Working title: In which a photographer has to use his words
Peaks: Jennings Peak, Sandwich Dome, Noon Peak
Trails: Drakes Brook Trail, Sandwich Mountain Trail, Jennings Peak Spur
Mileage/time: 8.7 miles, 3000 feet of gain, book time of 5:52, actual time of 8:05
So much to say, with no illustration. Be prepared, this could get interesting. This was my first hike organizing for the Meetup group, Random Group of Hikers. I'd be lying if I wasn't a bit nervous, leading a group of people, three of whom I'd never met. Thankfully, Mike was going to be there, and with him being a guide in training, I'd have backup. That made me feel better about it. Wednesday night, I imbibed, perhaps a bit too much for the sleep deprived state I was in. I really need to stop with the whole, work my week, get out Wednesday morning, go do some activity all day, thing... it's exhausting. Needless to say, I was mighty groggy when the alarm went off at 4am. The snooze was used a couple times, then I finally got up, prepared myself, and was out the door at 5.
Just as I pulled in to get coffee, 10 minutes from my house, I realized I'd forgotten an important piece of gear... my camera! I knew if I went back to get it, I'd probably be late for my own event, and that would just be rude. I debated about using my cell phone to take pictures, but decided not to, poor quality pictures be damned. I pulled into the trailhead at about 7:30, and saw that there was very little parking available, room for about 5 cars, without blocking the plowed road to the power substation next door. I wedged my car in, and started preperations. I got one boot on by the time Chris and Theresa pulled in, introductions were made, and then we all set about getting ready. Mike was late, to the point that I called him, to razz him about it. Traffic was the cause, and he pulled in shortly before 8. Tish, the fifth member of our party, showed up just after, joking about being the last one there and living closest to the trailhead.
We all introduced ourselves, and having geared up, set off up the Drakes Brook Trail. Both trails leading from the trailhead had not been touched since the recent storm, though I saw remnants of the old snowshoe track at times throughout the day. The trail started off on an old road, and then part of the Waterville Valley cross country ski trail system, before ducking into the woods. The fresh snow was probably 4 to 5 inches deep, laying softly, and Mike took the lead breaking it out. The grades were easy at the start, and an order developed as we climbed, Mike in front, Chris behind him, myself in the middle, and the two ladies, Tish and Theresa. I spent most of the climb trying to pack out the spots Mike and Chris missed, since I had the largest pair of snowshoes in the group. It gave me a good workout at the very least! We settled into a pretty good pace, stopping here and there, only light conversation flowing in the first miles. We soon reached the ridge, and the junction of Sandwich Mountain Trail, which we would be returning to later in the day.
Snow depth increased on the ridge, to 6 to 8 inches, but the going was still pretty easy, and the grades continued to be moderate. Reaching the Jennings Peak spur, we decided as a group to get the peak while we were there, instead of on the way down. A short, but steep path lead up to the peak, and we encountered some blowdowns, and some ice on the steeps. The peak was fantastic, with good views up to the ridge of Sandwich Dome and Black Mountain, south to the Squam Lakes, and down the Acteon Ridge. Another viewpoint afforded good views to the northeast, towards the Tripyramids. The day was turning out to be near perfect, with very light winds, bright sunshine, and decent hiking temperatures, I'd say in the 20's.
After a snack break on Jennings, soaking up the sun, we moved onward towards Sandwich. Back down at the junction, our trail breaking started anew. The trees became more laden with snow the higher we climbed, and the snow depths increased, pushing us further into the canopy. Branches in the face, it's just what happens in winter. It still beats full on bushwhacking, though it feels like it at times. We passed the junctions of the untraveled Smarts Brook and Algonquin trails, and soon came upon the summit.
|Sandwich Mountain summit pano, courtesy of Mike Cherim|
We made awesome time back past all the junctions, until the Drakes Brook Trail reappeared, and we had to start breaking trail again. It's definitely not so bad breaking trail on descent, gravity does a lot of the work for you. The upper sections of Sandwich Mountain Trail felt a lot like the Mt. Osceola Trail, near East Osceola, beautiful woods. We passed uneventfully over Noon Peak, though there were some small view points along the way, and dropped steeply into the woods. This was the most fun part of the day, snowshoe skiing on unbroken trail! Some of us had better luck than others, but for the most part, we had a great time coming down the steep sections, hooting and hollering most of the way. The snow at lower elevations had softened significantly in places, and cover was looking pretty thin as we neared the trailhead.
Back at the cars, we decided to go get some beers and some eats, at Mad River Tavern in Campton. Some big, celebratory glasses of Switchback Ale, food, and laughs were had. I thank all four of you for making my first group leadership experience, not only a success, but a joy. The next hike is in the planning stages, for release soon. The day was a good day in other ways too. Not only is Sandwich on the 100 Highest list, but both it, and Jennings are on the 52 With A View list. That, and all the trails we traveled were new to me, so more redlining!
Note to self: Bring the camera next time. Also, 6 beers the night before = hard to wake up.
For now, I'm looking forward to tomorrow... it's time to go backcountry skiing!