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Wilderness Trail Bridges
September 17, 2009

Route: Lincoln Woods Trail,
Wilderness Trail


1629 ft

Vertical Climb:

933 ft


10.8 miles

Who Went:

Paul (solo)

I had been attempting an ambitious hike this time, climbing Mt Carrigain on the Signal Ridge Trail, descending via the Desolation Trail, and then hiking the entire length of the Wilderness/Lincoln Woods Trail out to the Kancamagus Highway near Lincoln. However, the weather had been wet and foggy on Carrigain, and the steep and slippery Desolation Trail did not seem particularly inviting.

Still, I really wanted to photograph the suspension bridge over the East Branch of the Pemigewasset, just beyond the Bondcliff Trail and Black Brook bridge. The Forest Service was planning on dismantling both the suspension bridge and the Black Brook bridge a couple of days later, and then closing the section of the Wilderness Trail between the Bondcliff Trail and the Cedar Brook Trail. The bridge would soon be dangerous without repairs, and they had made the decision that wilderness rules regarding manmade structures meant that they were required to remove all traces of the bridge rather than build a new one. This decision caused a lot of controversy among the hiking community, especially since the Forest Service had recently rebuilt the suspension bridge in the Great Gulf Wilderness.

At any rate, for me, it was basically either now or never, so after returning to my car, I drove over to the Lincoln Woods Trailhead to make the long loop in to the bridge and back again.

Mid-afternoon was an unusually late start for this enterprise. The suspension bridge was 5.4 miles in from the trailhead, or 10.8 miles and nearly 1000 ft elevation gain, and a book time of just over six hours round trip. But I knew I could make much better time on the flat Lincoln Woods/Wilderness Trail, and was sure I could trim the time down to four hours round trip. Still, it didn't hurt to have my headlamp with me.

About halfway to the Black Pond Trail, I met a guy and his two dogs on their way back from a trip to Owl's Head. After that, I didn't see anyone until I got back to my car and drove into Lincoln.

My new Keene hiking boots were giving me trouble; after wearing them for several hours, I realized that they were too cramped in the toe area. I stopped near the Franconia Falls Trail to remove one of my two pair of socks, which eased the pressure on my big toes a little. Still, I ended up losing a toenail over those boots, and I returned them to Eastern Mountain Sports a few days later.

I made good time, passing the Bondcliff Trail in about 1-3/4 hours. The Black Brook bridge was a bit rickety but, being low to the ground, was not particularly threatening. The suspension bridge, however, was definitely beginning to crack and warp from age, and made cracking and creaking sounds when I walked across it. The handrails were particularly decayed. A fall from this bridge would not have been good.

I crossed the suspension bridge and contemplated returning by the Pemi East Side Trail, but changed my mind because it wasn't on the itinerary that I had left at home, and if some unlikely accident occurred, it would not be the first place they looked for me. I recrossed the bridge and headed back by the same route.

I made it back to the car in my estimated four hours, tired and with sore toes, but considered myself lucky to have been able to take these last pictures of the bridge on what had, by late afternoon, turned into a beautiful fall day.

Black Brook Bridge. The removal of this smaller bridge would not have posed a significant hazard by itself, but it was aging, and there wasn't much point in it since the  Forest Service was closing the trail beyond it.

The "offending" suspension bridge from the north side of the river. It was definitely beginning to crack and warp from age, as this picture clearly shows. The handrails were particularly decayed.

Another shot of the suspension bridge from the north. It's harder to tell that there's a problem from this angle. When I walked across it, the wood made cracking and creaking sounds.

Bridge support framework on the south side of the river. The support itself did not seem to be in bad shape.

Suspension bridge from the south side of the river. I was lucky to be able to take these last pictures of the bridge on such a beautiful fall day.


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