Sugarloaf in foliage (September 25, 2011)

5 miles, 3 hours
Middle Sugarloaf is a mini-hike just a few miles out of Bretton Woods. I usually wouldn't write about it but wanted to share these pictures of gorgeous foliage. Janice and I joined Mary Ann and Peter Gordon on this warm and sunny day. The hike offers a miniature of the different environments that one might encounter on White Mountains trails. It begins by following the Zealand River, then leaves the river to climb the ridge between Middle and North Sugarloaf, going around huge glacial boulders. At the top of the ridge you must decide whether to go to Middle or North Sugarloaf (though you can easily do both with a little time). Middle has the more spectacular views but North is also interesting. We went to Middle and the trail continued through interesting terrain with flat ledges, steep sections, and a big ladder in the end. After the ladder you step out in the open on the mesa-like summit and the views take your breath away.

As you can see from these pictures, the foliage on that day was incredible. This is the first phase of foliage - maple reds mixed with beech/birch greens, and only a bit of yellow. In a week the reds will have dulled and we will be on to the second phase, with extensive yellows from the birches. The first phase is more uniquely "New England calendar". Middle Sugarloaf is an exceptional place to take it in because of its low elevation (2,450') - the maples don't go much higher. The mesa-like open summit with expansive flat ledges gives this diminutive hill a big-mountain feel. The view is 360o but not from a single spot - you have to wander around the mesa, skipping over ledges and walking through shrubs, and in my opinion that adds to the enjoyment and dilutes any crowds at the top. You can find your own little spot (top left). The views shown here are of Twin Mountain to the west (top left), Zealand Valley to the south (left), and the back side of Bretton Woods with the Presidentials in the background to the east (right). Notice the evidence of logging activity, with recent clear-cuts (in gray) and recovering areas (in green - the birches come back first and haven't turned color yet). I like to see this logging activity in the National Forest - land of many uses! And it's amazing how fast the forest recovers. Trees obviously like it here.

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