My original plan for this fine winter day was to head into the Sandwich Range Wilderness on the Downes Brook Trail and snowshoe up to the top of the Downes Brook Slide on Mount Passaconaway for some northerly views. When I went in on the Downes Brook Trail to where the hard-packed route to Potash Mountain veered off, I found abysmal snow conditions beyond: a single ski track paralleling a jumble of postholes. A few lurching snowshoe steps through this mess convinced me to turn around and go for Plan B. I had seen two recent NETC reports on ascents of Mount Passaconaway via the Oliverian Brook Trail route, so I returned to my car and drove a mile east to that trailhead. Depending on trail conditions, I figured I would at least ascend to the Nanmaocomuck Slide along the Square Ledge Trail to get a northern view there.
Conditions were firm but choppy on the Oliverian Brook Trail. There were various critter tracks on the frozen beaver pond 0.7 mile up the trail.
A straight shot on the bed of the early 1900s Swift River Railroad.
Marshmallow boulders on Oliverian Brook.
This is an awkward rocky, side-sloping tributary crossing in summer. Much easier when buried in snow.
A bonus of this route would be a check for any new blowdowns on the Passaconaway Cutoff, which I work on as the adopted trail of the AMC Four Thousand Footer Committee. Happily, there were none.
Unfortunately the Cutoff was chewed up by barebooters, making for tedious snowshoeing in places.
Sunshine was pouring into the hardwoods along my favorite section of the Cutoff.
The West Branch of Oliverian Brook was buried.
A steady climb along the northwestern flank of Square Ledge.
Mount Passaconaway is a constant looming presence across the valley to the west. In winter, the whitened scar of the East Slide, which fell during the Hurricane of 1938, is a prominent feature.
Climbing Passaconaway from the north has always seemed rather daunting to me. Upon arriving at this junction, you've come 3.6 miles (3.7 in winter) but still have 1550 ft. of climbing to go in the last mile and a half.
The Square Ledge Trail had some of the nicest trail conditions of the day, with a softly packed snowshoe track littered with just a few postholes.
The trail passes along the base of the Nanamocomuck Slide, which also fell during the 1938 Hurricane. It is very steep and in winter looks rather ominous.
A snowshoer had made a track up along the side to a spot with a fine view to the north, a perch I have visited many times in summer and fall.
Prominent in the view are Mt. Tremont, Mt. Washington, Bartlett Haystack and the Wildcats/Carters, with Hedgehog Mountain down in front.
Looking up to a shoulder of Passaconaway.
Side view of the slide. Since there was no comfortable perch on this steep snow slope, not to mention a lack of sun, I decided to continue up to Mt. Passaconaway.
Above the slide the Square Ledge Trail makes a long, stiff climb, gaining 600 ft. in 0.4 mile.
Back into the sun approaching the Walden Trail.
I bypassed the crazy steep upper section of Walden Trail by taking the East Loop across to Dicey's Mill Trail.
As expected, the heavily-used Dicey's Mill Trail was a smooth sidewalk.
The scramble at the top of the steep climb on the upper cone had only a little exposed ice.
The northwest outlook, which has become severely restricted in summer, is much improved with a platform of snow. I especially like the close-up of Mt. Tripyramid, with Mt. Tecumseh on the left and the Osceolas on the right. The 2011 slide on West Sleeper is seen at lower left.
A peek over at East Sleeper, with Vermont peaks on the horizon.
Franconia Ridge, Mt. Garfield, the Hancocks, Bonds-Twins, Zealand and Mt. Carrigain.