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31 July 2012

Breaking My Own Rules: A Visit to Mt. Bemis

This wasn't my first visit to the former fire tower site on Mt. Bemis.  Since I've been there before, and since I used the same route as previous visits, this is at odds with my recent quest to try doing something new and/or different on each of my hikes.   However, since it had been nearly 6-years since my last visit, I considered Mt. Bemis to be a "hike-worthy" destination.  And besides, I'm not adverse to breaking my own self-imposed rules!

There once was a trail leading to the fire tower, as shown below on the 1950 USGS Crawford Notch quadrangle map.  The trail to the Bemis tower is highlighted in green. The Nancy Pond Trail is highlighted in yellow.
1950 USGS Crawford Notch quadrangle map

You'll note that the above map doesn't show the Nancy Pond Trail continuing onward to Nancy and Norcross Ponds. The 1938 hurricane knocked down thousands of trees in the Nancy Brook valley, and as a result, the Nancy Pond Trail (which had just been opened) was closed. It wasn't reopened until 1960!

The route to the tower begins at the trailhead for the Nancy Pond Trail.  At about 1.6 miles where the Nancy Pond trail makes the first major crossing of Nancy Brook, an old Fire Warden's trail diverges right.  Soon after stepping foot on this abandoned trail, there is signage which warns against maintaining this trail.  However, the sign also states that "Public use of these lands is welcome."
USFS Sign posted near beginning of abandoned trail to fire tower on Mt. Bemis

The trail to the old fire tower site is only about 2 miles in length.  Overall, it's a relatively gentle, but steady climb.  However, since it isn't a maintained trail, there are numerous blowdowns to step over, and in many cases, to crawl under.  The majority of this old trail is easy to follow, but there are a few short segments where the trail is so overgrown that it's difficult to locate the pathway, and sometimes you can barely even see your own feet!

Because a few segments of the trail are obscure, it's probably best if you don't attempt this hike if you're unaccustomed to this type of hiking.  And if you do attempt it, you should wear long pants because you're going to get scratched up!

The next photo shows two contrasting segments of trail.  On the left side is "the good", and on the right is the "the bad and the ugly".  Actually, "the bad and ugly" is even more "bad and ugly" in one very small section!
Trail to Mt. Bemis: "the good" (left side); "the bad and the ugly" (right side)

Just before reaching the worst of the "bad and ugly" spots, there is a small opening which provides a nice view looking northward up the Crawford Notch, as seen in the next photo.  In the center is Mt. Willard, and the Willey Range is on the left, and Mt. Webster is on the right side.
Crawford Notch as viewed from trail to Mt. Bemis

As you travel further up the trail, you come to a spot at around 3,150 ft  where there is a beautiful wide-open meadow filled with low-growing shrubs.  The vistas from here are as good as you would experience from a ledge. In my opinion, the views from this meadow are the best part of the entire trek, and would make a worthy destination unto itself.

From this meadow, there is a great vista looking southward.  Shown in the next photo is a snippet of this view.  Just as a brief overview, Attitash and the Moats are on the left, where an active thunderstorm was taking place!  And on the right side of the photo are peaks such as Bartlett Haystack, plus Bear Mountain and Mt. Chocorua can also be seen.
Southward view from "the meadows" on trail to Mt. Bemis

There is also a nice easterly vista from "the meadows".  Kearsarge North is the pointed peak that is seen on the horizon in the next photo.
Eastward view from "the meadows" on trail to Mt. Bemis

The next photo is looking northeasterly from "the meadows", where there is a vista that includes a portion of the Presidential Range-Dry River Wilderness, as well as Mt. Washington (and other Presidential peaks) which are seen resting at the north end of Oakes Gulf.
Northeasterly view from "the meadows" on trail to Mt. Bemis

After hiking about 3.7 miles from the trailhead on US 302, you will arrive at the site of the old fire tower.  The tower was actually located on sort of a sub-peak of Mt. Bemis.  The true summit is about 400 ft to the west, and it can be seen off to your left as you approach the fire tower site.  It's a bushwhack to get there, and on this particular trip, I didn't include it in my itinerary.  Been there, done that!

Regarding the Bemis Fire Tower, it was a wooden structure which was 29 ft tall, and was in operation for about 8 years between 1940 to 1948.  The next photo shows what the tower looked like when it was still standing.
Bemis Fire Tower when still standing

The next photo shows a portion of the demolished structure as it appears today.  There are other pieces of the tower that are strewn about here and there.
Portion of the demolished Bemis Fire Tower

Shown in the next photo is a compilation of just a few of other fire tower "body parts", and a few of the many artifacts associated with the tower when it was operational.  And just as a gentle reminder, it is illegal to remove artifacts from the National Forest.
Fire tower "body parts", plus a few of the many artifacts associated with the tower

About the only view from fire tower site is through a narrow opening looking toward the Presidential Range.  The next photo shows a zoomed image of that view.  And as can be seen, even with this confined vista, there is a fairly encompassing view of the vast Presidential Range Dry River Wilderness.  I presume that a major purpose of the old fire tower was to keep watch over that area.
Presidential Range-Dry River Wilderness Area as seen from Bemis Fire Tower site

To Sum it up,  I'm glad I broke my own rules and opted to make a return visit to the site where the Bemis Fire Tower once stood.  It was worth doing just to re-experience the views from "the meadows" area which lies along the abandoned trail.  It might be at least another 6 years before I make another return visit.  But on the other hand, who knows!  Perhaps I'll find this route useful as a launch point for an adventure that is new and different!

(Date of this hike: 30-July-2012)

ADDENDUM (added 02-Aug-2012):  A private e-mail was received from Ben English who took the photo of the Bemis Tower when it was still standing.  In part, his communication read as follows:

"Date of my photo of the Bemis Tower is June 25, 1961.  Took it with my first camera, a Brownie Hawkeye.  I was fortunate to have taken that pic.  According to Iris Baird*, that is the only known photo of the Bemis Tower."

* Iris Baird and Chris Haartz are the authors of a book entitled: A Field Guide to New Hampshire Firetowers.


Larry said...


I do enjoy reading and viewing your posts. Regarding repeat visits or hikes, remember that quote inscribed in a path-stone on a short trail in Wave-Hill park in da Bronx:
"Ever present, never twice the same." Every day and path is new and fresh, no matter how many times walked. Peace!

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Larry,

Glad you enjoy my posts. Thank you for taking time to post your comments and thoughts! It’s always a pleasure to receive feedback!

The quote that you passed along is terrific! It unquestionably provides some food for thought. And don’t be too surprised if it might be incorporated into some future Blog of mine!

I certainly agree that each day of our life-journey is “new and fresh”, regardless of whether it’s lived by taking a familiar or an unfamiliar path. My current goal is to get that “new and fresh” experience by traveling unfamiliar paths. Perhaps it’s all a matter of degree, i.e. how “new and fresh” do you want your experience to be? Perhaps a day spent traveling along unfamiliar paths is a bit “newer and fresher” than a day spent on a familiar path? Dunno!?

Thanks again,

Anonymous said...

Your report brings back memories. Back in the day when my family was young (guess that means I’m older now), we would sometimes go up to that meadow you described and have a picnic lunch. It got us away from the crowds, and we sort of felt like we were enjoying a “Sound of Music” experience. The only problem was that there is really no good place to spread out in that low scrub, like there is on a ledge. So, we’d sit in the pathway lined up single file. Must have been a comical sight. Wish I had a photo. Never thought to take one!

Thnx for the memories!

Unknown said...

Good stuff as always John. Makes me want to revisit Bemis, only this time without clouds of black flies.

Rita Wechter said...

Don't you just love those mountain meadows? You're right, John, those picturesque meadows sometimes make worthy destinations on their own.

The "bad and ugly" spots along this trail look as though they could test anyone's hiking prowess, mine included!

After six years I'd say this counts as a "new and different" hike; after all, lots can change in an unmanaged landscape over the course of six years.
That said, I love the sentiment in the quote from Larry's comment. I may use it someday myself!


1HappyHiker said...

Glad my report generated some good memories!

Yes, that meadow is quite a unique spot, and apparently you agree with the statement made in my report about it being a destination unto itself. I don’t know if the swath of blowdowns prior to “the meadows” was there when you and your family would visit this spot. Regardless, nowadays I consider crawling over and under this patch of downed trees as just a part of the adventure! :-)

And yes, the seating accommodations there at the meadow are still a bit awkward. But, it sounds like it didn’t deter you from going there on more than one occasion!


1HappyHiker said...


Don’t know if perhaps you might be Mike, or maybe Steve. Regardless, I know of a pair of guys by those names who did an epic bushwhack between Mt. Bemis and Mt. Nancy. As I recall, it was done during the black fly season, which understandably made for a most memorable journey! :-)
But yes, revisiting Bemis should be a very pleasant experience “without clouds of black flies”! Go for it!


1HappyHiker said...

Hi Rita,

Thank you for your comments, which I always value!

Regarding those mountain meadows, I was heartened to read your comments, and those of Anonymous, regarding this landscape feature. Although I never mind being a “loner” in my opinions, nonetheless it’s still great to read that others have similar thoughts and feelings. Guess that’s just human nature?!

And yes, I completely agree that the quote included in Larry’s comment was outstanding!


Anonymous said...

Loved Larry's comment! Its funny this comes up. I am trying to hike different peaks and not repeat them, but as I get older I am beginning to question when does an old hike become new again? (Ifind that I can't remember most of the older hikes I have done!!) I find that I like exploring new areas and it brings me to different parts of the state, which I enjoy. Which is why this blog is so great, you have some unusual hikes in there that only add to my list!!

Great trip report, sounds like a worthy trip. Even if it is a repeat hike for you- it is a "new" trip report to me!!

Hiking Lady

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Hiking Lady,

That is a fantastic question that you raise, i.e. when does an old hike become new again?! My guess is that it’s highly individualistic since a lot would depend on what criteria you set up for yourself. Just as one example, a hike can be considered as new for me as long as I take a new route, even if the destination might be one that I just visited rather recently.

Also, I should add that after having done the hike to Bemis, I’m now considering adding “passage of time” as a criteria for being a “new” hike. No decisions have been made, but I might consider a hike as “new” if 5 years (or more) have passed since I last did the hike. In the end, it’s all just a made-up game, and it really has no significance to anyone other than yourself. However, as you point out, exploring new areas does get you to different parts of NH, as well as to other areas, such as Vermont, Maine, and beyond! To me, that is very worthwhile.

Thanks for taking time to post your comments.


1HappyHiker said...

An ADDENDUM was just added to my Blog report to incorporate a private e-mail that was received from Ben English who took the photo of the Bemis Tower when it was still standing. In part, Ben's communication read as follows:

"Date of my photo of the Bemis Tower is June 25, 1961. Took it with my first camera, a Brownie Hawkeye. I was fortunate to have taken that pic. According to Iris Baird*, that is the only known photo of the Bemis Tower."

* 1HappyHiker notation: Iris Baird and Chris Haartz are the authors of a book entitled: "A Field Guide to New Hampshire Firetowers".

Grant Ritter said...


You picked a great hike to break your rules! I think rules are no fun when they are always adhered to anyways! Fire towers like this have always interested me; there seem to have been many of them strewn about New England...I wonder what it was like for the people stationed in them.

That trail looked very intense, do you think there was a lot of tick danger there?


1HappyHiker said...

Hi Grant,

Man, do I ever TOTALLY agree with your comment that “rules are no fun when the are always adhered to”!

Regarding your comment and question about the trail to the Bemis fire tower, it is only “intense” in a few very short segments. And regarding “tick danger”, I’m always very vigilant about that. I hate those creepy critters, and especially hate the disease they can transmit. Anyway, I felt very comfortable on this trail about ticks. The few thick sections of trail consists mainly of conifers, and that is usually NOT a place where ticks hang out. I came home “tick-free”! :-)

Thanks for taking a moment to post your comments. Much appreciated!