Friday, September 10, 2010


Few trails in the Whites pack as much scenic variety into one hike as the Nancy Pond Trail from Route 302 up to Norcross Pond. For a fairly rugged 8.6 mi. round trip, with 2200-ft. elevation gain, you can take in towering waterfalls, old growth spruce forest, a pair of high-country ponds, and a unique view into a remote corner of the Pemigewasset Wilderness.

I was long overdue for a return to this trail, and as added incentive there has been a tremendous amount of trail work this year on the upper part of this route by Forest Service trail crews and their partners. Old rotting bog bridges through wetland areas have been replaced with over 100 new wooden walkways, and a fresh relocation has been cut behind the shore of Norcross Pond to circumvent recent beaver flooding of the original route.

Tha Nancy Pond Trail starts at a roadside parking area on Route 302 in lower Crawford Notch, between the Notchland Inn and the Sawyer River Road.

The first part of the yellow-blazed trail follows a series of paths and old logging roads, where hikers should take care to avoid several diverging private footways. Not far along there is a crossing of the curiously-named Halfway Brook.

There are some nice stretches leading through leafy hardwood forest.

A pile of red-painted stones marks the WMNF boundary. At this spot a private trail branches off towards the Notchland Inn.

A fallen, weathered pole once used for stringing telephone wire to the old fire tower on Mt. Bemis.

At 1.6 mi. the trail crosses Nancy Brook. At the end of a dry summer this was an easy crossing, but it could be tough in high water.

The trail soon enters the Nancy Brook Research Natural Area - no wood or charcoal fires allowed.

After the 1938 hurricane knocked down thousands of trees in the Nancy Brook valley, the Lucy family of Conway undertook a major salvage logging job. One of the most visible remnants of the mill site located here is this old brick furnace beside the trail. The '38 hurricane also shut down the Nancy Pond Trail, which had just been cut. It wasn't reopened until 1960.

Above here the trail gets rougher as it hugs the steep north slope of the valley, where old landslides are now revegetated. Some excellent rock step work through here.

At 2.4 miles the trail recrosses Nancy Brook and soon arrives at the foot of the lower Nancy Cascade. This is a great destination for a moderate hike with 1500 ft. of elevation gain. The flow this day was meager due to the drought, but in normal to high flows this is one impressive waterfall.

From here the trail climbs steeply by switchbacks, soon coming back for a look at a middle cascade, both up...

...and down.

This is the hardest part of the Nancy Pond Trail, with rough footing and a steep sidehill that can be scary in winter if the snow is crusty.

An opening provides a fine view out to the Giant Stairs and Mt. Resolution.

At the top of the cascades the trail abruptly eases off and winds up through a mossy, densely-grown virgin spruce forest. There's a real sense of remoteness on this high plateau, and this isolation probably saved these trees from the axe and crosscut saw in the early 1900s.

As I drew closer to Nancy Pond, the many new bog bridges put in this summer made for great walking over the muddy areas. By the time the project is complete, over 120 new walkways will have been installed. Cristin Bailey, trails manager for the Saco Ranger District, told me that the materials were staged on Sawyer River Road and all flown in to Nancy Pond in a single day (40 loads) by Carl Svenson, ace pilot of JBI Helicopters from Pembroke, NH (formerly Joe Brigham, Inc.). Her crew put in 118 person-days on the project, and many more days of work were provided by crews from Camp Pasquaney on Newfound Lake (the longtime adopters of Nancy Pond Trail) and from the NH Corps of the Student Conservation Association. A key person on getting the whole project going was Bob Bulkeley of Campton, who has been involved with Camp Pasquaney in many roles for over 50 years. Bob is a regular customer at the Mountain Wanderer and we thank him for all his good work on this and other trail projects, such as re-opening the middle section of the Elwell Trail near Mt. Cardigan last year.

A short rooty pitch lifts you to the Nancy Pond plateau.

Nancy Pond has a dark, mysterious, northwoods feel.

Many more new walkways lead through the woods behind the shore of Nancy Pond.

Mt. Anderson can be seen to the west.

Soon the trail passes Little Norcross Pond, well on its way to boghood.

The trail enters the Pemi Wilderness and climbs over a small rise and down to Norcross Pond.

From an opening above the NE corner of the pond there's a striking view across the water to the Bond-Twin Range.

Here I turned R onto the first of three new relocations cut by the Pemi Ranger District trail crew to bypass the beaver-flooded sections of the old trail. Nice soft footing on the new treadway.

In between the new sections the trail uses parts of the old route along the shore, with views across to Mt. Anderson.

The sweetest spot on the Nancy Pond Trail is the open ledge area by the outlet of Norcross Pond. This sunny perch has a unique view across the rolling wildlands of the Pemi to the Bond-Twin Range, with Mts. Lincoln and Lafayette peering over in back on the L.

A zoom on Bondcliff and Mt. Bond, with the Franconias in back and the southern knobs of Shoal Pond Peak in the foreground.

The view looking more towards the Twins and Zealand Ridge.

The new beaver dam has been built atop the natural ledge dam that holds the pond in on the mountainside.

Norcross Pond, wide and open to the sky.

After a nice lunch break on the ledges, I decided to follow the unmaintained path up to the summit of Mt. Nancy on the N side of the pond. Hadn't been up there since 1988, when Mike Dickerman and I bushwhacked across to Mt. Nancy from Mt. Bemis on a hot, humid day during the height of black fly season. Not one of our brighter plans.

The first part of the path follows an old tote road across the slope, then turns uphill just before reaching a slide.

The slide is a fine viewpoint looking into the Pemi. You see many miles down the Norcross Brook and East Branch valleys, past the northern ridges of Mt. Hancock, to Mts. Flume and Liberty on the horizon.

A closer look at the Pemi view.

Where the path comes near the top of the slide you can see Mt. Anderson, Mt. Carrigain and a high spur of Carrigain.

Looking down the slide from the top.

The path up Nancy is well-established but unmarked, potentially confusing in a few spots, and very steep. It is for experienced hikers only, and is used mainly by peakbaggers pursuing the New England Hundred Highest list.

The 3926-ft. summit of Nancy offers fine views to the N and NE, best seen standing. The view of Mt. Washington soaring above the vast basin of Oakes Gulf and the Dry River valley is especially impressive.

More to the N there's a view towards Crawford Notch with the Dartmouth Range and Pliny Range in the distance.

Farther NE you can see out to the Carter Range.

The Giant Stairs, with West Royce, Black Mountain and the Baldfaces on the horizon.

The ledge-splotched mass of Mt. Resolution, with the Doubleheads behind on the R.

Going back down the path, you realize just how steep it really is.

Evening light on Norcross Pond...

...and Nancy Pond.

A nice ledgy spot on Nancy Brook above the cascades.

Alpenglow on Stairs and Resolution, descending the switchbacks alongside the cascades. On my way down I ran out of daylight after the lower crossing of Nancy Brook and did the last mile-and-a-half by headlamp. But the time spent enjoying the fine views from Norcross Pond, the slide and the summit of Mt. Nancy was worth it.


  1. Excellent! Loads of useful and interesting information + very nice photos to compliment the narrative!

    In the opening paragraph, you mention the elevation gain of 2,200 ft. I've always found it remarkable that the elevation gain for this "pond hike" is on a par with a few of the 4K peaks, like Mt. Tom and Mt. Tecumseh. How much additional elevation gain do you reckon you added by extending your trek to include Mt. Nancy?


  2. Thanks, John - Mt. Nancy adds 800 ft. and as you know it comes quickly after you reach the slide!