Date Hiked: 24 November 2014
I saved my last remaining vacation days for the week of Thanksgiving (and my birthday). I had nine days off from work but due to the holiday and other commitments, Monday was the only possible day for a hike. The forecast for the day looked awful, but with some convincing from my wife I headed for the mountains. I was looking for a small hike with worthy views and decided to tackle the Sugarloaf peaks in the northern end of the White Mountains.
It poured as I drove through North Conway and Crawford Notch State Park, but as I got north of the mountains the rain was held off by the Presidentials. I was greeted by a brilliant rainbow as I approach the Mount Washington Resort. Soon after I pulled off Route 302 at Zealand Campground and was glad to see Zealand Road was still open. I drove past the campground and was not surprised to find the Sugarloaf trailhead parking lot empty.
The hike started off easy, following the Zealand River for two tenths of a mile and then climbing at a gentle angle toward the col between Middle and North Sugarloaf. I came upon a house-size glacial boulder standing in the trail. It looked like the boulder had split some time in the past, leaving a crevice down the middle. I navigated around the boulder and decided I would squeeze through the crack on the way back.
There were a few more large glacial boulders and then the trail began to climb more aggressively toward the mountain peaks. My legs cramped up (just like they had during my hike of Mount Moriah a few weeks earlier) and I had to pause and rest a few times. But, the climb was short and in no time I made it to the col between the peaks and started toward Middle Sugarloaf.
Whenever possible I save the better peak for last. Even though Middle Sugarloaf purportedly had a better view, I headed that way first due to the weather. To the south the clouds and rain were hanging over the 4000 Footers and extending to cover Middle Sugarloaf. To the north it was beginning to look like the weather would clear, so I decided to save North Sugarloaf for last in hopes the sky would clear by the time I got there.
The trail followed the forest-covered ridge between the mountains. It climbed at an easy pace until it approached the summit, where it became rocky and steep. There was a large wooden staircase that marked the exit from the forest onto the exposed summit.
Middle Sugarloaf had a lot of ledges and views to explore (which reminded me of the vista from below Welch Mountain). I headed toward the eastern side of the peak to look south toward Hale and Zealand, but they were shrouded by the clouds. The wind was howling and rain pelting as I made my way around the southern end of the peak and toward the western end. When I made it around the ledge I could see toward Twin Mountain, New Hampshire, where I could make out some blue sky and the rainbow that I saw earlier.
After snagging a few photos I hurried to the trail and shelter from the winds and rain. I started back toward North Sugarloaf and was glad there was no ice on the steep ledges. When I got back to junction and started toward North Sugarloaf I spotted blue sky above the peak.
The north branch of the Sugarloaf Trail was a quick little hike which dropped down a little on the western side of the peak and then approached the summit from an angle where there were no cliffs. For a moment the sun burned through the clouds and I stopped to enjoy the warmth. The North peak had more limited views than Middle, but there was a cool ledge looking toward Zealand Valley. Unfortunately, it was still overcast and raining in that direction.
I explored the summit for a bit and at one point slid on some ledge and jammed my right knee. It bothered me from that point on whenever I had to make a climb. After taking a small break and eating a granola bar I headed back toward my vehicle. When I approached the junction between the two mountains I briefly considered climbing the ledge to the North peak to see the vantage point from there, but decided it wasn’t the smartest thing to do when hiking alone.
When I got back to the giant glacial boulders I went through the crack between them. I had to take my pack off and side step at an angle, using my arms to brace myself. Back at the Zealand River I attempted to trace the Trestle Trail, but was foiled where the bridge washed out in 2005.
The water was running high and swift from the recent rain and warm weather. I saw a small cairn up the river and made my way to it hoping it signaled a passable section, but it was not possible without wading. For the sake of it I tried down the river a short distance from the bridge but did not see a ford in that direction either.
I turned tail and hiked back to my car. I briefly considered hiking the other half of the Trestle Trail in order to trace it, but figured it wouldn’t count unless I crossed the river. The views from the Sugarloafs (particularly Middle Sugarloaf) were nice enough to afford a return visit. I will make sure the river is low enough or frozen when I return so I can finish the trail.
As I drove back toward Maine I was glad to find the Zealand Road still open. I had feared they would close it while I was hiking. Despite the wet weather I was glad to have gotten the chance to get into the mountains during my final vacation days from work. A bad day on the trail still beats a good day in the office.
Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.
Highest Elevation: 2539′
Elevation Gain: 1200′
Distance: 3.8 miles
Book Time: 2:30
Actual Time: 2:10
Weather: mostly sunny
Wind: SE 15mph
Tracing White Mountains Trails:
Sugarloaf Trail – North Sugarloaf branch