Date: Sunday, August 30, 2015
Location: New Hampshires White Mountain National Forest & Sandwich Range Wilderness.
Adventure: 13.6 miles, 6,400 feet of elevation gain.
After doing longer races and FKT attempts (fastest known times) of 4-8 hours through the spring and summer of this year, I have been trying to get in some shorter, faster runs. While traversing entire ridges and running 50 miles is fun, I also enjoy trying to run quickly over difficult terrain. Attempting to run hard for 5 hours doesn’t tend to work out so well.
For FKT’s, one of the advantages to shorter routes is that they are more accessible to more runners of all levels on more days throughout the year. You don’t need perfect weather or an entire day to run 10-15 mile routes. One good example of this is the Whiteface Passaconaway Loop that summits both mountains and also includes the Wonalancet Range. The loop is 13.6 miles and includes 6400 feet of climbing over challenging New England singletrack. From the Ferncroft trailhead, the route takes Dicey’s Mill Trail, Tom Wiggen, Blueberry Ledge, Rollins, Diceys and Walden to Passaconaway, then Square Ledge, Walden and the Wonalancet Range back to Ferncroft. I added on Square Ledge to include the potential views and increase the amount of climbing. The length and ascent place the loop between shorter efforts like the Franconia Ridge and longer days on the Pemi Loop or Presidential Traverse.
I say potential views because I choose a cloudy day to run the loop. No views for me at all. The cooler weather was appreciated as I ran out Dicey’s Mill to the Tom Wiggen Trail. I quickly went from fast paced running to hiking once I reached the ascent on Tom Wiggen. With an extended section of over 45% grade, that trail is all business up to Blueberry Ledge, where you then get to scramble up over exposed ledges with great views, theoretically. Looking at the elevation profile, the section on the Rollins trail appears to be faster running, but the footing is consistently technical and there seems to be a steep downhill ledge every time the trail starts to open up.
The lower section of the Passaconaway ascent is gradual and runnable, leading to a steeper scramble to the wooded summit. The descent is very steep and loose at times, and I was relying on the trees to keep my pace under control. By the time you get around square ledge, you have dropped about 2k, much of that down 3-5’ ledges or grades over 30%. It feels more like 3k of descent. There is some nice running on the short flat section between square ledge and the Wonalancet Range, and I tried to make good time before the last 1k climb up to Hibbard Mountain.
It probably would have been smart to back off on the pace on the way over to Hibbard, as this climb is not insignificant. Fortunately, the slope eases off towards the summit, and the trail between Hibbard and Wonalancet is some fine singletrack. I think I got in a couple of full strides. Based on checking the end of the loop out before starting, I was expecting some perfectly inclined downhill running on soft pine needles from Wonalancet to the finish. That did not happen. While some of the trail is like that, it is only about the last half mile that I warmed up on. Most of the descent is steep and too rough to really open it up, which made me a little sad. I did manage to get back to the parking lot under 3 hours, which I was pleased with considering how technical the route is. Overall, it is a great loop, with a little of everything and plenty of classic New England singletrack for those that like it rough. Supposedly the views are great, but I’ll have to make a return trip to confirm that.