Skip navigation

Category Archives: New Hampshire

In this case the ass was mine.

 

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.

 

So you be The Captain…

…and I’ll be no one.

Although I feel  I owe one…

…to you

 

Kasey Chambers “The Captain”

 

I’ll be back.

 

Advertisements

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.

 

 

 
 

NANCY1025 015
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.  

NANCY1025 018
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.

NANCY1025 021

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.

Z
Photo: Brad Washburn

 

NANCY 1026 003
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.

NANCY1025 009
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!

NANCY1025 014

NANCY1025 013

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.

NANCY1025 016

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.

 NANCY1025 010

 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.

 NANCY1025 005

  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.

NANCY1025 004

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.

MISC1027 015

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.

NANCY 1026 001

Mt. Lowell

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.

NANCY1025 001

Bears Don't Aways Crap In The Woods

In the half light of dawn…

MORNING 008

I walked in a field…

MORNING 010

where hay was baled.

MORNING 012

I came to a stream…

MORNING 014

which led to where the world was reflected…

MORNING 017

in quiet waters.

MORNING 015

The woods nearby…

MORNING 023

had many colors.

MORNING 019

Far off in a farmhouse a woman lay smiling…

MORNING 022

 in the half light of dawn.

I knew Albert Dow, and while I didn’t feel I knew him well enough to think of him as a friend of mine he always left me feeling like I was a friend of his. He was that kind of guy. Intelligent, handsome, and open hearted he was destined for greatness. For Albert, greatness, and tragedy, arrived on January 25th,1982.

 

New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington has a reputation for having the “World’s Worst Weather”, and in fact the highest wind speed ever recorded on earth occurred there April 12th, 1934, 231 mph (372 km/h). Being the highest point in the northeastern US it draws large numbers of visitors year round to its alpine summit. Winter conditions there can be extreme.

 

Such was the case late on January 23d, 1982 when climbing phenom Hugh Herr,17, and Jeffery Baltzer,20, left the Harvard Cabin and headed into Huntington Ravine on Mt. Washington’s northeast shoulder to do some ice climbing in Odell’s Gully on the way to the summit. Conditions deteriorated during their trip and they soon found themselves lost in a whiteout blizzard.

 

Overdue in their return, with temperatures heading below 0 degrees F and wind speeds of 100mph being recorded on the summit, members of the volunteer Mountain Rescue Service headed out to search for them. On the second day of the search, January 25th, Albert and Mike Hartrick found some of Herr & Baltzer’s tracks but were unable to locate the climbers. On their descent ,and below treeline near the Lion’s Head they were overtaken by a slab avalanche which swept them further downslope through the trees. Despite the punishing circumstances, when the avalanche subsided Hartrick was alive and conscious, able to clear an airspace and use his radio to call for assistance. Later Dow’s body was recovered, it is believed he died instantly when overtaken by the crushing snowslide.

 

The next day the weather moderated, and a person snowshoeing in the Great Gulf area came upon tracks circling in the snow and shortly after Herr and Baltzer. A military helicopter was later used to remove them to an area hospital as death from hypothermia approached. Ultimately Herr was to lose both legs and Baltzer his lower left leg, toes on his right foot, and fingers on his left hand.

 

Today Herr is an Associate Professor at MIT and a respected authority in prosthetics probably best known to the general public through his work with South African sprinter and double amputee Oscar Pistorius.  Baltzer is the Director of Pastoral Care at the Lancaster(PA) Evangelical Free Church. The small building in the photo with the plaque honoring Albert is a first aid cache containing rescue gear located in Huntington Ravine.

ADOW 002

 

photo: Brad Washburn

photo: Brad Washburn

While hiking the other day I came across the first ripe low bush blueberries of the season growing on the ledges of a not to be disclosed mountain. I took the time to pick enough (a quart/liter) for a pie.

BB 711 002

BB 711 007

ARETHUSA 710 007

DRYAD-GIANT 7609 003

 

DRYAD-GIANT 7409 012

UPPER FALLS

DRYAD-GIANT 7609 001

As I head out for a day of hiking I probably have within a few hours drive enough choices of where to hike to keep me busy for a decade or two without having to spend an entire day on trails I’ve been on before. But I wanted a place nearby where I could generally repeat the same hike, a place that was pretty and varied, and a place where I could hike mainly in solitude. My reasoning being that by covering the same ground I could gauge how my body and mind was affected by changes in my starting  physical condition and attitude, gear I was wearing or carrying, the time of year, weather, etc..

 

I found that place and go there regularly, today in fact. But, instead of following my usual habit of getting the little fire in the engine of my body up and running, then flying around the hills all day like some kind of  wee trail beastie sprite  I decided to spend the whole time dawdling along, reading, bushwacking through the mountain woodlands, and indulging the naturalist within. I gathered spruce gum, looked at and photographed flowering plants, roots, and rocks, poked around vernal pools, watched birds, probed a variety of animal scats, and drank from  trickles and cascades. It didn’t hurt that it was also about a perfect day weatherwise.AD 6-8 002