On Saturday, May 27th, I would attempt to summit my 15th and 16th New Hampshire 4000' peaks. When I looked at the two options for reaching these peaks, I noticed two secluded ponds on the eastern side of the ridge - Upper, and Lower Greeley Pond. After seeing some images of these two beautiful bodies of water, I decided to ascend from the Kancamagus Highway side, and the Greeley Pond Trail, to the Mount Osceola Trail and hit the East peak first. I had read that this was the more difficult of the two options (the other being by way of Tripoli Road) but I really wanted to investigate these ponds, so my decision was made.
I anticipated much higher than average weekend crowds as this was the first official Saturday of unofficial summer. I arrived at the Greeley Pond Trailhead at 6:30am, and amazingly I took the final parking spot in this small lot.
The trail from the parking lot, all the way to the both ponds is very easy going. The trail is wide, well-maintained, and at this time of year, your entire path is surrounded by blooming wildflowers.
The decision to take a small detour past the trail to the summit and visit these ponds was well worth it. It's a short, easy hike and the views did not disappoint.
With my curiosity about the ponds now satisfied, it was time to hike back to the trail to reach the summit. Once at the junction of the Greeley Pond Trail, and Mt Osceola Trail, the sign indicates 1.5 miles to the peak of East Osceola, and 2.5 miles to the peak of Mt. Osceola. How hard could it be?
The lower part of this trail is fairly simple. A few bog bridges, a few small 'ups', but mostly a nice warm up for what's in the immediate future. I remember taking this photo, and looking ahead thinking "I guess the easy part is over".
I took many pictures to try to capture how insanely steep this trail is. One switchback after another, steeper and steeper, made even more difficult by the previous two days of rainfall coating the ledges and rocks that make up the trail. None of my pictures even remotely illustrate how steep the relentless incline really is. Thankfully, the weather would cooperate today, and on the few lookouts the trail gives you on the way to the east peak, I'm reminded why the pain of the climb is so worth it.
In the picture above, that is the trail, and one of the only photos that came close to showing the reality of this route.
The summit of East Osceola has zero views. I tapped the cairn and made my way to Mt Osceola. The highlight (for me) of this section of the trail would be to experience the infamous 'chimney' section. It is described as an almost vertical 40-50ft rock scramble. And, at least on the way up, not as difficult as it looks. This photo was taken from the top, looking back down.
After this section, the summit of Mt Osceola is a few challenging pushes away. I arrived at the summit at approximately 11:30 - perfectly timed for a summit lunch. And while I didn't see many people along the trail, I found them all on the summit! I was able to find a small corner to myself to enjoy my lunch and the views back in the direction I had just hiked.
After a good rest, and some much-needed calories, it was time to take on the inevitable task of hiking back down the nightmare that I just climbed up. Views like this greeted me for the next 2-1/2 hours of slow and slightly painful decent.
With the steep sections behind me now, and a contrastingly easy hike on the lower section back to the parking lot, I took some extra moments to focus on my final image while crossing a bog bridge over a clear reflecting pool of water.
I started my hike at approximately 7am. Including my detour down and around the two ponds, and back up to both peaks, the round trip mileage comes in somewhere around 8.5 miles. Two peaks closer to what continues to feel like an impossible goal for my quest to reach all the New Hampshire 4000 footers. Sixteen down... thirty-two to go...