Franconia Ridge

Franconia Ridge

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Eyebrow Trail to Old Speck

I had a three day weekend and saved Monday for hiking. After keeping an eye on the weather this looked to be the best day. Saturday and Sunday looked cold, windy and wintry on the high summits. Today's forecast was warm temps in the 70's with lots of sunshine and blue sky. My hiking plan was to take me into Maine, climbing up to Old Speck Mountain (4,170') via the Eyebrow Trail and return down the Old Speck Trail. This would start me on the New England 4,000 footers and add to the New England Hundred Highest.

Pontook reflection early in the morning


Looking up at The Eyebrow


It was a beautiful early morning drive over to Grafton Notch. My driving route took me up to Errol, NH and down through Upton, ME. I saw the sun rise several times as the road kept dropping down and climbing again with each time the sun being behind a mountain or just above it. The foliage is at peak and the scenery along the way was spectacular!

Tree burl

There was already a lot of activity in the parking lot when I arrived. Two game warden trucks were there and a group of young conservation workers were getting ready to do some trail maintenance. There is a fee of $2.00 dollars to park and hike here with a steel container for collecting the money at the trailhead. I reached for my wallet and discovered I had no money. Searching around inside my truck I managed to scrape up some change.

Cable handrail on steep trail

Iron handrails on some steep ledge

Using the handrails

I was on my way at 8:00 AM. At 0.1 mile the Eyebrow Trail bears right. Just after turning onto this trail I realized I was already overdressed. The fleece came off and I continued on. As the trail got steeper I was in for a little surprise. A cable strung through steel poles lined the trail providing a handrail while climbing up the ledge. After this was some iron rungs for steps. It was at this point while I was bent over holding the rungs that I heard something drop from my pack and go bouncing down the ledge into the forest far was my water bottle! I needed my water so I went down and got it. The climb back up to the trail was very steep and slick.

Iron steps

A look down Grafton Notch

There is a bare ledge that the trail crosses with more iron bars to assist hikers. I'm not sure if the cables and iron bars are necessary on this trail although it does add an element of safety and I certainly did use them. It was here that I went down to shorts and short sleeves. The air was comfortably warm and this would last for the rest of the hike.

Trailhead parking lot far below

Looking across the foliage to Old Speck

I was about to embark on my second misadventure of the day. While continuing to climb up the Eyebrow Trail I was lost in thought, OK, daydreaming and not paying attention. The trail took a sharp right up over some large rocks that I didn't notice. I kept going straight on what appeared to be a beaten path. I'd remembered reading someone's trail report about there being no fall zones on this trail meaning a fall would be fatal and figured this is the area they were referring to. There was a sheer rock face on one side of the trail going up and a very long drop on the other side. The trail was about two feet wide and it was very nerve-wracking. It wasn't long before I realized my mistake. The "trail" abruptly ended and there was nowhere to go except to retrace my steps back to the main trail. I found where I had lost the trail and continued up.

Reindeer lichen

View from the Old Speck Trail

It was a steep climb up and the views were starting to open up as I came to the top of the cliff. There was a great view looking down Grafton Notch and looking up to Old Speck Mountain. I could also look down into the parking lot and see my truck. It was about this time that I met the conservation workers that I had seen at the trailhead. They started telling me about two missing hikers. Apparently these two hikers were with a group yesterday and somehow became separated from the group.

Great view from the trail

Missing hikers...found!

On the summit of Old Speck Mountain

When I reached the Old Speck Trail junction there was a hiker there that was apparently the group leader for these two missing hikers. He told me their plan was to hike up on the Speck Pond Trail from Success Pond Road to Speck Pond and return the same day. The two hikers became separated and they were now trying to search for them. I told him I would keep an eye out but was thinking there wouldn't be much chance of me just running into them.

Summit observation tower

Looking up

Looking down

Enjoying the views

The Old Speck Trail Trail is a nice, gradual climb. The upper part gets a little steep and rocky then levels out just before reaching the trail junction that turns onto the last 0.3 mile to the summit of Old Speck Mountain. A couple had passed me on the way up and wrer now returning. As they went by they told me that the missing hikers were on the summit. Imagine that...I was going to run into them afterall.

Standing on the summit of Old Speck

Up on the summit I passed by the tower and there were the missing hikers along with another couple. I asked if they were the missing hikers and they said yes. The other hikers had given them some food, I offered some jerky but said they were fine. The search plane that had been flying in circles during my entire hike up was now gone so word of them being found must have gotten back to the searchers. They told me they ran out of daylight yesterday and hunkered down to wait out the cold night. It appears that they were not very well prepared for spending a night out in the wilderness but they were none the worse for their ordeal and it did not seem to bother them at all.

I then turned my attention to the observation tower. This tower needed to be climbed. I strapped my camera bag over my shoulder and proceeded to climb up the ladder. One thought that kept going through my mind is that this has to be a very tough climb in icy conditions. I got to the top and through the safety and gate without a problem. The views were breath-taking in every direction. It was a full unobstructed 360 degree panoramic view. I spent a few minutes taking some photos and a video. For a moment I had the summit to myself. This wouldn't last long. As I reached the bottom of the tower a hiker was just arriving at the summit. I had spent enough time at the summit and I was ready to make my descent.

The hike down was uneventful. I passed by many hikers making their way up. It seems I had timed my hike just right in order to have had a few solitary minutes at the summit. Back down on the lower part of the trail the views of the foliage were spectacular as I looked back at Old Speck Mountain. The trail was very bright with yellow leaves surrounding my path.

Back at the trailhead parking lot

I arrived back at the trailhead to a very full and overflowing parking lot. Although this was a solo hike I was certainly not alone. There were many people enjoying and taking advantage of what could be the last day of temperatures being in the 70's for this year according to the weather forecasters. I really could not have wished for a better day of hiking was perfect!

Having Fun in the Great Outdoors!


  1. Awesome pics. Now I know why I didn't want to hike the Eyebrow trail! The second trip I took up there was in June last yr. with the DMHC. Ages vary with the eldest of the group that day about 85 yrs old. I strongly recommended that they not take that trail. Sadly that was also my last hike with Greg Larson. He died while summiting the Caps trail last summer. Such a good man too. He was very supportive of my hiking goal to complete by 67 highest and as we sat on the trail near the Eyebrow junction, we discussed my plans to Baxter. Last conversations. Hiking a 4000fter and a firetower. Sharing memories. As with you, finding lost hikers. Adventures are made. Hike on.

    1. So sorry to hear about Greg, I remember when this happened. You must have had some great hikes with him.

      Never thought I would walk up on those missing hikers but was glad to see them safe and sound!

  2. Yet another easy going but well crafted story. This area looks to be tougher than many of the NH Whites. Hiking solo has its advantages especially since early starts are best.
    Thank you for taking the time to write and post this nonfiction preferred reader this work has been a pleasant discovery.

  3. I'm so glad I found your blog! This is Mary, one of the famous missing hikers lol. Everyone up top was super friendly and we were beyond grateful for the welcoming attitude and kindness :) It was a beautiful hike and wild adventure that taught us how strong our survival skills and faith are. Thanks for mentioning us! Also, sorry for drawing in the loud and distracting search/rescue plane... although it made for a good story.