Without Trails

Silence, tranquility on Deer Hills


Exploring the trails on small mountains is very enjoyable. Those who give themselves the time to do that, instead of focusing only on climbing the 4,000 footers, are fortunate. I know many folks who have finished the 4,000 footers and continued hiking on the smaller mountains in a more relaxed manner. Allowing yourself to enjoy nature for its own sake yields rewards.

Of course, this perspective can be taken to the higher peaks as well. But small mountain hikes are there for the taking, requiring less time and effort. On them, you might be able to focus easier on where you are rather than conquering.

Early this week, I drove over to Chatham and climbed the two Deer Hills. I was guilty of doing longer hikes and over the years hadn’t bothered with doing them. It was time.

Little Deer Hill is 1,090 feet, Big Deer Hill is 1,367 feet. The Deer Hills Trail traverses both. They are situated above the intervales south of Evans Notch. The Cold River flows south below Little Deer Hill, the AMC Cold River Camp just beyond it. Across the valley to the west is picturesque South Baldface with its bare shoulder of exfoliating granite.

Big Deer Hill is just to the east of Little Deer. On the trail a short way beyond the summit of Big Deer, there is a great southern lookout. Continuing downhill on that trail, it is fun to visit Deer Hill Spring in a dark glade of evergreens. It is thoroughly unique. Its water bubbles up through white sand that is actually quartz and feldspar that has been ground into sand over millennia.

Because of this vertical flow, the spring is quicksand. There are stories about it. In the past someone observed a deer disappearing in it. The other day a friend said, “Almost lost my dog in that spring. Very cold, too!”

From this point, there is a bypass trail that can bring you back around the base of the twin peaks to your starting point.

To get to the trail from Conway take Route 302 to Fryeburg, Maine, and take a left just before the post office on Route 113. Continue out through East Conway, North Fryeburg, Stowe and Chatham, and in about 17.6 miles from Fryeburg park in the Baldface Circle Trail parking lot on the right.

Next to the outhouse in the parking lot is a trail sign for the 0.4 mile Deer Hill Connector. Take that, first along Charles Brook, then bear right along the Cold River until you reach the dam that crosses the river. Walk across the dam, which is especially built for foot travel.

Another option is to stay at the fabulous AMC Cold River Camp and just walk down to the dam from the camp.

From here, I will describe my own hike. At the three-trail junction beyond the dam, I took the middle one — the Deer Hills Trail — up Little Deer Hill. The woods were wet from a good soaking rain the day before. Looking for mushrooms, I spied only one chanterelle, too small to keep. The trail was steep enough to get some cardio.

On a small ledge, I passed a great view of South Baldface across the Cold River valley, where low morning clouds were evaporating. Soon, I reached the summit ledges where a multiple trail sign stood on a post embedded in a stone cairn. The view west, partially blocked by trees, was nice.

I continued on the Deer Hills Trail down to a saddle and up Big Deer Hill. On top there was no view but I could see light through the trees below, and continued down the trail a short way to a great southern lookout. Morning clouds continued to lift. They partially covered the modest Adams Mountain to the east. On the far side of that peak, were remains of the old Evergreen valley Ski Area.

I continued down to the next junction, where the Deer Hill Bypass bore right. That was my route back, but first I took a left on it. I wanted to see Deer Hill Spring, which I hadn’t seen in years.

Soon, I took a left hand spur down to the spring. I didn’t have any expectations, as the last time I was there the water was low and hardly moving. This time I was pleasantly surprised.

In the middle of the spring, there was an area of white sand on the bottom about five feet in diameter. Individual bubbles of sand rose like larva and disappeared; rose and disappeared with the rising water.

The silence added to the unique phenomenon. Tempting fate, I took off my hiking boots and took a small step off the bank onto the white sand on the bottom of the pool, but not out where the bubbles rose. The water was exceptionally cold, coming from depths.

After a cool pause, I headed back up to the Deer Hill Bypass and took that trail west below the two peaks. I wanted to see two other trails. I took the Frost Trail from the bypass back to the summit of Little Deer, then descended the Ledges Trail back to the bypass.

I had been on the Ledges Trail before and was attracted to its rugged aspect. This time extreme care was needed descending it in the damp conditions, and I was forced off of it into the woods a few times, finally arriving back on the Deer Hill Bypass. I continued on that trail back out to the dam over the Cold River which I had crossed in the other direction a couple hours earlier.

It was good to get to know the quiet Deer Hills better.


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