Thursday, July 30, 2009


Over the years some of my best hikes have been long lowland walks through the remote valleys of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. There's a special expansive feeling you get out there that can't be found anywhere else in the Whites. It's big country, by New England standards.

Carol and I did a few long Pemi walks about 10 years ago, and felt we were long overdue for another. Tuesday was a classic summer day - lots of sun, some big puffy clouds, fairly low humidity, and just enough breeze to keep things comfortable. We opted for a long walk from the Lincoln Woods trailhead up along the wide, rocky East Branch of the Pemigewasset, the premier wilderness watercourse in the Whites. We took the East Side Trail, which would maximize the river scenery.

A half-mile in, I split off on the Pine Island Trail. This delightful narrow footpath runs close to the East Branch and offers several upstream views to distant mountains. There is a significant brook crossing near the start of the trail. Carol chose to stay on the East Side Trail, not wanting to chance getting wet feet early in the day.

Here's a view of South Twin seen far up the valley from a rocky outwash along the river.

Where the trail crosses a mostly dry brookbed at the N end of Pine Island, you can hop left for a view of Bondcliff upstream.

I rejoined Carol at the N end of Pine Island Trail, and we ambled up the quiet gravel road that constitutes the first 2.8 miles of the East Side Trail.

As we approached a line of boulders on a high bank, we encountered the new "200 feet" signs. For me, it's about 80 paces.

The former wide view from this high bank has become overgrown, but there's still an opening with a good view across the river to Mt. Flume and the many ridges of Whaleback Mtn.

There was not a single tent at the Franconia Brook Campsite. I dropped down to the river to look at the partial rock crossing campers use to go to Franconia Falls. Even in low water, wading is required. In high water, it's dangerous and should not be attempted. At the shore was a couple who had been the only campers at the campground the previous night.

We soon entered the Wilderness.

In another 0.3 mile we followed a side path left down to the beautiful "Ranger's Pool."

There are ledges to hang out on next to a small cascade.

In this area, the river is fringed with white cedars - very unusual in the Whites.

There are also some towering white pines. There were many more of these before the loggers came.

After a nice break, we bid farewell to the pool.

A bit farther along the trail is this picturesque apron of ledge on the river.

Just upstream was a large boulder that we dubbed "Armchair Rock."

Farther along I made a short off-trail detour to a favorite riverside vista of Bondcliff and its sharp-peaked south spur.

Carol enjoyed a wade across Cedar Brook in her Crocs.

Next stop was another favorite spot, a rocky outwash next to a huge boulder in the riverbed.

Downstream Mt. Flume is prominent, with Mt. Liberty peeking over on the right.

We took a long break here in the sun -"summertime, and the livin' is easy."

We made a short moderate climb up the East Side Trail to the Cedar Brook Trail. We followed the latter trail along an old railroad grade, descending gradually to the Wilderness Trail by the "Swinging Bridge."

We followed the W-Trail east to North Fork Junction and the Thoreau Falls Trail. Just before the junction I scrambled a short distance up a small slide. The view was considerably more grown up than on my last visit about 10 years ago. I still got an interesting look at Mt. Bond...

...and a peek at ledgy Whitewall Mtn. up in Zealand Notch.

A short way down the Thoreau Falls Trail we passed two trail runners and at the same spot ran into Erin Paul Donovan, a photographer and logging camp enthusiast from Lincoln. He had been out bushwhacking, seeking a remote camp site high on the east flank of Mt. Bond. No luck on this, his second try at finding the camp, a needle in a sea of dense forest. Erin gave us a few pointers on things to look for in this area.

The bridge over the East Branch on the Thoreau Falls Trail is supported by the trunks of two huge old white pines. Wonder how long this bridge will last...

A benchmark indicates it was built in 1964.

From the bridge there's a nice view of Bondcliff and its south ridge downstream.

We made our way to a nice riverside spot upstream from the bridge. Carol perched herself on a rock with a good mystery novel while I made a short bushwhack excursion to the top a small gravel slide. At one end I found a view of Mt. Carrigain to the east, beyond a NE spur ridge of Mt. Hancock.

From the other side there was a long view down the valley to Whaleback, Flume and Liberty.

A zoom on Flume and Liberty.

Across the valley a steep northern spur of Hancock loomed large.

I dropped back to the river and found a sittin' rock with a glimpse of Carrigain upstream.

Downstream Carol could be espied on her rock.

We returned to the Thoreau Falls Trail and strolled north about 0.7 mile on another old railroad grade. This area had a real deep woods, almost primeval feel.

Our objective was the weed-filled clearing marking the site of Camp 22 on the East Branch & Lincoln Railroad. This camp was in operation from 1916-1931.

We poked around looking for artifacts, which of course we left in place. (It is illegal to remove artifacts from the National Forest.) At one spot I found an old pot of some sort.

In the woods Carol spotted an interesting piece of ironware. Later research revealed it to be the "harp" base for a railroad signal switch.

Nearby was a moss-grown piece of rail.

Carol also found a small pulley on a wire.

On a tip from Erin, we investigated an old trestle abutment back near the East Branch.

Erin also told us about this unusually large cylinder below the trail near the site of Camp 17, just east of the Swinging Bridge.

We took what might be a farewell walk across the bridge, which most likely will be removed by the Forest Service this fall or winter.

From the bridge you look down on the abutments of the old #17 trestle for the railroad.

The view upstream from the bridge.

We headed west on the Wilderness Trail to the last remaining trestle from the EB & L. The trail once ran across the top of this now-decaying historic structure.

A short distance farther we came to Camp 16 by the Bondcliff Trail junction. This camp was in use for many years and is still a fairly large opening in the forest.

Several sled runners were "on display" along the edge of the trail.

This "what's it" metal piece was seen in the woods.

After the long, familiar 1.8 miles from Bondcliff along the tie-ridden Wilderness Trail, we reached the new bridge over Franconia Brook. Here we saw our first fellow hikers since back on the Thoreau Falls Trail. During a 15-mile walk in the "overcrowded" Pemi, on a gorgeous midsummer day (albeit midweek), we saw a total of 7 other people, and only 3 in the Wilderness itself. Off the peakbagging routes, there is a chance for solitude.

At the Camp 7 site by the Black Pond Trail junction, a bedframe was on display.

A mile farther on the Lincoln Woods Trail we paused briefly at the river's edge to admire Bondcliff upstream.

The crossing of the Lincoln Woods suspension bridge marked the end of a long, great day in the Pemi.