Zealand Notch, Zealand Falls, and Zealand Mtn.
June 1, 1997

Hikers: Matthew Reagan, Randy Weinstein

This was the first ski-free hike of "Summer" 1997, but as with our attempts on Tuckerman, the weather did not cooperate. Although the weather called for clearing skies throughout the day, we never saw the sun. However, foul weather often makes for good hiking--if you have the proper gear and enjoy having the whole trail to yourself.

Our hike began at the end of Zealand River Road (five miles in from 302). We hiked south along the Zealand River in a light misty drizzle. The forest was quiet, and the views were still beautiful through the mist. Here is a photo of the river and the wilderness beyond from a boardwalk one mile from the trailhead (click on the photos to see the full-size version). Considerable beaver activity was evident, and at one rest stop we actually spotted one of our rodent namesakes. It is worth noting that this area was once referred to as "Death Valley," due to the extensive clear-cutting of forest in the late 1800s and a series of severe fires in the early 1900s. The area has recovered nicely over the past seventy or so years, and only the size of the trees and distribution of undergrowth reveal the age. Even with the evident newness of the forest, the distance from civilization makes for a very "wild" experience.

Our first destination was Zealand Falls Hut. Here is a photo of Zealand Notch (the northern gateway into the Pemigewasset Wilderness) from the front porch of the hut. The trace of white in the trees is not snow (yet), but the foaming rapids above Zealand Falls. We followed the Twinway trail uphill from there, and above the hut encountered an unusually nasty water crossing. The normally gentle stream feeding the falls was swollen by a combination of rain and meltwater, and required clever use of logs, poles, and long-jumping to cross. A few hundred feet above this crossing (around 3700'), we encountered snow. The trail was well packed near the center, but as the snow got deeper the postholing got worse. We broke through the forest onto the less-protected ridge at around 4000', and were able to leave the snow behind for a while.

Our reward for all this effort was the Zeacliff lookout. The photo here shows the view to the south, with the hills of the Pemigewasset Wilderness in the foreground and the jagged boundary ridge of Mts. Carrigain and Hancock in the distance. It was still drizzling lightly, but the sky had brightened considerably and a little cold and damp weather wasn't able to spoil our appreciation of the view.

From here, we followed the Twinway eastward along the ridge. On the exposed rock ledges we found little snow but plenty of mud, as well as a large pile of moose droppings (just like the ones they sell as jewelry at Kittery Trading Post--but free!). As we approached the summit cone of Zealand Mtn. the trail went back into the woods--and therefore back into the deep snow. The ridge was heavily wooded and wrapped in dark rain clouds, but we pressed on. Our reward was a cold, wet lunch in the snow somewhere near, but probably not on, the summit. (Note: I went back in 1999 and found out, sadly, that we'd missed it completely. The top was still a mile further down the trail past numerous other false summits.) We started back as quickly as possible, and were treated to brightening skies as we re-crossed the ridge, with hazy views of the Pemi, the snow-covered Presidentials, and Franconia Ridge. The warm, dry, cozy hut was a welcome sight on the way down.

photos by Matthew Reagan

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