It was Friday afternoon as I sat down to verify Saturday’s weather in the White Mountains were still looking up: clear skies but rather chilly on Saturday. I was really psyched that the weekend was playing out perfectly – I had my first ever snowshoe run scheduled for Sunday – or so I thought. *Bing!* – there was the sound of a new email in my box; the title contained ‘Nor’East Trail Runs’ – the friendly folks who were putting on the snowshoe event. Turns out that the race was actually taking place Saturday morning – just a few short hours away..
time for a quick change of plans!
The snowshoe run turned out fantastic – my first ever shot at this type of event; took second over all in the 10K distance and then stopped on the way home to run up this “Magic Mountain” Ski Resort that I had driven past on the morning commute to the race, turns out this small peak is also known as Glebe Mountain, I found that the best way to summit this peak was right up the face “staying to the left” as the Ski Patrol had kindly suggested.
When I returned home for lunch, I still had no solid plan of what I would like to do the following day; Ciara was still out of town visiting her mama with the doggies. I checked, and re-checked the weather all afternoon: heavy snow in the morning with 35 increasing to 45mph winds toward the afternoon. I had several back-up plans of what I would like to do – Sandwich and Jennings being toward the top of my list for several weeks now, Tripyramids via the slides being a strong runner up (did this route in summer, I desperately wanted to check out the North Slide in winter!). With the uncertain forecast looming and imminent chance of rough winds – I opted to stay on a shorter, more sheltered hike: Sandwich Dome, Jennings Peak and the other wee pile of rocks that I saw on the topographic maps – Noon Peak,
To the mountains I must go!
Packing my bags were just as up-in-the-air as the weather, it seemed! All evening as I packed Muir and filtered water, I could not decide: wear my running vest which would allow me to travel faster yet not carry as much water, or fully pack my 75L Gregory Baltoro that had become my new go-to hiking pack which would fit crampons, extra layers, 100+ ounces of water (should I need that much on a 8mile hike..I would have it!). Eventually as I continued packing the Gregory, I just settled and gave in – I was taking the 75 liter Gregory!
Without Boone and Crockett hanging around on the bed all night – of course my cat (Gracie-Lou as some know her) had to come in around 3am to see what I was doing; being all quiet there in bed, just resting my head on the cotton candy-like pillow.. I was sleeping soundly, so of course she had to wake me up, what a thoughtful gal!
With cat fed, myself adequately coffee’d up, car packed and ready to go –
with a handful of fresh carrots I put the Subie in first gear and took off down the road! It was a fairly quiet, uneventful hour and 15 minute drive up to Campton. The sun was beginning to light up the sky as I got off I93 and drove through Campton on NH Route 49, turning a corner to see the massive Welsh and Dickey ridge with its bright white, snow crusted open summit ledges.
I had already read the reviews yesterday of the parking lot being an ice skating rink, and with no surprise, it was! The lot was nicely plowed (my guess was the town plowed for workers to access the transformer/sub-station next door and had just continued their plowing frenzy to help out us crazy winter hikers?) and a new coating of dirt had been sprinkled down to offer a trace of grip – the Subaru did totally fine, and once at the top of the brief ascent of a side-road, the lot opens up to fit 12-15 cars easily. Over the gaiters, the Hillsound spikes went on immediately after grabbing my corner parking spot (I was the first car in the lot at 7am Sunday), which were completely adequate and I ended up hiking in only the Hillsound spikes until the intersection of Jennings 2.6 miles later.
Ciara and I were here with the boys several weeks earlier, so this time I knew where the trail began (there are ski trails which folks use for tubing and skiing which spider-web out in every direction, with the parking lot acting as a ‘base’ for all winter activities!). The trail was crispy and held my weight just fine on this 13 degree morning, although it appeared that the prior hikers all wore some hefty snowshoes!
The trek begins past the electrical sub-station as the tracks dip left into the woods, but they also continued straight past the official trail and continued down toward the water – I wondered what these tracks were doing, heading that direction – but as I was getting chilly, I continued on the path I knew well and into the forest.
A brief descent leads to the first and only real water crossing of the trek: Drakes Brook, which was completely unfrozen from several weeks ago, and now rushing enough to froth up in areas. I searched for some stable boulders to cross on – finding some that would serve my purpose about 30 feet upstream. I stood there in my waterproof Asolo boots, gaiters and brand new Hillsound spikes: super grippy as long as the ice would bear my weight as I crossed. I glanced below my feet for too long: blue/green rushing ice water, about 2 feet deep where I was standing – I could just tell, one slip into that water and my day would be done as quick as I began!
Commitment: using trekking poles for some balance as I skimmed over the ice-covered rock and onto the far shore: “I made it!” – I celebrated with myself and grinned as I continued walking into the official forest boundary, past the Sandwich Wilderness signage. The trail remained gradual for the initial 3/4 of a mile, gaining about 700 feet, thenceforth the climb continued steadily – the toe-side spikes on my Hillsounds digging into the packed snow crust with all their might as I kicked in and inched my way up the slope. With every step I took gaining more elevation, the sound of the wind slamming the whispy evergreen tree branches grew louder, causing me to peer up from under my thick beanie
to ensure no tree tops came down, turning me into a vegan shish kabob.
The summit of Noon was not absolutely apparent until I had passed it! Don’t get me wrong – it was absolutely spectacular up there, soaking in the views for what I had from just under 3000′. Prior to reaching what I would consider the peak, I first came to a outcroppy ledge which I imagine would make a lovely spot for a snack break or lunch! The panoramic views spanned from Waterville Valley and Tecumseh to the Tripyramids and beyond to Wonalancet. Continuing up the trail for several more minutes and once again the views enveloped all that lay ahead – I even managed to scrounge together a fair bit of a tangerine sunrise peeking from just below the cloud cover in a far off mountain valley.
My breath was taken away in more ways than one!
I stopped, just standing for a brief moment, reflecting on how I found myself up here; soaking in the never-ending gusting wind blasts, one by one; I was truly content up here.
The Sandwich Mountain Trail makes a quick dip back into the trees where the forest becomes quite dense, trees leaning into the void of open trail, creating a fantastic image of green canopy. It was fast going through here, still on packed snow but now with some evidence of a brook running gently underfoot, making the packed snow collapse into a V-shape down the middle of the trail.
After passing the switchbacking Drakes Brook Trail at the 2.6 mile mark (~3,270′ point) the trail continues shortly, ascending to the next intersection with the Jennings Peak Spur. I had fully intended to make a loop out of todays’ hike; taking the Drakes Brook Trail back down to cross the brook on my way out, but from up here peering down the descending trail into the abyss – I could see not a single clue of human activity down the pathway.
I had a little devil on my shoulder telling me to continue up to the summit of Jennings –
in only my Hillsounds, because they were working, providing excellent traction – the downside was that ever since I left the little nub of Noon Peak, I had become “that guy”, post-holing several times along the way. Sure, it was only 4 inches a few instances back on the trail; I was now at the junction of the Jennings and Sandwich trails with the indications of, once again, no boot nor snowshoe prints (turns out they were windswept!) leading up to Jennings – I decided to switch to snowshoes for coming the ascent. This spur trail is noted as 0.2 miles on all maps that I have seen, but I will tell you – sure, the trail had a bit of elevation gain, but it felt much longer than advertised!
The summit of Jennings Peak was being nailed with all 45mph of wind that was called for today, right through the trees it blew. I was thankful at this point for keeping my Patagonia outer shell on! Glancing up at where I had left to go during my hike – just below 4000′ – the dome-shaped summit of Sandwich mountain was encrusted in a fine layer of white frost, it looked like winter was back up there! Taking several photos and then actually being intimidated by the wildly gusting winds, I retreated, making super fast work sliding back down the spur trail and before I knew how far I had gone, I was back at the intersection.
I had my momentum, I had my snowshoes on, I was now hydrated and hungry; so on I proceeded along the ridge with an occassional view of my final destination up above – it seemed like miles away from where I currently stood (the sign claimed 1.3 miles to the summit this time!). A few sections of light blowdown directed me to slow down and take a look into the forest, the dark evergreens all covered with that same mystical white frost as earlier – almost as if someone had made tree-decorating a craft project up there before I came though! So incredibly beautiful up there, I didn’t want to leave – but at the same time, I did, so that spring may settle in during the coming months and I could return again when the woods became warmer!
All tracks had been blown over on the ridge while heading over to the Sandwich Dome, but it was fairly easy to tell where the trail cut through the wilderness: I just kept going through the narrow pine tree corridor. Just minutes prior to the final slight ascent I literally ran right into the Algonquin Trail sign, poking its top up above the snow depths by about 6 inches. I didn’t realize then that I was so close to the open summit, but I opted to not take my GoPro out again when I reached the next look out – this would be the first encounter of the day between my eye and a sharp stick (which only resulted in a few angry noises blurted out and I was bouncing down the trail once again!). Seconds later as I reached the open summit rocks all of my cares got set aside, right along with my trekking poles! I roamed around for a bit, taking in the views as the low hanging, dark clouds blew in – over head from the east. They were already beginning to take over the upper heights of Tecumseh, with only lower ski slopes visible now, poking out from the heavy grey cloud above.
Despite seeing a rock cairn and assuming by lack of signage, that I had indeed reached the summit – I took out my phone (which was in a plastic bag to stay dry, in my jacket and in airplane mode), brought up the Gaia GPS app just to verify that I was on the highpoint of Sandwich Dome, the imagery proved me correct this time. Before grabbing my trekking poles for the jaunt out, I remembered the packet of Muir Energy that I had stashed in my glove to defrost: Pineapple Kale was the flavor of the day – and what a burst of mouth-watering flavor it was! Muir Energy has been my go-to stomachable nutrition for running and hiking for quite some months now, my girlfriend and I enjoy what they create very much!
I had an epic day hiking in the White Mountain National Forest, beat the treacherous weather, very happy with many of the photographs that I had captured, and possibly the most important for me: I wore a smile probably 99% of the day, genuinely a fantastic trek in the woods! With a return journey of almost 4 miles, I knew it would take some time, and care to return in one piece back to the Subaru. So down the trail I began, running this time; my intention was to just loft down the steeper descents and carry some speed with me – not running to get the trip over with, but simply because the exhilaration of flying around the trails takes 25 years off my life! The snow was just marvelous for this, stable enough to gain traction and not break though the top crust with every step.
Less than 20 minutes later, I had covered the 1.3 miles back to the intersection of Drakes Brook; another 15 minutes after that, I was back – standing in the open alpine-like meadow atop Noon Peak. This time while I was up in the vast openness, the wind was tearing up over the cliffside, cancelling out any other bedlam. Here I stood, eyes closed, arms dangling contently by my side, thinking, meditating,
just experiencing the sheer force of nature, feeling the wind trying to encourage me off my feet.
I was brought back to the present moment by the “Hello there!” of my new friends who will go down in my recollection as Gus and Agatha – super sweet wilderness folks! We chatted for nearly 10 minutes about anything and everything, turns out Gus had adopted this trail and was very curious about the state of blowdown ahead – luckily, I was pleased to report a clear trail ahead for them (the small sections that I did encounter could easily be tossed aside once the snow melts)! I wished them a lovely remainder of their day and we parted. I moved (what I felt was) super-quick on my feet as I ran down the steeper descents – implementing a technique that I had taught myself through trail running, moving the feet with such a turn over rate to help minimize impact on the bones and joints (probably looks goofy, but it surely helps efficiency!) – which worked fantastic for me here – I didn’t lose traction once as long as I stayed light and quick on the crampons on the bottom of my Dion snowshoes!
I had consulted my new friends ‘Gus’ and ‘Agatha’ about their route and found out they took a “bushwhack” to easily avoid Drakes Brook way down by the parking lot trailhead. I recalled seeing where the tracks from the ‘whack joined back up with the main trail, thinking nothing of it at 7:15am this morning; I had decided to take this bushwhack, to see where it would take me, to see what the crossing looked like that they, with so many others had taken. There were not many prints and many steps sunk me straight up to my knees; I quickly cursed this route under my breath (karma would catch up for my disapproval in only several minutes..). The bushwhack continued along the brook and met up with the powerlines, which I trotted under and saw that I was now supposed to go back into the trees. As I entered the slim forest along the roadway,
I peered up to see what was ahead – and then I felt it under my eye!
I got real nervous, real fast. I had a half inch diameter stick poking under the globe of my left eye, in a split-second reaction I pulled my head away, said some words that are better left not repeated here, and discovered a black mark in my vision, nasally. Being that I am in the Ophthalmology field where I work – immediately I began in disbelief, replaying through what had actually just happened. I had a black smudge in my vision: retinal detachment? posterior vitreous detachment? was it as bad as an open-globe all the way out here in the forest? All those times – if for nothing more than just the wind, I had fumbled the idea of putting my sunglasses on ever since I left Sandwich Mountain!
How could I let this happen – I could almost see my car through the trees, I was that close to safety! Once I regained some composure – I discovered that the black line in my vision was void because the bark of the stick came off and stuck against my cornea – that was an easy fix. The remainder of the day consisted of picking dried blood out of the corner of my eye and dealing with a bruised orbit for the following 4 days. Next time, there will be sunglasses (as long as it isn’t so dark that I need a headlamp!) on if I am in the forest or on snow – there is no need to risk that one again – and if you learned anything from this –
watch your eyes while you are in the woods, they may be your ticket to safety! 🙂
I would say this was one of the more memorable solo hikes that I have taken on – from the views, the intense winds, being able to run on snowshoes down another mountain, to the folks I get to meet, to the scary shit – like almost poking an eye out! I am always learning what not to do, and this hike up to Sandwich was a great mentor, being able to shut out the distractions of life and tune into the destructively beautiful side of nature. It all makes up a sliver of why I do what I do, I learn everytime that I step foot on a trail that photographs constantly differ as the conditions vary day to day, the other hikers are rarely the same folks – usually pretty darn amazing characters out there.
I don’t think that I could never replace the joy of hiking and running mountains with anything!
Thanks for sticking with me through this long-winded, but oh-so-much fun day out in the Sandwich Wilderness!
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Please leave them down below!
Also, don’t forget to find me on Instagram for many, many more hiking/running/nature/plant-based riotous fun adventures!
Be safe out there, have an epic day out on the trails!
Overall stats for the day:
Recorded with my Coros Pace GPS watch
- 8.0 miles
- 4hr 2minutes
- 3,327′ elevation gain
- Noon Peak – 2976′
- Jennings Peak – 3440′
- Sandwich (Dome) Mountain – 3960′