came home Sunday night feeling just as happy as if we had reached a summit. My niece saw the doctor already, and has a very minor sprain in her knee. She'll be better with some rest, and we'll be coming back - I know it will not be long before she is asking us to give it another shot.

Hike Stats
Trails: Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail
Distance: 4.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 950 ft
Book Time: 5hrs


  1. Bummer! I hope she will heal up and be back on the trails soon. Turning back isn't always an easy decision, emotionally and mentally. Physically, it is usually pretty easy if you're in pain, but with such a beautiful day and the lure of Washington, no doubt it was terribly disappointing. Looks like you all made the best of it and had a great time anyway.

  2. Sounds like the right decision to turn back, Dan. You got some great pictures as it is! The mountain will still be there next time.

  3. Although a disappointment it's nice to see that the right decision was made. I've always agreed with the fact that the mountain will always be there. And how can you otherwise not have a great time in the White Mountains - it's the reason I live here! BTW - the pic of those pipes wrapped around the tree shows the amazing destructive power of that storm! There are many areas of destruction that can still be seen on the hiking trails up here.

    1. Don - Thanks, I've been able to see the damage in several areas throughout the Whites. I was impressed with how many trees were downed in along the river compared to other places I saw. It was vastly different than in 2007 and 2010. Perhaps the recently stated closure is to address some of that damage..?

      Owen - Thanks!

  4. Glad it was only a minor sprain. Look forward to see her back on the trails again soon. (I was the guy who started our just behind you front the parking lot)

    1. Tom - Thank you, I hope so too, she loves it. Thanks for stopping by. It was such an awesome day, I hope you enjoyed it. I checked to see if the Auto Road was open, but it wasn't from what I could find. We almost took the 1:30 cog to the top - we tried really hard to get there.

  5. Hi,

    Don't fret about turning around. I hit the ammo about 8am Sat. It was somewhat dangerous on the upper third of the Ammo trail. Ledges were coated with Ice, running water and eventually all snow.The climbing was tricky for my size at 5'1". As soon as you crested over to Lake of the Clouds hut, the high winds kicked in at about 40mph.My destination was Eisonhower via Monroe. The winds kept increasing all the way to IKE to Hurricane force about 70mph.So I returned via Edmunds path instead of my planned route back down Ammo. It was a gorgeous winter wonderland up there but it was no place for a light weight like me or your neice. Knee issue was a blessing in disguise!

    1. Thanks for the comment. As soon as we passed Gem Pool and attempted to proceed around that steep corner, we could feel the wind pick up. Back on went the base layer. We imagined it would be quite windy up top. We each had plenty of layers and face protection for her, but glad we didn't have to deal with it.

  6. Wow! That is indeed very majestic! Nothing compares to the beauty of nature.

  7. Dan

    Its BoBo. (ask your Dad). We are headed up there on Friday. Staying at the Mt Washington Hotel so we are going to give the Ammonoosuc a try. I wish you were around to give me some advice but Im sure things are more interesting at Mt Whitney. Strong likelyhood that 4 of us will be going up and only 3 coming down. At least New Hampshire will have their "Old Man in the Mountain" back - me!!!

    1. Bob - You're a riot! Would be funny if I posted that pic you sent my Dad, huh? That's my trail snacks. The Ammo trail is beautiful, but it does get steep after Gem Pool - Be careful, Dad said you haven't hiked in years.