My friend Kris and I did a one-night backpacking trip to Flat Mountain Pond, in the Sandwich Range on the south side of the White Mountains. Located between Sandwich Dome and the Sleepers (mountains named after Kate Sleeper), we camped at the site of the Flat Mountain Pond shelter which is an easy 5 mile walk from the Flat Mountain Trail trail head parking lot to the pond along an old railroad grade.
Only we didn’t take the trail to Flat Mountain Pond, we bushwhacked to it, bagging South Flat Mountain (2940′) en route, a New Hampshire 200 highest peak. This was the first bushwhack that Kris and I have done together this year and the level of effort walking steeply up a mountain off-trail caught me by surprise.
Scrambling over blow downs and ledges is many times more strenuous than hiking on a well-graded and intentional trail, even the rocky trails we have in the Whites. Still the woods on South Flat Mountain were quite open, probably because this area of the White Mountains was clear-cut and so heavily logged by the timber industry before the logging railroads were shut down and the land declared a Wilderness Area.
I was feeling like my old self by the time we reached the summit however, although the bugs were simply ferocious and swarmed around Kris and I as we checked out the views of nearby Sandwich Dome from the top of the mountain. Seeking a respite, we quickly hiked down the north side toward Flat Mountain Pond and the shelter there, passing through open fields of birch and old timber slash, now boggy and overgrown with ferns.
After wading though a short section of stubby spruce, we were surprised to come across this stream, which was not an off-trail landmark we’d anticipated. While the stream is present on older historic maps of this region, it’s not on the Caltopo USGS maps we’d printed out for our hike. The stream was very easy to cross however, and it was a short hike to the Flat Mountain Pond campsite and shelter after that.
While we planned to spend the night camping at the shelter, it was still before noon. In addition to bushwhacking the southern peak, we’d also planned to bushwhack Flat Mountain, also called North Flat Mountain (3331′), a short distance away.
Though 400′ higher than the southern peak, climbing the northern peak was only about 1000′ of elevation gain instead of the 2000′ that we’d climbed that morning. While still moderate, this second bushwhack was harder than the first because we had to detour around more ledge and pass through a section of high elevation bog to get to the summit. My socks and shoes never smelled the same after that muddy encounter.
Kris and I were already tired before for this second climb because were carrying full backpacking packs in anticipation of camping out that evening. Bushwhacking with a backpacking load, even though it’s relatively lightweight, proved to be strenuous for us both.
The bugs were also far worse on this peak than our first bushwhack and we were quickly covered with mosquitoes, black flies, and regular flies whenever we stopped for a drink or to consult our maps. I even put DEET on my hands, neck, and ears, which I almost never do, despite the fact that were both covered head to toe in Insect Shield treated clothing.
We were dragging a bit when we reached the summit, but we quickly found the summit canister as well as an old-style logbook. I love these old register covers because they hearken back to an era when the Appalachian Mountain Club was less corporate and more focused on trail building. hiking and mountaineering than it is today. We were the first party to have climbed the mountain since the previous June, nearly a full year earlier.
While the number of entries in the log book was small, I recognized many names of friends that I’ve bushwhacked other trailless peaks with, or people who’s names I always see, but have never met. One name in particular stands out, a guy named Zach Porter, who’s the Cold River Camp Cook. I expect to meet him in a few weeks finally, because I’ll be working at Cold River Camp (in Evans Notch) guiding hikes for the AMC as a resident leader.
Overcome by insects one again, we hightailed it down the northern peak and back to the pond to camp for the night. The pond itself is breathtakingly beautiful and we had gorgeous weather that evening and into the night, with bright moonlight that back lit scattered clouds overhead. I can’t believe how lucky I am to be able to visit these remote spots on a weekly basis in the White Mountains. The summer is still young, but I already feel like I’ve visited many special places.
Kris and I are both early risers and while we had a casual start the next morning, we broke camp and started hiking out before 8 am. This time, we stuck the trails though, hiking out on the Flat Mountain Pond Trail back to our cars 5 miles away. Following an old railroad grade, complete with occasional railroads ties and iron rails, we made extremely good time, taking just two hours to hike the distance.
If you’re looking for a really nice one night backpacking trip, I recommend that you check out Flat Mountain Pond. We did not see anymore for nearly a day and a half, it’s that remote.