10/1/23: Solitude Trail Rock Steps in Gully

Oct. 1, 2023 Solitude Trail

Solitude Trail runs southeast from Mt. Sunapee summit down to the west shore of Lake Solitude, where it ends at the junction with Andrew Brook Trail. The Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway continues south from there. Solitude Trail follows a southerly route atop the ridge joining the summit and the White Ledges, then turns east and climbs by easy grades to the ledges. Because it follows the easiest terrain we think it may have been designed by Phil Ayers, first forester of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF). They did buy the top of the mountain in 1912, plus more land adjoining it to amount to almost 2,700 acres by 1920. Thus they saved the remnant "old growth" forest there from being logged, and those ancient woods are still there today. This trail winds among them.

At the one place where the trail goes straight up the fall line, there is a gully that has gotten gradually a little deeper since I began hiking it in 1982. We (CHVTC) adopted this trail in 2023, and we were determined to mitigate that problem. It happens that trails from the summit are more accessible by chairlift, for tourists and for us. The ski resort is on land leased from the State, and we as contract workers get comp. (free) tickets to ride the chairlift on request. We did that on seven days this year, which has been a huge help in fixing problem areas on the trails we tend there.

I quarried and flagged rocks from a ledge 15 yards away last July 23. On October 1, crew schedules and good dry weather meshed with the chairlift schedule (weekends) so we could reach the site. We spent a while moving the rocks to the trail just uphill of the site, and discussing how they might best be used to build stairs at the top of the gully. Then we stashed tools out of sight and walked over to the White Ledges for lunch.

Back at the site by about 1300, we decided that the biggest and tallest rock should sit at the top of the stairs and just below the roots of a tree beside the trail (see before photo). Then we set a wider one below that, for ease of use and to prevent the soil scouring out from under the top one and making it collapse (as on many other trails). More angular stones beside and behind the steps, help to weigh them down and keep hikers from slipping into a hole beside the steps.

Before the work begins.
Steps are ready for hikers.

Downhill of a rock waterbar we built 5 years ago, we added a step in the trail so as to prevent traffic from scouring out the soil under that. More mineral soil from the ditch at the waterbar is easy to add as backfill may be eroded from around the step. Consulting and collaboration was the method of the day.

New rock step below 5 year-old waterbar.
New rock step from over the ditch by the waterbar.

By 1500 we had packed up and were hiking back to the summit. Cold drinks from the crew refreshment fund were quite tasty as we relaxed on the nice breezy west porch of the lodge there, talking of hiking, mountaineering, and reels. Slainte a thu!

At 1630 we rode the chairlift down to our cars.

Back at the cars, it was my duty and pleasure to award their tartan to a new Cardigan Highlander, who has quite a good aptitude for setting rock. They and this crew are indeed a good fit. This was a great day, and that job is DONE.

Craig Sanborn, CHVTC