A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Upton Forest Trail bushwack

August 10, 2014
Emilie Phillips

So, there was this trail on my map…

After hiking the previous relatively nice section of the Monadnock Sunapee Greenway, I figured we should try another. It was not until we were in the car that I studied the next few sections and realized they were predominantly road walks. Instead, we opted for an intersecting trail and a section of the Greenway that passed a lake.

Upton Forest Trail and Monadnock Sunapee Greenway

Upton Forest Trail and Monadnock Sunapee Greenway

The sign at the trail head said it was private conservation land with hiking allowed on yellow blazed trails. The trail started out on a road. Looking at the map it appears that we could go straight on the road or take a side trail down to the marsh. We opted for the side trail. That trail was one of the least used trails I have seen. There were ferns growing in the trail. We came to a T junction right after a stone wall. The map indicated right would take us back to the road and left would continue the the loop away from the road. We followed the left trail briefly, but then it disappeared without a trace not five steps past a blaze. We hunted for a bit, but eventually gave up and followed the the right branch. That followed a stream up the hill and eventually popped out onto an old road. We looked for blazes but found none. We explored to the right on the road since that was generally the direction the trail had been going. The road crossed the stream on an old falling apart stone bridge or culverts and then ended in a large field and someone’s back yard. So we turned around and tried the other way. In this direction, the road just kept heading south, away from our destination. Finally we pulled out the GPS track on the phone. It appeared that the old road we were on might be a disused section of Tarbox road. The road with the main trail was probably up through the field towards the house. I surmised the main trail continued on a road because the map showed it relatively straight.

We returned to the field and skirted it to the left. Soon enough we found an old road mowed wide open and headed west. Following that, we came to an intersection, also possibly Tarbox road. The road continuing west looked like it had most recently been used for logging. It had grown up with scrub and ferns, but we could see a faint track, and we spotted a blaze. Then the road entered older forest and was no longer overgrown. We saw the occasional blaze, and things were starting to look up.

Then we lost it. Somehow we could not figure out where the road went and there weren’t any handy blazes. We spread out and eventually found another blaze, but I could not quite figure out how the road might have gotten there, and it was not clear which way to go next. We searched again and found another blaze. Tyson brought the compass out to compare with the map and the GPS. The next few blazes were easy to find, but we fairly quickly concluded that this trail was no proper trail, but was rather a bushwhack course someone had laid out from their house to the greenway ten or more years ago and never firmly established nor maintained. The straightness of the trail on the map was merely because someone had set a heading on their compass and followed that course through the woods. We used a combination of dead reckoning and spotting blazes to follow the “trail”.

The worst places were where we came upon 5+ year old logging clearings. The clearings were filled with briars and brambles and the new growth on either side obscured where the blazes might have continued. After the nastiest of these that left me with bloody legs, we lost the blazes. Since we had not benefited much from the “trail” we just continued on following the compass.

Oddly enough, we did eventually run into the blazes again. We followed them down an old road for a while. Then off along a stone wall and finally onto the Monadnock Sunapee Greenway. There were faint blue blazes painted on a tree to mark the intersection, but otherwise it was invisible.

Open Street Maps showing possible route back

Open Street Maps showing possible route back

Neither Tyson nor I wanted to return to the car via the bushwhack trail. Everyone, including Isaac, was scraped up. Our first option was to go south to Rt 9 and hike back the road. Tyson found another possibility on Open Street Maps on the phone. That database showed a trail going almost all the way from Mount Stoddard road to the Greenway. It was not on my map, but Tyson thought I looked promising. So we hiked down to the lake and checked out the shelter.

Since the trail on the map ended in a swamp a bit shy of Center Pond Rd which we were following, we had to guess a place to approach it. The most promising possibility was an old gate accessing a narrow band of grown up meadow between a horse pasture and overgrown swamp. We were visible from the owner’s house which I was not happy about. At another gate in the pasture, we gained horse traffic and it really looked like we were on an old road. Our GPS track intersected the trail on Open Street Maps and things were looking pretty good.

Then the horse trail made a sharp U-turn back towards the house and whatever old road there might have been was too faded to follow. We were left with no better option than pulling out the compass and finding our own way through the open woods. Surprisingly, Tyson eventually found faint road again. And this time it grew bigger and more maintained. It even appeared to match up with the trail on Open Street Maps. We joined a snowmobile trail and then arrived at Mount Stoddard Rd. From there, the worst trouble we encountered was a beaver dam built straight across the road. We even found some steps up to remains of an old stone and brick house.

All told, I think Upton Forest trail goes down as the worst mapped trail I have ever tried to follow.