Nancy Pond Trail and Mt. Carrigan - August 31 to September 1
After much searching for hiking loops that would lend themselves to a two day trip, be remote, and also include a mountain, I eventually settle with Nancy Pond trail to Mount Carrigan. I will park at the Signal Ridge trailhead on Sawyer River Road and start with Nancy pond trail and travel counter clockwise so that I finish the hike by climbing Desolation trail to the summit of Mount Carrigan. I previously down climbed Desolation trail in the rain on a past hike and wasn't to keen to do that again. It means that the first day has a bit of mileage but it is not going to be really steep and rough terrain. Since I have done the shorter Carrigan loop as a day hike before I peg this as relatively easy, without being boringly easy, hike. And also a good reintroduction to backpacking, having never done a solo overnight and not backpacking in nearly 10 years.
Two nights before I start my preparations, beginning the process of making beef jerky, which takes much longer than anticipated because I didn't slice all the pieces thin enough. By midnight about half of the jerky is done and the next morning the rest of it looks acceptably dried out. The next night I hard boil 4 eggs for the next couple days, and make coffee for the drive up. Then I pack everything up, I plan to hike in shorts and tshirt and additionally bring my light down jacket and long pants and a wool hat for around camp or if the weather turns. I leave behind my rain jacket and gloves and resist the urge to pack extra underwear and extra shirts knowing I won't use them. My pack weighs in at 25 pounds without food and water. Then I set everything out, including a full extra set of clothes to leave in the car - on my previous Carrigan trip I brought a change of shirt and underwear only, but no pants. Well after getting rained on all day and no dry pants... I drove home in my underwear.
I set my alarm for 4am and go to sleep early. When the alarm goes off I spend a few minutes stumbling around collecting my things and by 4:15am I'm on my way, stopping only for a quick pit stop at The Basin latrines. I reach the Signal Ridge trailhead just before 7am and a few minutes later I'm on my way. There are only two other cars in the lot and as I start making my way back towards the highway several others drive in. I parked at Signal Ridge so that I get the road walking portion of the trip done at the beginning when my legs are still fresh and my ambitions are still high. After 10 minutes I consider whether I should have just hiked into Carrigan notch and done a more out and back style hike instead of a loop. I trudge along this road and then Rt 302 for the next hour and at 8am I am at Nancy Pond trailhead, with only one other car parked here. I stop for a few minutes to shake the road sand out of my shoes and have my breakfast, a hard boiled egg and a couple pieces of jerky.
The Nancy Pond hike starts off nice and easy, it follows a stream and gets steeper and steeper. I'm huffing and puffing pretty hard by the time I reach Nancy falls. Even though I'm not hitting any mountains today it's not easy and I really feel the extra weight from my overnight gear. Past the falls it flattens out and gets pretty swampy, through here I'm moving quickly and stopping only occasionally for water. At one point my foot gets sucked into a puddle of muck. Once I reach Nancy pond, which is also a little bit swampy, but the terrain is much drier and pleasant here. I stop and take in the mountains in the distance and put my bag down to rest and get water. Once I stop moving it hits me, it is completely quiet, there isn't a single sound just a small ringing in my ear. I'm awestruck at how peaceful it is up here and now I'm glad to have put up with the 3 miles of road walking at the beginning of the trip.
Lower Nancy Falls - This is one of the so called "natural water slides"
Nancy Pond Swamp
I keep going and soon reach Norcross pond which is bigger and has some boulders strewn in it. Here I pass a few sandy portions of the pond and I stop to rinse the muck off my feet, but it doesn't work that well and I keep going. Immediately before the end of the pond I pass the herd path for Mount Nancy. I stop at the stream leaving the pond and consider whether I want to climb this or not. I consider that my feet already hurt quite a bit, then I see clouds in the sky and wind on the pond blowing towards me. With both of these things I decide against it. Instead I fill up on water and properly rinse my shoes out.
Norcross Pond Pemi Valley
From here I continue on Nancy Pond trail into the valley. It's really remote and I'm breaking spider webs on the trail. The forest around me starts to get much thicker until eventually it becomes the thin swampy plants. I thoroughly enjoy this section of trail, the scenery, the solitude, and gradual downhill slope. I don't see any animals except squirrels, but I do pass quite a bit of moose poop and maybe some bear poop.
It's been kind of clammy out so when I reach the first stream crossing I can feel the sunlight through the gap in the trees. I spend a few minutes resting my legs and warming up, at each of the next stream crossing I do this too. Along the way to the Carrigan Notch trail junction I pass through an extremely dense corridor of trees, it's bizarre and creepy feeling here. The trail has been forged right through this and there is a wall of trees on either side, you couldn't walk off trail if you wanted to. Eventually I reach Stillwater junction and I head west down the Wilderness trail to explore. I'm so tired that I set my limit at 15 minutes walking before turning around or setting up camp, the terrain here isn't as good so I do end up turning back. Then I set up camp at [undisclosed location], I'm using an established, but illegal campsite.
Nancy Pond Trail Pemi Valley
After I hang my bear bag it's about 3pm and the sun is still out so I capitalize on this and spend about an hour soaking in one of the stream pools and exploring the stream. This numbs all my aches and pains from hiking all day, although walking back and forth on the stream creates new pains. The rest of the evening goes quick as I have dinner, gather firewood and setup my hammock. There wasn't rain forecast when I last checked at home and the sky still looks clear so I don't use my rain cover.
Stillwater Junction Swimming Hole
The last time I used my hammock years ago I was quite cold at night, it was also October, and so this time I brought my sleeping pad with me. Placing the sleeping pad inside the hammock worked quite well and it retained a lot of warmth. Although my heel did put a hole into it while adjusting my body position. I was also conscious not to toss and turn too much lest the sleeping bag and pad shift out of alignment making it hard to stay centered and balanced. I don't fall soundly asleep right away, I have short bursts of sleep then poke my head up and look around. Later in the night it is darker and I can see the star filled sky above me through the trees. Even though there are trees the view of the sky still feels completely unobstructed because there is no light pollution. Eventually I fall totally asleep and soon wake up to the hazy morning sky. During the night it has become much colder than it was when I went to bed so I stay in my bag and look around and relish in the warmth. Before bed I had thrown my down jacket into the sleeping bag and it spent the whole night at my feet, now I fish it out and put it on before I climb out of the hammock.
Even though I'm groggy and tired I don't waste time packing everything up and fetching my bear bag. I eat my hard boiled egg and some jerky and fill up on water. Then I police up the campsite, fluffing up the ground, picking up trash (a cigarette butt, partial candy wrapper, and a bunch of these tiny circular band-aids ???) and grumble about the kind of person that hikes 10 miles into the woods just to leave that crap there. By 8am I am packed up and back on the trail, for a hiking day I've really slept in and got a late start. It doesn't take long for Desolation trail to start getting steep and difficult and I realize how unadjusted my legs are to two consecutive hiking days, even with conservative mileage. Long before Desolation trail gets technically difficult it is physically strenuous, it's humid, and the mountain fruit flies are everywhere. After a seemingly endless trek straight up there is a glimpse down into the valley and this is slightly rewarding to see how high I've come, I also know that I'm probably only halfway and I can see the other smaller peaks, Vose Spur maybe it was, still higher than I am. I wonder to myself how anyone could bush wack this terrain as it's absolutely brutal even on trail.
Soon the technical and even steeper portion of the trail begins. My legs are getting sore and low on energy, though not painful fortunately. I stop to rest and also eat one of my candy bars. The whole way I've been feeling thirsty and I've put a big dent in my water supply. I started out with only 1.5 liters of water. Normally I finish a hike after just finishing my second liter, so I figure this would be plenty to do a shorter hike and tide me over before the next stream. Now that next stream feels pretty far away and I question whether I brought enough water. Past the point of no return I have no choice and keep going up. Some of the trail seems familiar from the last time I did it and I wonder how I possibly managed to descend this in the rain. Then I get to the really steep section, for several hundred feet it looks like it goes about straight up, it's not quite rock climbing, but I use all my appendages. Gradually the trail becomes less steep, the ground becomes softer, and the trees thin. For the last half hour of my trek up every bend I wonder if it's the summit.
Desolation Trail Steep Section
It's such a relief when I reach the summit to know that I won't be gaining anymore elevation. I toss my pack down and climb the overlook tower. It's only 30 feet high or so, but it freaks me out being in the wind and looking out over the mountains, it feels much higher than it is. I don't linger too long at the summit and start making my way down. There are hordes of people coming up this way, the day prior I saw only one person out on the trail, now I see somebody every few minutes and it stays like that for the entirety of the descent. Passing over Signal Ridge it is awe inspiring how steep the drop off is. When I walked over Signal Ridge on my first trip, in clouds, it felt like the edge of the earth and that feeling remains even though today I can see mountains in the distance.
Signal Ridge from Carrigan Summit
Carrigan Notch from Signal Ridge - Vose Spur on Left, Mount Lowell on Right
Now that I'm going down I am not quite so thirsty and so with that worry gone I can concentrate on how much my feet hurt. My feet are absolutely pummeled from the rocks of all shapes and sizes, nothing is flat and there is no avoiding them. I coin this the "NH foot massage". I step carefully and am traveling very slowly. When I reach the first stream crossing I let my feet soak for a minute or so, then again at the next stream crossing. By the time I hit the stream crossings I know that I am close to the car and so I keep pushing knowing that I won't really be able to rest and relax until then. The last mile and a half is over nice soft spongy ground. Sometimes I find this part of the hike tedious, but I'm enjoying myself as much as possible. It's really nice to be over the difficult part and I'm really happy I got the road and highway walking out of the way at the very beginning, that would have been absolute torture to do right now.
Back at the parking lot the first thing I do is scoot down to the stream and soak my legs up to me knees. I initially planned on exploring here a bit and seeing if I could find a swimming hole in the Sawyer river, instead I sit at the stream for a few minutes, then hobble straight to my car. I take off my wet shoes, sit in the passenger seat, and snack on peanut butter, crackers, the remaining jerky, and water.
Full loop on google earth satellite view
Time: 2 days
Cumulative Elevation Gain: 5322'