With an improving forecast following a house bound day of driving rain I knew by the next dawn I’d be heading to the epicenter of le grand cascades in New Hampshires White Mountains, Crawford Notch. Silver Thread, The Flume, Ripley, Arethusa are well known, impressive, and easily accessible, but I had my sights set on the less visited Nancy Cascades high in the Nancy Ravine. So, northbound I went.
- White Horse Ledge, North Conway
Nancy Cascades, Nancy Ravine, Nancy Brook, Nancy Pond, Nancy Mountain are all named features in the area and refer to the unfortunate Nancy Barton, who after discovering that her lover had set off from their home north of the notch for Portsmouth during the winter of 1778 without the sandwiches she’d made for him, followed, only to freeze to death along the route through the notch. Or something like that.
The Nancy Pond Trailhead is on the west side of NH Rte. 302 when heading north in Crawford Notch and the trail itself weaves it way through a hardwood and later spruce/fir forest up the Nancy Brook drainage while crossing the brook several times. After the previous days rain the brook was way up and crossings were challenging. I often had to hunt up and downstream for a spot where I could boulder hop over or cross on a fallen tree. At 2.4 miles the forested headwall of the ravine was reached by where the base of the 300+’ Nancy Cascades ends in an 80′ waterfall.
- Nancy Cascade
From here the trail took a number of switchbacks up the steep headwall face before emerging at the top of the cascade and the edge of the broad saddle between Mt.Nancy and Mt. Anderson in which Nancy Pond lay like Maybelline…you know… half a mile ahead.
Top of Nancy Cascade
While most of the White Mountains were extensively logged starting in the late 1800′s and continuing into the early 1900′s, criss crossed with logging railroads and skid trails and literally cut to the ridgetops, the area around Nancy Pond was left relatively untouched and I now traveled over level boggy ground through a virgin spruce forest.
This photo of Mt. Hancock (4420′)in the East Branch Pemigewasset River valley shows how thorough the logging was.
- Photo: Brad Washburn
- Nancy Pond Trail
My original plan for the day was to visit the cascades and Nancy Pond then return to my car as I’d come, but it was still before noon, a beautiful sunny day with light winds, and as it’s my preference to do trail loops rather than return over the same path, I decided to continue on into the Pemigewasset Wilderness and walk out through Carrigian Notch and the Sawyer River Road.
- Nancy Pond & Mt. Anderson
Shortly after leaving Nancy Pond I moved out of the Saco River drainage, into the East Branch of the Pemigewasset drainage, and passed by this pretty mountain bog (Little Norcross Pond) where the biggest cow moose I’d ever seen was feeding!
Later I was able to get within 75′ of the beast, but my camera chose to focus on the brush between us and I missed some good photos.
Seeing this moose confirmed what I already knew, the area around Nancy Pond was prime high country moose habitat. This caused some concern to grow in the back of my mind as it was the height of the moose rut when the love addled bulls tend not to take well to intruders in their territories, twice during this time in the past I’ve been ‘run’ by bull moose and felt lucky to have escaped without being injured or killed. Death by moose stomping doesn’t sound very appealing.
So I continued on with some angry moose anxiety until the trail cleared the spruced up boggy ground, entered the federally designated Pemigewasset Wilderness and led to one of the most unheralded jewels of the White Mountains, Norcross Pond.
At 3,100′ Norcross exists because of a natural ledge dam at it’s outlet now raised several feet higher (and flooding the trail along the ponds north side) by a beaver dam. At the outlet the land fell steeply away and before me lay the great East Branch of the Pemi valley with the Bonds and Franconia Ridge in the distance. Standing on the ledge next to the beaver dam with the ponds surface at my hip on one side and the broad wilderness vista before me on the other was something special.
Here I had lunch before continuing on the trail which led at a gentle grade several miles down an old logging road through a beautiful forest of Red Spruce and Paper Birch to the valley below.
Crossing Norcross Brook the trail now traveled on the bed of one of the old logging railroads and shortly came to Anderson Brook (no boulder hopping here, just a mad dash across 30′ of knee deep water) on whose far side was what remained of the clearing that held Camp 19, from the heyday of logging here. Quiet woodland and small forbed openings now, one can only imagine when the area was covered in temporary camps, where men, horses, oxen, and locomotives pulling flatbed cars loaded with logs and pulp, ‘got the wood out’. Even today, deep in a wild reclaiming, reminders of those days remain.
Bed Frames, Site of Camp 19
Still the Nancy Pond Trail it followed the logging grade for a bit before turning off to the south, crossed the East Branch of the Pemi (another mad dash), crossed Notch Brook (pole footbridge here, yaa!), and after a few yards further on yet another railroad grade met the Carrigain Notch Trail.
Turning sharp left onto the Carrigain Notch Trail, which on the right continues on to Stillwater Junction in the heart of the Pemi Wilderness, I followed a trail that at times was more brook or game path than track with no recent footprints of the human variety showing. It seemed as if every other creature of the northern forest was represented though, including bear.
Bear Track, Carrigan Notch Trail
After about a mile the trail joins with an old logging road and starts up a steeper section into the notch itself. At the height of land in this deep cleft between Vose Spur on Mt. Carrigans northeast slope and Mt. Lowell there are excellent views of the many rock slides on Lowell’s west face. The original European name for Mt. Lowell was The Brickhouse due to the reddish, almost polychromatic, color of the rock. I can’t recall having seen anything like it in the Whites and I felt a strong desire to return and attempt a scramble up the slides and cliff faces on another day.
A gentle descent of about four miles from the notch to the Sawyer River Road followed with numerous crossings of Carrigain and further on Whiteface Brooks involving boulder hopping, mad dashes, and one time shinnying up a leaning tree on one side to where I could hang and drop down on the other.
So, seven hours and thirteen miles later from when I left the Nancy Pond Trailhead I reached the gravel surface of Sawyer River Road, with two miles still to walk on it and another mile on Rte. 302 before I reached my car. A beautiful day spent in the wild with moose met (1), humans met (0), and feet wet (2).
One last image garnered while walking the hardtop mile back to my car, one that proves that all rules have exceptions.
Bears Don't Aways Crap In The Woods