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Backpacking The Kate Sleeper Loop

The Kate Sleeper Loop Trip Plan

The Kate Sleeper Loop is a 2 day, 20 mile backpacking route that climbs four 4000 footers: North and Middle Tripyramid, Whiteface and Passaconaway. The Tripyramids and Whiteface/Passaconaway are usually climbed on separate days by day hikers, but they’re linked together by the Kate Sleeper Trail, and make a nice backpacking route that only requires one substantial climb to bag all four peaks.

The Kate Sleeper Trail runs over two peaks in its own right, West and East Sleeper. The latter is on the New England Hundred Highest peak list, which many 4000 footer graduates go on to complete. The trail was recently damaged by a severe storm that knocked over many of trees on the ridge that it runs over. While the trail has been cleared, evidence of the surrounding devastation is still readily apparent and serves as a reminder of the wild weather that can be unleashed in the White Mountains.

Who is Kate Sleeper? Ms Sleeper was a 19th century farmer and innkeeper from Wonalancet, NH, in the heart of the Sandwich Mountain Range, at the foot of these mountains. She was the driving force behind the creation of the local trail system, which she reasoned would draw visitors and commerce to the area. She also organized the Wonalancet Out Door Club (note the oddly spelled name), the local trail organization that built the trails and maintains them to this very day. They’re a wacky, quirky bunch that exude character, but are very competent and dedicated trail stewards

The Kate Sleeper Loop JPG

Rating/Difficulty

****/3 out of 5

Distance/Elevation Gain

20 miles w/5000′ of cumulative elevation gain

White Mountain 4000 Footers

  • North Tripyramid
  • Middle Tripyramid
  • Mt Whiteface
  • Mt Passaconaway

Recommended Duration

2 days

Season

June thru October

Permits Required

None.

Regulations

Backcountry Camping Regulations for the White Mountain National Forest.

Most this route passes through the Sandwich Range Wilderness Area. Please observe all wilderness area restrictions. 

New to the White Mountains? Read this Quick and Dirty Guide to Backpacking in the White Mountains for information about camping regulations, road access, trail shuttles, lodging, dangerous wildlife, weather, etc.

Trailhead Directions

[CLOSED: Trail access to the north end of Sabbaday Brook Trail via the Sabbaday Falls Trail is currently closed. It is expected to reopen by July 4, 2018. ]
  • Sabbaday Falls Observation Site
  • Oliverian Brook Trailhead Parking (2.2 miles east of the Sabbaday Falls Observation Site on Rt 113, the Kancamagus Highway. While perfectly walkable, you may want to spot a car here at the end of your hike. There’s a big parking lot and there are large USFS campgrounds nearby with hot showers.

Trail Sequence

The route follows the following trails in sequence. Refer to the AMC White Mountains Trail Map 3-4: Crawford Notch-Sandwich Range and Moosilauke-Kinsman (2017 ed), which is the best waterproof map available for this region, although I’d recommend buying the complete AMC White Mountain Waterproof Map Set (2017 ed) rather than one map at a time, because it’s less expensive that way. The local Wonalancet Out Door Club Map (to order) is also worth buying and contains additional information, such as the location of freshwater springs and campsites not found on the AMC maps. Detailed trail descriptions can also be found in the AMC White Mountain Guide (2017 ed), which is considered the hiking bible for the region. Take photos of the relevant pages using your phone for easy reference, instead of carrying the entire book with you on hikes.

  • Sabbaday Falls Trail – 0.5 miles
  • Sabbaday Brook Trail – 4.4 Miles
  • Mt Tripyramid Loop – 1.9 miles
  • Kate Sleeper Trail – 3.4 miles
  • East Sleeper Spur Trail – 0.1 miles
  • Rollins Trail – 2.4 miles
  • Dicey’s Mill Tr 0.9 miles
  • Walden Tr – 0.7 miles
  • Square Ledge Tr 0.7 miles
  • Passaconaway cutoff 1.7 miles
  • Oliverian Brook Tr – 1.9 miles
  • 2 mile road walk back to car

20 miles with 5500′ elevation gain.

Scenic Highlights

The following list provides cumulative distances on the route to each view or landmark.

  • Sabbaday Falls – 0.25 miles
  • North Tripyramid Summit – 5.4 miles
  • Middle Tripyramid Summit – 5.9 miles
  • South Tripyramid Summit and Avalanche Slide – 6.3 miles
  • East Sleeper Spur Trail and Summit – 8.3 miles
  • Mt Whiteface ledges – 10.1 miles
  • Mt Whiteface Summit Cairn – 10.3 miles
  • Mt Passaconaway Summit – 13.6 miles
  • Mt Passaconaway View Spur – 13.9 miles

Camping and Shelter Options

  • Camp Rich Tentsite (Free) – Maintained by the Wonalancet Out Door Club, on Dicey’s Mill Trail, 0.1 miles past the East Loop Trail Junction
  • There are limited options for backcountry camping on this route given the terrain (if you don’t have a backpacking hammock). Your best bet for finding a wild tent site will be along the Kate Sleeper Trail between Downe’s Brook and the Rollins Trail or along the Oliverian Brook Trail. Please observe all White Mountains backcountry camping rules and wilderness regulations and leave no trace.

Water

Natural water sources are plentiful in the White Mountains although you may need to descend to them from ridgelines along side trails if you run short. In any case, carry a detailed topographic map with you and don’t rely on the overview map provided with this trip description to find water sources.

I also recommend purchasing the WMNF Sandwich Range Map in Guthook Guide’s New England Hiker Smartphone App (IOSAndroid) which is a GPS guide to all of the trails, trailhead, shelters, campsites, views, and water sources in the White Mountains National Forest. I use it all the time and it is much more complete and current than using the maps bundled with the Gaia Smartphone App.

On the Trail

Picturesque Sabbaday Falls
Picturesque Sabbaday Falls

Leave the Sabbaday Falls Observervation Site Parking Area and follow a gravel tourist path for a quarter mile. A side trail branches left that will take you to a viewing area for the falls, a popular tourist destination, before looping back to the main path. The tourist path leads to the start of the Sabbaday Brook Path, hugging the right side of Sabbaday Brook. This section of trail is heavily eroded but passable and soon turns into a wider path that follows an old logging road.

The first stream crossing is not well marked and easy to miss. It's also a wet one
The first stream crossing is not well-marked and easy to miss. It’s also a wet one.

The Sabbaday Brook Trail is an easy trail to hike, although it does require 7 water crossings. The lower three are the widest and most difficult, but they become much easier if you expect to get wet feet when you cross them. By that I mean, it’s easier to cross them if you don’t mind walking through some water to get to the other side. If you try to rock hop though, you’ll probably hurt yourself if you slip off a slippery rock. The upper four crossings are much narrower and easier. The last one, at about 2960′, is a good place to fill up, because the trail is dry until you reach the Downe’s Brook Trail Junction on the other side of the Sleepers.

Last water before Tripyramid Loop
Last water before Tripyramid Loop

The Sabbaday Brook Trail follows old eroded logging roads for most of its length and the path taken by the trail is quite evident.  While there are often blazes at the stream crossings, there are few along the trail because you enter a Wilderness Area soon after leaving the trailhead, and remain in it until nearly the end of the route.

The trail climbs gradually and runs parallel to Sabbaday Brook until 3000′. From there is climbs steeply over rock ledge, past several blow-downs to meet the Tripyramid Loop Trail between Middle and North Tripyramid.

When you reach the Tripyramid Trail Junction, turn right and climb North Tripyramid, which is just 0.5 miles west. Retrace your steps back and climb Middle Tripyramid which is 0.3 miles east. Continuing east, summit South Tripyramid, which is 0.4 miles further. While the South peak is 4090′ tall, it’s not considered a distinct 4000 footer because it’s too close to the Middle Peak to count as a separate summit.

Continue east past the summit, before descending steeply down an avalanche slide and section of loose stone. It’s often easier to down-climb the rock ledges if you have a good handhold, rather than tackling them head-on.

Looking down the South Tripyramid Slide
Looking down the South Tripyramid Slide

The Kate Sleeper Trail branches left off the slide about 200 yards down, but the trail intersection is easy to miss because the sign looks like the tree than it’s nailed to. Someone has painted a yellow trail junction arrow on a rock, which makes it easier to find though.

The Kate Sleeper Trail Sign is easy to miss
The Kate Sleeper Trail Sign is easy to miss

The start of the Kate Sleeper trail also runs down an avalanche slide, until it disappears into thick woods. The trail follows an old logging road through open forest, but there’s little sign of blowdowns along the route on this side of the ridge. The West Sleeper summit is unmarked and you may pass by it without noticing it.

The East Sleeper Trail leave the Kate Sleeper Trail across from this sign
The East Sleeper Trail leave the Kate Sleeper Trail across from this sign

The density of blowdowns in the surrounding woods increases as you near the East Sleeper summit. When you reach a sign indicating the direction to Mt Whiteface, a short spur trail leaves the trail and runs to the East Sleeper summit 0.1 miles away. The spur may be blocked by a fallen log, but you can ignore that and step over it. What you can’t ignore are the 25 massive trees that have fallen over the spur trail and block it. A faint herd path is visible to your left that loops around the obstruction and will lead you to the summit sign.

Follow the herd path to the east sleeper summit sign
Follow the herd path to the east sleeper summit sign

Retrace your steps to the Kate Sleeper Trail and continue east towards Mt Whiteface. You’ll see an immediate increase in the number of blowdowns on either side of the trail. The trail has been cleared of debris, but the sight of all the downed trees is sublime. Continue to the Downe’s Brook Trail junction.

Pictures cannot convey the magnitude of destruction east of East Sleeper Mountain
Pictures cannot convey the magnitude of destruction east of East Sleeper Mountain, but trail crews have done a great job at re-opening the trail.

If you need water when you reach the Downe’s Brook Trail junction, turn left and walk about 20 yards down the trail. The stream access is better here than at the trail junction, where the water flows underground.

Continue east on the Kate Sleeper Trail headed, climbing gradually to Mt Whiteface and the Rollins Trail on 0.8 miles. When you reach the trail junction turn left onto the Rollins Trail. If you want to take a short detour, turn right and walk 0.1 miles to a fantastic view of Mt Passaconaway and the Lake District to the south from open rock ledges.

The Mt Whiteface summit is just marked by a small cairn
The viewless Mt Whiteface summit is marked by a small cairn

Continue north and then east along the The Rollins Trail, while follows the long ridge connecting Whiteface to Mt Passaconaway. It encircles “The Bowl,” a protected amphitheater of old growth forest far below and the source of the Wonalancet River.

The Rollins Trail runs along the top of Mt Whiteface
The Rollins Trail runs along the top of Mt Whiteface

Turn left onto the Dicey’s Mill Trail in 2.4 miles, which climbs steeply to the Mt Passaconaway summit. There is an unmarked spur trail about 0.1 mile above the junction on your left that leads to the WODC Camp Rich tentsite if you wish to camp. There are also a large number of pre-existing campsites just off the trail above the trail junction. While they may seem attractive to camp at, I’d urge you to use the Camp Rich tent site to concentrate your impact on a hardened tent site reserved for that purpose. Otherwise continue climbing to the mountain’s summit.

When you reach the summit of Passaconaway, there is a signed spur trail marked “View”. Dicey’s Mills Trail ends here, and the Walden Trail begins, running steeply down the east side of Passaconaway. Make sure you follow the right sign on the descent.

The tree holding this sign fell over, so they nailed the sign to the bottom of the tree. Too funny!
The tree holding this sign fell over, so they nailed the sign to the bottom of the tree. Too funny!

Continue down the Walden Trail for 0.6 miles until you reach a three-way junction with East Loop and the Square Ledge Trail. Turn onto the Square Ledge Trail. Continue for 0.7 miles, passing a small avalanche slide on the right, before following a sign to the Passaconaway Cutoff Trail.

Turn onto the Passaconaway Cutoff Trail and follow it for 1.7 miles. The summit of Passaconaway is visible through the trees if you glance over your shoulder. It’s a unique view, that shows just how steep the mountain is from below. The Passaconaway Cutoff Trail runs high above a stream that you’ll hear far below. The stream is easily accessible on your left when you reach level ground and a good place to resupply your water if you’re short. Continue following the trail through open forest, until you reach the Oliverian Brook Trail Junction.

Signs in Wilderness Areas don't have mileages marked on them
Signs in Wilderness Areas don’t have mileages marked on them

Turn left onto the Oliverian Brook Trail and follow it for 1.9 miles to the trailhead parking lot, leaving the Sandwich Wilderness. The trail follows an old logging road along beautiful Oliverian Brook, a wild mountain stream with good swimming. Near the end of the trail, you’ll pass by a flooded area that’s been colonized by a hardy beaver family.

Turn right onto the dirt road at the end of the trail, which leads to the trailhead parking lot in about 50 yards. If you’ve left a car here, the route is finished. If you’ve left a car at the Sabbaday Falls Observation Area, walk about 100 yards further to Rt 113 (Kancamagus Highway) and turn left. It’s an easy and flat 2.2 mile road walk on a two-way, two lane road back to your car.

About Philip Werner: Philip is the 36th person to finish hiking and backpacking all of the trails in the White Mountain Guide. He's also finished hiking many of the region's peakbagging lists including the White Mountain 4000 footers, the 4000 footers in Winter, the Terrifying 25, the RMC 100, and the Trailwrights 72. Philip is a 4 season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a member of the executive committee for the Random Hikers, a Long Trail Mentor for Vermont's Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He also teaches several compass, GPS, and off-trail navigation courses each year, listed on Outdoors.org.

Safety Disclaimer

This trip plan can not alert you to every hazard, anticipate your experience, or limitations. Therefore, the descriptions of roads, trails, routes, shelters, tent sites, and natural features in this trip plan are not representations that a particular place or excursion will be safe for you or members of your party. When you follow any of the routes described on SectionHiker.com, you assume responsibility for your own safety. Under normal conditions, such excursions require the usual attention to traffic, road and trail conditions, weather, terrain, the capabilities of your party, and other factors. Always check for current conditions, obey posted signs, and Backcountry Camping and Wilderness Area Regulations. Hike Safe and follow the Hiker responsibility code. 

Published 2018.

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