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13 July 2013

Seeing 'The Captain', and Flirting with Hancock Notch Trail

While trying to come up with a plan for my next outdoor adventure, I stumbled upon a scenario whereby I could combine a hike, a bushwhack, and a mountain bike ride.  This trip would be a little over 7 miles (round-trip).

About 4 of those 7 round-trip miles would be done by mountain biking on an old logging road.  A little over 2 miles would be spent doing an out-and-back hike on a segment of the Hancock Notch Trail.  Another mile or so would be an out-and-back hike on a portion of a bootleg trail that heads toward a peak with a huge cliff known as "The Captain".  And finally, about 0.2 mile (round-trip) would be spent bushwhacking to a small pond on the south side of the Hancock Notch Trail.

Maybe the map shown below will be helpful in making some sense out of the preceding paragraph. (CLICK TO ENLARGE)
Map showing my route of travel (CLICK TO ENLARGE)
PART 1: Seeing "The Captain"

When I came to the end of the 2 mile stretch of logging road, I stashed my mountain bike in the woods.  I then continued on foot along a bootleg trail.  I've previously travelled this faint pathway and knew that it would provide a good view of The Captain, plus a nice view of the Sandwich Range.

The huge cliff on the south side of The Captain is such a fascinating place with a beauty that is rugged and awesome.  It’s tucked away at the head of a ravine that is south of Mt. Carrigain and east of the Hancocks.  There are a few vantage points where it can be seen from a distance.  But to get an up close view, the only vantage point known to me is from what I've dubbed as "The Captain's Ravine".   By hiking a segment of the bootleg trail that leads into this ravine, you can get some intimate views of The Captain.

Shown below is a photo taken of The Captain during my 12-July-2013 adventure.
The Captain!
Perhaps it should be noted that Carrigain Pond is located at the base of The Captain's north side, and therefore some refer to this 3,540 ft mountain as Carrigain Pond Peak.  However, most often this place is referred to as The Captain.  And actually, that name has been in use for nearly 150 years.  On page 188 of the first edition of “Forest and Crag” by Laura and Guy Waterman, there is a short passage where it indicates that The Captain was given its name by the Portland White Mountain Club in the mid 1870s.
Excerpt from "Forest and Crag" by Laura and Guy Waterman
From a meadow along the bootleg trail leading to "The Captain's Ravine" there is a pleasant view looking southward toward peaks in the Sandwich Range, including notable peaks such as Mt. Passaconaway, Mt. Whiteface, North Tripyramid.
Sandwich Range as viewed from a meadow on the bootleg trail mentioned above
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PART 2: Flirting with the Hancock Notch Trail

Following my love fest with views of The Captain, and of the Sandwich Range, I returned to the spot where I had stashed my mountain bike.  However, the bike would remain there while I headed off on to the next phase of my adventure which was to bushwhack to a pond located less than a tenth of a mile off the Hancock Notch Trail.

One might legitimately ask why I chose to visit a pond which doesn't even have a name!  Well, my primary objective for this portion of my trek was merely to get a feel for the eastern end of the Hancock Notch Trail.  The only portion that I'd previously traveled was en route to the Hancocks when I hiked the heavily-used 1.8 mile segment at the western end of the trail.  And so, the unnamed pond was merely used as an arbitrary destination.  As some might agree, a destination can be whatever you personally want it to be.  For example, it doesn't need to be at the top of a mountain where a trail ends!

You might be curious as to how I reached the Hancock Notch Trail from the spot where my bike was stashed.  Near the end of the old logging road, it crosses the Sawyer River on a bridge and then continues for only a few hundred yards where the road terminates at what I presume was once a log landing site.  From the backside of the log landing there is a faint pathway which is only a few hundred yards in length, and it leads you to the Hancock Notch Trail.

Upon stepping foot on the Hancock Notch Trail, I was immediately favorably impressed!  Since this trail is lightly traveled, the footway is relatively smooth, rather than being choppy with exposed roots and rocks, as is the case with high-traffic trails that have become eroded.

Of course I can only speak about the approximate 1-mile segment of trail that I traveled.  However, it was in great shape, and had just recently been maintained.  There was fresh evidence of brushing and removal of downed trees from the trail.

Shown below are a couple of snapshots taken along the Hancock Notch Trail.
Snapshots taken along Hancock Notch Trail
Okay, that was the good news, the other news (which is really old news) is that portions of the Hancock Notch Trail sustained significant damage in August 2011 when Mother Nature threw a temper tantrum in the form of Tropical Storm Irene.  There are some sections of the trail along the Sawyer River where there is still evidence of washouts and erosion caused by this storm.  The next photo shows an example of the damage.
Example of Tropical Storm Irene damage to trail along the Sawyer River
The next photo is basically the same as the one shown above.  However, it provides a closer view of the area where the Hancock Notch Trail is located.  The pink line and arrow shows the trail's corridor.
Pink line and arrow shows Hancock Notch Trail's corridor (after Irene's damage)
After a trekking for about a half hour, I arrived at a likely spot to leave the Hancock Notch Trail to do the short bushwhack to the unnamed pond, which clearly shows up on Google Earth (see next photo). CLICK TO ENLARGE.
Unnamed Pond as seen on Google Earth image (CLICK TO ENLARGE)
This body of water is probably nothing more than a beaver pond, and it covers only about an acre of ground.  Nonetheless, some of the backcountry ponds of this type have an innate beauty.  And some, like this one, provide a window in the forest for some interesting views of mountain peaks.

The next photo shows my first view of the unnamed pond as I approached it. The yellow-colored specks on the pond are water lilies in bloom.
First view of unnamed pond as I approached it
As I walked around the pond, I could see ridges and peaks in the Hancocks.
Ridges and peaks in the Hancocks as viewed from unnamed pond
The next thing I noticed was Mt. Carrigain off in the distance. In the photo below, it can be seen nearly dead-center on the horizon. 
View of Mt. Carrigain (nearly dead center, on the horizon)
With the aid of binoculars, I could see the viewing platform on Mt. Carrigain's summit, and I could see two people on the platform.  The next photo is a composite.  The left panel shows pretty much what could be seen with binoculars.  The right panel is an enlargement of the viewing platform atop Mt. Carrigain.
Left panel: view with binoculars. Right panel: enlargement of viewing platform
After spending some time at the unnamed pond, I returned to the spot where I had stashed my mountain bike.  I then rode off into the sunset to my parked car and headed for home!

To sum it up, this adventure lasted only about 4 hours.  However, it was truly a fun experience.  Not only did it include a trail and a destination that was new to me, but it also provided a varied experience of hiking, biking, and bushwhacking.  And I can honestly say that it whet my appetite to travel and explore more of the Hancock Notch Trail.


Steve Smith said...

That was a varied and imaginative exploration, John, and well-chronicled! I remember passing through that meadow many years ago en route to Carrigain Pond. I think it was more gravelly and less meadow-like back then. I wonder if the Forest Service is maintaining it as a "wildlife opening"? That little pond is a gem. I went there a couple times in the 90s after spotting it from South Hancock. There was an unusual view of "Juno peak" and South Hancock from somewhere along the edge. That area on the SE side of Hancock is pretty wild!


1HappyHiker said...

Thanks for your kind remarks, Steve.

With all the wet weather we’ve had, things were pretty soggy/boggy around the perimeter of the pond. Without sinking into the mire, I was unable to maneuver to a point where I could get a good photo of the Juno Peak/South Hancock combination. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think South Hancock is visible in my 3rd photo from the end??

Further regarding our wet weather, perhaps it might have caused the meadow to have become more meadow-like this year?? This was probably about the 3rd time I’ve visited this spot over the years, and like you, I seem to recall it being more barren than it is now.


One Day in America said...

I like the fact that you picked an unnamed pond as an arbitrary destination! And the pond is quite a beauty too.
This outing sounds like a fun, "multiple use" adventure. Is mountain biking popular on the old logging roads of New England?
I can tell by the intense greenery in your photos that you've had quite a bit of rain this summer. Hancock Notch Trail looks interesting—what is its total length?
I was surprised to see all the damage done by "Irene". That trail could use a good maintenance person... such as yourself!
Thanks for another interesting look at New Hampshire's forests, peaks and ponds, John!
Oh, and it's wonderful to know that hiking was in vogue 140 years ago!

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Rita,

As always, I appreciate the time you take to read and comment on my blog reports.

You asked about the popularity of mountain biking on old logging roads. It’s difficult for me to say with any authority as to how popular it is. I have the good fortune of being able to do most of my outdoor explorations during mid-week, rather than weekends. At mid-week, I rarely meet others who are mountain-biking on the logging roads. However, weekends might be an entirely different story! :-)

You also asked about the total length of the Hancock Notch Trail. It runs for a distance of 6.9 miles. And so, percentage-wise, this particular trek only involved about 16% of the trail. However, as mentioned in my report, I have hiked the 1.8 miles at the trail’s western end which is heavily used as part of the route to two popular peaks known as North and South Hancock. I’m hoping that perhaps my mini-adventure was enough to give me a sense for what the trail is like at its eastern end. Don’t know when I’ll get around to it, but I have some ideas for hiking additional segments of this trail, both from its eastern, and its western end.

And finally, yes, Tropical Storm Irene really did significant damage to many of the trails in the White Mountains. The trail maintenance crews have done a great job of doing what they could to repair the trails in the aftermath of this horrific weather event.


Summerset said...

Very cool idea to combine everything into one hike. I suppose in the winter you could replace the biking with skiing and still have a trio of fun activities in one hike. New trail is also a fun thing!

1HappyHiker said...

Thanks Summerset!

Perhaps the concept for this trek was subconsciously inspired by the “bundling” that goes on with certain service providers whereby your TV, Internet, and phone service are all bundled into one package! :-)

And yes, your idea of replacing biking with XC-skiing certainly has merit. Actually, I have done a few “bundled” winter adventures by combining XC-skiing with snowshoeing (both on and off-trail) all on the same trip. As with my bike, I stash the XC-skis in the woods, and then head off on my snowshoes.

Thanks again for taking time to read my blog and post your comments.