“We have to climb 500 more feet in the next quarter mile”, said Kris, as we scrambled up the southeast face of Mt Chandler, a 3000 footer on the eastern side of the White Mountains just south of the Baldface Range. I put my head down prepared to gut out the ascent when I came to a game trail which lead us right to the summit canister. I’ve never understood why moose like to climb mountains but I was happy to walk in their footsteps on this wild peak.
Kris and I were out to bag Mt Chandler (3335′) and the neighboring Mt Sable (3519′), both trail-less peaks near the New Hampshire-Maine border. Slippery Brook Road has been closed since Hurricane Irene wiped it out in 2011 and only just reopened, providing access to this remote region of the White Mountains.
We parked at the farthest extent of the road at the Slippery Brook Trailhead in front of the gate and headed into the woods, wearing blaze orange clothing because this area is frequented by hunters and fisherman more than hikers. It’s easy to forget that the White Mountains National Forest is home to so many different activities, a land of many uses, as the signs on its perimeter proclaim.
Unlike Sable, which is climbed more frequently because it’s on the NH Hundred Highest list, we had few reports of recent ascents up Mt Chandler to use to guess a good route up the peak. Truth is, I seldom read such reports because it’s unnecessary. There’s usually an inescapable logic or “best way” to approach a mountain summit and I just assume reason it out by myself because it gives me pleasure to plan my own routes.
Slippery Brook was running low, so we had an easy river crossing at some old bridge abutments, arriving on the other side with dry feet. Hiking toward Chandler, we came across what looked like an old road or trail almost immediately and followed it through open woods because it was headed in the same direction as our desired compass bearing.
There was an old trail that used to run over Chandler and Sable and then up to the summit of South Baldface, but I doubted that this was it. This area has been heavily logged in the past and it was more likely that we’d come to what’s known as a skidder road, that was used to drag logs out of the forest by tractor or horse. Most of these old roads or paths are un-marked on maps, but they provide a good way to reduce your energy expenditure on off-trail hikes and make sense to follow as long as they head toward where you want to go.
We hiked through mostly open woods as we neared the Chandler summit, but nothing that strenuous until we came to that last climb to the summit. If the moose hadn’t made a game trail, that final push would have been harder. While this area is a big wildlife transect between Pinkham Notch and Evans Notch, I always get a kick by the fact that moose like to climb up to the tops of mountains rather than just walking in the valleys. It’s a curious habit when you think about it, but moose are curious beasts.
When we arrived the summit, Kris and I leafed through the notebook in the canister before leaving our “message in a bottle.” Finding these canisters is a real emotional high for me when hiking off trail, if only because you see just how few people have visited the same peak before you. In leafing through this register, we noticed that no one had visited the summit for a two-year stretch in 2013 or 2014, which gives you some idea what a rarefied sport climbing the all 175 of New Hampshire’s 3000 footers really is.
After a short break, we headed down to the saddle between Chandler and Sable, which would be a pleasant place to camp if not for the absence of water. Climbing Sable would be a bit more difficult than Chandler because it’s surrounded by cliffs, with only a few points of access from the direction we were coming. The good news is that we could see where we were headed, for a change, with the leaves done from the trees this late in autumn. Normally, the trees and foliage are so dense and impenetrable that a compass is almost always required to point you in the right direction.
Like Chandler, this ascent was straightforward, although most hikers climb the peak from the east and not the south. We hit some cliffs, but we scooted around them until we could get up to elevation and then repeated our canister ritual on Sable.
From here it was a long hike back down to the Slippery Brook Trail, which we then followed a few miles back to our car. I honestly thought these two peaks would be much harder to climb that they turned out to be, but our trip was still young, and bushwhacking Greens Cliff turned out to be much more strenuous, the following day,
Total Distance: 6 miles with approximately 2500′ of elevation gain.