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.

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