From Mount Israel, such a view
Such a view.
Sure, we shlepped and shvitzed, and those low-elevation bugs made us mashugana enough to wear mosquito netting for a spell, but soon enough we felt overheated and claustrophobic so we took off the head nets and let the mosquitoes have their way with us.
But once on the ledges – and not too close to the edge – with its soothing whispering breeze, the Sandwich Range and beyond rippled across the horizon, so beautiful, I was almost verklempt.
That’s what happens when you hike in the land of milk and honey around Mount Israel.
Situated among the rural farms, stone walls and genteel atmosphere of Sandwich, 2,630-foot Mount Israel sits on the southern edge of the White Mountain National Forest.
The little mountain has a double summit reached via a steady climb through the hardwoods, up the 2.1-mile-long Wentworth Trail to the spruce and fir with its col before the true top.
The peak was named for Israel Gilman, who settled in the area near the base of the mountain around 1770.
Today, hikers find a handsome 19th century white farmhouse near the trailhead, built as a homestead by Jacob Smith and his son, Eliphalet, off what is now dirt Diamond Ledge Road.
Once called the Smith House, it’s on a tract donated to the U.S. Forest Service in 1950 by Cary H. Mead on behalf of her late husband, George, to use as a youth base camp called Mead Base. From 1953 to 1999 it was leased to the Boy Scouts and then used by both the Squam Lakes Association and Wonalancet Out Door Club for trail crews maintaining area pathways.
Now called the Mead Conservation Center, it’s maintained by the nonprofit Friends of Mead Conservation Center, which oversees the parking area, campsites by the trailhead and the house available for day-use hire.
So, my wife, Jan, and I hit the trail early given the threat of afternoon boomers, and followed the path as it rose quickly and passed through a stone wall, by a stream and along verdant patches of playful ferns.
But with a stillness in the air, the mosquito air force found us quickly. For the first time, we carried netting.
And after wearing the veils for just a few minutes we found them stifling while in motion. So off they went and out came the so-so bug dope.
The trail meandered along switchbacks and contained some fine stone steps before eventually reaching a decent ledge view near the base of a rock slab. Though somewhat haze-obstructed, a look yielded glimpses of Squam Lake, pieces of Winnipesaukee and peaks both near and far.
The path became rockier as it passed by boulders and soon reached the cairns on the west knob with its enchanting wind and teaser Sandwich Range views. We then traipsed over ledges and down into the saddle before finding the summit and its rock pile maybe 100 yards from the junction with the Mead Trail.
The breeze embraced us as we gazed out from the ledges unto a world that included Sandwich Dome, Tripyramid in Waterville Valley, the cliff of Whiteface, Passaconaway and the cone of Chocorua. The coniferous forest did provide some shade as we dove into the standard PB&J trail fare, a bit tastier consumed in the al fresco alpine atmosphere.
Before descending along the same path to complete the 4.2-mile out-and-back odyssey, Jan decided it was time to readjust her trekking poles. Tried and true pieces of gear for some 15 years, a locking mechanism on one of the poles failed so the pole would collapse when Jan placed it.
I carried the broken pole in my pack while Jan descended with just one. It was during a water stop that she realized a piece of duct tape might be a first-aid fix. Alas, I realized I neglected to wrap some around my new used ski poles I use for hiking.
Instead, Jan figured a band-aid – which we both carried in first-aid kits – wrapped under the stubborn locking mechanism might be helpful.
Such a thought!
She was right. The band-aid prevented the pole’s collapse and Jan was able to use both poles as we descended onto the radars of that insect air force where the netting again only provided a brief escape as we again went for the repellent.
That Mount Israel. Such a hike.
(Marty Basch can be reached through onetankaway.com)