I’d heard of a seldom seen, little visited, untracked peak up the North Fork of the Sawyer River valley and between Mt. Carrigain and the Hancocks called ‘The Captain’ for it’s small scale resemblance to Yosemite’s ‘El Capitan’ that was known to be a challenging bushwhack and got it in my head to take a shot at it.
So, again, I headed north following a day of heavy rain. In fact the skies were still overcast with a low ceiling, to the point that twice I seriously considered turning around, thinking that there would be little point to putting in a bushwhack effort on unfamiliar ground on a day when conditions could be disorienting and there would be no views. However, as I came into the town of Bartlett I was happily surprised to see the mountains around Crawford Notch clearing off and plenty of blue sky showing! Adding to the scene an early morning rainbow , a rare treat, arced out of the notch.
Turning off NH Rte. 302 I followed the seasonal Sawyer River Road up the river’s valley. Along the way I passed through the area where the ‘lost’ town of Livermore was located. Incorporated in 1876 at about the same time the Sawyer River Railroad was being constructed for logging purposes in the valley, the town was essentially abandoned by 1930 and the area was returned to unincorporated status by the New Hampshire legislature in 1951.
About six miles up the road is a gate and a trailhead parking area. Here I ended my drive, shouldered my pack, and headed up the North Fork Logging Road where it split off to the right from the Hancock Notch Trail just beyond the gate.
On a day that began with little prospect of good weather I soon found myself moving along in my lightest wool t-shirt under virtually cloudless skies. Not bad for mid November!
After two miles the maintained road ended and I found myself on a stabilized, but unmaintained, logging road. Soon I had the first glimpse of my destination, ”The Captain’.
The road shortly became more of as trail as it passed through a series of small clearings. It was in one of these clearings that I experienced a real treat as I came upon one of the most elusive creatures in The Northern Forest, a Fisher!
I was lucky to get a photo of this largest member of the weasel family in North America before it spotted me and loped off into the woods.
Moving on, the trail began to fade as the view of ”The Captain’ became more distinct and the bushwhack began.
Researching this hike online a found a few accounts posted by people who had made this trip. One thing that was noted was to head toward the western (left in photo) face where there is a notch between The Captain and the Hancock massive. To the east (right in photo) the valley is basically rimmed by escarpment wall. As the discernible route disappeared I found two sets of flagging that had been hung by fellow pilgrims to mark their progress. One was a single strung combination of orange and green, the other an eastward and upward progression of just green.
Being an acknowledged master follower of false leads (and not just on the trail!), I, of course, chose to follow the single green marked route, although I strongly suspected that it marked a route I knew from an online post was abandoned well short of the goal. True enough, after half an hour of eastward veering, I was convinced that this was the case and decided to strike out generally westward directly toward The Captain.
After another half hour of picking, pushing, crawling, falling, and climbing my way through a mix of young growth and old blown down forest interspersed with pockets of mature trees I was brought up short by the appearance of twisted orange and green flagging a foot in front of my face! The western route!
Now, whether this was the best route I don’t know, but I took some comfort in the fact that at least someone had passed this way and appeared to be heading in the preferred direction. After an hour or so spent steadily ascending through a thickening, then thinning, forest of spruce/fir, over, around, and in one case under, tumbled moss covered boulders and switchbacking through exposed vertical ledges I came to the end of the flagged route at the smooth open face and overhanging ledges of The Captain’s primary wall.
After looking the situation over up, down,and literally, sideways, I decided my best shot at getting on top was to move clockwise around the base of the face until I could find my way up the less steep back (north) side. For the better part of the next two hours I did just that. Progress (often on hands and knees) was slow and I was continually getting abused by the terrain and vegetation in my sidling along. When I finally reached the point where I could move upward in a more direct way, maybe an hour from the top, it was early afternoon and I had to accept the fact that there was no way I was going to get on top and make it out in daylight. So, reluctantly, and like others before me, I stopped forward progress and began my return bushwhack.
Taking a route more direct than as I’d come I soon became aware of the toll the previous weeks battle with a flu and today’s climb, combined with inadequate hydrating along the way, had taken on my body as I now was experiencing waves of nausea and had to stop twice to get through bouts of dry heaves. Given my unfamiliarity with the terrain and the fact the sun was already behind the Hancock’s added to a concern growing in my mind. It was with a mix of relief and confidence built on having chosen a good route that I soon cut the flagged route I’d come in on at a natural resting spot close to a small brook. Here I rested, gathered my thoughts, and drank stream water slowly for half an hour or so before resuming my exit.
In time, following the flagging, I found myself back on a trail and passing through the small openings and eventually the unmaintained logging road I’d come in on earlier. It was then that I had an experience of a type, that while not uncommon, or unusual, in Tasmania, I can’t recall ever happening in such a direct way here in New Hampshire.
On the last section of the unmaintained road, and with the maintained logging road in sight, I felt an urgency in my mind to turn and look behind me. As I did I saw, and experienced, the sight and sensation of a expanding burst of white light rush toward, envelope, and pass through me in what seemed a split second. Although I knew I’d just encountered some kind of manifestation of energy I tried to look for other reasons such as light reflecting off my glasses as I turned, clouds, some trick of light, but nothing came of my efforts. It was what it was.
Not particularly perturbed by this I continued on my way the several miles to my car, reaching it at 4:30 as the oncoming evenings cool gloom grew more established by the minute.