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16 November 2012

"Historic" Hike to Middle and North Sugarloaf


Upon reading the title of this report, you might ask yourself what could possibly be "historic" about doing a short hike to the little 2K peaks named Middle and North Sugarloaf that are located off Zealand Road!?

Perhaps I should begin by describing my route which is shown in purple on the map below.  This was a loop hike on public land that was done in a clockwise direction.  It began and ended at the Twin Mountain Recreation Area.  The beginning part of the hike involves a combination of abandoned and current-day snowmobile trails, and then progresses to hiking trails named Trestle Trail, and Sugarloaf Trail.  It ends by using a faint corridor which generally follows the route of an abandoned hiking trail that was known as Baby Twins Trail.
 Map showing the route (highlighted in purple) for my loop hike

Now that I've described the route, here are the "historic" components to it.  Once upon a time (about a hundred years ago), there was a road that ran in close proximity to the current-day Rt. 302, but it did not share the same corridor.  In very general terms, this roadway ran from a point near the junction of Rt. 302 and Rt. 3 and proceeded eastward to a point approximately near the current-day Fabyan retail establishment in Bretton Woods.

To get precise details about the location of this old road, I would encourage you to read an excellent article written by Joanne P. Jones that appears on the WhiteMountainHistory.org website (click HERE for the link to the article). 
By reading this article, you will also learn why this old road is often referred to as the "Glacial Ridge Road".

As you will read in Joanne's article, a segment of this old roadway ran on the south side of the Ammonoosuc River, whereas Rt. 302 runs on the north side.  The abandoned snowmobile trail that I used for a portion of my hike follows the corridor of the old Glacial Ridge Road.   Shown below are some composite photos that blend old images of the road with images that I took during my trek.
Both photos are looking eastward (note Ammonoosuc River on left side of each photo)

Perhaps the current-day photo was taken at (or near) same spot as old photo?

Just as a sidelight, the next photo shows a major reason why this segment of the old Glacial Ridge Road is no longer used as a snowmobile trail.  There is one spot along the route where erosion has taken its toll!
One spot where erosion has taken its toll on the old Glacial Ridge Road corridor  

The old Glacial Ridge Road was just one component of my "historic" hike to Middle and North Sugarloaf.  If you refer back to the map shown at the beginning of this report, then you'll see that I eventually headed southward along the west bank of the Zealand River.  (At this point, the old Glacial Ridge Road would have continued eastward across the Zealand River and then followed the corridor that is used by the current-day Flat Iron XC Trail.)  My course of travel along the Zealand River brought me to the next historic component of my hike.  It relates to the charcoal industry of the late 19th century.

Charcoal had a ready market in the iron industry, and also was used as a cooking fuel for the numerous tourist hotels in the region. There are several books that contain a lot of interesting information about the charcoal kilns, along with copyrighted maps and photos. Two particularly outstanding books are written by Bill Gove, as follows: 1) "Logging Railroads of New Hampshire's North Country"; 2) "J.E. Henry's Logging Railroads".

From descriptions contained in those books, it's my understanding that kilns were built against a hillside which facilitated the loading of hardwood logs through an opening in the top portion of the kiln. To produce the charcoal, combustion within the kiln was controlled so that the wood was thoroughly charred, but not burned.  Adjacent to the bottom portion of the kilns was a railroad which made it convenient to load the charcoal onto railcars and transport it to markets.

There is at least one photo of the kilns at Zealand which is not copyrighted and is available on the Internet.  This old photo is used in the composite photo shown below which provides a comparison of how the old site once looked, and how it appears today.   The structures shown in the old photo are no longer present.  However, there are still some recognizable landscape features upon which they were built.
 Charcoal kilns at Zealand and landscape as it currently exists

I've visited the Zealand kilns sites on other occasions, and each time I find something different in the way of artifacts.  Of course, no artifacts are ever removed or disturbed since it is unlawful to do so.   The next photo shows some of the artifacts seen during this particular hike.  They include items such as a segment of railroad track, brick from the kilns, and metal strapping (perhaps used to bind barrel staves).
 Composite photo showing kiln artifacts, and views of the Zealand kiln site

After visiting the kiln site, I continued to meander for a short distance along the bank of the Zealand River.  I find it to be very picturesque.  Shown below is a snapshot taken during my wandering.
 View from west bank of Zealand River

Following my brief stroll along the Zealand River, I made my way back to the snowmobile trail and soon picked up the Trestle Trail, which led to the Sugarloaf Trail.  This was the "non-historic" part of my adventure!   I ascended the Sugarloaf Trail to the sag between Middle and  North Sugarloaf.  At the "T" junction, I headed for the summit of Middle Sugarloaf.

I had a minor concern about there being ice on the ladder used for the final push to the summit.  As it turned out, there was only an inconsequential skiff of snow and wee bit of ice.
 Ladder on the final approach to Middle Sugarloaf

The conditions atop Middle Sugarloaf were ideal for just simply hanging out.  There was no wind, the temperature was mild, the rock was dry, and the views were terrific!  I took full advantage of the situation and lingered for nearly an hour.
 View of Presidential Range from Middle Sugarloaf

 View of Zealand Valley from Middle Sugarloaf

After a marvelous "linger" on Middle Sugarloaf, I headed over to North Sugarloaf where I enjoyed views similar to those as seen from Middle.  However, unlike my long stay atop Middle Sugarloaf, my visit to North Sugarloaf was brief.  It was now late afternoon,  and I was eager to make my descent on the old Baby Twin Trail before sunset.

To sum it up, it's a treat for me when I can incorporate some "historic" aspect into a hike.  This was one of those hikes!  And to top it off, there were near perfect conditions atop the Sugarloaf mountains that were conducive to spending quality time just lingering and reaping the rewards of a wonderful day in late Autumn.

12 comments:

  1. Hi John ... Thanks for the interesting report on this old road. Earlier this year I explored the trail that runs along the top of the glacial ridge i.e. esker and followed the trail up Zealand River to very open field (log landing). It was late afternoon explaration after a hike to Mt Oskar so I didn't have time to do it justice. I did look for signs of the old round house etc but didn't turn up anything. I'd never heard of this old road so thanks for filling in some of the holes in my knowledge of this fascinating area.

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    1. Ray, thank you for posting your comments! I remember reading your terrific report about your Mt. Oscar trek.

      Regarding the old road that is mentioned in my report, I must admit that until Joanne Jones made me aware of this old roadway, I had never heard of it either.

      As you state in your remarks, this is truly a fascinating area!

      John

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  2. neat. i ran across that old trail the last time i was up on the sugarloaves - nice to hear more about it and the area.

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    1. It’s terrific to read that you enjoyed reading the report, and I’m most appreciative of you taking the time to post your thoughts!

      John

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  3. Wow, John, what an interesting trip - great report and history lesson! I lived in Twin for a number of years and never knew some of this was at my doorstep. Thanks for sharing!

    Steve

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    1. Steve . . . thank you for such generous comments!

      I’m very grateful to folks like you and Joanne Jones who are so willing to share knowledge about the Whites. You have introduced me to countless hidden treasures over the years. And, Joanne is the one who first made me aware of the old Glacial Ridge Road. I had read about the charcoal kilns along the Zealand River, but David Govatski further enhanced my knowledge about them.

      John

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  4. This hike sounds like a win/win—interesting history combined with great scenery and weather.

    I certainly prefer the look of the trail today compared with the road and kilns of 100 years ago!

    Another fun report John!

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    1. Hi Rita!

      Well, I must say that you brilliantly summed up this hike, i.e. “a win/win—interesting history combined with great scenery and weather”.

      Thanks as always for posting your comments.

      John

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  5. Very cool hike. I did not know about the charcoal kilns at all. I knew there were a few abandoned trails in the area leading to surrounding peaks, but did not know about the "Baby Twin Trail", although it makes sense. I've been reading a book about the logging railroads, and your post has quite a few valuable resources and information. Thanks!

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    1. Hi Summerset,

      It’s very rewarding to read that my report provided some information and resources that were of value to you. So many folks in the hiking community (such as Steve Smith, David Govatski, Ben English, Joanne Jones, Chris Whiton, and many others) have willingly shared information with me. It’s gratifying to know that I can “give back” something now and then.

      John

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  6. That was a great read, John! I love to see historic nuggets dug up and explained in such smooth prose. And I enjoy greatly the knowledge that each small mystery of history that finds it's way into print will be there for others to find and remember. Your blog is becoming quite the goldmine of local knowledge - thank you for sharing it!

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    1. Chris . . . your accolades are very flattering! Thank you!

      As indicated in my reply to Summerset, I’m indebted to you and others in the hiking community who are so willing to share information. It’s doubtful that I could “connect the dots” on my own. Wasn’t there a Beatles song entitled “With a Little Help from my Friends”? :-)

      John

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