When I purchased my commuter bike this year, one of the reasons I chose a touring bike over a cross bike was so I could do some bike camping. As September rolled around I took a week off from work to do some hiking which was the perfect opportunity to try out a bike and hike. I had been eyeing the 4000 Footers in the Sandwich Range and knew I wanted to complete them as traverse.
After some bike route and trail planning, I put together what I thought would be a great bike and hike. I would bike from Gorham, ME to the Kancamagus, drop my bike off at the Oliverian Brook trailhead, walk along the Kancamagus to the Sabbaday Brook Trail, spend three days hiking along the Sandwhich Range, and then bike back to Gorham.
I have a pretty good routine for packing for day hikes and multiday hikes, but this was the first time that I had to pack for biking as well. This meant considering my needs while biking (clothing, water, food) as well as being concerned about my pack weight. Every pound would matter on two 60 mile cycling trips.
Somehow I was able to get all of my gear to fit in my multi-day pack and pannier and load it safely on my bike’s rack. I think it helped that it was going to be my first overnight with my hammock instead of using my tent and airpad.
I left home at 6:30 am as I wanted to start after sunrise but hopefully get off Route 25 before the commuters hit the road. My plan was to bike 25 and 113 to the Mountain Division Trail near Fryeburg, follow the trail to the New Hampshire border and then continue on 113 until the Kancamagus.
My plan went without a hitch and once I got off 25 the traffic was not bad. There was one sketchy moment on 113 beyond Hiram when the shoulder disappeared and a tractor trailer truck approached me from behind on a blind turn. Fortunately, he was courteous enough to stay behind me until after the turn and then passed me without issue.
I stopped at the beginning of the Mountain Division Trail to have a snack and then enjoyed the couple of miles of trail without having to worry about vehicles. I hit Conway, New Hampshire by 10:00 am and stopped to text my wife and let her know I was almost done with biking and that cell reception would be lacking from then on out.
I hit my wall about 5 miles into the Kancamagus, just as it was starting to climb. I got to the Lower Falls Recreation Site and pulled off to use the bathroom and have a snack by the Swift River. I was a little refreshed, but it was not long before I was exhausted again. I spent the last 5 miles hoping that each brown sign I saw would say Oliverian on it.
At 11:30 am I finally pulled off onto the Oliverian Brook parking lot. I was sore all over from the 5 hours of biking but buzzing from the thrill of getting to the mountains purely by my own power and in excitement for the hike ahead of me. There was no one at the lot so I hurriedly change from biking to hiking gear and ate a burrito for lunch.
Once I was ready for the hiking leg of my expedition and had packed all of my biking gear into my pannier, I walked my bike into the woods to stash it for a few days. I walked it beyond the pee zone and laid it down next to a slender tree. I locked my bike to the tree and then built a wall of sticks and pine needles to disguise it from anyone who might wander into the woods to relieve themselves.
By noon I started the several mile hike along the highway from Oliverian Brook to Sabbaday Brook. Since it was the middle of the week there weren’t many vehicles.
I got to Sabbaday Falls at 1:00 pm and there were a few cars and RVs in the parking lot. I hiked the loop around the falls among the tourists and then started up the trail for the real hiking.
Once I got a quarter mile beyond the falls I had the trail to myself. About a half a mile up river I stopped to fill and sanitize my water bottles and then hiked on. My goal was to hike in until the trail started to west around The Fool Killer and then hike down the Sabbaday Brook until I found a good campsite. I did just that at one of the last crossings of the Sabbaday Brook. I came across an old campsite with a fire ring, but it was too close to the trail for my liking. I continued down the brook until I found a couple of sturdy trees near the water’s edge for my hammock.
It was 2:45 pm and though I was ending my day early, I had started at 6:30 am, way back in Maine. If I hiked much further I risked the trail leaving the brook’s side and missing out on camping next to the water.
I set up my hammock, made a fire ring, collected firewood and set up my bear hang. Once the work was done I read in my hammock and enjoyed the peace and babbling brook. At 4:00 pm I started a small fire and made my dinner. With nothing left to do but still some lingering daylight, I read until dark and then crashed.
This was my first time backcountry camping solo, so I was a little nervous about being harassed by wildlife in the night. Part of my strategy to overcome this was to camp next to running water so that it would dampen any nocturnal forest sounds. The approach was successful (combined with stuffing my head in my mummy bag), but I still woken up occasionally by the sounds of the brook. It is amazing the different sounds that a brook can make in the night.
I’d like to say that I slept like a baby being coddled in my hammock, but as was anticipated the temperature dropped into the 30s and it was cold! I woke hourly in the morning, needing to roll over and warm up the side of my body that had been pressed against the hammock.
I was up at 6:45 am and had a chilly breakfast by the brook. I packed my camp, disassembled my fire ring and scattered my remaining firewood. I was working my way back upriver toward the trail by 7:45 am.
From the foot of The Fool Killer and after a couple of switchbacks, it was a fairly steep climb to the Tripyramid ridge line. Once up on the ridge I was finally warmed up from the night. I dropped my pack and made it to North Tripyramid by 9:15 am. From the first 4000 Footer of the hike I caught sight of Passaconaway, which would be the fourth and final 4000 Footer of the hike.
I retraced my steps to my pack and continued south to Middle Tripyramid. I got there at 9:50 am and had snack while enjoying the view of Mount Washington. Since I had cell service for the first time in nearly a day I checked in with my wife. I also noted that the inside of my left ankle was sore and it would continue to bother me as I hiked on.
I got to the mostly forested peak of South Tripyramid at 10:20 am and it afforded an interesting view back at the other Tripyramid peaks. The entire ridge was an easy hike with gradual drops of only a few hundred feet between and short steeper climbs close to the peaks (which give them their pyramidal shape).
South of South Tripyramid the trail dropped steeply to the south Tripyramid slide. There was quite a bit of chatter online about avoiding both Tripyramid slides in bad weather. Although I had good weather, I was also hiking alone. I started down the slide and thought the Kate Sleeper Trail started before it, so I suspected that I had missed the trail . I dropped my pack and climbed back up 30 feet of the slide and returned to South Tripyramid, looking for the trail. I (of course) did not find it and returned to my pack. Continuing back down the slide I found the start of the trail veering east.
If you’re looking for this trail, stay to the east side of the slide and you should find the below marking on a rock about 120 feet below the top of the slide.
The Kate Sleeper Trail continued to descend the slide and leveled out once it returned to the forest. After the slide the trail was an easy hike through thick forest, cresting at West and East Sleeper. I took the small spur trail to the summit of East Sleeper (a New England Hundred Highest) at 11:00 am.
As I approached Downes Pond in the low area between the Sleepers and Mount Whiteface I started to see a lot of fresh moose prints and droppings. My plan had been to camp at Downes Pond for my second evening on the Sandwich Range, but I reach the pond before noon.
I stopped to refill my water in the mossy trickle that was Downes Brook and considered my options. I was at a great campsite, but the day was only half over and there seemed to be a lot of moose in the area. I’m not normally concerned about moose, but bulls rut in late September and early October and can be territorial and dangerous. Also, my ankle was really starting to bother me, so a short day would probably have done it good. Ultimately it was the fact that the nights were going to continue to be near freezing that drove me on. I would rather have had to deal with one more cold night than two.
I continued uphill toward Whiteface and reached the summit at 12:30 pm. The summit was forested and I heard a group heading up from Blueberry Ledge Trail, so I didn’t stop but pushed on toward Passaconaway.
The Rollins Trail was an interesting hike. It followed the narrow ridge between Whiteface and Passaconaway and occasionally had views into The Bowl Natural Area. The Bowl was a glacial cirque that had never been logged, so it contained some of the only old growth forest in the area. I planned on hiking into it in the future.
The hike up Dicey’s Mill to Passaconaway gained a good amount of elevation, but the trail switchbacked many times so the climb wasn’t too bad. At one point there was a boulder with a view to the west and I could see the Tripyramids, The Fool Killer and the valley where I had started my day.
By 2:15 pm I reached the forested summit of Passaconaway and started to head down Walden Trail slightly bummed that my last peak of the trip didn’t have a view. I quickly came upon a vista spur trail and took it. It ended up being the longest vista spur ever, but it was well worth it. The view looked between Potash Mountain and Hedgehog Mountain toward Greens Cliff and Owls Cliff with the Willey, Presidential and Carter ranges on the horizon.
After taking a short break at the vista I continued down Walden Trail, jumped onto Square Ledge Trail and then down Passaconaway Cutoff to the Oliverian Brook Trail. Parts of Walden Trail and Square Ledge Trail were rocky and moderately steep but it was otherwise uneventful.
As it was late afternoon and I was approaching the parking lot of Oliverian Brook Trail, I had a decision to make. Where to camp. The trail followed the Oliverian Brook and I started seeing campsites with fire rings beside the water. The further I went, the closer I would be to my bike in the morning. But if I ended up going too far, I might be stuck with a subpar site or have to doubleback if I got too close to the road.
When I figured I was a mile from the road, I chose a campsite that I could see from the trail. I got to the campsite and decided that I didn’t want to be within sight of the trail. I walked along the brook from within the forest until I hit a long stretch of rocky beach. Just beyond the beach I found another campsite with a fire ring.
It was 5:15 pm when I started setting up camp, so once I was done and had collected firewood I went right into making dinner. While my dinner was rehydrating I skinny dipped in the freezing to wash off the day’s grime. Once I clamored out of the water I made some cocoa to keep me warm until dinner was done and I had a fire going. I ate dinner beside my fire and then read until the firewood was gone and only coals remained. I crawled into my hammock (which hung out over the brook thanks to a an angled tree) and went to bed at 8:00 pm.
I woke up at 6:30 am after another restlessly cold night. At one point I considered cutting hole in the bottom of my 20° sleeping bag, stitching the seams with dental floss and fishing the suspension strap through the hole so that it would act as an under quilt. I probably would have been a lot warmer, but it is a down bag so the cutting of the hole would probably have ruined it.
I got dressed and packed up camp without making breakfast. It was still damn cold and I wanted to get moving. I reached the Oliverian Brook Trail parking lot at 7:30 am, where I made coffee and breakfast. After breakfast I recovered my bike from the woods, changed into my cycling clothes and hit the road.
I biked back to Gorham, ME via routes 113, 160 and 25. The ride down 160 past Burnt Meadow Mountain and the surrounding lakes was very nice. I hit an apple festival in Limington and thought I might return with the family to check it out. By the time I hit route 25 I decided to cycle the rest of the way without stopping, not realizing that I had 40% of the ride left. Soon thereafter I hit my wall and the rest of the ride was a slog.
I got home at 1:00 pm and was met halfway down our street by my wife with the news that our cat had been hit by car and had a broken leg. Not the way you want to return home, but in the end our cat recovered (though he now has a limp, is an indoor cat and attacks us rather than birds).
Aside from our cat and the cold, the only downside of the trip was that my ankle continued to bother me for the next couple of hikes (but feels fully recovered now). The trip was a series of firsts for me: my first bicycle touring trip, my first solo multiday trip, my first solo backcountry camping trip. I’m sure I’ll be doing more bike and hikes in the future, both of the touring flavor and doing some solo traverses by leaving a car at one end of hike and biking to the other. Between this trip and my hike in the Emigrant Wilderness I’ve learned a lot about overcoming fears and pushing my limits.
When one is alone at night in the depths of these woods, the stillness is at once awful and sublime. Every leaf seems to speak.
Date Biked/Hiked: 24-26 September 2015
Temperature: high 30°s to high 50°s
Trail Conditions: dry
Weather: mostly sunny
Highest Elevation: 4180′
Elevation Gain: 5150′
Distance: 20.3 miles
Book Time: 12:45
Actual Time: 12:20
Distance Biked: 116.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 3800′
Total Time: 8:55
Pace: 13 mph
Tracing White Mountains Trails:
Sabbaday Brook Trail
Passaconaway View Spur
Kate Sleeper Trail
East Sleeper Spur