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August 1998

New Hampshire’s Baldface Range

Baldface Range's icy swimming holes and heights will get any hiker worked up.

Meandering rivers, emerald pools, 4 miles of open ledges yielding remarkable views of New Hampshire and Maine’s peaks and valleys-no wonder the traverse of the Baldface Range is one of the finest hiking loops in the White Mountains.

Rising more than 3,500 feet from the valley of the Wild River, Baldface is often overshadowed by some of the more popular ridges to its west. So while the crowds head to Mt. Washington, the mighty Presidentials, and Franconia, Twin, and Willey ranges, Baldface stays relatively untrammeled once you get beyond the dayhiker zone.

The Baldface Circle Trail is a spectacular overnight trek, a 91/2-mile loop over the North and South Baldface peaks. You’ll scurry up steep granite ledges during a thigh-burning climb that gains more than 3,000 feet in elevation before reaching the bare summit of North Baldface. It’s worth every grunt and groan, though. Hiking the broad ridgeline, you’ll be surrounded by treeless, open expanses and views that stretch clear to the other side of heaven. You can hike the ridgeline and ascend South Baldface, make your way down the steep ledges to Baldface Shelter, and head out the following day. But you won’t want to leave too soon because this is a land of many options. Baldface is located in the 775,000-acre White Mountain National Forest, so you can enlarge your loop to continue for days or weeks, and end up back at your car without retracing a step.

We put together a 20.2-mile loop by hiking the craggy ridge crest over the knob of Mt. Meader to the north, then dropping to the banks of the beautiful Wild River. After dangling our feet in the icy water and peering at the surrounding peaks, we headed up to 4,832-foot Carter Dome via the Black Angel Trail. The last day we looped back around via Perkins Notch, crossed the high waters of Wild River, hooked up with Baldface Circle Trail and followed it down from South Baldface. About a mile before the trailhead, we took the side path to Emerald Pool, a deep pond the color of cat’s eyes, fringed with cool granite slabs. If you can handle the intense cold, a plunge is the perfect way to wash away the dust of three days on the trail.

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