Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Middle and North Sugarloaf for New Year's

Distance: 5.4 mi
Route: Zealand Rd - Sugarloaf Tr - Zealand Rd
Elevation gain: 1,100 ft + (gain over Zealand Rd unknown)

We've done some really fun hikes with some incredible people and one "bull" in the last few weeks but life has gotten in the way of finishing my reports.  But the new year is upon us and I'm determined to get back in the game!

This is the third or so New Year's Day in a row we've been able to celebrate with a hike.  Today, we met up with Hannah and Lilo to do the Sugarloafs off of Zealand Road.

The air temp hovered around freezing with a sometimes-bitter wind that we quickly escaped once on Zealand Road and away from the open parking lot (which, FYI is about a quarter mile down the road (south) and possibly marked for the snowmobile trail).

Zealand Road was well packed and we barebooted the mile up to the second bridge, in front of which is all the signage, and just after which is the trailhead (marked with the traditional hiker stick figure duo).  It seemed to be a fairly busy day for sledding and everyone who passed us was friendly.  It's worth noting that, just over the first bridge to the (seasonally closed) picnic area, is an outlet of the snowmobile trail.  Then, in the area of the trailhead, the road and snowmobile trail run in unison again momentarily.

The road was a good way to ease into the day, shifting packs and gauging layers.  We passed a handful of others, mostly heading back towards the highway and some on skis.  Once on the Sugarloaf/Trestle Trail, my kiddos and I only saw one other pair during our ascent of North Sugarloaf later on. Other than that, we wouldn't see another person til our return to Zealand Road.

The Sugarloaf Trail ran alongside Zealand River for two tenths of a mile before the Trestle Trail continued straight and we veered left and up to stay with Sugarloaf.  We crossed the snowmobile trail once more and entered the woods.
Is Ty airborne?!
Massholes passing on the left!

The trail started easy, with flat to gentle gains and neat sights, like massive, split boulders.
Treeing squirrels
Giant split boulder

 After the rocks, it gained moderately, but still with a flatter section before more of a "push" up to the col where one can go left for Middle and right for North.  Although I haven't done Pleasant (Shawnee Ski Area) in the winter, I think this would be a fair comparison to the ledges trail.

We headed towards Middle Sugarloaf, knowing it was purported to have the best views of the two and that we'd only be doing one.  The spur to the summit was a nice mix of quickly shifting grades and turns.

I call them Dr. Seuss trees; other call them marshmallow trees.
What do you call them?

 Just before the summit ledges, we encountered the ladder, which is a perfect angle for summer and only slightly challenging in snowshoes!

Crazy ole lady ran up and down, up and down!
Photo courtesy of Hannah B.
 *time sensitive warning, there's a very unfortunate and disgusting break with LNT midway between the ladder and the ledges to the right side of the tree in the middle of the trail.  For those with curious dogs or don't want to have human waste on their snowshoes, keep left....

The summit astounded me.  I'm calling it a wraparound summit.  The open space available to take everything in was huge.  First we turned left for the Presi's, then curved right for quite awhile, amazed.

* XL photos listed in order from left to right when emerging from the trees

The Presi's, conveniently under cloud cover, are to the left of the frame.

Ty's fumbled close to the edge; probably the biggest scare
either of us has had.  Lesson learned.

I could've stayed there all afternoon.  Even with the wind, the sheer size of the available places to explore and peaks to see was mesmerizing.  We will definitely return!!

Photo courtesy of Hannah B.
Back at the col, Ty and Tango sprang forward into the undisturbed snow on North Peak's spur.  And so, with Hannah's approval (but not Lilo's), we struck out for North Peak.  That was a very quick .3 mile of breaking trail.  It was flat at first, then down a hill (always fun, going up to go down!) before entering thicker woods and ascending to the top.  The views seem closer to the Presi's but more limited in overall scope.  A very worthwhile side trip though, and with the couple of clearings, seems a nice place for a break on a warmer day.

It always amazes me how they know the way, even in deep snow drifts
around disorienting boulders, with no tracks to follow. 
Clearing at the summit of North Sugarloaf

Under that cloud is a spectacular view of the Presi's....
The white line descending from the cloud cover is the Cog
if I'm not mistaken.
We made haste returning to the junction, at which point, Ty indicated her intention to return to Middle Sugarloaf.  When I told her to find Hannah and Lilo instead, she careened down the hill with Tango not far behind.  25" snowshoes aren't exactly conducive to graceful, efficient jogging but I did my best to keep up.  As I said in a post last year, when Tango runs, you run!

Reuniting at the snowmobile trail crossing.
Photo courtesy of Hannah B.
Back at the intersection with the snowmobile trail, we met up with Hannah and Lilo, who thankfully hadn't been waiting long.  The return was a nice, quick jaunt with Ty and Lilo running quite far ahead (for different reasons!).

Pack leaders
Mid-conversation, I was taken aback to notice a beaver
less than a leash-length away!
Once I got my wits about me, it became a training opportunity!
Photo courtesy of Hannah B.
The Sugarloaf Trail instantly jumped to the top of our list. Ty would argue the trail is too short but there are ways to extend it.  It's not a difficult hiking, being of mostly easy to moderate grades and relatively short in length. It's been awhile but I would say, for the sake of comparison, it's similar in difficulty to Welch-Dickey, if not slightly easier.  The views and trail are varied, making the time pass quickly (as does good conversation).  The summit is absolutely stellar and well worth what some might consider "too short" a hike for a drive up to the Whites.  Other than using caution and respecting the multi-use nature of certain parts of Zealand Road, there's nothing I can think of that doesn't make this a great dog hike.  The ladder isn't steep and the boards are a good size.  The ledges are at a gently sloping angle.  They do seem to drop eventually and hazardously but intrinsically cautious dogs will be okay.  Ty pushed herself a little too far, spooked us both, and was okay.  Their bouncing , happy gait alone tells me the Sugarloafs are very dog approved!  I can't wait to return on a bluebird day and see what Erick thinks!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Pleasant Mountain - a bipartisan winner on election day!

Route: Ledges Trail
Distance: 3.6 miles (roundtrip)
Elevation: 2006'
Duration: Two hours

Yesterday I got to take a half day for working this past Saturday.  For record keeping's sake, I'll mention that yesterday was the random, crazy-beautiful bluebird November day in the 60's.  In light of the new sunset time, I hightailed it home to pack quickly, promising myself I would vote upon returning.  We made it to Pleasant in about an hour and  I was relieved to see a few other cars alongside Mountain Road.  We threw our stuff on quickly and began at 2:30.

The Ledges Trail has a nice kiosk once you take the stone staircase up from the road that details the trails and safety precautions.  Shortly thereafter, the broad trail begins to gain elevation fairly evenly.  As of yesterday, the leaf cover is fresh and the ground dry, unlike a little bit further north.  For that reason, this is a great hike for those not ready to welcome winter.

During a flat section, the dogs took advantage of two small streams that ran close to one another. Soon after, a sharp right turn and return to climbing indicated the beginning of the long, gentle switchbacks that defined the next 15 to 20 minutes.

Last staircase before the open ledges
Staring at a squirrel
We broke out onto the ledges with the sun swallowing Ty's light outline as she walked along the cliff's edge, scanning the ground below for critters with a surefooted-ness a dancer would kill for.  The next section provided the inspiration for the trail's name.  Most of the ledges offer beautiful views of everything from nearby hillsides and lakes to distant mountains.

Someday I'll look up the history behind this

The trail turned into the woods and ascended some more before the junction with the terminus of the Southwest Ledges Trail (which we would someday like to try) and a secondary sign directing us to the main peak, just another couple minutes up the trail.

Final ledge
Hello moon!
This wasn't our first visit to Pleasant but the beauty and vast views at the open summit captivated me as powerfully as the first time.  There was only one other person up there enjoying the scenery and everything else the summit had to offer so we took the opposite side to relax.

After taking an hour to cover the 1.8 miles to the top, we relaxed for about 25 minutes appreciating the silence and trying to simply live in the moment.  Tango is certainly best at that, I'm trying, and Ty, well, she's trying these days too!

Private massage with a view... spoiled!
Half relaxed, always ready
I briefly toyed with the idea of waiting to watch the sunset but ultimately tabled that experience for another day.  On our return trip, the leaf cover was a little sketchy but we practically flew down.  It was a major mental workout to be joyful, calm, alert, in the moment, and one step ahead simultaneously without slipping on the leaves.  This was a huge test for me and Ty.  I had a harness and bungee leash ready but decided to push our luck a little, instead opting to jog with her remote trainer in one hand, whistle at the ready, and singing everything from Jason Mraz to Dropkick Murphys along with my iPhone since I'd forgotten our bear bell (more like the, "big creatures of the woods, please vacate the area before my dog sees you" bell).

With a lot of luck, my strategy worked and we reached the car unscathed with some light left in the sky.  Pleasant Mountain is a small peak but has a to to offer.  Our first time we were there, it provided a solid challenge for Erick (an intermittent hiker) and blueberries galore to sweeten the day. Yesterday it gave us a perfect, short, moderate hike with the spectacular views I was craving.  I even remembered to bring and use my binoculars to observe the patchy snow on Mt Washington.  Despite the freshly fallen leaves that hid potential hazards, the terrain was excellent for a quick hike. There weren't many water sources but the trail was quite dog friendly, despite Tango slipping on rocks that were hidden by the leaves.  He's very ready for winter.  But to get in one last warm-weather hike was special and I couldn't have asked for a better afternoon hike.