SANDWICH DOME LOOP: 3/22/13
Sandwich Dome (aka Sandwich Mountain) is one of the most interesting peaks in the Whites. Its sprawling mass offers six varied trail approaches and a number of good viewpoints.Were it just 20 ft. higher, making the magic 4000-ft. mark, it would be a very popular mountain indeed.
I hadn't been up Sandwich on snowshoes in a few years, and when I saw a report that the Drakes Brook and Sandwich Mountain Trails had been broken out after the recent snowfall by a Meetup group led by Bill Robichaud (thanks!), I headed down to Waterville on a partly sunny morning.
I parked so as not to block access to the power substation by the trailhead, and headed up Drakes Brook Trail, the first 0.4 mi. of which follows a nicely groomed Waterville X-C trail. (No trail pass required for hiker access; snowshoers are requested to stay off the set ski tracks.)
The crossing of Drakes Brook was a little hollow, and I could see where someone punched through.
The lower part of Drakes Brook Trail climbed gradually along an old logging road. The snowshoe tracks was partly packed but still pretty soft and loose as only five people had been up the trail.
Conifers lined the trail farther up the valley. The Drakes Brook valley wraps around you pretty quickly on this trail, giving you a nice sense of seclusion.
Drakes Brook wearing a fresh carpet.
Deep in the valley, the brook was totally buried.
At 2.6 mi. the trail turned to the right away from the brook and climbed rather steeply by switchbacks up to the ridge.
The junction up on the ridgecrest.
On any hike to Sandwich on a clear day, a visit to Jennings Peak is a must.The spur trail is easy until a very steep pitch up at the end.
Approaching the summit of Jennings, there are a couple of viewpoints revealing a great spread of the Sandwich Range: the Tripyramids, the Sleepers, Passaconaway and Whiteface.
A closer look at the Tripyramids, showing the two South Slides.
The main ledges on Jennings face south to the sun and are a fine spot to hang out for a while.
They offer a gorgeous view down the broad Smarts Brook valley, with Black Mountain on the L and Sachem Peak on the R. The Campton Range is seen beyond the mouth of the valley. Between the flurries, I was able to see distant peaks such as Cardigan, Kearsarge, Sunapee and Monadnock.
A closer look at the wild cliffs of Sachem Peak, a fine bushwhack destination.
The massive double-domed summit of Sandwich looms close by to the SE.
After an hour's stay on Jennings, I returned to the Sandwich Mountain Trail and headed up the ridge towards the main summit. The first half-mile is a gentle and beautiful ridgecrest stroll, especially in winter.
The north-facing summit clearing on Sandwich was much colder and windier than Jennings, with flurries obscuring the distant views. Here Mt. Tecumseh is seen above Jennings Peak.
The Osceolas emerged from the flurries and were briefly illuminated by the sun.
Part of the day's itinerary included a bushwhack from the true summit of Sandwich across the ridge to the slightly lower NE summit. I'd done this in summer a few years ago and found the woods to be pretty open. On that hike I had hoped to find some kind of a vista over the Flat Mountain Pond region, and did, from a scrubby opening below the NE summit. I wanted to revisit this lovely ridge and unusual view in winter conditions. The snowshoeing along the ridge was terrific!
There was a deep drift in the col between the summits.
Snowshoe hare tracks along the ridge.
After a little searching along a steep sideslope, I found the framed vista over the wild and remote Flat Mountain Pond area through an opening in the trees. The pond sprawls in the center above a NE shoulder of Sandwich. South Flat Mtn. is on the R and Mt. Whiteface is on the L behind the pond.
A closer view of Flat Mountain Pond and Mt. Whiteface. Mt. Passaconaway peers over on the L. This has become one of my favorite vistas in the Whites.
Before returning to the true summit, I visited the high point of the NE summit. My GPS altimeter showed this to be about 35 ft. lower.
An old gnarled fir tree along the ridge.
Back near the true summit, I explored a fir wave (near the unbroken Bennett Street Trail, as it turned out), and found a view out towards Lake Winnipesaukee beyond Mt. Israel.
I could also see Squam Lake beyond the beaver ponds that dot the lowlands on the south side of Sandwich Dome.
Back on the true summit, I could look back at the NE summit under Passaconaway and Whiteface.
Skies partially cleared for a few minutes, giving me a nice view of Tecumseh and the Osceolas beyond Jennings and Noon Peaks.
Late afternoon sun at the Sandwich summit clearing.
To complete the loop, I continued on the Sandwich Mountain Trail beyond the Drakes Brook Trail junction. Farther down the ridge the trail hopped up onto some open ledges. More ledges just to the R of the trail offered wider views, including this look back at Jennings Peak.
The steep headwall of the Drakes Brook ravine under the Sandwich summits.
From a viewpoint approaching Noon Peak, a down-look into the upper Drakes Brook valley, with the SW summit of the northern Flat Mtn. beyond. The southern Flat Mtn. peeks over the col.
Just a bit farther along, the main Noon Peak outlook.
There are two very steep pitches dropping off Noon Peak; these are almost East Osceola-ish in winter.
A trailside boulder in nice spruce woods on the flank of Noon Peak. This is a great loop with lots of variety. Including the side trip to Jennings Peak (but not the bushwhack to the NE summit), it's 8.7 mi. with 2850 ft. of elevation gain. And this involves just two of the half-dozen routes to this impressive mountain. For much more on Sandwich Dome, click here.