I’ve been awfully antisocial for the past few months, spending pretty much all of my time either hiking with Yvonne or holed up in the library with my computer. On Tuesday, Phil (of sectionhiker.com) convinced me to join a bushwhack to the top of one of New England’s hundred highest peaks– Mount Nancy at the east edge of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. The forecast for the day was brutally cold, which combined with an early wake up to make a painful start to the day. But at 8:30 on Tuesday morning I found myself at the trailhead with Phil and his friend Kaitrin, eager to walk.
Due to the warm weather of the past few weeks, followed by frigid cold, what snow was left on the ground had solidified into an icy crust. We left our snowshoes behind and opted for just microspikes and light crampons, meaning quicker walking as long as the snow remained solid in higher elevations. The first few miles of trail to Nancy Pond are an old logging road grade, but eventually the trail climbs steeply along the Nancy Brook cascades. Yvonne and I had hiked this trail last year, so it was still fresh in my mind. We had turned around at Norcross Pond, though, rather than continuing to the mountain.
We moved fast to avoid freezing, but the bright, sunny sky also helped with that. For a while, the trail stayed in open hardwoods and allowed plenty of sunlight and heat in. But once we got closer to the cascades and the surrounding mountains, sunlight was a rare commodity. It didn’t take long once in the shade for the frigid temperature to remind us to keep moving.
Once up to Nancy Pond and then Norcross Pond, we had spectacular views to the surrounding peaks, like Duck Pond Mountain and Mount Nancy. Also, at the outlet of Norcross Pond, where the bushwhack starts, there is a tremendous view into the Pemigewasset Wilderness, over the Bond Range to the Twin Mountains and Franconia Ridge. That spot must be a terrific picnic area in summer. In winter it’s just as fine, but you can’t stay put too long without a chill.
From Norcross Pond, we started out on the “off-trail” segment of the day. I’m not much of a bushwhacker because I’ve had enough experiences getting caught in nasty, dense forest trying to do so, but this was something else. Apparently, popular peaks without official trails aren’t always nasty bushwhacks. The herd path was easy to find due to a Forest Service sign warning of an “unmaintained trail”, and from there it was only mildly harder to find than an average, overgrown trail. Which isn’t to say it was an easy hike– we never took out maps and compasses for navigation, but there were a few points where we briefly lost the trail.
Once atop Mount Nancy, we discovered an unexpected view toward Crawford Notch and the Presidential Range, all the way east to Kearsarge Mountain. I had been expecting the view from Norcross Pond to be our only one for the day, so this was a wonderful surprise.
Throughout the day, there was a lot of talk about hiking groups, hiking destinations, goals, and so on. Both Phil and Kaitrin are very active with organized hiking groups like the Appalachian Mountain Club. We talked about how hiking with different groups or different people, or just hiking alone, all fulfill such different parts of what makes us love the outdoors. I guess I haven’t had the urge to hike with organized groups in a while, but I am feeling quite the urge to head out for a few nights alone on the trail– that probably won’t happen until the weather warms up quite a bit. In the meantime, the many day-hikes with Yvonne over the winter have been really satisfying.
The trip back down to the cars sped by, with just a little more of a stop at Norcross Pond for more views. We arrived back at the cars just before 5 PM after a perfect, 8.5 hour day. The only downside, then, was the nearly three-hour drive on either side, but even that is hard to complain about after such a fine day. I’d forgotten about the third kind of hiking that I love so much, after hiking alone and hiking with Yvonne– hiking with people I’ve never met or rarely see, and having a really pleasant social connection in such an unlikely setting.