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Bushwhacking the Daltons

Bushwhacking the Daltons

Dalton Mountain is located north of Littleton, NH, quite close to the New Hampshire and Vermont Border. It has two summits on the NH500 list: Dalton Mountain NE and Dalton Mountain, the main peak, about 1.2 miles to the south.  My friend Ken and I bushwhacked both in about 4″ of powdery snow in an area that had been logged previously, so we were able to serendipitously follow many logging cuts through the forest, which made the hiking a little easier.

We started our hike off a gated ATV road called Rooney Road, in the hills above Dalton, NH. Never heard of Dalton? Google Maps hasn’t either, although there is a small store, a church, and a public library off Rt 135 in the town center.

The drive to Rooney Rd had been an adventure. We drove up to Littleton on an icy morning and followed Rt 135 into the hill country, getting off on Blakslee Rd, a steep, snow and ice-covered gravel road, which we followed to Rooney Rd. There wasn’t any good place to park there, so we drove down Big Hill Rd until we found a small lot next to an open snowmobile gate and left our cars there. You never know exactly where you’ll be able to leave a vehicle when hiking a trailless peak, so it pays to be prepared with a shovel to carve a space out of a snowbank and a friend to help push you out of a ditch if need be.

We hiked back up to Rooney Rd and passed through a gate in between two mobile homes, perched on the hillside. There was snow underfoot, and below it, the ground was wet and saturated from a giant thaw that we’d had a few days earlier.

The first peak, NE Dalton, was an easy one to climb because there’s a logging road that branches off Rooney Road and runs to a radio transmitter and dish near the summit. The summit area is just past the transmitter and we circled around looking for the logbook to sign-in. No joy, though. We couldn’t find one amidst the spruce trees and snow.

Ken at the bottom of Rooney Rd
Ken at the bottom of Rooney Rd

We hiked back down to Rooney Road and into the col between NE Dalton and the main peak, looking for an easy way through the spruce jungle that separated the two. There wasn’t any obvious way across, so we hiked into a mess of snow-covered spruce and thorny raspberry bushes that dumped snow down our backs and tore at our clothing. Before long we found a logging road that was headed in our direction, although it was still full of young birches and thorny shrubs. Still, we could see the hardwoods on the other side of the col and knew that we’d soon be back into more open woods.

When we’d be planning this hike, we’d checked the topographic maps that NH Fish & Game publishes. These maps have a lot of detail that’s missing from other map sources, including the location of conservation areas, which are open for anyone to hike through. Knowing where you can hike and where you can’t because it’s posted “No Trespassing”, is one of the biggest challenges for off-trail hikers in New Hampshire. In order to keep the peaks accessible, it’s important to obey the wishes of local landowners and avoid areas where hikers are not wanted.

The landowner contacted me after I posted this trip report, or at least someone claiming to be the landowner, and requested that we ask for permission in the future. I tried contacting them to apologize but he never responded to my email. I’d share his email address here but our privacy policy prohibits doing so without reader permission. If you are the owner and would like to share your contact information with other hikers, please email me.

Ken had some beta that indicated that the north side was posted and off-limits to hikers, so we tried to stick to the south side of the ridge as we made our way to the main summit. We didn’t see any signage denying access though, but would have backed off to the south if it was required.

We encountered many logging and skidder tracks in the forest and followed them whenever possible because they were more open than the surrounding forest and easier to walk along. Navigation was easy because we were following a ridgeline, although we had to climb up and down over several “bumps” along the ridge on the way to the main summit.

Logging roads were once used to drag trees out of the forest and require less energy to travel than full-on off-trai bushwhacking
Logging roads were once used to drag trees out of the forest. While they’re not exactly “open”, they usually require less energy to travel than full-on off-trail bushwhacking.

Once we arrived, we proceeded to look for the summit canister, but again came away empty-handed. There was quite a lot of pink surveyors tape on the summit though and we suspect that the land-owner may have removed the canister with its logbook to keep people off the property.

We ate a quick lunch and retraced our steps, quite literally, following our tracks in the snow, back the way we’d come. With one exception. We found a logging road that looked like it headed in our direction, before heading east again to hook back up with Rooney Rd. Only this time we crossed the col much lower down the previously, and avoided the dense spruce and raspberry bushes on our way over to the main summit. Once back on Rooney Rd, we hiked back out to Big Hill Rd and back to our cars.

Recommended Hiking Navigation Tools

I carry and use all of these navigation aids on hikes, both on-trail, and off-trail, in addition to a paper map. The most reliable tool is the compass, by far, because it only relies on the earth's magnetic field to operate. The others are also excellent, but they can generate false positives in the field and it's useful to have a compass along so you can verify the information they provide. 

  • Casio ProTrek Solar Powered Altimeter Watch - are you sick of changing or charging your watch's batteries? This multi-function watch is solar-powered and the watch band is replaceable. It never needs recharging and I never take it off. It has time, date, compass, temperature, altimeter, barometer, stopwatch, backlit display blah blah. I mainly use the time and the altimeter. 
  • Suunto M3 Declination Adjustable Compass - great compass.  Set the declination and forget it. True north eliminates ever having to add or subtract degrees when going back and forth with a map and compass. I have the M3-NH (Northern Hemisphere) model. They also have an SH model and a G-model, which means it's a global compass that can be used north or south of the equator.
  • GaiaGPS Navigation App - there are some things about Gaia that really annoy me, but they have a lot of different maps and map layers to help you figure out where you are in the field. I mainly use the Gaia Topo and TF Outdoors base maps with the Slope Angle and the US Roads layer, which has forest/park service roads, fire roads, some snowmobile trails, and unpaved roads.  You can't carry all these maps at once unless they're available in digitized form on your phone. 
  • Caltopo - Caltopo doesn't have the programming staff that GaiaGPS does, but I still like it much better than Gaia's route planning tool. This is what I use on my laptop to plan and document my hikes. It's also very convenient for big picture planning especially when you're trying to block out a number of alternative routes. Caltopo also has an app, but I like Gaia's much better.

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About the author

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 10,000 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 3000 articles as the founder of, noted for its backpacking gear reviews and hiking FAQs. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip has hiked all 650+ trails in the White Mountains twice and has completed 12 rounds of the 48 peaks on the White Mountains 4000 footer list with over 576 summits in all four seasons. He is also the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. Click here to subscribe to the SectionHiker newsletter.


  1. Your comment about having a shovel in your car makes me think it would be useful for Section Hiker to have a post with tips for keeping your car safe and operational in winter when accessing trailheads. For example, I always have a full tank of gas before turning off the paved road and add iso-HEET to prevent fuel-line freezing if parking several nights in cold. I’ve also learned not to trust GPS road navigation in winter mountains since some roads which are ok in 3 seasons are too dangerous in snow. I have a lot less experience than you in serious cold, though, and probably don’t know half the tricks of the trade. Thanks.

    • I always carry an avy shovel in the back of my car (my wife has one too in hers). I also carry an ax, as I’ve had to chop my way past trees that have fallen across backcountry roads more than once. I never trust GPS navigation on back roads because it’s usually wrong or woefully out of date.

    • Mark, Here you are.

      New England, where I grew up and still live, is relatively warm. My wife spent her pre-school years in Iowa and Minnesota. Her mother, who as a newly minted school teacher had to do a lot of driving to a distant school when they lived there, taught my wife what to carry when she got her license. She then taught me:
      * Maps to keep you out of trouble in the first place
      * Jumper cables
      * Be prepared to stay in the car for 3 days; don’t plan to use the engine to keep warm. It can kill you and may well run out before you are rescued.
      * On the Section Hiker web site the long list that goes with being prepared can be summarized as: be prepared for winter camping, including shelter and the ability to build a fire.
      * A candle in an appropriate holder for warmth. You would have to leave a window cracked open to use it safely in the car, so use it in the tent or tarp.
      * A shovel.
      * Sand. I’ve never needed it away from the house or job site, but I still carry it
      * I’ve had no success with plastic or metal traction aids, but I _have_ sent one flying about 30 feet. I don’t try to use them any more.
      * Real show tires (not M&S) and TIRE CHAINS (or cables if you have to) for when the tires aren’t enough.
      * A 25 foot nylon tow strap.
      * And of course these days: a cell phone.

      The shovel: Here my experience on construction sites overruled my wife’s list: A short-handled, “square point”, steel shovel works for ice and dirt as well as snow. The aluminium grain shovel does not. The steel shovel is slower, but you really have to abuse it to break it. And it lasts for decades, even if used regularly on the walk that goes to the kitchen door. Last winter I replaced the one by our kitchen door after 21 years because it had worn down to a shape that didn’t scrape ice very well.

      My wife, not her mother gets credit for the tow strap. She bought one for her car; I think it was an off hand purchase. We found ourselves stuck in the ditch after a carol sing (Think meeting house on a gravel road in the woods.) Five or six middle aged people grabbed hold of the free end of the strap and pulled our Prius out with out straining themselves. I did give gentle help with the engine, but without the added pull the tires just spun.

      For small modern cars like our Prius you may have to substitute cables for the chains, because there is so little room around snow tires. I’ve never worn out chains even when I used them regularly to get to a job site. I have had one of the sides of a set of cables break. I don’t think I’d driven them more than 100 miles. :-(

      You’re right about the gas. I learned never to go below a quarter tank in the winter. Half a tank makes more sense if you are going to drive out back of beyond. We’ve never had any other kind of trouble with our vehicles in the winter after I let my wife tell me when and where to take the truck to be serviced, so we don’t do any special winterizing. We go to a garage — locally owned — that we trust not to suggest work we don’t need. They look the vehicles over when we have the oil (regularly) changed. If they say we need new shocks or a new battery or whatever we just do it. It turns out to be cheaper than the way I used to “care for” my truck.

      You know, since that time I don’t think we needed the jumper cables more than once or twice a decade — until recently. I’ve gotten forgetful as I get older and have left on the dome light at least twice this year.

      Full disclosure: I’ve never driven in Minnesota myself, so I don’t know about winterizing there. And I’m pretty sure that Alaska and northern Canada are in another category altogether.

      • One other thing. I drive a Subaru. The heater sucks, but the thing goes.

      • Phillip and Doug: Super helpful. Thank you. Responding to Roger: I sometimes carry a bin of kitty litter (rather than sand) in the car to spread under slipping wheels, but I’ve never actually had to use it.

  2. All of this information is so valuable. I’ve taught both my daughters to carry “cold kits” in their car for the winter. Extra clothes, water, a headlamp with batteries stored separately and other things that sort of become obvious when one starts to think about what would be good to have.
    One thing that hasn’t been mentioned and has saved me more times than I’d like to admit, is a come along. One of these and a cooperative oak tree will be your best friends if stuck.
    They’re around $60 on Amazon, worth every penny and then some. Couples nicely with a length of chain.