iking in a time of coronavirus, you appreciate the purity of nature. You don’t stop for coffee on the way home. If you need gas on the way, you put hand sanitizer on your hands afterward.
On a beautiful Wednesday this week, I drove over to Mead Base in Sandwich and climbed the 2.1-mile Wentworth Trail up Mount Israel (2,630 feet).
That morning, I called a hiking friend, asked if they wanted to go. Sorry, they said, they were going with a Wednesday Hiking Group up Mount Osceola from the Kancamagus Highway. Later that evening, I called to see how it went. It went well, and 18 people had gone.
Did they stay 5 feet apart, I asked?
That morning, feeling safe and solitary in my car, I drove down Route 25 to Moultonborough, took Route 109 to Center Sandwich, bore right on Grove Street, then left on Diamond Ledge Road all the way out to the trailhead at Mead Base.
I was the only one there, unusual for a beautiful day. I parked below the historical Smith House and started up the Wentworth Trail, something I had done many times before.
I think you could say that Mount Israel is the spiritual home for the “Over the Hill Hikers” of Sandwich. On this beautiful day, I wondered where they were. Later, checking their blog at overthehillhikers.blogspot.com, I saw that two of their “A” Group had climbed both Whiteface and Passaconaway that day.
I really enjoy it when a trail is packed down and there are a few inches of new snow on top of it. You are the first one there since it snowed, and moving through the whole canvas of the forest not fragmented by human sign.
Those conditions were interspersed with partially bare ground near the bottom, and occasional hidden ice beneath the new layer of snow further up. That was most treacherous on the way back down. Twice my microspikes didn’t get a purchase, but I caught myself both times. Trekking poles helped considerably.
Climbing Mount Israel is acknowledging the past. Arriving there you pass though the intervale farmed by Israel Gilman in the 1700s. The lower trail traverses to the east as it rises, and sections of stone walls follow alongside.
Then the trail turns north, and you surmount a few broken ledges. It continues winding up, and you finally reach the first lookout on a little spur to the left. The view out over Squam Lake and Lake Winnipesaukee is timeless and a worthy reward. Mount Kearsarge South in Wilmont and Warner looks close.
The character of the trail is different from that point, passing into a shady conifer forest. It rises steeply at first, and you encounter a 20-foot ice fall over boulders. Hikers had packed down a bypass through the trees around it, and I went that way.
The trail eased on the ridge. I reached the second viewpoint at a high point on the ridge. That is my favorite lookout on the mountain. Directly to the north is the broad south slope of Sandwich Dome. I could trace one of my favorite hikes on it: starting at Bennett Street in North Sandwich, taking the old railroad bed called the Guinea Pond Trail, banging a right on the Black Mountain Pond Trail, climbing steeply above the pond to the Algonquin Trail on Sandwich Dome and following the ridge back east over the top, and descending the Bennett Street Trail.
I digress. From that lookout on Mount Israel, you descend into a beautiful ledgy saddle before the main summit. Often the snow is deep there, but the trail was packed, and soon I was back in the shady woods and climbed up to the rounded ledge with a cairn on the summit.
The classic view of the Sandwich Range spread across the view to the north. The cold breeze made my stay brief. On the way down, I paused at the first lookout overlooking the lakes for lunch.