Saddled with a pesky cold, didn't have the legs for strenuous climbing or bushwhacking/trail breaking, so a valley snowshoe ramble seemed in order.I noted on newenglandtrailconditions.com that Sabbaday Brook Trail had seen some recent traffic, as with the big snowbanks, parking has been sketchy at best at Pine Bend Brook Trail. The Sabbaday lot has been well-plowed, presumably by NH DOT. Thanks to the groups that laid down a nice snowshoe track on this trail and navigated the major brook crossings, sometimes in creative fashion. No spectacular views today, just silence and solitude in the Sandwich Range Wilderness.
Starting out with temp around 7 above late morning.
The third crossing was sketchy-looking, but manageable.
Into the Wilderness.
The trail follows an early 1900s tote road on the east bank for nearly two miles at mostly easy grades, though there are numerous dipsy-dos across small drainages.
The Fool Killer is a constant presence on the R as you head up the valley.
The site of the Monahan Camp of the Swift River Railroad (1906-1916). This is at 2.8 miles, just before the fourth crossing of Sabbaday.
An old tote road runs along the slope below the camp location, and a previous group mistook this for the trail and followed it for about 0.1 mile before turning back.
A peek at Middle Tripyramid, rising at the head of the valley.
The Fool Killer looms as you descend to the fourth crossing.
A glimpse of West Sleeper.
Looking upstream at the fourth crossing.
Beyond here is what I deem the inner sanctum of Sabbaday Brook, where the trail meanders up between the enfolding slopes of West Sleeper, Tripyramid and the Fool Killer.
I had hoped to get far enough up the valley to do a short whack to an old slide, but about three miles in, at the fifth crossing, the effects of my cold were becoming more evident, and I ran out of gas.
Snow depth on the brookbed. What will it be like after the big weekend storm?
Descending towards a spur of East Sleeper.
Snowy trail section.
Partway back down the trail I made a short whack down into gorgeous open hardwood glades on the floor of the valley.
A glimpse up to a ledge on the northern spur of the Fool Killer.
The ledge has a fine view up the Sabbaday Brook valley, with Passaconaway & Whiteface beyond. (Photo from 2016.)
Sabbaday Falls greeter. (Note: In winter the stairways alongside the falls are blocked and signed as off-limits by the USFS, for safety reasons.)
History of the Sabbaday Brook Trail
Trail-builders of the AMC first turned their attention to the upper Swift River valley, around the farmhouse and occasional hostelry known as “Shackford’s,” in 1880. In his report for the spring of 1880, Councillor of Improvements A.E. Scott noted the “wild and beautiful” Church’s Falls (now known as Sabbaday Falls) and the desirability of constructing a trail up the ravine of Sabbaday Brook to the summits of Mount Tripyramid, connecting with a corresponding route from the Waterville side via the South Slide. “Such a path would connect two beautiful valleys,” he wrote. The project would also include the clearing of views on South and Middle Tripyramid and the opening of a path from the top of the South Slide to South Tripyramid and across to Middle Tripyramid. That July, Scott, Charles A. Wellington and two workmen scouted up the Sabbaday Brook valley for a potential trail route. In his report for the autumn of 1880, Scott reported that they found a “very interesting and easy route along the right bank of the stream” and marked it almost to the base of the steep climb up the flank of Tripyramid. But the distance to the summits was greater than expected, and the potential cost of building the path and clearing summit views was so great that it was deemed best to postpone the project, and scout for a shorter route around the N side of the eastern spur (the Fool Killer). Scott also noted that a contract had been made with James M. Shackford of Albany “for the construction of a path from the Swift River Intervale to Church’s Falls on Sabba Day Brook.”
The trail was apparently completed at least to Sabbaday Falls. The naturalist Frank Bolles wrote of a Christmas Day visit to Sabbaday Falls in 1891, though his narrative includes no description of the trail. Though loggers of the Bartlett & Albany Railroad were stripping hillsides in the intervale and along Downes Brook, they apparently had not yet reached Sabbaday Brook. But two decades later lumbermen working for the Conway Lumber Company’s Swift River Railroad built logging roads up the Sabbaday valley and began clearcutting the surrounding slopes. In 1916 Charles Edward Beals, Jr. noted that an ancient footpath, by legend an old Indian trail, led up the Swift River valley and provided access to Sabbaday Falls. “The A. M. C. had placed signs,” he wrote, “so that a visitor could find the falls unaided.” Unfortunately, in 1915 the Conway Lumber Company’s loggers “so cut and slashed this historic trail as to obliterate it” and denuded the slopes above the falls, greatly diminishing its flow. Still, nearly every visitor to the Passaconaway valley made the pilgrimage to the falls.
In 1916 the AMC Guide described a route to Sabbaday Falls and beyond to Mount Tripyramid using the recent logging roads of the Conway Lumber Company. For the falls, the route followed the railroad bed (tracks removed) to a large lumber camp at the mouth of Sabbaday Brook, then a logging road up the west side of the brook, from which a “doubtful path” led down through the slash to the falls. For Tripyramid, the route continued up the logging road, crossing to the east side of the brook at the second bridge. It followed a tote road high above the brook on the flank of Potash Mountain, past active logging, and at one point was joined by a newer road that ran closer to the brook. It passed a logging camp on the opposite bank, and far up the valley, it turned right at another lumber camp onto a branch road, descended to cross the brook, and followed the stream up past another camp just ¼ mile beyond. After passing a slide on the Fool Killer, it crossed the brook to the left at a sign to the foot of Tripyramid’s eastern slide. The slide was followed to its top, affording “wild and interesting views to Mts. Passaconaway and Chocorua.” From here it was a bushwhack up to the ridge between Middle and North Tripyramid, bearing more to R if North Peak was the objective, and continuing straight up from the slide if Middle Peak was the destination. In 1917 a trail was cut from the top of the East Slide to the rough trail across the crest of Tripyramid, and by 1920 signs marked the entrance and exit from the slide. The approximate distance from the Swift River Inn to North Tripyramid by this route was said to be 7 miles, a 4 ½ hour climb.
In the 1920s the care of this route was taken over by the Passaconaway Mountain Club (PMC), based at the Swift River Inn. Starting in the mid-1920s access from the inn to the mouth of Sabbaday Brook was provided by a short section of the Albany Intervale road, the PMC’s Woods Path across Downes Brook, plus, in the 1930s, a new road built by the Civilian Conservation Corps on the old logging railroad bed. In 1924 a new slide fell on the east slope of Tripyramid just to the north of the older one, washing out the valley below for some distance, and in subsequent editions the AMC Guide description was modified to note that the route ascended the older, left-hand slide. The route was first shown as a trail route on the official WMNF map with the 1929 edition.
By the 1940s, after the Swift River Inn burned and the PMC faded from the scene, the WMNF took over the maintenance of what became known as the Sabbaday Brook Trail. It was shown as a maintained and listed trail on the 1941 WMNF map. In the mid-1980s, the WMNF made a significant relocation on the trail at the head of the valley. Starting near the base of the mostly revegetated East Slide, the newer route angles well out to the north, then loops back across the slope to the south and rejoins the original route near the top of the slide. For hikers ascending Tripyramid, today’s Sabbaday Brook Trail provides a long, pleasant approach up a beautiful valley, with three potentially difficult stream crossings near the start, and a very steep climb to the ridge at the end.