Hiking to the Snow

Mountains and lakes roll out on the horizon from a ledge on Hibbard Mountain in New Hampshire.

Mountains and lakes roll out on the horizon from a ledge on Hibbard Mountain in New Hampshire.

Sometimes you have to hike to the snow.

Hibbard Mountain was the destination, a small, approximately 2,940-foot wooded peak in the White Mountain National Forest’s splendid Sandwich Range Wilderness. The little New Hampshire mountain with a fine summit ledge is part of the low-lying Wonalancet Range, including its southern neighbor, 2,780-foot Mount Wonalancet, and 3,140-foot Hedgehog to the north.

Hibbard is an under-the-radar mountain, often used in conjunction with hiking to other peaks like Mount Wonalancet. But the mountain is a firm example to uphold the adage that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The venerable White Mountain Guide in its 28th edition describes the mountain as “inconsequential” on page 410. Look for it on the accompanying map number three of the Crawford Notch-Sandwich Range, and it isn’t even mentioned. Not even a black triangle. No elevation. Nothing.

It got a little love back in 1920 in the book’s fourth edition on page 358 when the new trail over it had “several fine view-points, some looking south and others west.”

But Hibbard is a darling in the sharp eyes of the esteemed Over the Hill Hikers, a Sandwich-based hiking group that evolved from a few friends going on a trek in 1979 to bagging trophy peaks in New Hampshire and beyond.

Often wisdom rules the mountains and in 1990, when some of the group’s veteran members tired of the four-thousand-footers, one keen hiker developed another list of shorter but certainly not easy treks to many scenic ledges and peaks largely in the White Mountains. The list is called “52 With a View.” Hibbard is number 19.

So, which is it—trash or treasure?

Snow covered the path up Mount Hibbard.

Snow covered the path up Mount Hibbard.

To find out, I decided on a nearly five-mile out-and-back hike to Hibbard from the lovely Ferncroft Road trailhead in Wonalancet off Route 113A using the Old Mast Road, Wonalancet Ridge Trail, and The Short Cut paths.

The forest was ablaze and Spring Brook rushing as I approached it along Old Mast Road. A wood bridge was ahead, but instead I veered left on the Wonalancet Ridge Trail for a series of switchbacks lifting me up along a soft path through a pine grove and eventually into the wilderness area where the trail became a bit crunchier underfoot, with traces of snow covering the ground.

I soon realized I was not alone as I heard a crashing in the woods, and my heart skipped a beat as a black bear above me on Wonalancet’s flank bounded away. Perhaps I spooked it. Nonetheless, I stood still as it left, scanning the woods for another bigger, hungrier relative—and thankfully saw nothing but my shadow.

I hiked to the first icicles of the season and soon to more than trace snow. I hopped onto The Short Cut, a narrow trail with occasional blue blazes that bypasses the Wonalancet top and rejoins the Wonalancet Ridge Trail in a delightfully enchanting col before Hibbard’s peak. New growth evergreens were dusted with snow. My footprints crossed those made by unseen leapers and birds. The gully was a superb way to enter into the season of snow. The footing was good and the scenery better as the sun danced through the trees, creating a sparkle when it hit the white stuff.

Though the summit was wooded, a spur path by a huge boulder went out to short ledge with an incredibly steep drop. Prime real estate it was, and from its perch I could see lines of demarcation from hard woods and soft woods, snow to trees, blue sky to clouds. I looked down to Mount Wonalancet and the ledges I opted not to climb. I looked out to the Ossipees and Lake Winnipesaukee. I saw a cut field and more rippling mountains. I watched as the clouds advanced and melting snow fell from supple boughs.

Nothing inconsequential about that at all.

images by Marty Basch

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