Friday, January 29, 2016

SACHEM PEAK: 1/28/16

On a gorgeous winter day I returned to Sandwich Dome's Acteon Ridge to climb its highest and finest summit, the cliff-faced Sachem Peak. I had been here twice before on spring trips, the last time 10 years ago, but in winter it was a whole different experience. It's a marvelous place at any time of year.

Here is Sachem Peak seen from the lower of the two Black Mountains across the valley...

 ...and from the Smarts Brook Trail down in the valley.

I approached the bushwhack with a 2.5 mile walk up the Smarts Brook Trail. Here is a morning view of the beaver pond beside the trail, 1.6 miles in.

From the trail I made a creative crossing of Smarts Brook, where the ice was thick in some spots and alarmingly thin in others.

The ascent began in an extensive area of open hardwoods, snowshoeing through about 6" of powdery snow.

Higher up, I passed this bulky boulder.

As the woods transitioned to softwoods, I passed this lengthy icefall fronting a band of ledge.

Another view.

Then I made a long traverse through a remarkably open forest of mostly spruce. Here, the snow cover was more like 3-4".

The open forest went ever on.

This appeared to be a tote road from a long-ago logging operation.

At the end of the traverse, I made a short, very steep climb to gain the crest of the ridge.

Not far along the ridge I came to the first sunny view ledge, facing south and southwest.

It was clear enough to see Mount Monadnock on the horizon.

Sachem has two summits, a lower western shoulder and the true summit to the east. Both have expansive areas of open ledge. It took some maneuvering to get up onto those massive western ledges. After hitting a couple of dead ends I found this steep little way up.

The first reward was this western view to Middle Acteon Peak (where I had been three days earlier), Welch and Dickey, and Mount Moosilauke in the distance.

To the left of Middle Acteon Peak I could peer down to a pair of ledgy southern spurs of Bald Knob that I had visited in December.

It was wonderful to be snowshoeing across open ledges.

Approaching the top of the western shoulder.

Ahead, I could see the nearby true summit of Sachem and Jennings Peak beyond.

The ledges afforded excellent views to the north.

The Osceolas, with the Hancocks seen through Mad River Notch.

Scaur Peak and North Tripyramid peer over the slope of Jennings Peak.

The full length of the Tecumseh Range is on display, from the summit down the long ridge to Dickey and Welch.

The two Black Mountains seen across the middle of the Smarts Brook valley.

A clifftop view of Sandwich Dome at the head of the valley.

The woods on the ridge were thicker than those in the valley.

I approached the open true summit of Sachem Peak along a little open crest. The elevation of this summit is somewhat of a mystery. The current USGS Waterville Valley quad shows a spot 2784 ft. elevation on the western shoulder, which must be a typo as it is inside the 2840-ft. contour. It's assumed that this should be 2874 ft. This quad shows no additional contours for the true summit, which is clearly incorrect. My GPS read 2877 ft. on the western shoulder and 2983 ft. on the true summit, and you make a noticeable climb heading to the true summit. On Google Earth the elevations measure approximately 2875 ft. and 2965 ft. respectively, which seems about right. The old 15-minute USGS Plymouth quad showed the western shoulder at 2970 ft. and the true summit at 3070 ft. - about the right proportion, but 100 ft. too high. The first measurements on Sachem, taken barometrically by AMC explorers F.W. Clarke and Prof. C.R. Cross in 1877, gave elevations of 2967 ft. and 3050 ft. for the two summits. The new LIDAR technology should soon provide a definitive elevation, whenever it comes to the southern Whites.

This summit drift was the deepest snow I've seen this winter.

A view looking back to the west from the high point. Moses Sweetser, 19th century guidebook editor, wrote of Sachem: "The third peak is one of the finest in the mountains and has been called 'Chocorua in miniature.' It is a needle of white rock accessible only on the W and E sides and girt with overhanging cliffs above. It is inaccessible on the N or S." Acteon Ridge was named by AMC stalwart Charles E. Fay for the last sachem, or chief, of the Pemigewasset tribe. Since this is the highest peak on the ridge, Fay logically applied the name "Sachem."

Jennings Peak and Sandwich Dome. The Sandwich Mountain Trail traverses that gentle ridge.

A cliff-edge view across the broad part of the valley.

It was comfortable enough to sit here for a while.

The rocks at the high point of Sachem.

Heading back to the west along the ridge.

The upper Smarts Brook valley.

High clouds moving in from the west.

A weird pastel light on Welch & Dickey.

The expansive western ledges.

Shadows on Sandwich.

Along the edge.

Shadows on Tecumseh. Just below here I had the pleasure of watching a singing White-winged Crossbill.

Last view of the day.

Late afternoon light in the hardwoods.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


On a gorgeous sunny afternoon I enjoyed an interesting bushwhack to the 2489-foot middle peak of trailless Acteon Ridge, a western spur ridge of Sandwich Dome. After an approach on the hard-packed Old Waterville Road and Yellow Jacket Trail, I used snowshoes the whole way, even though the cover was very thin in the softwoods. At the top sunny ledges provided fine views.

I climbed alongside this frozen brook for quite a distance.

A split boulder with a branch of the brook running through it.

The ice flow winds down through the hemlocks.

The "Yellow Jacket Boulder," a favorite playground for some local backcountry climbers.

Wide-open hemlock forest.

A cliff on the flank of Bald Knob.

Fangs in the forest.

In hardwood glades, the snow was deeper, but still only 6 inches or so.

A rock wall that goes ever on...

A triple-trunked white ash.

Another rock face looms ahead.

I climbed this steep ledgy slope dotted with a sparse cover of oaks.

Along the way, a small ledge with a limited view.

Peering back down at my route.

The upper part of the approach to Middle Acteon Peak was through surprisingly open conifer forest.

This snowy, sunny ledge beckoned for a leisurely late lunch break.

From here there's a massive view of Sandwich Dome and the two Black Mountains.

The lower Black Mountain, which I bushwhacked to the week before.

The lower Smarts Brook valley and the Campton Range.

This old slide patch on the flank of the higher Black Mountain looks interesting but tough to get to.

Nice spot to hang out!

More ledges a little higher up.

Sandwich Dome beyond Sachem Peak.

Jennings Peak, Sachem Peak and the Dome.

The sharp nubble of Jennings.

The densely wooded summit of Middle Acteon peak, with a small jar and register for peakbaggers.
The probable first ascent was in 1877 by AMC members F.W. Clarke and Prof. C.R. Cross, who were conducting barometric observations on the various peaks of Sandwich Dome. They gave it an elevation of 2545 ft.

Title page for the register. This ridge was actually named in the 1870s by AMC explorer Charles E. Fay for another Acteon, who was the last sachem, or chief, of the Pemigewasset tribe.

My name was in there from a previous visit in 2006, when Keith D'Alessandro and I bushwhacked down the ridge from spectacular Sachem Peak. (Photo by Keith).

A late afternoon vista.

Parting shot of the two Black Mountains.

Following my tracks back through the hardwoods.

This scene typifies the interesting terrain on this rugged ridge.