February 4, 2007
When we arrived at the parking lot of the Livermore Road trailhead it was 4 degrees. We needed to make a quick transition from sipping hot coffee in the warm comfort of Bob’s truck, to the frigid cold on this clear winter morning. We met Gary at his condo in Waterville Valley as planned and were now strapping on the cross country skis to start the trek to West Sleeper.
West Sleeper is located just east of the Tripyramids. It is accessed by the Kate Sleeper Trail, either from the Whiteface Col or from the slide trail on South Tripyramid. The Sleepers, East and West summits and the trail are named for Katherine Sleeper Walden an innkeeper, trail builder and founder of the Wonalancet Outdoor Club. We chose to ski the Livermore Road ski trail to the junction of the South Tripyramid trail. This was an easy ski on a groomed trail and a good way to cover the first 2.6 miles to the trail head. Bob and Noah were quick to take the lead, while Gary and I were a bit behind. We conversed on different topics, catching up since we last had dinner together several weeks ago. It was a beautiful morning, crisp and cold. The snow crunched beneath our skis and we meandered along, with no one else on the trail.
When we arrived at the south end of the Tripyramid Trail we dropped the skis and donned snowshoes. I thought I would try to ski some of the Tripyramid Trail, but quickly learned in a few yards that my skiing abilities do no match well with an un-groomed trackless mountain trail. I pulled a face plant and switched to snow shoes. Again it was a leisurely hike for about 2 miles. Then the trail began to climb the steep south slide. I forgot about the degree of difficulty of the section of the trail. I kept on my snowshoes as did Bob and Gary. Soon I was struggling to climb as the MSR snowshoes kept slipping and sliding. I didn’t want to make the change over to crampons, so I kept trudging along, exerting more energy than needed. Bob zipped along and was out of sight within a few short minutes, while Gary and I struggled to stay upright.
About halfway up the slide Gary made the decision to turn around and head back, a decision he’d been contemplating for a while. I urged him to continue, but he seemed to think he would be better off not continuing to avoid a serious injury from fatigue. I continued my slipping and sliding, slowly making it to the Sleeper trailhead where Bob was waiting with Noah. The views from the slide are quite spectacular, looking over to Sandwich Dome and into the Sandwich Wilderness Area. I though about hiking in that trail-less area, discovering new places and experiencing the wilderness in all its rugged beauty.
Upon arriving at the trail head I thought, “Wow, the worst is behind us and now an easy jaunt over to Sleeper.” Within 25 yards of the junction we came to another slide and the question was, do we go up the slide or down? We didn’t see any trail markers and didn’t read the trail description in the AMC book. If I had, I would have known the trail drops steeply down the slide and into the woods on the left. After some serious slipping and falling on the slide, it was time to put on the crampons. As I was finishing up with the task, I heard Bob call that he found the trail. So off I hustled, elated that we were back on track .
After a challenging climb down this short, but steep slide I found Bob and now we made our way along the side of the south peak of Tripyramid, down the col between the two mountains. The trail seemed to be difficult to follow with the fresh snow obscuring the trail and not seeing any trail markers. However, Bob has a knack for trail finding and seemed to have little question about following the trail. It was a relatively easy climb to the summit of East Sleeper, a doomed shaped mountain with no definitive summit. We searched for the canister or a sign which would mark the true summit, but couldn’t find any such marker. We walked around the woods until we reached what looked liked the highest point and declared we summitted Sleeper.
I have since read that the summit of West Sleeper is 30 yards east of the trail and is marked with a sign. Whether we actually stood on the summit or not is speculation at this point. However, for all intents and purposes West Sleeper marks #63 in our quest for the highest 100 in New England.
After having lunch and cooling down considerably we made haste to return for the quick downward plunge on the Tripyramid slide and back to the Livermore Road trail. Once we were down the slide, Bob, as he usually does, beats it back to the car. That was the last I saw of him until I got to the parking lot. This seems to have become a tradition ( “a long established custom or practice that has the effect of an unwritten law; an unwritten religious code or doctrine” Webster’s). I enjoy these times by myself, feeling no rush to return to the car or get out of the woods, but simply take in the sights and sounds of the woods in winter. On this day of extreme cold, the trees were making mysterious cracking sound as the wind blew about. The cracking comes from the frozen sap in the tree that gets moved around when the limbs bend in the wind. This is also a time for one’s own thoughts and reflections on any number of things, trivial and important. I have come to look forward to these times. I will look forward to our next climb, weather permitting into the Bigelows of Maine.