Off-trail hiking, also called bushwhacking in New England, isn’t for everyone, and requires more advanced compass or GPS navigation skills. But if you have those, there are many nice autumn hikes that you can go one in the White Mountains where you won’t see a soul.
One of the nicest of these off-trail hikes is a traverse from Blueberry Mountain to Sugarloaf Mountain, climbing Mt Jeffers (2994′), a NH 200 highest peak, and the Hogsback Ridge, a rocky escarpment that looks like the back of a big hog in the distance.
This loop hike starts from the summit of Blueberry Mountain (2662′), just outside of Warren, NH, on the western side of Mt Moosilauke which towers above the Hogsback Ridge. The Blueberry Mountain Trail is another moderate autumn hike with great views and open ledges on the western edge of the White Mountain National Forest. From there it climbs Mt Jeffers, the Hogsback Ridge, and then finally Mt Sugarloaf. From Sugarloaf, you can bushwhack down to Long Pond Road and hike back to the Blueberry Mtn Trailhead, about 4 miles away, to get back to your car. The total distance is about 10 miles.
The climb up to the top of Blueberry Mtn requires an increase of about 1000 feet of elevation (1.7 miles) but it’s a mellow hike. The summit can be a bit difficult to find because it’s a side path off the main trail, marked only by a very small cairn, but if you’ve been off-trail before you’ll know how to find it.
From Blueberry, you’ll need to take a bearing to Jeffers Mountain, which is a pleasant walk through mostly open forest. You can’t hike it by sight alone though and it’s easy to get off course since the ridge is fairly wide.
Mt Jeffers is on the New Hampshire 200 highest list so there is a trail register stored in the waterproof canister. It’s fun to read the old log entries and I spotted a note left by Steve Smith, the editor of the White Mountain Guide from 2004. I sent him a photo of his entry. He loves this route.
There’s a faint trace of an old trail leaving from Jeffers that heads north towards Sugarloaf, but it’s obscured by vegetation so you still need to keep on your toes, navigation wise. But the ridge narrows, so you can walk most of the way without referring to a compass as long as you make sure to avoid losing elevation along the sides of the ridge.
As you continue north past Jeffers Mountain, you’ll walk along the base of the steep rocky cliffs that form the Hogsback escarpment. While tempting, it doesn’t look like you can traverse the top of the cliffs, which have some large gaps that you’d probably want technical equipment/protection to climb across.
As with most bushwhacks, a blood sacrifice is often required to the goddess and fairies in the wood. Lisa, one of the leaders on this trip, volunteered to be our blood donor for the day. It was just a scratch.
There are some great ledges along the trail in between Jeffers and Sugarloaf Mountain, just west of the ridge. I had no idea Sugarloaf had such beautiful ledges until I saw them from a distance. Sugarloaf is a very popular name for mountains in New England and this one is often referred to as Sugarloaf (Benton) to differentiate it from the others by the same name.
Just follow the ridge from this viewpoint until you come to the base of Sugarloaf and follow the contour to the summit. It’s a fairly open bushwhack although you’ll want to skirt the lumber slash fields which are very wet in the col before the peak. The views from the open ledge on Sugarloaf are tremendous, with Moosilauke towering behind the Hogsback. It was very clear when he hiked this route and we could see the Adirondacks, Mansfield and the Camel’s Hump in Vermont, and even Lafayette and Lincoln in Franconia Ridge to the east.
Being trail-less, you need to bushwhack off Sugarloaf to get back to your car. The best route back is on the Long Pond Road, which runs down the notch between the Hogsback Ridge and Mt Clough. Once you get past the south end of Long Lake, you’ll pass a gate where the roads becomes drivable (covered in gravel). If you hike south along this road it will bring you back to the trail head lot at the start of the route.
Once you get down to the road, it’s fun to visit Long Lake. The best off-trail route to the water’s edge begins at the southern end of the lake, which is the shortest distance from the road.
Bushwhacking Mt Jeffers and the Hogsback Ridge is a great autumn trip if you have good off trail navigation skills. I wouldn’t recommend it if you don’t though. This is a relatively remote side of the Whites and you don’t want to get lost out here.