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Perfect 10: Black Angel Trail, White Mountain National Forest, NH
Sneak into a forgotten corner of the Northeast’s busiest forest.
—Larry Garland, as told to Courtney Holden
Like so many hikers, I hike to get away from it all. Unlike most, I get to do it for work, as a cartographer for the Appalachian Mountain Club. In 2005, I became a redliner: My task was to hike every trail—which appear as red lines on our maps—in the Whites. I’m one of only four people to have hiked every one of them, more than 1,400 miles in total.
This forest is crawling with myriad, damn-fine 10-mile stretches, but I say the best in the whole 794,000 acres is the Black Angel Trail. It’s the embodiment of what hiking, at least for me, is all about: isolation and solitude in nature’s undomesticated playground. The Black Angel Trail is best tackled as part of a 16.9-mile figure-eight loop from the Wild River Campground. At 2.6 miles in, you come to a river ford that the guidebook warns may be problematic for “people with short legs or heavy packs”—thankfully, I suffer from neither. Continue in a southwesterly direction, dodging the muddier sections as you follow the river up to its headwaters near the watershed divide and No Ketchum Pond (don’t bother bringing a fishing rod). You’re deep in federally sanctioned backcountry—wilderness with a capital “W” as we call it—so there are no paint blazes on trees to help you find your way. All of this creates a buffer that keeps the crowds away.
You can camp here at Perkin’s Shelter or push on, starting with a 1,500-foot, 2.5-mile climb to Carter Dome. On the Carter-Moriah Range, the nose of Carter Dome looks out to its mightier brother, Mt. Washington, and down on vistas over the Wild River Wilderness. If you’re sick for peace and quiet in the Northeast, what lies next is the prescription for you. Veer east to the Black Angel Trail, and drop off the ridge into a veritable no man’s land.
The 3,100-foot descent down through birch glades inspires a contemplative spirit, so slow down as you stride from the virgin-timber realm of softwood pines and firs, then through sugar maples, birches, beech, and cherry trees. Do yourself a favor and go in early October for the best leaf-peeping of your life; you’ll be alone with your thoughts in an area of the wilderness overlooked by peakbaggers focused on the Presidentials.
PERFECT 10 Perkins Notch Shelter to Wild River Campground along the Black Angel Trail
DO IT Take US 2 to NH 113 S. After 3.5 miles, turn right onto Wild River Rd. After 5.7 miles, park at Wild River Campground. Take the Wild River Trail 7.6 miles to Perkins Notch, head right on Rainbow Trail for 2.5 miles, and opt right onto the Carter-Moriah Trail. In .4 miles, take the Black Angel Trail 7.1 miles to a junction and follow the Basin Trial two miles to the trailhead.
MAP Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Map #5, Carter Range ($10, see Contact)
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