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Plenty of Hurdles, Plenty of Highlights

Confounding at Times, New Hampshire’s Mount Paugus Is Worth the Exhaustion

Cliffs and ledges punctuate Mount Paugus in the Sandwich Range Wilderness. (Marty Basch photograph)

Cliffs and ledges punctuate Mount Paugus in the Sandwich Range Wilderness. (Marty Basch photograph)

Every so often a hike comes along and schools you with a swift butt kick to leave you bloodied, muddied, ragged and worn.

Hiking the rough-and tough, low lying Mount Paugus using the Bolles, Old Paugus, Lawrence, Cabin and Whitin Brook trails was an 8.6-mile circuit of frustration. The 3,198-footer on the southern boundary of New Hampshire’s White Mountains was complete with discombobulated markings, a sinister gully, eroding narrow sections and plenty of blow downs reminiscent of a steeplechase.

Despite the hurdles and grimy tail slides, the outing supplies enchanting stretches along rushing brooks, relatively easy rock-hopping, fine looks at Mount Chocorua and some wondrous Lakes Region and White Mountains views from the south peak near summit ledges.

Though the loop on June’s first Tuesday proved maddening at some points, according to reports since then on newenglandtrailconditions.com, crews have administered some TLC to ensure a more pleasant journey.

That said, the burly Sandwich Range mountain has a fascinating origin and has donned many names over time including Old Shag, Moose, Middle, Frog, Ragged, Hunchback, Deer and Bald.

The name Paugus, a Pequawket chief, stuck in 1875 thanks to poet and frequent area visitor Lucy Larcom.

From the Paugus Road trail head (FR 68) in Tamworth, my wife, Jan, and I left on our merry wide way, soon crossing Paugus Brook and then passing a snowmobile bridge.

We soon came by a sign for Mount Paugus to the left but the way we read the sign, the Paugus Trail continued straight.

Wrong.

When we got to a pair of wooden snowmobile bridges and a sign for the Beeline Cut-off, we realized the error of our ways. Only then did we take out the map and guide, and trekked the half-mile back to that correct junction thus adding a mile to our journey.

Old Paugus was quickly seductive, entering the Sandwich Range Wilderness at an easy grade along flowing Whitin Brook. However, it quickly became steep with some dicey footing, particularly in what appeared to be a slippery and mucky rock scramble to nowhere. Precarious footing and the constant drip of water kept us in place for a good half hour, sapping strength and confidence as we tried various ways of scaling this ledgy dead-end, even trying to climb an ancient branch presumably placed there for the scramble.

Wrong.

Deflated, we opted for a retreat to lunchtime adult beverages, but only on the descent did Jan take another look at one of the cairns and decided it was pointing. She followed a feint trail and then saw another cairn. It was the trail, and we followed it sluggishly, eventually reaching the south knob with its ledges and boulders looking like a god had dropped a stone and left its crumbled pieces behind.

We easily followed a path to the ledges affording a stellar look to Mounts Passaconway and Osceola, the Fool Killer, Mount Kancamagus and a few others. By ourselves, we strolled around the ledges and also saw Mount Cardigan, Squam Lake and more peaks like Sunapee and Ragged.

But what we didn’t see in our exploration was a sign for the Lawrence Trail, the next leg of the hike.

So the map and guide reappeared and provided key information. The sign was a few steps back in the woods.

Readily spotted when knowing where to look, the trail soon came to what could have been a bend, but we decided it was a “T” junction. Only after some searching did we find a blaze to the left and descended through Paugus Pass and its gravelly switchbacks with Mount Whiteface vistas. As it turned out, the way right led to a site that at one time contained Old Shag Camp.

The terrain rolled at times along the Lawrence, Cabin and Old Paugus trails, but the portions with copious blow-downs forced us to bob and weave through the obstacles, apropos for pugilistic Paugus.

The way did have its joyous sections including looks at cliffy Paugus and then passageway alongside the fast-moving Whitin and Paugus brooks.

But Paugus wasn’t done with us. Somewhere along the way, we triggered the alarm and the winged air force attacked us en masse, forcing us to exhaust ourselves even more.

Never had a trail head looked so welcoming as when we got back to the truck. Jan produced the wet wash cloth to wipe away the alpine mud and dried blood on our legs left behind from a trek where stop, look and listen ruled.

Marty Basch can be reached through onetankaway.com.