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"Keep close to Nature's heart . . . and break clear away, once in a while,
to climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean."  
~ John Muir

Our friend Eric suggested hiking Middle and/or North Sugarloaf Mountains because they are close to our campground, have panoramic views from very low summits, and are "easier" than many other trails around here.

North and Middle Sugarloaf Mountains are only 2,310 and 2,539 feet high, respectively. The out-and-back T-shaped trail to both summits, which are probably the lowest in the Whites with such panoramic views on top, is only 3.4 miles, or about 4 miles if you include a loop on the Trestle Trail. 

Excellent view toward Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range in the distance

Granted, the mountains are just a few miles from our campground and Middle Sugarloaf definitely has great views, but this was by no means easy for us.

Although you may not be able to determine how steep some of the pitches are from my photos, you'll be able to see examples in this entry of the wet roots, rocks, and rock steps we negotiated -- without mishap, fortunately.

The trail was almost as rough as the Crawford Path in the southern Presidential Range that I hiked two days ago and rather slick after this morning's rain. The good thing was that it's relatively short and the views from the summit made it worth it, to me at least. Not so sure Jim agrees.

There's no easy way around this tangle of roots and rocks on the trail to Middle Sugarloaf.

I can't believe Jim even suggested that he go with me today. It hasn't been much more than a week since he declared he'd never go hiking in New England with me again!

I planned to take the dogs and go by myself but for some reason he decided to go, too -- maybe because it rained off and on all morning and he didn't get as long of a bike ride as he wanted. We'd both prefer to hike in the rain than ride our bikes in it.

The trails were wet but it didn't rain while we were hiking. The sun came out before we got to the summit.


About 2 PM the rain appeared to be over so we left the campground with both dogs and drove a few miles to the trailhead on FSR16. The small parking area is located just before the dirt road crosses the Zealand River. It was easy to find with the White Mountains maps and guidebook Eric loaned to us while we're here.

A fee is required to park at this and many other trailheads in the White Mountains National Forest. We saved some money by buying a weekly pass when we arrived in the area. There are also daily and annual permits.

We walked over the vehicle bridge across the Zealand River and made an immediate right turn onto the trail that accesses both Sugarloaf Mountains and the foot trestle, which washed out in 2009 and hasn't been replaced. This is the vehicle bridge across the river:

The trail to the Sugarloafs (Sugarloaves??) starts at the arrow.

The trail was pretty rough from the get-go. It followed the low-flowing Zealand River for about a quarter mile before turning uphill to the left. The Trestle Trail continues along the river; I didn't hike it while we were here because the trestle washed out several years ago and hasn't been replaced.


The river is scenic and it's a good place to let dogs or kids splash around when the water is this low.

On the way back to the truck at the end of the hike Jim got into the water to play with Casey:


Much of the trail was pretty rough with lots of roots and rocks and a wet area with bog bridging. There were also some steep pitches with rock steps as we climbed from about 1,500 feet to 2,200 feet at the "T" in the col between the two peaks.

The trail is mostly shaded by large hemlocks, firs, birches, and other trees and shrubs. It's a lush landscape in the summer with lots of moss, lichens, and ferns:


These rounded boulder steps seemed steeper and more treacherous to me
coming back down than going up because descents are rougher on my knees.

There are some huge boulders along the trail on the way up to the ridge between the mountains. We liked this split in one of them:


The trail goes left around one side -- Cody and I went that way -- but you can do what Jim and Casey did and slither through the slot if that's your preference.

Here's another interesting boulder arrangement. Kids would have fun with this:

It is just under a mile to the "T" in the col between the two peaks:

No really knowing what to expect on either summit, we decided to go left for 4/10ths of a mile to the top of Middle Sugarloaf first -- that's the better choice, in our opinion, if you have time for only one of the peaks.

(If you go right, it's 3/10ths of a mile to North Sugarloaf.)

The trail was relatively flat and smooth at first as we headed across the ridge toward Middle Sugarloaf, then climbed to 2,539 feet at the summit. This is the Whites so there were more rocks and large "steps," of course:

Just before the summit we encountered this steep wooden ladder, which was easier for me to go up than down:

I was glad it was there, though, because it would have been more difficult to navigate sloped, smooth, wet slabs of granite than the wooden ladder.

We ended up going to just the Middle Sugarloaf summit and it was the better choice of the two mountains, with much more bedrock (open ledges) on top to roam around on. We had great views in all directions, including a clear view of Mt. Washington to the east. We could even see where the cog railway goes up the western side of the mountain:

It's always cool to see a ridge or mountain I've climbed from a different perspective.

That and the other expansive views from the top of Middle Sugarloaf made the climb and descent worth it:

Presidential Ridge (in the distance) to the east . . .

Franconia Ridge (in the distance) to the southwest . . .

Part of the wide expanse of granite on the western side of Middle Sugarloaf Mountain

Jim found a great spot for a snack, overlooking the valley to the northwest.

We weren't quite as close to the edge as this looks!

From the top of Middle Sugarloaf we could see the lower summit on North Sugarloaf, below the arrow in the next photo.

It didn't look like we could see nearly as much from there so we didn't go over to that peak:

Our hike took about two hours total, including spending about 15 minutes at the top. We hiked a little less than 3 miles since we went to just one summit. 

Jim enjoyed the views but wasn't real happy with the hike in general because the trail was so rough. Might be a while again before he hikes with me! I'll keep hiking around here because I love the scenery so much. I just have to factor in extra time for all the obstacles.

Next entry:  cycling on Zealand Rd. and hiking to Zealand Falls 

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup

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2014 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil