A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Sandwich Range Backpack

May 29, 2021
Emilie Phillips

We hiked our first backpacking trip in over a year! We opted for a less popular route to stay away from the Covid inspired crowds. Our intended route started at Olivarian Brook, climbed to Square Ledge, then four thousand footers: Mt Passaconaway, Mt Whiteface, South and Middle Tripyramid, and back down by Sabadday Falls.


The best part of hiking in the spring is all the flowers. As we hiked up, we hiked backwards in time through the season. At the bottom, bunchberries and starflower carpeted the forest floor. A little farther in, we found Canada mayflowers, lady slippers, and bluebead lilies. At the highest elevations, white trillium and viburnum were still blooming.

View north

The first day we hiked up around Square Ledge. There we found views north across the Kancamagus and east into Maine. My map didn’t cover the peaks to the north. We had quite a scramble getting down off Square Ledge down to our campsite. Isaac thought the rose streaked cliffs looked like fun rock climbing. As for camp, the map doesn’t show a stream, but the AMC guidebook said there was a stream at the intersection of Square Ledge Trail and Square Ledge Branch Trail. The stream was rocky and clear and easy to gather water. We camped at a nearby flat spot with lots of artifacts from a historic logging camp. I am going to look up all the old logging camps because they often have running water and flat areas to camp.

We were down in the woods for most of the hike, so we didn’t see many birds. We heard them. Especially at that first camp site. Imagine a cartoon lunatic crow — caws, croaks, low pitch, high pitch, and singsong. We weren’t sure if it was one or two birds. It/they made a racket all evening until the sun went down, and then started up again in the morning. Later on the hike, Isaac spotted a red breasted sparrow-like bird in a spruce tree next to the trail. It might have been a bay breasted warbler? At another spot, I found a downy woodpecker in a small birch tree.

Day 1 photos

Day 2

Two lady slippers

The second day we hiked Wonalancet Hedgehog, which had a startling view from the top of a precipice, and Nanamocomuck, which had no view at all. We played hunt for lady slippers. Isaac got good at finding lady slipper leaves with no flower. Tyson kept seeing the same plant over and over again and thinking it was poison ivy. I don’t know what it is, but it often has 5 leaves instead of 3, and it isn’t a vine. We made up word puzzles for each other. “Think of a four letter form of water, add another letter to the beginning to get a type of transportation.” And then we settled into quiet contemplation which was amazing! Tyson and I enjoy the exercise and meditation of hiking. We have missed that ever since Isaac started hiking with us. “Entertain me, entertain me!” It was so nice to get the quiet back. Isaac even commented on how relaxing it was to quietly hike and think.

When we got to the east loop cut off below Mt Passaconaway, we made the choice to skip the peak. Tyson was tired, and rain was coming. Climbing Mt Passaconaway would add 1.3 miles and 600 feet of elevation. The very first backpacking trip I had taken Tyson on, we had skipped Mt Passaconaway because we were late. Being a proper New Englander, Tyson was irked. And yet here we were again and Tyson again made the call to bypass the summit. This summer, we will have to do a lightly loaded day hike up the most direct route.

Luna moth

During our short stretch on Dicey Mill Trail, we saw more people than the whole rest of the trip. Even without people, we didn’t see many animals. I spotted a luna moth on the ridge after Mt Passaconaway. On the third day, Isaac saw something he thought was a mouse. I saw a brown leaping blur and then a hamster like face in the bushes.

We continued across to Mt Whiteface. Whether the clouds lowered, or we climbed we never could agree. But the views from the overlooks turned grayer and grayer until we could only see the nearby trees. Isaac loved joking about the great views, It started misting. The mist grew to a cold drizzle. The wind over the Whiteface ridge blew like a storm was coming. We spotted a few patches of icy snow from a storm two days earlier. By the time we got to Downes Brook, our intended campsite, it was raining.

The Downes Brook headwater pond had easy water for filtering. The forest was too dense to pitch a tent. Instead we found a much abused camping area people had hacked out of the woods. Dinner was cold and rainy. Our tarp made it less miserable, but still miserable.

Day 2 photos

Day 3

Downes Brook as a small stream

In the morning, we got a break from the rain. But we were all feeling tired from two days of hiking and a cold damp night. We decided to skip the Tripyramids. The Tripyramids could wait for a sunny day when we could appreciate their views. Instead, we could descend the Downes Brook Trail from our campsite. According to the AMC guidebook, the Downes Brook Trail crosses the stream ten times. I am not sure how it counts the first half mile where the trail shares the gully with the stream. The cascades and waterfalls were gorgeous. Over lunch we explained standing waves to Isaac. With three excellent specimens in front of us, he easily grasped the concept.

We finished the trip with a road walk to get back to our car. Not quite the trip we had planned, but good hiking, good flowers, and good family time.

Day 3 photos

GPS Tracks