March 17, 2013.
I said I would never do this as it never really interested me. But sometimes we have to make changes in order to accomplish our goals. I did not feel like doing an out and back on the same trail and an all trail loop was not logistically possible. So what is the "this" I refer to? Bushwhack! Yes I was planning my first bushwhack and hopefully it all works out. The plan was to start out on Smarts Brook Trail and then whack up a ravine to catch the Algonquin Trail just south of the summit of Black Mt. From there head up to Sandwich Dome and then back down Smarts Brook Trail to the car, a nifty 12 mile hike. The planned hike:
So where did this idea come from? After looking at the trail and terrain maps it did look possible and the original intent was to go all the way up Smarts Brook Trail to Sandwich Dome then down the Algonquin Trail and find a spot to cut across the woods back to Smarts Brook Trail. Heading all the way down the Algonquin Trail was not an option, at least during winter, as it would require a road walk on Sandwich Notch Road. This would be about 4.3 miles of road walking totaling the hike at about 15 miles. While not impossible for me to do 15 miles it would have been extremely difficult considering Sandwich Notch Road is closed for the winter. Doing an extensive search on the Internet and I actually found a trip report of where my planned whack had indeed been done by someone and pretty much the same path I was planning. Just in case I ran into any issues, I decided to alter my plans and get the whack done in the beginning of the hike rather than at the end. The actual hike:
Arriving at he trail head at 8:15 and I am the only one in the parking lot. Ten minutes later I make my way over to the trail and immediately I'm greeted with the ice flows at the bottom of the trail.
I'm hoping this is not an indicator for the day and slowly make my way up to where the trail doubles as a cross country ski trail. As with any trail in the Waterville Valley area there is a crazy abundance of side trails, cross country ski trails, etc and the challenge is always staying on the right trail. Shortly after the icy section I come to an intersection with a trail leading off to the right. So right turn it is and a couple 100 yards up it comes out onto another old road/cross country trail and there are three (or four) options. Go straight ahead, go left, go right or return the way I came. Not feeling 100% certain I am on the right trail I return and back at the last intersection continue straight where I made the right turn. Turns out they all end back up on Smarts Brook Trail eventually, except for the right at the four corner intersection which heads back to Route 49. Confident I am on the actual Smarts Brook Trail I continue on and come out to the pathway which would have been the left turn at the four way. Along the way I come across a glacial erratic and it I dub it Saddle Rock. Further up and I reach a cascade on Smarts Brook.
Just past the cascade and the trail that went straight (back at the four-way) appears on my right. Shortly after, that trail continues on to my left. Across the bridge and off to the right is a beaver swamp and I make my way out onto it to get a look at where I am heading, Black Mt. Back to the trail and past a clearing that looks like it was an old logging campsite and I am nearing the spot where I want to start my bushwhack.
Hearing the brook off to my right and I make my way in towards it. According to the map this brook that feeds the swamp I just passed heads all the way up a ravine to a shoulder just south of Black Mt and about 400-500 feet west of Algonquin Trail. Crossing a small tributary first and I keep the brook to my right as I pick my way through the forest. It is pretty open through the leafless trees and then I come across trees with blue spray paint on them.
Not sure why they are spray painted, at first I thought somebody was marking a path. But they are kind of random, not only the size of the tree but also the layout, even though they are heading up this ravine for quite a ways. I'm thinking it has something to do with logging but not 100% on that. Making sure I do not wander too far from the brook I make my way up through the ravine with ease. It never gets thick and there are very few evergreens.
As I get closer to the ridge I notice I have wandered too far to the left as I can see the steep side of Black Mt just up ahead and I am no longer next to the brook. Skirting towards the right I make my way back and up to where I want to be and soon reach the height of land but never find the brook. It is a dry bed in this area and the only evidence of anything being up here are moose tracks.
I go off towards my left following the contour at this elevation and soon I am stopped in my tracks by a thick wall of evergreens. Not wanting to fight through these I make my way back and move on towards the right and a bit straight where it is more open. Down into a little sag and an open section of forest and soon I find the Algonquin Trail. I've done it, I succeeded in my first real bushwhack! This was a great first one and kind of looking forward to planning another one.
Going up Algonquin Trail and not a lot of traffic has been here lately. The trail is slightly evident and a moose has been up through here in the not too distant past. Watching my foot placement so as not to hit a moose track and then twist an ankle. I was entertaining thoughts of trying to go up Black Mt (it was not my original plan to go up to the summit) since I was so close, there is no trail up to its summit. As I got closer the steep embankments of Black Mt offered no invitations of letting me climb it. As I was coming around the east side I pretty much gave up on reaching the summit until I got to the height of land. On my left was a pretty good opening and I decided what the heck, might as well give it a shot.
Heading west along the north face of Black Mt the going was fairly easy then I started climbing up the north face. Weaving in and out of the trees, ducking here and there, squeezing through a few spots I made my way up. Through the trees I can see Welch, Dickey and Tecumseh across the valley. Close to the top and there is a ledge with some views east and a view of Sandwich Dome's south shoulder.
Back into the trees and not much further up and I make it to my first trailless summit. Big accomplishment for me as I told my brother once that I had no interest in going off trail.
Heading back down as it is time to get back to the real trail and make my way towards Sandwich Dome. Once I reach the col it is time to start the uphill trek to the intersection with Black Mt Pond Trail. Soon I reach the first set of ledges where it's a four point scramble. Wasn't expecting any scrambles or ledges for that matter, but what a bonus, ledges mean views. Looking back at Black Mt.
I lose track of the number of ledges as it is really windy up here. I've been protected from the winds all day until I hit these ledges. They are gusty, strong and chilling. I don't spend much time on them as I duck back into the woods after taking a few pictures. On a better day these would be awesome but with the winds the clouds move quickly sometimes obscuring the peaks to the north. Welch and Dickey are across the way and Tecumseh also.
About thirty minutes from the first scramble and I reach the junction with Black Mt Pond Trail. There are views down into the valley with Black Pond. Further is Mt Israel (which I hiked just before Christmas) and what I thought was Guinea Pond Trail. Turns out the horizontal white line in the trees is the power lines that I hiked under coming off Mt Israel.
Moving on and I get lost for a little bit as the knob up here is a wind blown ledge with scrubby pines. What looks like a trail peters out into nothing. A couple of false trails and I finally find the real trail and make my way across. A peek at Sandwich Dome before heading down the last col and it still looks far away.
Heading through this section the trail starts closing in as the snow is deeper here and the branches that are high enough during the summer are in the way and a lot of ducking goes on. Going up the final stretch and I come across a blowdown and it is not one I can step over or around. The only way to get by is to get down on my belly and crawl under. So this is on an incline and the snow is dry and fluffy and I push my poles out ahead of me. Crawling literally on stomach squeezing under this tree my backpack gets stuck on the branches. Trying to wiggle and pull through I start sliding backwards as there is nothing to grab onto to pull myself through. Another shot at it and I make it through getting up to brush myself off.
Two and a half hours since leaving Black Mt and I reach the Sandwich Mt Trail. Coming up I had already decided I wasn't going to head up the short 90 yards to the summit of Sandwich Dome. Already been there and I do have to come back when I do Bennett Street Trail plus the winds are crazy and I have no desire to be on the exposed summit, I've had enough wind for this journey. Heading down Sandwich Mt Trail and the next trail is the north end of Smarts Brook Trail. Reaching it in fifteen minutes and there has been no traffic on this trail since I don't know when, no footprints or depressions of the trail being used.
This is a 5.1 mile hike to the bottom back to the car and the good thing is it is all downhill, just have to break trail the whole way. Not stopping I have bare booted the whole hike with the snowshoes getting a free ride on my back pack the all day. About a mile in and I come upon a huge glacial erratic field. Didn't even count how many there were but I did take a video going off trail through it all.
It's a nice trail down changing from straight to winding as it crosses Smarts Brook a few times. Just before the clearing where I turned off this morning for my bushwhack I get a picture of my lonely tracks entering the woods.
A little over two and a half hours form starting on this trail and I am down the 5.1 miles and back at the car. An epic hike and one I'll remember for sometime because of my first whack. Oh yeah, and to top it off, another NPD (No People Day)!
Final numbers: 11.8 miles, 8 hours and 15 minutes.
Redline Miles: 7.9, Total to Date: 348.2