Winslow + Sugar Hill traverse

What is a person actually to do when all of their sources say “don’t go out there.. stay in here – but be sure to wear this mask, some eye protection and of course a sterile gown if you must spend any bit of time out of doors.. and don’t even think of coming within six feet of your neighbors, they harbor the sickness!!

This is what it has come to.. everything is off limits now-a-days.

What began with simply keeping a safe distance and remembering to wash your hands has spread to zero-travel of any sort. Not what I am all about, that’s for sure!

I mean, I totally get the quarantine and distancing bit – but it’s a little difficult for me to stomach the idea of not answering my hearts desire to breathe in nature. Pure and raw nature, with no noise or air pollution for miles; honestly I think my mind would be a very grim place to inhabit without a bit of ‘disconnect’ every once in a while!

This is working from home: Day 3

While able to sneak in a ‘pre-work’ run each morning, I decided to enjoy the sunrise during what may be one of the last mornings of fresh snowfall here in western New Hampshire. I had been eye balling a few bumps off in the distance as Ciara and I would take the pups for walks in the early springtime afternoons; finding it hard to believe that the humps that I had been tracing on the topo maps were really that close, I could almost reach out and smack their peaks!

6:35am, 19°

Thinking that I really did not need to add on the 2.5 miles from cabin door step to the Smarts Mt trailhead at the Appalachian Trail crossing, I graciously got dropped off. Standing all alone with trekking poles in my grip, snowshoes at my feet, GPS watch trying to make a solid satellite connection and our long good-bye kiss still lingering on my lips.. I stared up into the dark forest wondering what I will get myself into.

Being a resident of this naturally beautiful area in the far southwestern White Mountains, I have done a fair share of bushwhacking, but honestly much more in the high peak area than in my own backyard – well that was all about to change today!

With the image of the topographical contour lines still fresh in my mind, I was able to lay out my ascensionists plan several steps ahead.

Might as well start here, climb this hill.. perhaps that climb will afford a better view!” I thought to myself.

The eight inches of the fluffiest snow had fallen the previous evening which had been compacted into a grippable six inches sitting directly on top of the thick, impenetrable older crust – just another reason I was content being in the treeline and not a place where this fresh snow could shear off the old layer below!

Stopping every couple hundred feet, I took each opportunity to gauge my progress by the changing perspective of nearby Lambert Ridge across the gully (Smarts Mt with its fire tower sticking off the summit was also clearly visible during the entire hike). Knowing that I was to follow the shoulder directly up for a bit of time, I checked my maps once every so often just to confirm I was still on target.

Being unable to find much beta about this bushwhack, I saw a few folks online had reported climbing the trail-less peak, but that really was it, I was delightfully shocked when my thick, switchbacking bushwhack opened up to a clearing and an incredible view of the sun rising up from the east.

I actually don’t think there are many folks hiking this because while I saw no posted signs that came right out and stated “no trespassing” at all during my day – I know from living here that all of the local hunters basically live during the autumn months in their tree stands which are peppered all throughout these woods.

During the entire ‘whack through this fairy tale forest up to Winslow Ledge henceforth Sugar Hill and back down toward my residence, I think I may have trekked directly under 5 or 6 tree stands for hunting, who knows how many others that just simply did not stand out! Needless to say, I would recommend bright colors no matter the time of year around here!

Anyway, picking a route back into the forest that I thought could have resembled a path or old logging road, or maybe just my inner monologue becoming hopeful for an indication of previous adventurists.. I just continued in the general direction where I knew I could find the ledges if I walked far enough.

My wishes were heard after all!

I intersected an old logging or snowmobile path (with no fresh tracks), with the toss of a coin I decided to swing right onto this logging road which proved to be the correct direction as indicated by the “Dead End, Do Not Enter” sign faced for on-coming traffic.

Continuing to meander through the forest, the morning sun now began to shine through the trees, casting a warm glow onto both myself the snow. My path continued to climb and each time I checked the map to verify the correct direction, I only saw myself grow closer and closer to the summit crown.

Upon topping out there were no signs to welcome, no jars with summit registers to document the journey, only a hint of prior foot traffic in the area. Through the trees to the west I could see the residual haze of cloud (inversion) hanging over the river, usually I could count on being the morning commuter socked in that Connecticut River haze; quite a feeling to now be standing above it all, glancing down at the vistas!

My original plan was to follow the ridgeline southeasterly and drop down in the col before ascending once again to Sugar Hill, on the far east-side of several rolling bumps. For some reason I made a last minute executive decision to trace my line closer to the ledges, hitting the last nub which sat tall like the prow of a ship – sure glad I had because finally, for the first time of the day I had clear views through the trees; incredible sights out to North and South Moose Mts and the cloud lingering over the Connecticut River off in the distance, I was thrilled and in my element!

What looked next like a simple “trek down a bit, then hike back up a bit” on the map had me navigating around a few brief drop-offs, I really had to glance ahead to not get myself walled-off, necessitating a swift turn around.

Naturally, like nearly any time in the woods, occasionally I was able to peek through the trees before me and spot the first – or westerly peak of the two Sugar Hill bumps, “all the way over there huh? I’ll believe it when I’m standing over there..“, was basically how my recurring thought process was going, knowing that soon I needed to be back to the cabin to begin my day of working from home.

Hitting the low-point between Winslow Ledges and Sugar Hill, I slammed directly into increasingly thick new-growth saplings and super dense forest, I was immediately happy with my decision to break out one of my 12L running packs for this nimble dipping-and-dodging adventure!

As I stopped to ensure I was still on the correct (trailless) path and still trekking toward the correct bump in front of me, I stood in silence taking in all of the torn up trees, patch after patch after patch; dozens of rings of saplings had been scratched by bear claws – marking their territory or just stretching in the springtime air? I was hopeful that the markings were as old as they appeared, and perhaps left over from just before they all hunkered down for the winter?

I couldn’t be too certain when I could see dark spots from the tree resin staining the day old snow, either way I noted my findings and happily proceeded toward my next destination!

My uncertainty grew again as the scratch markings on the trees grew more frequent and now I had blue spray paint on the trees every so often, marked with numbers as if signifying bear dens? Now my imagination threw ideas all over the place!

Being somewhat relieved that there was no recent evidence of bear activity so far this spring, no snow trampled down like they do around their dens, nothing other than the scratched trees, I bounced along through the forest on my way to the real Sugar Hill.

Quite certain I had stood on the high-point atop the more easterly Sugar Hill nob, I turned to retrace several of my steps before scooting down a drainage to the north that I spotted on the hike up the hill. Knowing this direction would essentially lead me downhill, eventually intersecting with other snowmobile trails we had been on recently, I continued to follow what I could not decide was an old trail or just a brook running under the snow.

I knew I was reaching familiar territory when the hillside leveled out and I snowshoed directly into a planted grove of spruce and pine. Through one more way-over grown logging road which dead ended at a barbed-wire fence, I knew the only way home was up and over – as long as the wire was not electrified!

With a gentle tap of my trekking pole, I was relieved when I did not witness a blue flash or sparks shoot all over (as an after-thought as I type this.. aluminum trekking poles.. perhaps not the best way to check for a hot wire?). With great care I kindly stepped up and over this wire fence to the fresh set of logging truck tires just beyond.

Left or Right?

Could have gone left and come across houses in 50-feet, or were the well traveled trails off to the right where I would be home ten-times sooner than taking trails to the left? It was all a gamble at this point. Right, I chose to trek off to the right to see where that took me – about a mile into this old road walk and I now recognized some summertime trails where Ciara and I ran with the boys!

Hopping a few more locked gates and fences, (all of which are owned by my landlord and whom has given us discrete permission to use his land for hiking, running and all around roaming when hunting is not in season) I came out to more used trails and a very familiar Dorchester Road which runs along the shore of Reservoir Pond.. which will take me home!

Home Sweet Home

Of all the hundreds of times that I had driven, ran or walked this dead end road to our cabin in the woods, I don’t think I witnessed it in such a way as I had this morning. The blue sky was the blue-est I had ever stared up at, the snow melted and softened the road under my heavy mountaineering boots, the birds sang their springtime’s finest tunes – it was in this moment that I was not plagued with the threats of COVID-19; I was alert to my surroundings, letting the raw power of nature fill my lungs – for that brief instant.. I was one with nature.

Truly thrilled to call this place my home, to be able to walk out my front door and trek down the road to any number of trailless summits where there are no mass gatherings at trail heads, no picnicking at the high-points. Just many square miles to get out, unwind, tap into the beauty of a snowy springtime landscape, and just be for a while.

I hope you can also find a place that fills your heart too, it’s really what we all need in wild times such as this.

Eat plants, stay healthy – and as always – Happy Climbing!

– Erik

Oh.. and on a side note as I get ready to whip this post into the wild bloggosphere – I had to do some digging online; what I thought were “bear claws” digging at the trees are typically signs of moose or deer who had gnawed on the tree bark, actually eating it to get nutrients and things out of it! Fascinating!

Gauging at how high up the trees that I have seen these markings – and by the huge number of moose we have here in this part of New Hampshire (I have had many in my backyard just nibbling on buds!), my instinct is to suspect it was created by moose.. not entirely settling as I don’t know at first thought who I’d rather run into.. black bear just awakening or a confused, dazed and hungry moose!!

I can tell you.. it is a very sobering experience to have a moose trot along behind as you run the trails just to glance back and see that you made no headway on the moose lingering just behind!

Anyhoo – if you have any info on animals eating/stripping tree bark, I’d love to hear about it! Lovely creatures we have around here!

Did I say something inaccurate.. please let me know! Thanks as always for following along my wild journeys!

Happy Climbing!

 

– Erik


Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace GPS watch

  • 6.19 miles
  • 3hr 2 minutes
  • 1,791′ elevation gain
  • Winslow Ledge – 2,282′
  • Sugar Hill (east peak) – 2,099′

 

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