Wednesday, July 1, 2015


On a long summer day I traversed two valleys and two peaks on one of the most interesting mountains in the Whites. I took the Smarts Brook Trail up through its beautiful five-mile valley, enjoyed extended stays on Sandwich Dome and Jennings Peak, then took the Drakes Brook Trail down the other side of the mountain, where Carol graciously agreed to pick me up at the end of the 10 1/2 mile trek.

I started out from the Smarts Brook trailhead on Rt. 49, a popular spot for shorter hikes involving the Smarts Brook, Pine Flats, Yellow Jacket and Tri-Town Trails.


This cascade and pool on Smarts Brook, a bit more than a mile in, is a popular destination for a short, easy hike.

The trail passes this beaver pond at the 1.5 mile mark. There was good birding here, including a pair of the uncommon Rusty Blackbird.

The Sandwich Range Wilderness boundary is at 2.5 miles.

The cliffs of Sachem Peak tower above the Smarts Brook valley. A break in the trees provides this view from the trail at 3.3 miles.

A suitably wild trail as it leads deep into this quiet valley.

A bank has washed out at a crossing of a tributary brook.

Beautiful mossy woods.

 Lush interior forest.

Stark spruce woods in the broad upper valley, with a back-of-beyond feeling.

Dual cascades on Smarts Brook.

I chose my lunch spot where the trail crosses Smarts Brook, nearly four miles in. Here I met the only other hiker I would see all day.

One of an assemblage of large boulders in the upper valley.

A delightful section of trail.

An overhang deep in the forest.

Last look at Smarts Brook before the trail pulls away to climb the ridge.

The trail climbs to the ridge by a long switchback on old tote roads with mostly easy grades.

Approaching the crest.

Simple trail signs.

On the Sandwich Mountain Trail, heading for the summit.

The north view from the summit of Sandwich Dome. 19th century guidebook editor Moses Sweetser called it “one of the grandest and most fascinating panoramas in New England.” In those days the summit was more open and probably commanded a 360-degree vista, but the view is still impressive today. You can see 33 NH 4000-footers from here.

Looking along the Sandwich Range, with the NE summit knob of Sandwich in the foreground.

The Bonds, South Twin and more through Mad River Notch.

Jennings Peak, Tecumseh and the Kinsmans.

This bolt was placed by the U.S. Coast Survey station in 1873. Sandwich is an almost-4000-footer, measuring 3993 ft. on the 1931 USGS Mt. Chocorua quad and 3980 ft. (by contour interpolation) on the more recent quad. Click here for much more stuff on Sandwich Dome.

Clouds rolling in from the west over Mount Moosilauke.

A nice angle on the Tripyramids and the South Slide.

A short herd path leads to an eastern view from a fir wave, with a spur ridge of Sandwich in the foreground.

The gentle stretch of the Sandwich Mountain Trail between the Smarts Brook and Jennings Peak junctions is a longtime favorite.

There is lots of moose activity on the ridge.

The sign marking the spur trail to Jennings Peak - a side trip not to be missed.

Despite now-gray skies and some light rain showers, I still enjoyed the marvelous views of the Sandwich Range from the east side of Jennings. Here you look down into the Drakes Brook valley.

Looking up at the great bulk of Sandwich Dome.

On the south side of Jennings the cliffs overlook the broad Smarts Brook valley, with the two Black Mountains on the left and Sachem Peak on the right.

Sachem Peak, a great bushwhack destination, sometimes visited by rock climbers.

The Drakes Brook Trail was my route back down to the road.

After dropping fairly steeply by switchbacks off the ridge, the trail reaches Drakes Brook here.

An old (1940s?) USFS mileage marker on Drakes Brook Trail. I've seen these occasionally in the eastern Whites, but don't recall any others on the western trails.

One of several attractive scenes along Drakes Brook. A very pleasant way to come off the mountain.

Sunday, June 28, 2015


I had a strong craving to get over to the Adirondacks after a two-year absence, and Stowe was just close enough to make a feasible day trip to the Keene area. So off we went, driving around 45 miles along I-89 and then on country highways through gorgeous farmland to the Charlotte-Essex ferry. We lucked out and arrived at the ferry launch just before the 10:00 departure. Here the northern Adirondacks were in sight ahead. This is always the best part of the approach journey.


From Essex, NY we followed several roads to Elizabethtown and headed up Rt. 9N to the gap on the south side of Hurricane Mountain. The winding Hurricane Rd. brought us to gravel O'Toole Rd., which climbed steeply to the high, remote trailhead called Crow Clearing. Here Carol found and logged a cleverly-hidden geocache.

Meanwhile, a hiker came out whom I recognized as Peter Fish, the legendary longtime ranger in the ADK High Peaks, now retired. Peter has climbed Mt. Marcy more than 500 times.Today he had been scouting out a bushwhack trip he was leading in the near-future. He has also spent considerable time recently clearing the sporadically maintained and mostly unmarked loop path over the Soda Range (better known as the Nun-Da-Ga-O Ridge) in the Hurricane Mountain Wilderness.

This six-mile circuit, which also includes Weston Mountain and Lost Pond, is considered by some veteran ADK hikers as one of the best treks in the Adirondack Park. Along the loop numerous open ledges provide wide views of the High Peaks from ever-changing perspectives. Our original plan had been to hike from this trailhead to Hurricane Mountain, whose bare fire tower-clad summit is one of the best viewpoints in the 'dacks, but it was rather cloudy and hazy as we drove across, and I wanted to save that summit for a crystalline day.  With a pond and multiple viewpoints, the Nun-Da-Ga-O loop sounded like a better hike, if possibly tricky to follow, so Carol and I agreed that would be our choice for the day's adventure. 

We did the loop counterclockwise, which would bring us to Lost Pond first. The first mile was as smooth and easy a hiking trail as we've ever walked.

After just over a mile we veered left towards Lost Pond as the trail to Hurricane departed to the right.

For a few minutes the trail followed alongside Gulf Brook.

Just off the trail was the Gulf Brook Lean-To, one of more than 200 open-front shelters in the Adirondack Forest Preserve.

In another half-mile we ascended to picturesque Lost Pond, tucked onto a high plateau at 2800 ft. There are hundreds and hundreds of these secluded watery gems in the Adirondacks.

Weston Mountain (3182 ft.), our next destination, peered over the far end of the pond. The ledges near the summit looked inviting.

After a twenty-minute sojourn at the pond, we continued on the trail behind the west shore. At one spot a short path led out for another view, this one looking across to trailless Peaked Mountain.

Here there was also a view back to Hurricane Mountain and its tall fire tower.

Beyond the pond is a second shelter, the Walter Beismeyer Lean-To, featuring a rustic privy.

Parts of the climb to Weston Mountain are steep.

Slender birches on a mucky shelf.

Arriving at the summit ledges of Weston Mountain was a "wow" moment. The skies and peaks had cleared, and the views were stunning.

We were amazed at the expansive vista of the High Peaks.

I also savored the more intimate view of Lost Pond nestled below Hurricane Mountain.

Dix Mountain, Nippletop Mountain  and Mount Colvin rising behind Lost Pond.

From this perspective you peer straight into the Johns Brook valley all the way out to Mount Marcy.

Nearer at hand are Porter and Cascade Mountains, with Algonquin Peak peering over on the left..

Wild country to the north of Hurricane Mountain.

After a nice stay on the Weston ledges, we descended 500 ft. to a col and then ascended to the first of several ledgy bumps on Nun-Da-Ga-O Ridge, with a view looking back at an adjacent ledge-fronted knob.

In the next mile there were a number of ledgy viewpoints. This area was burned over in a 1908 forest fire, and areas of bare rock persist, to the delight of hikers.

A down-look from one of the cliffs.

Looking back at Weston Mountain, with Peaked Mountain to the left.

Carol and I agreed: What a great hike!

The ledges just kept coming, separated by sections through conifer and birch woods with many ups and downs, some of them steep.

Views from ever-changing perspectives.

Taking in yet another High Peaks vista.

Lots o' rock.

From one spot there was a look north at the wild, ledgy Jay Range, topping out at 3600+ ft.

Gotta go check this ridge out on a future visit.

One of the more abrupt pitches along the ridge.

A neat lichen garden beside the path.

The biggest view of the day was from the high point of the Nun-Da-Ga-O Ridge (3107 ft., a NY 3000-footer). All told, from the various viewpoints I spotted 33 of the 46 ADK High Peaks.

The Dix Range, showing some of the many slides on Dix Mountain.

Giant Mountain, with Rocky Peak Ridge peeking over Green Mountain on the left.

Carol took a few photos with her IPhone.

Mounts Whiteface and Esther.

The top of the descent off the summit ledges was wicked steep, with two tricky pitches.

The ridge descended slowly, with several climbs over little bumps. There were more views on the way down, including this one looking across a wide basin to Hurricane Mountain, with a beaver pond down on the floor.

One last significant view ledge.

The simple sign at the junction with the officially maintained trail to the ledgy peak called Big Crow. We didn't have time to make the short climb to Big Crow if we wanted to catch the ferry back to Vermont.

Sunset from the ferry, capping off a remarkable day.