Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sandwich Dome and Jennings Peak

My heart started pounding as soon as we began our ascent on Sandwich Mountain Trail off Rte 49 in Waterville Valley this morning. The air was still cool, below 40F, when we set out at 8:30 am. Fortunately the trail passes through a scenic region of the Sandwich Range, prompting us to stop often to catch a breath and look and listen. It always takes me awhile to hit my stride after weeks away from the mountains; we live in the relatively flat coastal plain of southeastern New Hampshire.

We paced ourselves as there was much to pause for. A winter wren sang its long, melodious song from the thickets near Drakes Brook. The painted trilliums were in full bloom along the trail. The flowers stunning with their splotches of pink centers.
Hobblebush--a viburnum--was just coming into flower. This large-leaved shrub has equally large, white flower clusters; the large outer flowers are sterile while the small, inner flowers are fertile. Black-throated blue warblers often nest in hobblebush. We heard many "BTBs" today as we hiked, especially in the lower section of trail where hobblebush were thick.
We were more alert (as was Kodi) after we passed a very fresh and very large pile of black bear scat. I would show a picture of the scat, but it is not nearly as pretty as the wildflowers.

The trail climbs through dense woods of young spruce, the forest floor covered in mosses and lichens. A place to lose yourself in the solitude, which we enjoyed all the way to the 3,980' summit of Sandwich Dome (now more commonly called Sandwich Mountain). One large erratic boulder caught our eye as we passed by.
At 1.6 miles, an open ledge offers the first view, and a spectacular one it is. We sat for a snack and a rest and to look north toward the snow-covered High Presidentials and many 4,000-footers in between. The blue sky above was a welcome change to the rainy spells of late.
The top of Sandwich Mountain is a small rocky outcrop. If you stand on top of the rocks there is a nice view to the north, but the spruce and fir are growing up all around and closing in. We relished our sandwiches here on top of Sandwich Dome/Mountain. The sandwiches spread with our own homegrown and homemade cilantro pesto (just an aside!). The breeze was surprisingly brisk and cool on top, so we ate our lunch while tucked into the rocks, took a few photos and then began our descent. Here is Kodi and me, battered by the wind.
Kodi was happy to be on the trail again today. Below is a photo of him as we descended from Sandwich Dome. Soon after this picture we met a nice couple from Canterbury at the junction of Sandwich Mountain Trail and Smarts Brook Trail. To Kodi's delight they had two beautiful and playful Samoyeds ("Sams"). While we chatted the three dogs entertained each other.
On the way down we hiked up the 0.2 mile spur trail to the top of 3,460' Jennings Peak. This peak has a gently sloping ledge that offers great views to the south. Well worth the extra effort and a destination in itself. Here is the view over to Sandwich Dome from Jennings Peak. If you are short on time I would hike to Jennings Peak via the Sandwich Mountain Trail as it offered the most interesting views near and far.
From there we began the longer descent down Drakes Brook Trail. This trail follows along an old logging trail and parallels Drakes Brook for a stretch. We passed a bunch more people on the way down. Despite all the rain and the high water in the brook, the woods on this east side still seem a little dry. The Sandwich Mountain Trail was decidedly cooler and held more moisture in the soil. The mosses and lichens were quite lush there.
I spotted one lone red trillium in bloom as we neared the Drakes Brook crossing. The latter took a little searching to find the best crossing. We managed to hop across large rocks with the help of a big stick without getting wet.

Red admiral butterflies also kept us company on the trail today. And purple finches--the state bird of New Hampshire--were in full song. One sang beautifully from the top of a balsam fir on the higher slopes of Sandwich Mountain. And then another in the parking lot above our car when we finished the 8.7 mile hike at 2:15 pm.


  1. Ellen, you did a terrific job of capturing the essence of this hike. It's a wonderful adventure to visit Sandwich Dome and all the points in between the top of the mountain and the trailhead at the bottom. It matters not to me that this peak falls a few feet short of achieving the renowned 4K status. And actually, because it lacks appeal to the hoards of 4K peakbaggers, it engenders even more appeal to me!


  2. Thanks for the note John. At some points along this hike we thought it got a little boring, but then we'd see or hear something that made it special. The views are narrowing, but still spectacular. I should have noted that you and Steve Smith have the best write-ups about these hikes. Looks like another rainy spell ahead. Ellen