A Hidden Gem

Date of Hike: 8/19/17

Trip Report:
- This report will not go into any detail about how to get to the specific area that was explored by Kyle and I this past weekend, this is to keep the riff-raff out of this secluded area, there will be a random hint in the write up but nothing to give away its location.  Unfortunately, I've noticed through social media picture albums that there are hikers out there who if they get the chance will remove artifacts from old railroad camps.  Yes, I know this stuff is just old rusted junk, but it's nice to explore and stumble upon this stuff off trail, and it's sad that a few hikers remove pieces of history, which is illegal but almost impossible to impose.  
- Anyway, over the past year, Kyle and I have researched old books about the logging railroads that were in use during the first half of the twentieth century in the White Mountains.  Once the logging operations were finished the tracks and camps were removed, however evidence still remains, as almost all the railroad grades became trails, and those old camps left behind mini clearings in the woods along these trails, with some railroad artifacts scattered around these camps.  Every once in a while there is even an old piece of rail spotted along a trail or by a camp.
- While researching old maps, Kyle noticed a spur line that was never turned into a trail, so that peaked our interest and we put it on our to-do off trail hiking list.  After more research we were lead to believe that it actually might still contain a continuous railroad track, that for some reason was never removed, we think there must have been an obstruction that blocked the tracks, and instead of clearing the obstruction and removing the tracks when the logging was done, they only cleared the tracks up to this obstruction and left the remaining tracks past this in place to be reclaimed by the woods. 
-  On Saturday, Kyle and I headed off trail deep in the heart of the White Mountains, equipped with only a hand drawn map, to see if we could locate this old railroad track.  Over the years I've been able to locate old trail corridors, railroad grades, and skidder roads, some are more distinguishable than others, but over time you pick up on a certain feel for the ground when you're off trail and stumble upon something that seems just a tad out of place.  This, and not using a GPS track/map or even a compass, along with a little luck, I believe has helped me find off trail objectives I set for myself. 
-  When we entered the woods to try and find the start of this "ancient" railroad grade it became quite apparent that the woods had overtaken everything in this area so it was going to be difficult to find the grade.  After a few minutes of wandering around, Kyle suggested we might have to head slightly uphill, I was about to follow his lead when I noticed something ever so slightly strange about the exact spot we were standing on.  It seemed as if there was a small raised bump about a foot long, then a depression of a foot, followed by another bump, and then another small depression, these bumps and depression were around foot wide by a few feet in length.  These were buried under leaves and dirt, but it appeared to be a series of railroad ties buried underneath probably 80+ years of seasonal change.
- We weren't convinced because the corridor was very overgrown, and there were some big trees growing up through what would be the middle of the grade.  With nothing to lose we decided to follow it and soon enough we could see that it was an old railroad grade, and soon after this we saw a rail half buried in the earth, then we saw another rail sticking out paralleling the first one.  Eureka, it was the start of the left behind railroad track, we found it!  We followed it with ease, half the time the rails were buried an inch or two under leaves, dirt, and vegetation, but quite a few times the tracks would be visible together.  It was really cool but tough to take pictures of because everything was grown over in a lot of places.  The ties were only visible below the rails when we passed runoff spots where water eroded the dirt away.
- Next came something I never thought we'd stumble upon, a Harp Switch!  Incredible, the narrow railroad line we were following switched to two different lines, there were now four rails in the woods we were following.  
- These two lines paralleled each other for a few tenths of a mile before one stopped in a flooded beaver area, incredibly the other line continued through the water, we found a skidder road above the water and looked down at the flooded section and could actually see the one line keep going under the water through the flooded open area and back into the woods.  We found the rail again past the flooded area and followed it a few hundred more feet until it abruptly stopped just past and old camp, which had the usual rusted artifacts piled up by previous off trail adventurers! 
- It was a great off trail find and really cool spot to explore with Kyle who is always up for an out-of-the-box adventure.  The woods have definitely reclaimed most of what was left behind in the area we explored and we couldn't quite see anything that lead to them leaving the tracks in place.  It must have been a a sight to see in the 1940's and 1950's after the railroad operation ended and everything was removed but before the woods reclaimed the area!

 This is the spot where I noticed the bumps underneath our feet.  It was nearly impossible to see in the photo I took so I added in the lines where the depressions in the ground between the ties are located.

Soon enough we start seeing rails side by side 

 The best shot I could get of the in place railroad line.  You can see the flat grade, this spot it's easy to discern, albeit overgrown

A spot with running water, one of the very few places you could see the rails on top of the ties.  

 The harp switch!

different views of the harp

Tracks located at the switch

Just past the switch

 Best shot I could get past the switch. you can see three rails here too, The fourth rail is buried under leaves and dirt on the right edge of the photo

Hiking through and eroded washout area!

Coming up on a semi clearing in the woods, just past here was the flooded section 

 Kyle stands above a washed out area

just before the flooded section, the rails pass over a small brook 

Flooded beaver clearing.  We believe only one set of rails passed through this beaver pond.  The other rail stopped somewhere in here, buried under mud and water, or just before this!

 Looking at the rails passing through the flooded area.  Amazing!

 Another shot of the rails passing through the water.  If you look closely you can see the rails are not on the bottom of the beaver pond, they are "suspended" under the water.  How cool is that!!!

Artifacts left behind at a camp 

Got railroad spikes??!!  


  1. WOW! What a truly astonishing discovery! Well done!

    1. Thanks, John. We were thrilled to have found the tracks and were very surprised how long they continued on for. We definitely will be heading back again to explore some more! :)

  2. Chris, it was a great surprise to meet you and Kyle on the trail this day. Thank you for chatting with me for a few minutes while you were in the middle of your adventure. Nice report as always.

    1. Hi Matt, hope you had a great hike of Zealand and the Bonds, that was a really nice route you came up with. Thanks for stopping us and introducing yourself, it was great to meet you :)

  3. I understand and appreciate your concerns with stupid people taking stuff. I would love to explore this place some with my kids. I don't mind doing the research either. What/where did you research to begin to find these?

    1. Hi David,

      This all started from old maps in old guidebooks, trying to dig up more info on all these camp clearings I was passing by on some of the trails. This eventually lead me to two books, J.E. Henry's Logging Railroads: The History of the East Branch & Lincoln and Zealand Valley Railroads by Bill Gove, this one goes for $30ish on Amazon. The other book is, Logging Railroads of the White Mountains by C. Frances Belcher. Usually you can find one for a decent price, $10 - $20, online. Not as much info or pics as Bill's, but covers the whole White Mountains not just the three that Bill focuses on.

      Both have old hand drawn maps of the railroad layouts with camps, which can then be studied with old guide books to see which ones are located on trails, abandoned trails, or off trails.

      Hope this helps!