The Baldfaces (North and South) are a difficult but rewarding hike just over the (Maine) border in Chatham, NH, part of the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF). I used the Baldface Circle Trail, with stops at the spur for Emerald Pool, and a short diversion through Chandler Gorge, for a challenging 10.1 mile clockwise “lollipop” loop that took a little under five hours, and hit the peaks of South Baldface (3,570 ft) and North Baldface (3,610 ft). To navigate, I used my well-worn AMC White Mountain Guide, with the Baldface Loop on Map 5. A digital map is also available on the WMNF U.S. Forest Service site. The well-maintained parking area (with toilets) is located on NH route 113 in Chatham, with parking for approximately fifteen cars, and is usually full on summer days and weekends.
If, like me, you take topgraphical maps literally, completely disregard the map kiosk at the parking area, which shows the parking area directly across 113 from the trail. Walk north on the shoulder about sixty yards to take the trail upward, following yellow blazes through a pine forest which gives way slowly to birch and other deciduous trees, with the sound of thrushes and robins busy with their morning business. I stopped by the short spur trail to gaze down into Emerald Pool, which was deep, green, cool and clear, living up to expectations.
I rejoined the Baldface Circle Trail, and turned south (go straight across from Emerald Pool spur, for those not into cardinal directions), taking the loop in a clockwise direction, based upon the advice of the White Mountain Guide and online articles, which describe the steep scrambles of South Baldface as being difficult on descent. After a slow upward climb, I reached the Chandler Gorge Loop trail, which adds a little distance, but reconnects with the Baldface Circle. I was soon rewarded with views of quiet Chandler Brook cascading down deeper and deeper defilades. As always, absent a compelling reason not to, take the side trails and overlooks.
Returning to the main Baldface Circle Trail, I began an extended climb up steep stone staircases, eventually leading to the Baldface Shelter on the right. This shelter is well-located in a network of WMNF trails where you can choose several multi-day hikes. I saw several shrouded forms sleeping in the morning sun, and kept moving quietly by. Shortly after that began the alpine zone, denoted by signs. This is where the climbing really starts, and you can see how this would be difficult to descend, particularly in wet weather. Given how exposed to the elements the middle part of this loop is, it would be advisable to just pick another hike in bad weather (or probability of thunderstorms) or with recent rain.
But the degree of difficulty yields rewards as well, as a fantastic ridge hike begins here, with expansive views for much of the time above timberline. From South Baldface Summit you can see a 360° panoramic view of the Whites in New Hampshire and Maine, including Mount Washington’s weather station and some remaining snow at Tuckerman’s Ravine. The alpine zone was full of sunlight, flowers, butterflies, bees, and birds. Brief intervals of alpine scrub forests allow for shade in the rolling terrain between the South and North peaks.
From North Baldface, follow trail signs for Eagle Crag, as the Bicknell Ridge Trail is unsigned, and it would be easy to get a ways down there thinking you are still on the Baldface Circle Trail. The steep descent leads to fields of light green ferns below the alpine zone, then the varied greens of a deciduous forest with sprawling broad-leafed hobblebush. The trail was uncrowded on this mid-June morning, with just a few friendly hikers passing in the opposite direction. Bugs were not bad at all, with an occasional mosquito settling on me when I happened to stop, but otherwise clear, even in some of the few marshy sections.
I saw moose droppings of mixed vintage along the trail near streams, and heard sounds in the forest, but no large animal image resolved itself through the trees. The foliage changed back to birch and pine as I descended, and I stopped on the way in a quiet area to cool off in a large, deep pool in the stream adjoining the trail, and felt refreshed and enervated. Passing the intersections with the Eagle Cascade Link, Bicknell Ridge Trail, and Emerald Pool spur, I continued back to the parking lot, now full of vehicles.