Home / White Mountains / 52 With a View / Sandwich Dome: The Eastern Approaches

Sandwich Dome: The Eastern Approaches

The Sandwich Range Wilderness of one of the most remote Wilderness Areas in the White Mountains
The Sandwich Range Wilderness of one of the most remote Wilderness Areas in the White Mountains

Sandwich Dome (3993′) is a massive mountain that dominates the western half of the Sandwich Wilderness, near Squam Lake in New Hampshire’s Lake District. It’s in an area that I’ve become quite fond of hiking this year, way off the beaten path in the southernmost section of the White Mountain National Forest.

Seeking a short vacation from back-to-back family vacations, I took at 36 hour backpacking trip to the east side of Sandwich Dome, climbing the peak on some infrequently used hiking trails and doing some fly fishing along (Flat) Pond Brook on the hike out. It was a wonderful trip, one of my best this year, and just what the doctor ordered!

I caught a few nice brook trout on this trip,
I caught a half-dozen brook trout on this trip, although I’m still a novice at photographing them.

Many of my hikes in the White Mountains have several agendas and this was no exception. I am slowly hiking all 547 trails in the White Mountain Guide, a pursuit known as redlining, that requires hiking all 1400+ miles of the trails described in that great book. But rather than pick off trails one by one, I like to explore the areas in which they are located, stringing together several trails on a backpacking trip, if only to avoid hiking the same trails twice. I also try to avoid hiking in the same region of the White Mountains on consecutive hikes in order to sample as many Wilderness Areas and ecosystems as possible each year. I dread the day though when I will have finished hiking all the trails in the White Mountains, because I’ll miss the novelty of hiking on new trails.

Climbing Sandwich Dome going up the Gleason Trail (blue) and down the Bennet Street Trail (green)
Climbing Sandwich Dome going up the Gleason Trail (blue) and down the Bennet Street Trail (green). Click for interactive map on Caltopo.com.

Perhaps, that’s the reason I started fly fishing in the mountain streams I come across on my backpacking trips this year, to drag out the process of hiking the 100 or so trails that I have to finish redlining the Whites, or to squeeze every drop of wilderness experience out of the trips I take. Fishing a good trout stream is a very slow process and you can only cover about a mile or two per day if it has lots of small cascades and riffles to fish. Which sets the stage for this hike up Sandwich Dome, followed by an extended fishing session on Pond Brook on the eastern side of the peak.

The two trails I planned to hike, the Gleason Trail and the Bennett Street Trail couldn’t have been more different. The Gleason Trail is extremely steep as it climbs Sandwich Dome, at one point climbing 1500′ in the space of a mile. Parts of that trail are very poorly maintained with numerous blow downs across the trail, especially as you approach the unsigned intersection with the Bennett St Trail, about 1/2 mile below Sandwich Dome’s summit. In contrast, the Bennett Street Trail is wonderfully maintained path with a wide, well brushed tread and blue blazes. Kudos to the trail maintainer!

(After writing this trip report, I learned the the Wonolancet Out Door Club (WODC) decommissioned the Gleason Trail in 2012, although it’s still listed in the 29th edition of the White Mountain Guide and must be hiked by redliners). 

After parking at the trail head, I walked down an old logging road to the start of the Gleason Trail (It’s well signed.) The trail is adjacent to a series of large cascades that are obviously a local swimming hole. Being so close to beautiful Squam Lake though, I reckon they’re less used than if they were located farther north in the center of the Whites.

Cascades near the Bennet St Trailhead which are perfect for swimming
Cascades near the Bennet St Trailhead which are perfect for swimming

The bottom part of the Gleason Trail (0.5 miles in length), below its intersection with the Flat Mountain Pond Trail, climbs gently and is easy to follow, running through open woods. There’s an easy brook crossing about half-way up, although it’s probably more challenging during the spring thaw.

Gleason Trail and Flat Mountain Pond Trail Junction
Gleason Trail and Flat Mountain Pond Trail Junction

The Gleason Trail becomes increasingly difficult to follow once it climbs past the Flat Mountain Pond Trail junction because it’s littered with blowdowns and compressed leaves which obscure the trail. My advice: there’s some trail erosion which provides clues to the route – just follow the groove. There are also a lot of cobwebs across the trail, so if you’re still running into them, you must be on the path! As you climb, the trail becomes a lot more distinct along the edges where the vegetation (trees and shrubs) help delineate its route.

You’ll hit the steep spot at about 1800′, where the trail climbs 1500 feet in a mile. It was very hot and humid on the day I hiked this trail, so I slowed my pace dramatically for the climb in order to keep going. Step, 1001, Step 1002. It didn’t help that I was wearing a full overnight backpack. At one point, I did wonder whether I’d underestimated the difficulty of this hike in this heat and whether I should turn around, but I decided to keep going.

The Gleason Trail becomes more distinct and the gradient eases off as you climb higher.
The Gleason Trail becomes more distinct and the gradient eases off as you climb higher.

The grade eased off at about 3200′ and I was able to resume a normal pace. But the sky grew quite dark as I climbed and it felt like rain was imminent. I was reasonably well protected from lightning by the dense forest, but increasingly less so as I climbed higher and the trees grew shorter. I got my rain jacket out of my pack, just in case, and picked up the pace. (The forecast hadn’t called for rain.)

The Gleason Trail and the Bennett St Trail intersect at 3600′ just below the Sandwich Dome summit. Much to my surprise, the trail junction is not signed (I know why now). I knew however that I had to turn left to climb to the summit. I also noted that the Bennett St Trail was blazed blue for the return trip down hill.

You can just make out Jennings Peak below though the trees, but it was too cloudy to see much else from Sandwich Dome
You can just make out Jennings Peak below though the trees, but it was too cloudy to see much else from Sandwich Dome

The rain was still holding off so I raced the 0.5 miles to the summit. The last time I’d climbed this mountain had been in 2010. Nothing looked familiar, but I’d climbed it from the north side then. The rain was still holding off and it looked like it would blow over. The summit is partially open, but there wasn’t much to see with the cloud cover. I’d been hoping to catch a glimpse of nearby Sachem Peak, a Half Dome looking trailless mountain that my friend Kris said he wanted to bushwhack.

On Sandwich Dome
On Sandwich Dome

It was well after noon, so I didn’t linger. I wanted to get down the mountain and do some fly fishing before I had to break off and find a good place to hang my hammock and make camp.

The Bennet St Trail is well maintained and easy to follow
The Bennett St Trail is well maintained and easy to follow. Being a Wilderness Area, all trail maintenance must be done with hand tools.

The Bennett St Trail is well graded and easy to follow down the mountain. It even has blazes, which is a rare treat in the White Mountains. If you’re don’t want to deal with the ambiguity or steepness of the Gleason Trail, I think the Bennett St Trail is an excellent alternate trail to the summit. It also has an abundance of springs and streams, so you can refill your water bottles on the way up or down, which I did.

The Bennet St Trail intersects Pond Brook at 1600'. I started fishing in this nice cascade-fed pool.
The Bennett St Trail intersects Pond Brook at 1600′. I started fishing in this nice cascade-fed pool.

I followed the Bennett St Trail all the way back down to Pond Brook, which drains Flat Mountain Pond and the surrounding watershed. I’d hiked the segment adjacent to the stream back in June with Kris when we backpacked to Flat Mountain Pond. 

Fly Fishing Pond Brook

Pond Brook is a quintessential boulder-choked mountain stream with a steep gradient broken up with numerous pools that provide an ideal place for brook trout to hike and feed on insects floating downstream. The Bennett St Trail runs along many parts of the brook, although there are several deep gorges that I had to bypass and require an off-trail return visit.

Pond Brook is a great stream for Tenkara Fly Fishing
Pond Brook is a great stream for Tenkara Fly Fishing

The brook is an excellent spot for reel-less Tenkara fly fishing with a short line. I used a Tenkara USA Iwana 11′ rod, an 11′ line, 4′ tippet, and my own hand-tied flies, getting frequent bites and often landing fish on my first cast.

The streambed is a continuous sequence of cascades and pools, full of hiding places for brook trout.
The stream bed is a continuous sequence of cascades and pools, full of hiding places for brook trout.

On this trip, I had the most success casting into the whitewater at the head of the pool and then working the riffles along its sides. However, I never found more than one trout in each pool and once I’d caught one, I had to move downstream.

I caught a brookie along the left side of this cascade on my first cast.
I caught a brookie along the left side of this cascade on my first cast.

At this time of year, there was very little loose wood in the brook and few overhanging trees to lose flies in. I found that I could easily sneak up on each pool and cast into it from downstream or the side without wading or getting my feet wet. Water depth was definitely a factor however, and I had to break off when I encountered shallow pools, less than 1-2 feet deep because I didn’t catch any fish.

I was able to fish for about 2 hours after returning to Pond Brook, before I pitched camp and cooked dinner beside the stream.  I continued fishing the next morning for a few hours as I worked my way downstream and back to my car. This had proved to be a nice and peaceful backpacking trip with some fly fishing thrown in, a “pattern” I hope to repeat on future hikes.

A section of Pond Brook near my camp site
A section of Pond Brook near my camp site

Note: This southern area of the White Mountain National Forest is omitted from many physical maps of the region. Your best bet for waterproof maps that include it is the AMC White Mountain Forest Map Set or the Wonolancet Outdoors Club Map of the Sandwich Range (see links below). 

Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:

6 comments

  1. A clarification, only the lower .5 of the Gleason Trail, the section between Flat Mountain Pond and Bennett Street trails, needs to be hiked for redlining purposes.

    • Thanks Jim. I guess it’s time for me to get a newer edition of the WMG for planning purposes rather than the 1988 version I keep on my desk because I like its small size. This was still a fun hike. Glad I did it.

  2. I’m going up to the white mountains in early October and I’ll stay in Gorham for a few nights. I want to photograph moose there if I can find them, as well as the foliage, waterfalls etc.. Any suggestions? If I can’t find moose there I’ll head up to the Pittsburg area, but would prefer to keep the driving to a minimum. I have AMC’s book “Best Day Hikes White Mountains” and several of their maps.

    • Look for remote ponds in the Wild River Wilderness and the Nancy Pond Research Area and remember this is the rut, so the moose may be very aggressive and charge. Pittsburg would be your best bet, but it is a drive.

  3. Phil – great write-up!

    Love the idea of Tenkara fishing on the hike. How do you find the 12 foot rod on small streams in the whites? I notice they also have rods you can make shorter if necessary.

    • I’ve tried a shorter Nissan rod 8’6″, but prefer my 11′ Iwana. I found that using a (short) 11′ high vis flourocarbon line with a 3-4′ tippet works great on these small streams. You just to be choosy about the pour overs and riffles that you fish to avoid overhanging trees and sticks between rocks which result in lost flies. Otherwise, no problem. Lots of good overhead room on this stream.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *