Climbing Mt Israel is close to becoming a spring pilgrimage for me. Located in the White Mountains Sandwich Range, it’s a 52-with-a-view summit with great views of Sandwich Dome, Mt Whiteface, and the rocky summit of Mt Chocorua. I climbed Israel via the Mead Trail, coming up the more remote north side of the mountain from the Guinea Pond Trail. I chose this hike because I wanted to visit a remote pond and do a little fly fishing to see if the resident trout had woken from their winter slumbers. Getting to this spot is a bit challenging however, requiring a white knuckle drive down a very rough backcountry road and a wet walk down a flooded trail, which is probably why relatively few people visit it. While most hikers in the White Mountains climb the 4000 footers, many of the best views in New Hampshire can be found on shorter mountains like Israel and a surprisingly large number of them can be more challenging to climb than their loftier peers.
My hike started on Sandwich Notch Road, probably the worst road in the White Mountains, about 0.9 mile from the beginning of the Guinea Pond Trail trailhead. This is a far down the road as I dared drive with my low clearance two-wheel drive car. Built in 1801, Sandwich Notch Road is notorious, but a great shortcut if you have a high clearance vehicle.
I came to the Beede River bridge and started hiking down the Guinea Pond Trail in search of the spur trail to Guinea Pond. The trail was swamped by water from the beaver damns and marshes that border the trail and snowmelt. My feet were quickly soaked, but I’d half expected that on this hike. I forded a few streams that were running high and arrived at a beaver pond, which has swamped this section of trail. A detour trail has been cut that rejoins the main trail on the other side of the beaver pond, which is marked as a swamp on local maps, and continues on to Pond Brook and the Flat Mountain Trail. I followed it around the pond and admired the huge beaver lodge that’s been constructed by the current residents.
The swamp was past the point where I’d expected to find the Guinea Pond Spur trail, so I backtracked to look for it. I found what looked like an unsigned, abandoned trail and followed it for about 0.2 mile through another swampy area and came to the pond. It was much larger than I expected, but looks like it’d be worth a return visit with some packrafts, fishing rods, and a grill. Very isolated with a pretty view too.
Onto Israel. I backtracked to the Mead Trail and started to climb gradually at first and then more steeply as I approached the summit. The leaves are just starting to bud in the Sandwich Range, the southernmost part of the White Mountains. I’ve found that spring arrives here a few weeks before it does in the northern part of the National Forest, making it a good place for spring hiking when you’re ready for winter to be over and need to get out.
Some history: Mt Israel is named after Israel Gilman, an early explorer of the Sandwich Region, who camped in the Sandwich Notch area and built a nearby home in 1768. It was subsequently given to the state by a landowner named Jack Mead and is now part of the White Mountain National Forest. (Source: Seventy Third Annual Excursion of the Sandwich Historical Society, 1992)
The summit ledges were free of snow when I broke above treeline near the junction between the Wentworth Trail and the Mead Trail. Being a weekday, I had the summit to myself and pondered the big peaks before me: Sandwich Dome, Mts Whiteface and Passaconaway, and Chocorua in the distance.
Later, I did catch a few nice brookies on the Beebe River. Spring has arrived in Sandwich.
Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:
- Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide, 30th ed.
- AMC White Mountain National Forest Map Set
- White Mountains Map: New Hampshire and Maine
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