Monday, October 31, 2011

Middle and North Sugarloaf, NH October 29, 2011

Middle and North Sugarloaf, NH via Sugarloaf Trail October 29, 2011.

Mileage:  3.2 miles RT (about 2 hours)

Elevation gain: 1200'

Trailhead: Zealand Road, parking lot approximately 1 mile from Route 302. 

Lesson learned:  Move over, Mts. Willard, Avalon and Elephant Head - these peaks are also a short hike to fantastic views! 

As a hiking info volunteer for Appalachian Mountain Club, I volunteer four weekends a year at their front country destinations Pinkham Notch Visitor Center and Highland Center.  I arrive on Friday night and work through Sunday 'til about 11:30. This weekend Rich and I worked our stint at the Highland Center with Sandy. This was Sandy's first volunteer stint at the Center and she was having a great time helping the guests plan their hike.   

On Saturday we get a 3-4 hour break in the afternoon.  The break is a perfect time for a short hike and we decided to hike Middle & North Sugarloaf, two peaks off of Zealand Road (8 miles from Highland Center). VFFT, my favorite blog on trail conditions, indicated that the bridge was still out on the Trestle trail due to Tropical Storm Irene.  The Trestle trail leads to the Sugarloaf trail from the Zealand Road parking lot, which is the lot one mile from Route 302.  We decided instead to walk down Zealand Road from the parking lot directly to the Sugarloaf trailhead, avoiding the now bridgeless river crossing on the Trestle trail.

Parked at the parking lot and walked to the trailhead you see here past the guardrail.
An unusual noreaster was headed to New Hampshire (it was afterall only October, which has since been called "Snowtober") but the snow wasn't to arrive up north until that evening. Conditions were dead calm, even on the summit of Mt. Washington (summit wind conditions were 7 mph that morning), and the views from the notch were crystal clear.  The Sugarloaf trail began by following the river a few hundred yards. Some evidence of storm damage made footing a bit tricky in spots.  The trail then forked: left continued on the Sugarloaf trail, straight along the river became the other end of the Trestle trail.   We went left. 

The trail offers a gradual ascent with good footing.  The woods were so serene and we barely broke a sweat as we headed toward the top of the "T" where the Sugarloaf trail ended and the summit trails went left and right.  As we got closer there were occasional patches of snow and icy leaves but the trail was dry for the most part.

To the left of Sandy and Rich is the trail - wide and mellow.
We got to the junction of the summit trails and went left to summit Middle Sugarloaf first.  The trail got steep and a bit slippery but we continued with bare boots.  Just before the summit was a large staircase, very cool!
"And she's buying a stairway to the summit!"
The summit offered spectacular views all around!  The air was so calm; we could see Mt. Washington so clearly we felt we could reach out and touch it.  We took some photos and hung around just to enjoy the view. 

Fantastic view of Mt. Washington from Middle Sugarloaf
It was a cloudy day and the weather was coming in soon so we headed down toward North Sugarloaf.  Descending the staircase and icy rocks cautiously, we were down at the trail junction in no time and headed up to the summit of North Sugarloaf, which took us under 20 minutes.  The views were lovely too, though the peak fell short of its middle sister (there is in fact a South Sugarloaf, which is trailless).  As we headed back, we saw a family heading up the trail with a white collarless dog.  I reminded them that deer hunting season started that day and suggested they keep her close by on the hike. 

As we were heading down, the air changed and we could tell snow was coming.  We were back down to the junction in no time and headed down the Sugarloaf trail to the car. 

The top of the "T."  "Of course, some people do go both ways!" Scarecrow
We were in the car and on our way back to the Highland center in plenty of time to take a shower and get back to work. Sandy's husband Joe had just completed his 29th and 30th NH 4k and was waiting in the living room for our return. 

Darkness soon fell and the snow came.
The Sugarloafs will surely be recommended to Highland Center guests as a quick and rewarding two hour hike.  The width and grade of the trail make it a pleasure for all ages and abilities.  Many guests want to do a quick hike before they head home; reluctant to end their weekend without enjoying the scenery one more time.  We can't wait to hike the Sugarloafs again!

Bench at the Highland Center.