Friday, May 27, 2016


On a very warm sunny day I took a long and interesting hike up the Downes Brook valley to Sleeper Ridge, and on to the remote wooded summit of East Sleeper. The power of Mother Nature was on display at two big old landslides and a massive blowdown from 2012's Hurricane Sandy.
From the Kancamagus Highway, it's a long way to the top.

One of the ten crossings of Downes Brook in each direction. Several of these are quite wide and time-consuming. I slipped on a wet rock and took a spill at the first crossing, which did not bode well for the remaining nineteen. But the rest were made without incident. This is most definitely not a high-water route.

Into the big W at 1.5 miles, after the first four crossings.

At 2.3 miles the trail crosses the tributary that drains the Passaconaway Slide. More on this later.

At this crossing are some slabs that make a nice spot for a break.

This small gorge is just downstream from the sixth crossing.

Some interesting jointed ledges.

A relic from a logging camp site of the Conway Lumber Company's Swift River Railroad (1906-1916). As always, a reminder that it is illegal - and unfair to other history buffs - to remove historic artifacts from the National Forest.

Peavey heads and sled runners.

Another crossing. Care is required at some of these to pick up the trail on the far side.

A washed-out spot along the bank.

The brook is your constant companion up this long, remote valley.

Looking down at a cascade from a tricky spot on a high bank.

Not much for footholds here.

Knowing that there would be no views on East Sleeper, I made a short bushwhack to the base of a huge slide on the north ridge of Mt. Whiteface. This is after the ninth crossing, 4 1/2 miles up the valley. According to a 1958 dissertation on White Mountain Landslides by Edward Flaccus, this and two adjacent slides fell in 1920 or 1921.

Downes Brook at the base of the slide.

Heading up over gravel and loose rock.

A down-look at Downes Brook.

I climbed far enough to get a view out to the north.

The vista includes Mt. Washington, Mt. Tremont, Wildcat and Carter Dome. Ledgy Potash Mountain is visible closer in.

The long north ridge of East Sleeper looms across the valley.

A pretty fine spot for a lunch break.

Looking up towards the top of the slide. Back in 1995 I climbed to the top of the slide and made a gnarly bushwhack to the Rollins Trail on the north ridge of Whiteface. Not today.

One of numerous small cascades along the upper Downes Brook Trail.

A pretty stretch of trail.

This mossy, rocky side stream probably issues from a small beaver meadow on a plateau to the west. A few years ago I snowshoed up to that beaver meadow, and found a view across to the ridge of Mt. Whiteface. In the latest Google Earth image, the meadow is surrounded by a ring of blowdown and likely won't be visited anytime soon.

Blowdown cuts near the top of the trail were a preview of what was to come up towards East Sleeper.

The tenth and final crossing of Downes Brook.

A suitably weathered sign at the ridgetop junction.

A picturesque wet meadow just south of the junction.

Seen from another angle.

These almost looked like old timbers from a former logging road.

A sluggish stream feeds into the meadow.

The Kate Sleeper Trail, named for the dynamic innkeeper who founded the Wonalancet Out Door Club in 1892, has long been noted for its quiet wooded beauty.

Hurricane Sandy had other ideas.

The devastation in this area between the junction and the summit of East Sleeper is remarkable.

Equally remarkable is the blowdown clearing done in 2013 by volunteers of the Wonalancet Out Door Club.

On this remote trail, all the work was done with hand tools - crosscut saw and axe.

In some places the ridge of Mt. Whiteface can be glimpsed through the tangle.

The clearing of this half-mile of trail took several days:


It would be virtually impossible to bushwhack through the area south of the trail.

This Google Earth image shows the extent of the blowdown.

Amazing work!

The only glimpse of a view through the blowdown that I could find was this peek at Whiteface, its flat West Spur and the Ossipees.

The summit of East Sleeper was mostly unscathed, still cloaked in the classic open fir woods of this ridge.

The flat summit, reached by a spur path, is marked by a small sign.

I hung out for an hour enjoying the cool shade and the solitude - maybe a record for an East Sleeper summit stay?

On the way back along Downes Brook Trail I visited another logging camp site. A previous visitor had set up a sort of mini-museum.

It's always interesting to see a tree grown up through a barrel hoop.

Late in the day I made a side trip along the brook to the lower slabs of the Passaconaway Slide, the route of the long-abandoned Downes Brook Slide Trail.

The north spur of Mt. Passaconaway.

Rhodora blooming in a crack.

The big lower slabs are still quite open, even though this slide fell in the early 1890s. They are very slippery when wet.

Looking across at Potash Mountain.

Last sun on the slide, time to head home.