September 7, 2014.
Another foray into the Sandwich Wilderness. The route today is more for trails than views but there will be a few surprises along the way. Parking is on Route 113A in Wonalancet at the Cabin Trail head. The ride up is best done before the frost heave season. Even during the non winter season the bumps along Route 113 and 113A slows the drive down.
My usual early arrival time and the boots are on the ground at 6:45. The air is cool and dry finally thanks to the humidity being pushed out yesterday with the thunderstorms. The skies are crystal clear blue and I have second thoughts for not hitting a high peak today. There will plenty of opportunities for that this winter besides there should be some decent views up on Square Ledge. I make my way up the trail to the first junction with Big Rock Cave Trail and as I am taking the usual trail sign picture I hear some loud noises coming from up the trail.
The original plan was to stay on Cabin Trail and return via Big Rock Cave Trail but the noise intrigues me as I get excited for another animal sighting. Up the trail a 100 yards and the source of the noise is something falling out of the trees continuously. It is coming from my right and my left and I am thinking it is a bear up in a beech tree knocking down beech nuts. I look up and keep a wary eye for the falling debris but see nothing. A little closer to the tree and I finally see what it is coming down out of the trees. They are pine cones about 4-6 inches long and coming down quick and land hard from the height of the white pine trees. Somewhere up there are squirrels having a free for all knocking them down. the first time I have ever heard and witnessed that event.
Diverging from the original plan and staying on Big Rock Cave Trail I make my up the trail. It is an easy grade and the footing is surprisingly good. I soon reach the Sandwich Wilderness boundary and just after crossing pull out my map and detailed directions to see about where I am.
Reading the description and the height of land I am on is actually Mt Mexico, a very non-descript peak. If I hadn't stopped I would have never known.
The guide describes it as a non-descript summit and after it is a steep descent down to Big Rock Cave and then past that another steep descent to the brook. I'm feeling thankful to the squirrels now for making me diverge this way! Sure enough the trail soon makes a steep descent and words can not describe the Big Rock Cave. Pictures can not do it any justice either. Out in the middle of the woods are these gigantic boulders, 20- 30 feet tall arranged randomly but form a couple of caves/passages, much like Polar Caves. One of them is actually large enough to walk through upright and plenty of room for quite a few people. Exiting this cave and I walk around this huge jumble and wicked impressed with what mother nature leaves behind for us to enjoy.
Back on the trail and down the second steep descent and I reach Whiten Brook. Crossing and I make the decision to add a small loop to the day.
I head down Whiten Brook Trail and just a short ways turn left onto Old Paugus Trail and head up. The trail is mildly steep and a short ways up levels out and soon reaches the junction with the other end of Big Rock Cave Trail. Turning left onto that trail and surprisingly this trail is not as steep heading back down to Whiten Trail. A quick twenty minute diversion to knock off an extra mile of trail in this area. Turning right at the junction and I am back on Whiten Trail but this time heading north.
The trail heads up paralleling Whiten Brook and crosses it three times along the way. It is refreshingly quiet in these woods and the trail gently rises in elevation for most of the way. Towards the end of the trail it suddenly starts climbing steeply up out of the ravine into a blowdown area. This side of Passaconaway always seems to be a tumble mess.
I remember my first trip up in this area almost three years ago and the section of trail after Passaconaway Cutoff was quite the mess. Best guess is this is damage from when Hurricane Sandy came through in October of 1012. Pushing forward and I finally plateau out and reach the junction with Cabin Trail. A right turn and this part of the trail skirts the steep ridge almost all the way to Lawrence Trail. It reminds of the south along the AT and how the trails would do the same thing following the contours rather than going up and over. Along the way I get a peek at Mt Paugus and its deteriorating section of rotten granite.
Arriving at the junction with Lawrence Trail and I turn left as a right turn would lead me up to Mt Paugus and that is not on the agenda today. Almost immediately and I get a shot of Passaconaway through the trees. This area was just recently forested or had a blowdown event as the trees are short and thinned out.
A short trek down the trail and I reach Paugus Pass where Lawrence, Kelley and Oliverian Brook Trails converge. I head up Oliverian Brook Trail and it is another fairly mild trail slowly descending down passing Square Ledge Branch Trail along the way. I'll get that section of trail later on. Surprisingly it is after this junction that I meet someone on the trail. She is coming in from the Kancamagus side and I would never see her again so not sure where she was heading. Reaching the Passaconaway Cutoff junction and I do not recall anything about this trail. It was almost three years ago and nothing looks familiar.
I head up and after crossing the bridge I stop to have a few snacks and let a couple pass by. Refueled and I continue up constantly looking to my right for any views through the trees. There are no good views so I keep plugging up the trail and eventually pass the couple I let by earlier. Just before reaching the next junction with Square Ledge Trail and I do get a few shots north.
At the junction a left turn onto Square Ledge Trail and it is a short steep climb to the first viewpoint towards Mt Paugus. Through the trees I can faintly make out a cliff and hopefully my next destination.
The trail heads down rather steeply and then climbs back up next to a huge exposed granite cliff. It is tall and straight and as I approach the end of it one very large section has broken away with a good one foot gap and I am sure that some day this will fall completely away.
Scrambling to the top of this cliff and through some thick brush and I find a great viewpoint on an exposed slab. Passaconaway, Nanamocomuck and Wonalancet Hedgehog are all just right there in your face. So close it feels like you could reach out and touch them.
It brings back memories of when I did all three of them on the same day about a year and a half ago. I spend a few minutes there soaking in the views and sun and then move on. Once in a blue moon I will print out the detail trail descriptions and this is one of those times. I know there is another viewpoint coming up but the description is not as detailed as I would like. It is supposed to be on my left by a sharp right turn and it seems like there a few of those but no spots for views. I keep pushing on and it feels like I have gone too far and probably missed the spot when finally I unmistakably reach it. The views are over to Mt Paugus across to the shoulder of Wonalancet Hedgehog with Ossipee Lake in the background.
From here the trail gets really steep and rocky bouldery. It is a slow descent as I take my time going down these types of trails. The trail eventually levels out and as I get further and further I am again questioning where the next trail is and if I missed it. It is on my left and stopping to reread the directions and looking at the map I am unsure if I passed it. My GPS, for all its good, does not show this trail. This is not the first time and it always puzzles me as to why Delorme, a company based in Maine, is not current with trails that are at least 30 years old. Anyways it appears that the coordinates from the description is just up the trail and sure enough 100 yards later right after crossing the brook there is Square Ledge Branch Trail. Another left turn and I head own this trail for the quick six tenths of a mile. It is mild and then semi-steep and then mild again as I make my way down.
I also run into another hiker making his way up the trail. A quick crossing of Oliverian Brook and I turn around to head back up the trail. Having another hiker in front of me helps push me through the ascent as I catch back up to him at the junction. I shock him when I pop out onto the junction and he makes the comment "I feel like I am in the Matrix". I quickly explain I am not from the Matrix but redlining trails. He will be the fourth and last person I see for the day as I make a left turn again back onto Square Ledge Trail. I think this will be an easy return to the four corners where Square Ledge Trail, Old Mast Road, Walden Trail and Lawrence Trail all converge. Unfortunately this trail does not gently descend as I was hoping and expecting it to. Instead it is an obnoxious up and down trail feeling mostly like ups. It continues like this right to the end and I finally reach the four corners. Another memory of two winters ago and breaking trail up Walden Trail to reach Wonalancet Hedgehog. The same twisted broken tree today and as seen in February of 2013.
What a difference with leaves! One last left turn onto Lawrence Trail and it passes quick right through Paugus Pass and reaching Cabin Trail again. Back on Cabin Trail and across the steep section to a return to the junction of Whitin Brook Trail.
A quick water break and this time it should be all downhill from here. For the most part it is not too bad a trail but as any exit, at least for me, it seems like forever and the exposed roots slow me down so as not to trip or slip.
Eventually I reach the junction with Big Rock Cave Trail and just three tenths left to get out. Sixteen miles and I accomplished every piece of trail I had set out to do with a small addition. A beautiful sunny day and only saw four people on the trails in a nice quiet section of the White Mountains.
Final numbers: 15.7 miles, 8 hours and 30 minutes.
Redline Miles: 12.3, Total to Date: 578.1