Tag Archives: White Mountains

Faces of the White Mountains: Katherine Sleeper Walden

Faces of the White Mountains: Katherine Sleeper Walden

This series will highlight important figures in the White Mountains, both past & present.

If you’ve ever driven through Wonalancet, summited Mount Katherine, East or West Sleeper, gazed down into ‘the Bowl’ or traipsed along the Kate Sleeper Trail, then you’re one of many silently indebted to Katherine Sleeper Walden.

Innkeeper extraordinaire, Kate Sleeper
Photo: Wonalancet Outdoor Club Archives

Kate Sleeper was born in the Boston area in 1862 and raised in a setting rich in education and community involvement. She had frequented the Chocorua area of Tamworth during vacations, visiting friends and family for many years. Evidently she was so enamored with the area that during one of these visits she decided to go into business for herself, by moving to the area and opening an inn. In 1890 a six hundred plus acre tract was secured and Wonalancet Farm as it was named had begun to take form; it rose to regional prominence, hosting countless tourists, outdoor enthusiasts and distinguished members of society into the 1930s.

Wonalancet Inn
Photo: Wonalancet Outdoor Club Archives

One of Kate’s most lasting contributions to the outdoor industry was the formation of the Wonalancet Outdoor Club, an institution that still operates vibrantly to this day. As an innkeeper, Kate was especially aware of the desires of tourists to visit the peaks of the area. The practice of trekking as a form of amusement and entertainment was gaining notable momentum in the late 1800s, driving a mass influx of city dwellers to the White Mountains and calling for an infrastructure to meet their needs. In August of 1891, AMC President Charles E. Fay and Councillor William Ladd were guests at Wonalancet Inn, and Kate capitalized on an opportunity to leverage their influence. By their guidance, local farmers and residents formed the Wonalancet Outdoor Club stating, “Its purpose shall be the building and maintenance of paths, to improve the place and develop its natural beauties…”
Visit the Wonalancet Outdoor Club’s site here: www.wodc.org

East Sleeper's summit

East Sleeper’s summit

The Bowl is a stunning glacial cirque encircled by Mounts Passaconaway, Whiteface and the Wonalancet Range well known for harboring rare old growth hardwood forest preserved in its depths. This can be attributed partly to the efforts of Kate Sleeper as well. The greed of the timber barons of the late 1800s and early 1900s is legendary; clear cutting thousands of acres at a time at a shocking speed left the White Mountain region littered with slash, ravaged by massive fires, and subject to erosion and unstable water flow. After several initial defeats, an impressive local movement driven by concerned citizens and much lobbying by clubs and businesses, the Weeks Act of 1911 was passed, enabling forest reserves to be set aside for the formation of a National Forest. Kate worked extensively to protect the Bowl, which was eventually added to the White Mountain National Forest as an inclusion of the Sandwich Range within its boundaries. The Bowl Natural Research Area, as it has been designated, has served extensively as an ecological resource of great study; its scientific value as a primary forest cannot be overstated, especially as a reference to the primarily second growth forest of the rest of the White Mountain Region.

Logging Slash
Photo courtesy Dave Govatski

View Into the Bowl from the Rollins Trail

Kate continued to be an instrumental figure in conservation, community and promotion of the enjoyment of the White Mountain National Forest, and the gifts of her efforts are still very much cherished to this day.

About The Author

Elizabeth Kane

Elizabeth’s love for the White Mountains is unparalleled. Despite working 40-50 hours/week, she manages to spend every spare minute in the Whites and her knowledge of the trail system is impressive. Her pup, Katahdin has likely logged more hours on the trails and tagged more summits than most do in their lifetime. On any given day, you can find Elizabeth hiking, trail running, fly fishing, climbing, mountain biking, or backpacking. She considers the White Mountains her home.


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Wild Tecumseh: An Underrated White Mountain Destination

Wild Tecumseh: An Underrated White Mountain Destination

Looking at Tecumseh from another angle

A question I’ll often ask people I meet along the trail is “What’s your favorite White Mountain peak?” The answer I hear most frequent is a peak typically in the Franconia Range, Presidential Range, or Twin Range. I’ve not heard Mount Tecumseh mentioned as a favorite.

I can understand. When I’m bushwhacking the Western Sandwich Range during Winter, I can hear music blaring from the ski slopes of Tecumseh. It’s a noisy neighbor of Waterville Valley. The trail leading from the ski area’s parking lot is usually congested with groups, making the short trek to the summit. My opinion was aligned with most people’s view: it’s a developed peak, lacking a wilderness feel.

Ascending Tecumseh

Bushwhacking has taught me that every mountain has its wild side. In the past year, I felt a growing curiosity about Tecumseh. Looking at a topo map and satellite imagery, I realized how much of that massive mountain is beyond the reach of people.

On New Year’s Eve 2016, I made the trek to Tecumseh’s more remote region. Hiking along Tripoli Road, I started my bushwhack in shin-deep snow. At a low elevation, the sun broke through the hardwood forest, providing amazing visibility and a warm light. Loose powder covered the low branches of some evergreens, but with a gentle shake of those branches, I made a clear path for my ascent.

Sun breaking through the forest

As the terrain grew steeper, I noticed ice-covered outcroppings. Between the outcroppings, I found a safe point for ascent, where I crawled under dense vegetation and snow-covered hemlocks. Tapping one branch sent a pile of snow onto my head and back. As I stood upright in a clearing, I noticed fresh moose tracks heading West, toward a far more remote region of the mountain. I quickly pushed higher – the opposite direction the tracks headed.

Fresh tracks

Further along the ridge, I encountered a spring, gushing clear and cool, out the side of the mountain. At that spot, I rested and listened to the rushing water for several minutes. This area was the secluded spot I wanted to experience. Standing up, I turned and noticed some fresh weasel tracks bounding to the East and up the ridge. I decided to follow them and make my ascent, hoping for a chance encounter.

Along the way, the snow grew deeper and more challenging for my snowshoes to negotiate. The forest grew more silent, barely a whisper of wind. The sun was now obscured by clouds arriving from the West. I knew I had to work harder to arrive at the summit or risk an encounter with poor weather.

Weather rolling in

As I crested the ridge, I finally crossed a remote, Northern section of Mount Tecumseh Trail, abandoned in winter due to the closure of Tripoli Road. The snow was deep and unpacked. No human had been here in many weeks. As I ascended the trail, I noticed the tracks of an animal with monstrous paws. At a distance, they seemed to belong to some large carnivore, which made my adrenaline rush for a moment. Bobcat? Coyote? When I approached them, I noticed they belonged to a large snowshoe hare, bounding along the trail and eventually dodging West. Past the tracks, I began my fight up the steep, snow-drifted trail to the summit. A gray scale view from Franconia to Scar Peak became unmistakable when I stopped to gaze, exhausted. I knew that once I reached the summit, the trail would be broken out and the mountain would appear developed.

Worth the effort

I stopped to enjoy some final moments of solitude. The forest reminded me of some remote regions of the White Mountains I’ve visited. As I turned one last time, I stared at the huge mass of Osceola. Catching my breath, I thought back on the journey and of the respect I had gained for a mountain that I learned had more wilderness secrets and experiences to offer than most people imagine.

About The Author


WMNF wilderness navigation and bushwhacking enthusiast


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Ice Climbing For The First Time

Breaking the Ice: My First Ice Climb

They say there’s a first time for everything…So there I was, hanging from the face of an ice covered cliff in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with nothing but a few points of metal (and some rope) keeping me from plummeting to the bottom.

Frozen Frankenstein Cliff
Photo: Cait Bourgault

You may be wondering just how does one find themselves hanging from the face of an ice cover cliff in the White Mountains of New Hampshire? Continue reading