Backpacks, Boulders, and Bribes: The Sugarloaf Trail, NH 2018

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Hiking with a four-year-old and a seven-year-old can be exhilarating, educational, and, at times, exhausting—and that’s before you even leave trailhead. Trekking up the Sugarloaf trail in Carroll, NH is a great family hike and a nice way to test out just how ready the troops are for one of the 4,000-footers down the street.

We began the hike at the Sugarloaf trailhead, planning to summit Middle Sugarloaf and then head over to North Sugarloaf, a 3.3-mile round trip. The kids’ energy was much like the brook which bubbled along beside us, rapid and effervescent. We giggled and jogged our way along the trail until we snaked around a corner to discover boulders scattered around the path ahead. Narrow passageways made for fun places to scramble and explore as we serpentined along the trail. We left the brook and boulders behind and the incline steepened, our pace slowed, and my son began to find toads littered among the rocks and trees. Hunting for toads, counting as we went, we headed into the dense woods where rocks hugged the path and the kids began to tire. Talk of water breaks and the occasional Skittle would appear as the kids pressed onward.

The trail marches consistently upwards, but it’s not until you near the summit that it steepens significantly. Less than a half-mile from the top, the trails diverge and Middle Sugarloaf breaks to the left (0.4 miles), while North is to the right (0.3 miles). The kids climbed atop a twelve-foot rock and we nibbled on granola bars, swished some water, and headed left. Middle Sugarloaf is encased in moss and thick woods. The trail follows a few switchbacks and we ran in pairs around corners, surprising each other until we regrouped and helped the kids over the steepest part of the trail, including a ladder leading to the summit. The kids had no troubles tackling the rocks and roots and we quickly found ourselves emerging from the woods and stepping onto a huge, open ledge with views of Mount Washington and the Presidentials as well as the Twins, among others. Although the views are beautiful, it’s definitely wise to keep little ones close; the open ledge is expansive but cuts off steeply. You have to wind around the back of the ledge to find the official summit, marked by a cairn. We settled down for another snack and pulled on some sweatshirts before heading down the trail.

The kids love a downhill jog and we made fast time, which led to some real frustration when we mentioned that we might try to summit another peak before going back to the car. At this point, the four-year-old was done. D-O-N-E, done. So we did what most desperate parents do: promised him ice cream. And even that was met with pouting. We eventually cajoled him toward the summit of North Sugarloaf. The four-year-old plodded along, and as we began to see the brightening sky above, he sat down and sang, “Do – Do – Do –Do. We’re here.” He proceeded to lounge in the middle of the trail and ask for his snack. I wasn’t sure if we would summit together as a family, but he eventually made it up top and then turned on a heel and stomped his way down to where the trails connected.

As the realization that the hike was all downhill dawned on the kids, they became re-energized and began to think about what kind of ice cream we would eat. Soon we were singing “Down by the Bay” while we looked for toads sitting in roads, straining our ears for the songs of the brook to herald us back to the car. Giant boulders indicated that the end was near, and our mouths began to water for our well-earned treat ahead. The following day, the seven-year-old summited Mount Willard while the four-year-old and I hit the playground. The little one needed a bit more time before heading up mountains again, plus it’s tough to pull out an ice cream bribe two days in a row.

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