While some hike in the White Mountains for the scenic beauty, or to enjoy trail camaraderie with friends, or just for the exercise, others do it for the challenge and sense of accomplishment. I’m in that category. Challenge hikers tend to be goal-driven outdoor enthusiasts who are often “doing a list,” and hiking a particular mountain or trail just because it appears on a goal list they are trying to accomplish. Common lists include summiting on all 48 of New Hampshire’s mountains over 4,000 feet, or bagging the “Highest 100,” seeing the “52 With a View,” or for the really committed, completing “The Grid.”
My hiking partner, Sage, and I are trying to knock out the Terrifying 25, a list of 25 hikes in the New Hampshire White Mountains that have been deemed “terrifying” by the creators of the list. The list includes hikes that have rockslides, scree scrambles, sheer drops, exposed faces, narrow ledges, boulder caves or some other challenging element that makes the intrepid hiker think twice before attempting the trail. Goodrich Rock earns its place on the terrifying list because of this 20-foot-tall ladder of questionable integrity that must be ascended.
“Terrifying” is a subjective concept and there is no scientific way to measure how scary these hikes are, so what might be terrifyingly impossible for some could be a cakewalk for others. I once worked for an environmental engineering firm that did pollution testing of the tall smokestacks at factories and incinerators. My job included climbing these smokestacks to run tests and collect samples of the particulates and exhaust gases being emitted at the very top of the stack. I learned to be sure-footed, and my fear of heights is subdued, so perhaps I’m not the best judge of how scary these
25 terrifying hikes really are.
Sage and I left the trailhead off of Tripoli Road and began hoofing it up the old Livermore Road, no longer a road, and then onto the Greeley Ponds Trail. For roughly the first mile, it was flat and easy going. The trail took us through a small meadow and across a footbridge over the West Branch of the Mad River before entering some pinewoods on a gently sloping gravel path. No terror here, and we wondered out loud when the “terrifying” would begin.
We came to a fork in the trail and took it, shifting off the Greeley Ponds Trail onto the Goodrich Rock Trail. No longer flat and easy, the next mile began to climb, steeply in places, and I’d call it “challenging” or “moderately difficult” but still not terrifying. We traversed through the Davis Boulders, an area of massive boulders larger than some homes. One impressive boulder is shaped like the bow and hull of a battleship. The trail then took us to a rock scramble where we passed through the cleft of a giant boulder split in two by some cosmic force. This V-shaped, narrow crevice with its tight turns might be terrifying for anyone claustrophobic, but we wriggled through it unbothered. At the two-mile mark we turned a corner and reached the infamous ladder and the moment of truth …
I attempt it first and find it greasy-slippery but stable. Compared with climbing smokestacks this is a nonevent, and I feel a little disappointed that the hype doesn’t live up to the thrill. Near the top I pause to allow Sage to take my photo from the ground before he attempts scaling the ladder. Sage climbs up and joins me on top of the rock and I ask him if he is terrified. “No,” he says, “but I don’t need to ever do it again.”
The ladder is positioned on the upslope side of the boulder, so I step as close as I dare to the downslope side … and peek over the edge. The drop is sheer, and it is a long way down. Fifty to 60 feet below me is a nest of fractured, jumbled granite boulders and a fall from here would ruin your day. There are no safety railings, and the sight is dizzying, so I back away from the edge, catlike. The view from the top of this rock is rewarding and includes Sandwich Dome and the Waterville Valley ski slopes on Mt. Tecumseh.
The sun is shining, and the granite surface is warm, so Sage and I break into our rucksacks and enjoy a picnic lunch and a catnap on top of this giant scary boulder. We now have earned one more checkmark for the “done” column in our quest to complete the Terrifying 25. There is no prize for achieving this goal other than bragging rights and a whimsical shoulder patch. When we finish our lunch, we take one last look at the view, pack up, and prepare to head back down the ladder and make the two-mile trek back to the truck. Looking down the ladder now, it appears significantly scarier than it did from the ground looking up, but we descend without incident. Would I describe today’s hike as terrifying? No. I’d say it was a picnic.