Hiking 7:05:00  17.1 mi (24:51 / mi) +1600m 19:15 / mi
shoes: Roclite 280-2015
Grafton Loop, West Side. I did a solo hike on this wild and remote trail in the northern Mahoosucs, something I've been wanting to do for some time. I started at the southern trailhead at 8:30 a.m., 36 degrees, clear and sunny with hardly any wind. The trail goes over 2 major peaks, Sunday River Whitecap and Old Speck. I had been to the Whitecap about 10 years ago, shortly after the trail was opened, but that time we opted to retrace our steps back. For not much more effort, you can continue on to Old Speck and down to the northern trailhead, which is what I did today.
When I was a kid, Old Speck was said to be the second-highest mountain in Maine (after Katahdin) but it's been demoted to 4th. It's not a destination peak though, because getting there is steep and unrewarding. It's on the A.T., just north of Mahoosuc Notch, so a lot of hikers traverse it and wish they didn't have to. But doing it as part of the Grafton Loop is not too bad. The ascent starts from 3000 feet or so, so only the unrelenting descent down to the notch is left.
Sunday River Whitecap, on the other hand, is one of the best summits in the White Mountains. You can see it from everywhere, but before the Grafton Loop trail was built, there was no way to get to it. It's still not easy, 6 miles in, but it has an outstanding view of the Mahoosucs, Grafton Notch, and the northern peaks beyond, full 360. In the fall foliage it was sublime. The bare-rock summit is a protected Alpine zone.
The trip took me 7 hours end-to-end, but I had thought I might do it in 6. It was a fine hike on a fine day, bitterly cold on the mountaintops, where the trees were covered in rime ice and the landscape was wintry, but by moving fast and adjusting outerwear I stayed comfortable. Only one other person on the loop trail, but there was a group of 4 and one solo on the A.T. section.
Now the East side of the Grafton Loop remains. A little longer, at 20 miles or so, but should be possible in a day. I've hiked various parts of that one too, but not the long central section.