By Gordon DuBois
As I sit at my kitchen table in New Hampton writing this article I’m looking out the window watching snow fall as it blankets the ground. For the past few weeks we have been experiencing spring conditions, and I’ve be thinking about my summer hiking and biking plans. So hold on, even though the Spring Equinox arrived this past Sunday, we have jumped back into winter. This reminds me of Mark Twain’s famous lines, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.”. So, even though we have had one of the warmest winters on record don’t put away your winter hiking gear just yet. You will still need it. This I can attest to with two hikes this past week. One to the summit of Sandwich Mountain (or Dome) and the other on the Tunnel Brook Trail.
The climb to summit of Sandwich Dome was necessary if I wanted to complete the Winter New England Highest 100 this year. Sandwich Mountain, 3,980 ft., is the highest peak in the Sandwich Wilderness. This Federally Designated Wilderness Area created in 1984 contains 35,800 acres managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The Wilderness Act, passed by Congress in 1964 states, “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain (and) to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.” The Sandwich Wilderness area is one of several designated in the White Mountains. Others include the Great Gulf, Wild River, Dry River, Caribou –Speckled Mountain and Pemigewasset Wilderness Areas. It’s remarkable that New Hampshire has five Wilderness Areas. This is a testament to the citizens and organizations in the state that have advocated for the permanent protection wild places
I began my hike up Sandwich Dome with my friend Dick Widhu and of course Reuben. We decided to take the Drakes Brook Trail as this is the shortest route, 4.4 miles, to the summit. We arrived at the trail head directly off Rt. 49. We saw bare ground at the parking lot and decided not to don foot traction (Micospikes or Hillsounds), but we were rudely awakened to the fact that ice on the trail would rule the day when we both stated slipping and sliding. Dick tumbled to the ground and I skated over bare ice. Even Reuben had trouble staying upright. We quickly found our traction and put it on our boots. As we made our way up the trail and gained elevation the trail became an unending ice flow, making the footing difficult at best. In some places we found ourselves having to bushwhack around several steep ice flows. We were rudely awakened to the fact that winter still prevails at elevations above 2,500 ft. In my past adventures on this trail I have always taken the side trail to Jennings Peak. This rock cliff offers amazing views of the surrounding area and I wouldn’t have missed it if trail conditions would have been different. We made it to the summit in about 3 hours, celebrated my completion of the Winter NEHH and began the treacherous journey back to the car. We made it in one piece and celebrated our safe return with a visit to the local pub.
A few days later my trail friend Sandy Price and I decided to hike the Tunnel Brook Trail in Benton, NH. This trail follows an old logging road along Tunnel Brook and doesn’t go above 2,280 ft. in elevation. We choose to the access the trail from the southern end, off Long Pond Rd., which is short distance from Rt. 25 in Glencliff. This hike didn’t require traction, but due to spring runoff and ice forming on the rocks at designated stream crossing it made travel challenging. There were several stream crossing where we had to bushwhack a considerable distance up stream to find a suitable crossing and at two of these we had to build bridges using fallen logs. However, with these challenges came spectacular rewards. At the height of land lies Mud Pond. Not a picturesque name, but this is a destination not to be missed: A beautiful idyllic set of beaver ponds that sit between the cliff faces of Mt. Mooselauke and Mt. Clough. Ice still covered the ponds, but as the sun became stronger throughout the day we heard the groans of the ice as is warmed and melted. At the southern end of the first pond we found a welcoming campsite, making me think that this would be a great place to bring my granddaughter Maggie in a few years for her first backpacking trip.
After reaching the height of land and passing three other beaver ponds we continued along the trail, heading toward its junction with Tunnel Brook Rd. (Fr 700). We didn’t anticipate the trail disappearing into beaver ponds, losing the trail a number of times. The beavers were very active during the summer months and are always looking to expand their aqua terrain. The trail became very obscure and we found ourselves bushwhacking in several locations, staying close to the ponds and stream. There were a number of very impressive beaver dams, ponds and flows. Anyone interested in studying or photographing these engineering feats of the beaver should make it a point to put this destination on your “bucket list.”
We continued our way along the beaver flows until we reconnected with the original trail. Hikers interested in taking this route should careful to follow the flowage. The trail is not marked and there are several more stream crossings, so a map is necessary to insure you stay on the route to the north end of the trail at Tunnel Brook Rd. Once we reached the parking area at the trail head we reverse directions and made our way back to Mud Pond and eventually the parking area where we found our car.
As spring approaches and if you are a nature lover, this short hike to Mud Pond of 2 miles should not be missed. The views of the cliffs, the ponds, the beaver dams, and the active bird life offers a chance to experience the wilderness that awaits those who are fortunate enough to live so close to the wonders of the natural world. As Rachel Carson stated, “Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”