Friday, May 30, 2014

East Sleeper, Whiteface, and Passaconaway - May 24, 2014

Route: Blueberry Ledge Trail, Blueberry Ledge Cutoff, Kate Sleeper Trail, East Sleeper Spur, Rollins Trail, Dicey's Mill Trail
Peaks: East Sleeper (3840', NEHH), Whiteface (4020', NH4K), Passaconaway (4043', NH4K)
Mileage: 15miles
Elevation Gain: 5000ft
Book Time: 10 hours (actual 7.5)

With afternoon showers in the forecast, I struck out for Ferncroft on this day hoping to beat the rain and still get some views from the awesome Mount Whiteface ledges. I'd done the Blueberry Ledge Trail twice before, once in winter 2013, and once about 8 years before that. Both times the trail kicked my butt, but had some great views, and I was eager to scramble up the ledges again. In my attempt to beat the rain, I got to Ferncroft early enough that I was the first one out, though as I set off a trio of guys and a dog pulled in, and would later catch me near the top of Whiteface.

I started off hiking up the road and onto the Blueberry Ledge Trail, but in the interest of visiting a new trail, I took the Blueberry Ledge Cutoff, which parallels the main trail for 1.4 miles before re-joining before the main climbing begins. This trail was clearly much less traveled, and took some care in one or two spots to follow (the trail shares a treadway with a small brook in a couple spots), but was an interesting alternative. Along the way I checked out the bridge over the main brook that connects to the Dicey's Mill Trail, where the water was flowing well. This bridge offers a way to avoid the one main crossing on the Dicey's Mill Trail in times of high water.

At the Blueberry Ledge/Blueberry Ledge Cutoff junction

Minor peek through the clouds from the ledges near the junction

Time to start climbing

Great trail work here
The trail climbs stiffly from the upper junction with the Blueberry Ledge Cutoff, eventually meeting the Tom Wiggin Trail just below the summit ledges. From here it is a fun series of scrambles up a series of ledges, with normally terrific views in several directions. Today, while the clouds were trying to lift off, the only views I had were across the Bowl to Mount Passaconaway, so I mostly climbed carefully (the ledges were damp), taking occasional breathers, until I reached the Kate Sleeper Trail.

The summit of Passaconaway hiding in the clouds

Below one of the ledges

Atop the same ledge

The Bowl

Passaconaway's summit and a peek of blue skies now
For whatever reason, I had decided before this hike that I would add the nearly 4-mile side trip to this hike to visit East Sleeper, a viewless peak on the New England 100 Highest list, and a peak I have visited twice already. It did however offer me a chance to go through the impressive blowdown fields that resulted from Hurricane Sandy 1.5 years ago, and see if winter had any impact on the trail. The trail was actually in good shape (aside from the sections coming off Whiteface where it has a stream running down it, and the same huge blowdown blocking the trail at the East Sleeper Spur), though there were a few stretches of remaining ice that I was able to avoid. Heading through the blowdowns nearing East Sleeper, there was a nice mix of sun and clouds. A quick u-turn was made after visiting the summit (sign), and I was back ontop of Whiteface in a lot less time than I had allotted!

Blowdowns en-route to East Sleeper - major trailwork done here, all with hand saws!

Also some nice blue skies mixing in

Google Earth recently updated their imagery around East Sleeper. Note the massive areas of blowdowns, and the trail (blue line) doesn't even pass through the worst of them!

Mount Whiteface

Mount Whiteface
The trip along the Rollins Trail was nice and quick, though I certainly had forgotten about the several PUDs (pointless ups and downs) along the way! To the junction with the Dicey's Mill Trail I had seen only 6 people all day on the trails. There were probably three times that I would see for the rest of the day, but that is still pretty quiet for the Whites these days, plus they were all going the opposite way. Mostly I was to myself, which was nice. There was one icy ledge near the junction, but otherwise the final mile climb to Passaconaway was the usual steep climb, but I kept at it, and before long I arrived at the viewpoint just before the summit spur sign.

The views here were the best of the day (oddly I didn't take any pictures, I just relaxed for 5-10 minutes), but I could see that the rain was on its way so I quickly visited the summit (follow the sign, there is a clearing with a small cairn and a stick sign on the back of a tree in the small clearing), and quickly headed down. The rain started less than 10 minutes down, and continued steadily for about an hour, by which time I had made it down to the flat part of the trail. The sun was even back out as I walked along the field through Ferncroft back to my car. All in all, a fun day on the trails!

The Bowl from the Rollins Trail

Icy ledge on the Dicey's Mill Trail

4th time here, finally found the stick sign (I've stood right here several times, not sure how I missed it!)

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