October 12 & 13, 2013.
My second overnighter heading into an area with lots of logging history, the Pemigewasset Wilderness. The plan is simple with a big lollipop hike out into the middle of nowhere. The plan is to make it as close to Shoal Pond as possible hoping for a decent site to setup for the night.
Arriving at Lincoln Woods at 8:30 and ten minutes later off on a long adventure into the peaceful Pemi Wilderness. The morning is overcast but thankfully dry and the temps are mild. Not much left for color but no matter as the scenery is still great. The Pemi East Side trail follows (go figure) the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River all the way to Stillwater Junction near Mt Carrigain.
Along the way there is a newer (maybe 30-50 years old) tree growing on a decaying large stump possibly from the last logging activity many years ago. This whole area is rich with logging with most of today's hiking trails being the old railroad beds of a bygone era.
A little further up the trail and evidence of Irene from two years ago is still evident. Here and there one can see the eroded bankings on both sides of the river and in one spot a section of trail is completely wiped out with a culvert moved twenty feet downstream.
The fall colors on the ground and the little bit left in the trees.
Reaching the Franconia Brook Campsite just over an hour from starting with a few diversions down to the river and the Ranger's campsite is deserted due to the government shutdown.
Just beyond the tent sites I reach the gate to the Pemi Wilderness and head down to the left to the river where there used to be a rock hoppable crossing to the other side where Lincoln Woods Trail is.
Back up onto the trail and just a short ways up and more erosion from Irene and the Ranger's Pool, a natural deep spot in the river.
Crossing Cedar Brook and a peculiar sighting on the left of the trail.
Not something you would expect to see four miles into the woods and a mile from the site of the old suspension bridge. I can only surmise that it is getting slowly dragged out of the woods bt the forest department and this is the remnants of the old bridge. Lord only knows how they are dragging it out as it is several hundred feet long and one long piece. Hiking up the short mildly steep grade to the junction with Cedar Brook Trail (haven't done that section of trail yet between here and Hancock Loop Trail) and just beyond are the first visible signs of the old logging railroads that use to haul the wood out of this area. The iron rails were removed sometime in the middle to late 1940's but the wooden ties still remain.
Down a short ways and there is still a sign (incorrectly labeled for today's trails) left over from when the suspension bridge was still in place. The section between Cedar Brook Trail junction and the suspension bridge was the continuation of Cedar Brook Trail, today that section is the Wilderness Trail. The trail between Stillwater junction and across the suspension bridge to the junction with Franconia Brook Trail was the Wilderness Trail. Today the Wilderness Trail is between Stillwater Junction and the junction with Cedar Brook Trail and Pemi East Side trail.
Heading left down the trail leads to the site of the old suspension bridge.
Just downstream are leftover footings from the old logging railroad track crossing.
Back up to the trail and just before reaching the site of logging Camp #17 looms a massive mountain through the trees. It takes me a minute to figure out what it is and when I reach the clearing of the camp site it dawns on me as to which peak it is, Carrigain.
The hike out through this isolated area of the Pemi is fantastic. Quiet and peaceful, a great clear your head area. The trail is constantly changing from hardwood forests to evergreens. Poking around on the Internet and I've read that this whole area was once all red spruce. The hardwoods didn't come into existence until after the stripping of the landscape by logging barons.
Reaching the fork for Thoreau Falls (my return path) and Wilderness Trails at 12:15, just three and half hours from starting, I continue on the Wilderness Trail and get a glimpse of Bondcliff and Bond to my left through the trees.
A short ways up the trail and an odd rock catches my eye. It is an artifact from the logging days or someone's bad Christmas, a lump of coal.
Just beyond my coal discovery and there is an opening on the left side of the trail that leads down to the East Branch of the Pemi River. There are more footings for a long gone railroad trestle and this section of the river is a boulder filled area of decent size.
Around eight miles in and just before reaching logging Camp 18 I see my first and only rail on this whole journey. It is off in the woods to my right about six to eight feet in the woods. Sitting in these woods for over half a century since the last train ran through here and it still looks like it could carry the weight of a train.
A few minutes later and I am walking through the middle of Camp 18 and finally I have come across some artifacts of a long ago society of tree fellers. I get all giddy with these discoveries, even though most of it was next to the trail. It is a first for me as I have read and heard about their existence and now I have seen them first hand.
At the crossing of Carrigain Branch another viewpoint of Carrigain and this time I can make out the fire tower on top. Great memories of when I was standing on that tower back in January of 2012 on a clear winter day. A spot where you can see 43 of the 48 4000 footers.
At two o'clock I reach Stillwater Junction, a beautiful spot where three trails converge right next to a site of an old dam on the East Branch. This looks like a great spot for a rest and some lunch. It is quiet and peaceful here and if I didn't have to be back home at a certain time tomorrow this would be a great spot to set-up for the night. But only hiking 9.3 miles with a total of 25.5 miles for both days I still have quite a ways to go before I can feel comfortable settling down for the night.
So pulling some water from the stream and heating it up with my Vargo Triad alcohol stove for some mac & cheese and a cup of noodles. Sitting on the log and enjoying this sweet spot that I'll be back to at another time when I do Carrigain Notch and Desolation Trails. Might even make a special trip when I do Nancy Pond Trail to do some exploring in this area as there are old abandoned trails in this area also. Forty minutes later and it is time to press on and get as far as I can before the sun starts to set. The original goal was to get out by Shoal Pond before dark but I think I can make it further with about three hours of light left. Heading out across East Branch and on to Shoal Pond Trail and what a different trail this is. Almost immediately it goes through a densely over grown patch of spruce. It is so thick you can not see where you are stepping nor what is right in front of you.
Moving along and it opens up and then through a patch of blowdowns looking like Pick-up Sticks.
Another overgrown section:
Crossing Shoal Pond Brook and passing through another Logging Camp, number 21. No time to explore this one as I need to get as far as I can to have time to find a sleeping spot. A few minutes later and I come upon a slabby area of the brook known as the "pool". During the summer I can envision this as being a great cool off spot.
By 4:30 I reach the southern end of Shoal Pond and stop to catch a cloudy picture of Zealand Notch across the way.
A couple hundred yards up the trail and I have the bee-jesus scared out of me as I hear a noise behind and turn and there is a woman coming up behind me. I really didn't expect to see anyone out here at all as not many people hike this trail. Coming around the eastern side of the pond and I head down to the edge and catch a good view of Carrigain looking south.
At ten minutes to five I make it to the junction with Ethan Pond Trail and turn left on it and almost immediately meet the second and last hiker I would see for the day. Crossing over the North Fork on the bridge and in a short fifteen minutes I am at my decision point. I had wanted to pick up an eight tenth mile section of Ethan Pond Trail from this junction to the Zeacliff Trail junction. But not feeling comfortable with the time of day and knowing it would take about 30-45 minutes to do this out and back would push it close to sunset. With the sun setting a little after 6 I'll have to wait on this section when I go through this area next year when I hike the AT. Turning left onto Thoreau Falls Trail and within five minutes I reach the top of Thoreau Falls. I do some exploring trying to get some decent shots of the falls but keeping in the back of mind my time is very limited as I still need to pick out a spot to set-up the hammock.
Ten minutes go by and it is time to get a moving. Looking at where I am supposed to cross over at the top of Thoreau Falls to get to the other side and I can see it is dangerous and have visions of slipping and tumbling down the falls. I step close to where the North Fork is rushing by and the wet slabby rock is very slippery and start looking upstream for a safer crossing point. About ten yards up and I find the best spot and slowly pick my way over, through the brush on the other side and back to the trail. Making my way down the trail and knowing I have to get out of the quarter mile no camping zone of the falls before I can start looking for a spot. Winding my way through the woods and I head off trail to my left up a mild incline to a flat spot a couple hundred feet off the trail.
As I am setting up my hammock on one set of trees I notice I am setting up right over a pile of deer scat that is days fresh. Crap! (pun intended) Swinging one end of the hammock to another tree and I move the scat out of the way so I don't step in it in the middle of the night. It is after six by the time I am all set and the sun has already set. I settle in my hammock for the next twelve hours and in the back of my mind keep thinking I might be in the middle of a deer run and wonder who will be the most surprised in the dark night. The only noise for the night is off in the distance and it is the flowing water of the North Fork. The woods otherwise are quiet and how dark it is indescribable. Surprisingly the night passes by fairly quickly and I half doze in the morning waiting for the sun to light up the woods enough to get going. Packing up everything and by 7:30 I am heading back down to the trail and the 11.8 mile hike out back to Lincoln Woods.
The North Fork Branch of the Pemi is a bit more wild than the East Branch.
I had hoped to cross the river where the old trail use to cross the North Fork and go look for a plaque marking an old airplane crash site. Back in February of 1959 two doctors from Dartmouth disappeared on a return flight from Berlin and weren't found until May. The site is on the other side of the North Fork near where the Thoreau Falls Trail used to be. More on their story can be found in this article. Unfortunately when I reached the spot where the old trail crossed the river it didn't look inviting plus being under time constraints I knew I would be pushing it. I'll save this little exploration for another time when I have a lot more time to poke around. Plugging along and I reach a part of the trail that is along the bank of the river and the trail was eroded away by Irene over two years ago. There is supposed to be a bypass trail here but I never saw it and just carefully made my way across the section.
Following another old railroad grade that makes for some wonderful walking through the woods.
Out of the blue I spy an old railroad tie with the spike still in it.
I look up and realize I am at Camp #22. Making up for missing out on the plane crash site I take the time poking around this area and it is plentiful with leftover artifacts.
Down further the old railroad bed continues straight with the actual trail veering off to the left. I followed the old railroad bed to the edge of the banking but there was no signs of a trestle or bridge across the low ravine. Back up to the trail and across a dry stream bed to a log bridge spanning the East Branch.
This bridge was compromised from Irene two years ago and the picture doesn't show the sag in it. It is limited to one person at a time for now until the USFS can decide what to do about it.
After crossing the bridge the solitude that I have enjoyed up until now is gone. I come across a couple of groups just before the Wilderness trail junction. Back on the Wilderness trail it is all familiar ground as I am retracing my steps from yesterday. The cloud cover is low today and there are no views up through the trees. I reach the Cedar Brook Trail junction and stop for some snacks and then continue on. A couple of hours after leaving the Thoreau Falls Trail and I reach the last trail to red-line for the day, Pine Island Trail. This is a great little trail that parallels the Pemi East Side Trail and brings you down along the bank of the East Branch. It does of course go through a section of...wait for it...PINES!
Parts of this trail were washed out by Irene and relocated just re-opening recently. This section of trail, being so close to Lincoln Woods, is busier and being Columbus Day weekend does not help. At 1:00 I finally make it back to the parking lot and it is jammed full. Everyone is parking everywhere, on the grass and on the roadside. Give the government a shut down and the people go a little hog wild, and no one has to pay the $3 fee! The final shot just before the Ranger information center.
So one long report for a two day hike in some of the best history laden areas of the White Mountains. Lots of memories on top of history and a few places I still need to visit (the crash site) and re-explore.
Final numbers: 25.5 miles, 14 hours and 20 minutes.
Redline Miles: 19.7, Total to Date: 419.1