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Flat Mountain Pond Backpack

Flat Mountain Pond is located in the Sandwich Range near Sandwich Dome and the Sleepers
Flat Mountain Pond is in the Sandwich Range near Sandwich Dome and the Sleepers

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.

Great Falls
Great Falls on the Bennett Street Trail

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.

We found open woods on South Flat Mountain
We found open woods on South Flat Mountain

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.

Kris at the summit cairn of South Flat Mountain
Kris at the summit cairn of South Flat Mountain

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.

Unmarked stream on the map
Unmarked stream on the map

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.

Flat Mountain Pond Shelter
Flat Mountain Pond Shelter

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.

Philip on (North) Flat Mountain
Philip on (North) Flat Mountain

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.

Flat Mountain Log Book
Flat Mountain Log Book

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.

Sunset at Flat Mountain Pond
Sunset at Flat Mountain Pond

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.

Railroad Ties on the Flat Mountain Trail
Railroad Ties on the Flat Mountain Trail

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.

Flat Mountain Bushwhack, Approximate Route - Click for Interactive Caltopo map
Flat Mountain Backpack, Approximate Route – Click for Interactive Caltopo map

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11 comments

  1. Lovely and reflective report, Philip. I like the way you counted your blessings in being able (both physically and in terms of life-style) to make these hikes into beauty and solitude. John Muir would find in you a companion voice.

  2. Excellent. Bushwhacks are the best!

  3. Sounds interesting. The name, “Flat Mountain”, is somewhat comical.

  4. Should have brought your Tenkara rod. I had fun with the native brookies there about 5 years ago. My friend and I had the place to ourselves and I fly fished from the spot you took your sunset picture. The fish weren’t out far either.
    We woke the next day to hear a bull moose grunting and calling for cows as the rut was starting. He obviously crossed over next to the wooden damn. As we got up to look out, he ghosted by walking toward the tent sites. Steam coming out his nostrils with a nice morning fog laying around his legs. A terrific picture moment……If my batteries hadn’t died because of the cold the previous night!

    • I left my rod in the car, but walked back in after we’d finished our trip and fished for a few hours on the bottom section of Pond Brook. A beautiful stream. I plan to go back soon and fish some of the pools upstream below that big horshoe curve in the trail.

  5. Nice trip. I really like one nighters, they bring so much fun in to your live and leave you with enough energy after that. Nice trip and nice post as usual.

  6. How were the bugs near the shelter at the pond. I’m considering an overnight there one weekend this month, but am hesitating due to the low lying area. Did they bother you too bad down by the pond.

    Love the post!

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