Cathedral and White Horse Ledges via Bryce and White Horse Ledge trails, March 5, 2017.
Distance: 5.2 miles (loop)
Elevation gain: 1200'
Trailhead: The trail begins at Echo Lake State Park, 68 Echo Lake Road, Conway, NH. The gate is closed in winter; park just outside the gate along the road.
Hiked with Sandy today. The hiking weekend we'd so looked forward to was an epic failure. After months of preparing and keeping in shape for our "big weekend," weather and distractions kept us from any portion of our plan! Frigid temps and wind chill made hiking on Saturday unwise and though Sunday's weather was much better, forces were pushing back on our fun.
We had to hike something. After dealing with other pressing tasks we found ourselves first stepping onto a trail well into the afternoon of our last day. And, instead of bagging a winter 4k peak as planned, our time allowed for just a small hike. We chose the ledges - Cathedral and White Horse.
This hike has very steep and very flat portions, and weeks of alternating cold and very warm weather left hard ice on the steeps, and frozen footprints and post holes on the flats. But it's still a day in the woods and we were up for it.
|Parking is along the road when the gate's locked.|
|Echo Lake and Cathedral Ledge.|
After skirting the lake we reached the beginning of the loop. The White Horse Ledge trail intersects here; we'll return to this spot on our way out.
The trail around the lake consisted of bumpy frozen snow.
|All trails blazed in yellow.|
|We took Bryce up the steeps to the col.|
We're no strangers to icy steeps. Still, the hardness of the ice on this cold day (particularly in the shade), and the lack of any good footing slowed our ascent. The microspikes weren't cutting it in a some of the steeper spots and I wished for my crampons.
|Looking down the path.|
|Looking down at the remnants of stairs.|
I was glad to be done with this section of trail, short as it is.
|At the col. Left is White Horse Ledge and right is Cathedral Ledge.|
We reached the col and the junction to the ledges. Here the trail is comfy, with softer snow and shelter from the wind. That is, until we started the last short push to Cathedral Ledge.
Wow, and I thought the previous ice was tough! There seemed no way around all this hard ice on this very steep section. It took us about 15 minutes just to get up the approximately two-tenths of a mile section to the ledges. No photos of this part - I was too busy having "fun" struggling up the path.
|View from the ledges.|
It's possible to drive up to Cathedral Ledge. The road's closed in winter but in the event you're doing this hike in these conditions and the words, "I'm not going down this way!" creep into your head, you can simply walk down the road (it's a nice road walk).
|A fence around the ledge keeps me from the plunge.|
Going back down the path was tricky too. Descending icy steep areas is never fun.
|The pink/gray hue of the cold shadows in the woods.|
Back at the junction sign we checked the time and headed up to White Horse Ledge. The going is better here, less steep, and we were up on the slabs in no time. After checking out the nice view we continued on the slabs, heading right toward a clearing to take the White Ledge trail down.
|View from the ledges.|
|Headed down White Horse Ledge trail.|
The trail down's a nice meander in the shelter of the woods. Large boulders that found themselves "unstuck" from the face of the ledge lay haphazardly around. There are some areas of the trail filled with leaves (snow had melted), with intense footprints and post holing, the result of the warm temps a few weeks back.
|Not a fan of leafy trails!|
|This ice bulge is left of the trail.|
|Random rocks - with the ledge in the background.|
Soon we were back on flat trail headed to Echo Lake and back to the car. Entire trip is just five miles but in these conditions it took up almost three hours.
It's good to know when you're pressed for time that these short but challenging ledges are close by. We went back to the house for chili and beer.