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Thread: West Sleeper Winter Finale 3-20-10

  1. #1
    Member Carl's Avatar
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    West Sleeper Winter Finale 3-20-10

    Not wanting to waste the final (partial) day of winter, I decided to do a peak I have been putting off for some time, West Sleeper. I’ve been in the area on many occasions; East Sleeper, Tripyramids, and Fool Killer both summer and winter. Somehow, I left West Sleeper as a straggler six times. Like everyone else, I hate stragglers!

    West Sleeper is one of those peaks that you can’t get to without going over or around something else. I didn’t want to do it twice, both summer and winter, so the once-and-done winter approach was a must.

    The plan was to do an out-and-back via Downes Brook and Kate Sleeper Trails. The snow in the Whites has been good all week and with Downes Brook being on the north side of the ridge and sheltered to the east by Whiteface and Passaconaway, I was expecting more of the same. I figured about 6 hours round trip but allowed seven for insurance. I had to be back to the car by 1:32 pm for this to count as a winter hike. In hindsight, I think my optimistic estimate was colored by my lack of desire to get up at an insanely early hour.

    The alarm went off at 3:30 am and I was on the road by 4:00. I hit the 24 hour Mickie Ds in Tilton for my usual two-for-the-price-of-one Egg McMuffin breakfast and was at the Downes Brook trailhead by 6:15. It was just getting light as I hit the trail at 6:30. As expected, the trail was well used and the track very solid.

    I made pretty good time for the first couple of miles but the track was becoming faint and hard to follow through the blowdowns, fallen branches, and lean-overs. Once I crossed into the Sandwich Wilderness, there were no more blazes and navigation became very difficult. Not that I didn’t know where I was going, the trail follows the brook all the way to the ridge but what was supposed to be an easy trailed hike had turned into a plain old bushwhack. My progress slowed. I looked at my watch and realized I had only covered about 3 miles in two hours. It was 5 miles to the Kate Sleeper Trail and then another mile along the ridge to West Sleeper. I started to get concerned that I wouldn’t make it back to the car by 1:32 and that I have to do that damn peak all over again for winter credit! That annoying clock sound from the TV series “24” began ringing in my head.

    I had been eating and hydrating regularly but I broke out my secret weapon; jelly beans. Nothing like a little sugar to push the accelerator pedal to the floor. Problem was, the harder I pushed, the slower I got. The snow was getting deeper and the trail was totally obliterated. I wasted valuable time trying to follow it, repeatedly losing then finding it. The deep snow offered one advantage; the brook, flowing freely at lower elevations, was now completely covered and navigable. I jumped on and followed it up.

    By the time I reached the col and Kate Sleeper trail it was 10:00 am. Three and a half hours to cover 5 miles. I had been popping jelly beans like I was feeding quarters into a slot machine but it didn’t seem to produce the results I was expecting. Doing some quick math, I figured if I could cover the two miles over and back from West Sleeper in an hour, I would still have time to return to the car by 1:30. It seemed plausible but that damn “24” clock sound was still ringing in my head...

    As I had hoped, someone had tracked the trail across the ridge so I didn’t have any navigational delays. I just had to put my head down and go...fast. By now, the ridge was in full sun and the snow was soft. Like running in quicksand, I thought. I resisted the urge to keep checking my watch but I made what I thought was pretty good time. When I finally reached the West Sleeper summit, I was dismayed to realize it was already 11:00 am. There was no way I could backtrack 6 miles in two and a half hours, even going down hill. Considering my options, I decided that my only chance was to whack directly down off the summit to the Sabbaday Brook trail. I was confident that trail would be well packed. It was less than three miles to the Kanc from the point at which I would intersect it. From there, it would be a road walk back to the Downes Brook trailhead.

    The map showed a prominent ridge running north that would take me down to the point where the Sabbaday Brook trail turns west at the base of Fool Killer. I didn’t know what the woods were like or if the snow was any good but I didn’t have any other options. After taking a couple of meaningless pictures of a treed summit with no sign or jar, I set a compass bearing and was off.

    I descended steeply through pleasantly wide open woods. The ridge was easy to follow and I made good time. I dropped almost 1600 vertical feet in 30 minutes, reaching the trail at 11:40. I wondered why I hadn’t planned the hike that way from the beginning? It was certainly shorter, faster, and easier and than going back across the ridge.

    Once I hit the trail, I had almost two hours remaining to get back to the car before the end of winter. That sinking feeling I had on the summit had turned to anticipation of a possible successful completion! No more “24” sounds in my head!

    I found Sabbaday Brook trail to be well packed and quite firm. I moved along nicely. For the final leg of the trip, I switched from my secret weapon, jelly beans; to my super secret weapon Snickers. I knew they would carry me through to the end.

    All water crossings were frozen and I had no delays. I reached Sabbaday Falls and tempting fate, took time to snap a picture. If it weren’t for all the hiker garb and snow shoes, I could have been one of the tourists that were there...

    I hit the Sabbaday Falls parking lot and checked my watch, 12:45 pm. I still had 47 minutes to get back to the Downes Brook trailhead. Checking the map again, I estimated it was about a mile. Easily doable if I didn’t do something stupid like twist my ankle walking down the road. I strapped my snow shoes onto my pack and hot footed it.

    After walking about a half mile, I came upon a motorcyclist broken down on the side of the road. I considered whether I should stop and offer to help. Normally, I wouldn’t hesitate to stop, but it wasn’t like I had lots of time to spare. After being so close, would I get bogged down in a one hour rescue effort that would prevent me from reaching my goal? I put those thoughts aside and asked the guy if he was alright. “Dead battery” he said looking at me. Before I had the chance to offer my help he added, “A guy down the street is calling someone for me”. Phew! “Ok, well good luck then” I said and kept moving.

    Soon, the Downes Brook trailhead sign was in sight. I motored right in, reaching the car at 1:10 pm. The once-and-done of West Sleeper was complete! Old Man Winter had not robbed me of my objective.

    I got in the car, wolfed down the second half of my two-for-the-price-of-one Egg McMuffin special and drove home for a nap!

  2. #2
    Senior Member Craig's Avatar
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    Nicely Done
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