Hiking though the Sandwich Wilderness and one of the best preserved forests in the Eastern US.
|More 4,000 footer hikes in the winter!|
Winter is such a wonderful time of year to explore our wilderness areas in the Northeast. While the West certainly dominates in sheer size of wilderness, we are thankful to have some exceedingly well preserved swaths throughout Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. The White Mountains were extensively and almost completely logged out in the 19th century, long before most people knew the value of conservation. While the forests are impressive to most who travel through the area, most of them are less than a century old. However, the area around The Bowl Natural Research Area
and the Sandwich Wilderness
evaded clear cut logging through the efforts of the town of Wonalancet
. Therefore, a hike through this area is a hike through one of the oldest forests in the Northeast. The trees in this area are over 400 years old. The fact that its been designated as Wilderness attests to the uniqueness and loveliness of the area.
What a great place to hike! I was excited to explore this area because it seemed like it was comparable to the equally rugged Pemigewasset Wilderness
to the North.
Getting to Wonalancet was somewhat adventurous. Its off the beaten paths of North Conway, the Kancamagus and Winnipesaukee. The roads are paved, but barely. However Wonalancet is a welcoming place with people who have actively maintained the forests for hikers. Many places I've been do their best to discourage hikers; Wonalancet generously preserves trails across private land and welcomes hikers with open arms!
The parking lot is just off of Ferncroft road near Route 113A. Please park in the designated parking lot and nowhere else! From here, there are several options to hike but I was headed to Mt Passaconaway and Mt Whiteface. This is a classic hike and you may see many other intrepid spirits hiking this loop any time of year. Today was no different- the parking lot was filled with plates from all across New England.
I headed down Ferncraft road and across a few of the trails which cross through people's front yards. I was again thankful that this place was so publicly accessible. Soon I was on the Diceys Mill Trail which begins its steep ascent into the Bowl. A cursory look at a topographic map will show you why this area is called the Bowl!
As I passed the sign marking the entrance to the Sandwich Wilderness Area, I got that warm, familiar feeling of peace that comes with walking through a place that's forever wild. The White Mountain National Forest is extensive and wild, but only the wildest of places receives the highest honor of "Wilderness". While the trails were well marked and trodden, there were no other signs of human development and I was surrounded by old growth forests and ancient mountains.
|Old Growth Forest|
I hate to overly poeticize what amounts to a simple day hike, but there was a palpable difference between walking through the Sandwich Wilderness and taking a walk through a more heavily traveled part of the White Mountains. I passed a few other hikers who were experiencing a similar elation. Most were local folks from New Hampshire and we all talked of how this was a favorite place to hike in the Whites. At any rate, the novelty of hiking though a 400 year old forest made the steep ascent of Mt Passaconaway more enjoyable.
The Diceys Mill Trail ascends from the parking lot at 1,100ft to 3,300ft in about 3.5 miles and it is steep in some sections. It comes to a fork at 3,300ft and if you go right, you can get to the unmarked summit of Mt Passaconaway in about a mile. Off to the left is the Rollins Trail which skirts along the knife's edge ridgeline which connnects Passaconaway with Whiteface.
|No views today!|
Expect some good but directional views along the trail to Passaconaway. There were no views on this day with a Nor'Easter slowly moving in but it was serene. Despite the storm, there was almost no wind and when I stopped for a break, there was total silence. There was no rumble of a distant highway, no conversations from other hikers and not even the sound of an airplane passing overhead. I could hold my breath and hear my heart beat. Profound quietude; this is why we have wilderness.
Turning around from the summit, I headed across the ridgeline. This is a 2.3 mile trail with plenty of PUDs (Pointless up and downs). In the summer there are supposedly some great overlooks of the Bowl but there were none today. The summit of Whiteface also has no views and I nearly passed over it without realizing it. After a little searching, I found the small chunk of wood nailed into a tree unceremoniously marking the highpoint.
|The false summit of Whiteface which normally has some views.|
Just past the summit is a nice, rocky clearing which serves as a nice resting point with some views. Many mistake this site for the summit but its just shy of 4,000ft. Don't be that guy that misses the summit because they didn't find the marker.
Most people elect to come up the Blueberry Ledge and do Whiteface before tackling Passaconaway but I guess I just had to do it the hard way. This meant I had to come down icy Blueberry Ridge Trail. Its not much better coming up, but it would have been less difficult to come down the Diceys Mill Trail. Bring some crampons or micro-spike for the tricky section just bellow the summit.
|A great day for a hike|
|Cold Winter Day near the Summit|
Just bellow the false summit is a great lookout which was expansive even with the storm. I hope I can return for this hike in the summer sometime because I'm sure you could see the entire Bowl. It was a slip and slide for most of the way down the Blueberry Ledge Trail but it gets less steep towards the bottom. I reached the parking lot exactly 8 hours after leaving.
I'm probably sound the same on every post about hiking in the White Mountains, so its not surprising for me to end saying this place was really worth the drive from anywhere. In all seriousness, my first experience hiking in the Sandwich Wilderness was unique and more memorable than most hikes I've done. Perhaps it was just the old growth forest or the excitement of seeing a whole new area of the White Mountains, but this hike is at the top of my list of hikes I've done in New Hampshire. If you've hiked the Pemi Wilderness, the Great Gulf or the Mahoosucs, you will not be disappointed by this equally well preserved place.
Read. Plan. Get Out There!