There is a small cadre of enthusiasts who find going off-trail to be one of the great experiences of nature. Am I to be one of those? Admittedly I’ve never really done much of this before. Yes, a mile or so to a hidden cellar hole or pond has its rewards, but if a place is so special there’s probably a well-marked trail to find it. But several hiker’s blogs (here, here, and here) spoke highly of The Hogsback and Sugarloaf Mt. on the westernmost edge of the White Mtn. National Forest. So I decided to give it a try.
There was an added bonus: I’d hike the trail to Blueberry Mountain, which the guidebook said passed through an area of old farms and cellar holes.
Sure enough, my 1860 map promised 4 of them and I was fortunate enough to find 4, although two were actually from the same site. C. Corliss, J. Burbank, D. D. Page, C. Carr – these were the names of farmers who scratched out a living here where the slopes of the White Mountains descend to the Connecticut River Valley. Their children probably didn’t stay. Tempted by good land and prospects to the west or good jobs in the mills and factories to the south; there was no reason to eke out an existence here.
Leaving those sites behind I continued the hike up to the crest of Blueberry Mountain. The views from there were satisfactory both east towards Moosilauke and west towards Vermont. The blueberries, which I had considered harvesting, were clearly past their prime and not very good. Maybe the dry summer was not to their liking.
From there it was into the woods, which unlike the musical, did not have any beaten paths to follow. I just had to use my GPS, map-reading skills, and the sun to get where I wanted to go. Not to worry – I was well-prepared, am good at reading maps (a disappearing skill I’m told), and the weather promised to be favorable. But the landscape was rarely as park-like as the photo above.
It’s just as often like this.
Eventually I found my way to the top of Mt. Jeffers, which, at 2994 feet, is actually a destination for a few determined peak-baggers collecting New Hampshire’s 200 highest. But that holds no attraction for me, although I dutifully signed the register in the canister.
No, it was The Hogsback that drew me. As the picture above demonstrates, much of it is a knife-edge, with cliffs on the western side and somewhat gentler access from the east. Unfortunately, much of the way meant negotiating a forest of pine like you see there, neither friendly nor welcoming.
But eventually some viewpoints emerge and they were certainly worthwhile.
In fact, they just kept getting better and better…
Finally there was one spot to top them all, with stunning views in every direction. And even the view straight down was interesting. The rocks of Hogsback (quartzite I’m told) had a beautiful color and grain to them, quite different from the granite of most of the Whites and similar to much that I’ve seen in Vermont. Now I had a choice to make: either bushwhack straight to the car or continue on to Sugarloaf. It was still early afternoon so I continued on.
This being September, one thing I had hoped to see was some fall color. But as you can see from the slideshow, it was still a little too early. But there were a few traces of fall to be found.
Finally I made it to Sugarloaf, which once had an established trail, abandoned when the ropes and ladders gave out years ago. Now it was time to make my way back to the trailhead and my car.
Looking at the route, you may be surprised to see that I descended Sugarloaf by heading due west, one of its steepest sides. That was a foolish choice. I had earlier planned to head north down a gentler route and loop back around the mountain. But I was feeling cocky and tired and didn’t want to add extra distance if I didn’t have to. I knew that by heading due west I would run into a forest road that would lead me back to my car. But it was steeper than I hoped and more than once I found myself at the top of a 10-foot drop, having to backtrack back up and find a safer route. A good hour later I finally reached the bottom, with my pants markedly dirtier from butt-sliding down some of the steeper parts. Shortly thereafter I met the only other person I’d seen all day – a bow hunter walking along the same forest road. In another 45 minutes I was back at my car.
So, now that I’d done it, would I choose to join the bushwhacking enthusiasts? I’m afraid not. Admittedly the view from The Hogsback was spectacular and the thick carpets of undisturbed moss I’d encountered have their beauty, but the uncertainty of the path and being poked and pricked a thousand times by the unforgiving forest wears thin after a while. Maybe it was my poor choice descending Sugarloaf. Frankly, when it was all over, my sense of accomplishment was tempered by an equal sense of exhaustion. I did it! Now back to the tried and true.