I took a vacation day on Friday to go hiking. No, really, this is Salty, not BobC. The weather looked crappy for the weekend, and the forecast promised mostly sunny on Friday. It wasnít. Now Sunday promises mostly sunny. Argh. I know, I know, this reads like a BobC report.
I was fiddling around trying to figure out what to do as the last hike before vacation where the highest elevation I'd ever see is the boat's smoke stack. I really wanted to work in a whack before winter starts setting in, but also wanted to minimize my risk knowing Iíd be solo. I had almost settled on the Wildcats, when I thought about and chose Bemis instead. An abandoned trail, unique views, the remnants of a fire tower and a short bushwhack was everything I wanted. Well, I got 2 out of 3, as it was socked in at about 3500 ft., so Iím still left with 1HappyHikerís great photos of the views I didnít get. And I hate having to repeat a hike to get the views. Tomís another one that needs a repeat. Itís not so much spectacular views I like Ė itís the unique views. Iíve got too much to do to deal with repeats!
I hit the Nancy Pond Trail at 8:30. I had gone up to the bottom of the cascades last November, and loved this trail. Today was no different, except the water crossings were much easier owing to lower water and a lack of ice. I stopped to adjust this and that and to explore the brook off the trail here and there. I found a brook merging with Nancy Brook, a pretty spot hidden away from the trail. One waterway was cascading over smooth rocks, the other a bouldery stream. I thought itíd be great fun to whack up this entire stream someday, much like a number of other streams in Crawford Notch that interest me. Every time I come through this notch, I spot something else to be explorered, although much of it appears to be at a not insignificant risk. Sigh, so much to do.
The abandoned Bemis Mt. Trail was supposed to start right after the Nancy Brook crossing. Well, technically, the trail begins on 302 and I had been on most of it all day. Back when the tower was active, there was no Nancy Pond Trail. The Mt. Bemis Trail initially follows the road from Rt. 302 shown on current topos to the current Nancy Pond Trail, and followed the current trail to the brook crossing. After that, there was nothing going up to the cascades or pond. Only the Mt. Bemis Trail going to the tower.
It was 9:30, and I was thinking making such good time might allow for something extra today. I looked after the crossing, and the trail was immediately right there. I felt good about never seeing it last year, because if you didnít know it was here, youíd probably miss it; itís subtle yet obvious. Iíd heard the trailway was quite plainly evident, and that was an understatement. It initially was no different than any other trail. Only the occasional blowdown and a stern USFS warning sign were the only indications up to about 2800í that this trail was abandoned. The trail climbs to the east up to the SE ridge. Earlier, I was eyeing this ridge from the Nancy Pond Trail with its incredible open hardwoods, and now I was in it. It was stunning with the carpet of now brown leaves and so pleasing. The trail then turns to the NW up to the 3000 foot level. Along here, I had seen indications of a ledge less than 200 feet off the trail, and was able to find this easy enough. I suspect so did 1HappyHiker, as I got a similar view of Nancy Cascade from here as he did. Guess weíre utilizing the same tools in the same way, at least this once.
Around 2800 feet, the fun begins. The blowdowns occasionally popped up, and upon making the turn at 3000 feet onto a plateau, the blowdown hell (BH) I had heard about in mythic fashion revealed itself. I was under the impression that BH was a jumbled mass of trees tumbled upon each other where you were balancing 6 feet off the ground trying to maneuver from tree to tree. Alas, it is not. It is a long stretch of groups of 1-3 trees across the trail where you had two options. Climb over them, where, if you are male, you pray that certain vital bits are as intact post-tree as pre-tree. The other option is, of course, to pretend as close as possible that you are about to give the wet ground a big ole kiss. Note, the usual third option of stepping over the tree was not mentioned. This, dear friends, is because said option was not an option. What BH is is just a plain old blowdown field. If you got a 100-200 foot stretch of blowdown-free walking, this was your happy time.
I had several thoughts for extending this adventure since I was making such good time up to this point. Whacking from what I found out was called the meadow to Nancy, or down to the top of cascades, or just picking up Rosebrook on the way back. The blowdowns were putting a damper on the first two options. I wasnít up for surprises today. Eventually, I cleared the worst of the blowdowns, popping out into a large area of scrub, which I assumed must be what they call The Meadow. This is an awesome stretch. Partly because itís reminiscent of higher elevation walking, and well, partly because itís scrub, which means thereís no trees to be blown down. The views here must also be very nice. I could see the notch socked in and some peaks to the south, mostly socked in. Even Bemis was socked in.
The trail goes back into the woods, still continuing to be blatant in its course. In fact, there were only a couple of spots the entire way where you had to be a little careful to note your last location of the trail as you plowed ahead, mostly watching the ground, but I never had to backtrack. There was only one other nasty blowdown and that was it. I was moving slowly, not as a matter of exploration or observation; I was just having a rough one getting the last 300 feet of elevation gain. After what seemed like an eternity I finally came upon the tower remains at noon, a massive structure. Itís been reported to have been dismantled, which judging from the remains means made to fall over and left. I poked around, coming across an anchor, several sections of the stairs, the trap door, and various other tids and bits. There were views here, too. Presumably. It was obvious there was a huge drop-off to the east off towards a feeder of Davis Brook. Impressive. Intriguing. The killer is the views in this side and region of the notch are not plentiful, so the unique factor was huge. Ah well, another time, which does at least lead to the possibility of exploring the virgin/old growth in this region or a whack to Nancy.
OK, time for the 400 foot whack, which I heard was thick. I plunged off a little right of the tower at a bearing of 257 degrees, and it was indeed quite nasty from the get go. There was little stretches of decent stuff, but then right back into a ton of small trees with 50 billion branches sticking out. In the col between these two small humps, thereís a nice little open area with a moss patch. I then plunged back in, and was really getting sick of it and feeling the frustration really build up. Itís stupid Ė itís not like Iím incapable of pushing slowly through trees, but mentally after the blowdowns, I was pretty much done. I even thought of saying to hell with it, probably 100 feet from the summit, since I knew Iíd be back, but I really didnít want to have to do this again. Silly Salty. I swerved to the left and then to the right, finally coming to the summit. The wind was picking up. It was cold. It was socked in. It wasnít pleasant anymore, and grabbing the summit felt pretty empty. OK, now for the slightly trickier bit, getting back. I kept a pretty straight heading, popping right back out into the same place in the col, which made me feel pretty good, as I was purposely ignoring the GPS for any comfort today. I did want to make sure if I was going to go off heading it would be to the right, so I would hit the trail, although the steep east edge of Bemis would stop me from going too far. Doing this, I ran smack into a blowdown field filled with young fir and spruce, which made for really miserable going, making the thick stuff earlier seem easy. I finally spotted the edge of it to the right and popped out on the trail a short ways below the summit.
It was now 12:50, and I was looking forward to some cruising down the trail, although ever-mindful that every single blowdown I went through on the way up, would be dealt with again. Sigh. Initially this really wasn't a problem, especially since I was able to see looking down better ways to get around, under, or over the buggers, but by the time I was back at BH (remember Blowdown Hell? This is a song about Blowdown Hell), going under the blowdowns was really getting to me physically. Over is easy. Under requires getting back up which was sapping me. I was still making good time, and when I got to the last blowdown at 2800 feet I was thrilled, as now I could really move. JustJoe and Becky were out on Mt. Tom today, and we were going to try to hook up for a beer or three in Woodstock, so I didnít want to dally anymore. I had to be a little careful of the trail in one spot coming down in the low section of hardwoods, as the open woods and leaves could mask the trail nicely, but I quickly got to the Nancy Pond Trail just after 2. I then realized how spoiled I was on the old trail where erosion was nearly non-existent, now I had to watch for rocks. I was back to the car at 2:35. Joe and Becky were on the road 10 minutes ahead of me so the timing was perfect! Had a real nice hour chatting with them.
So, overall, Bemis is in a class all its own. Itís an abandoned trail, but you couldnít ask for a better one. The views have got to be nice and unique, as other reports have testified to. Youíre pretty much guaranteed to have this trail all to yourself, if the trip reports and other signs are any indication, although how this trail stays so well in shape without a lot of traffic, Iíll never know. You get some history, and for the shameless peakbaggers, you get a nasty, albeit short, whack to make you earn your peak to which one famous peakbagger once said (although itís out of context) ďIím not going back, youíll see why!Ē Gotta agree with that. I will go back to Bemis tower for the missed views. Apart from the blowdowns, which is really just another mental thing as the good trail shape spoils you, itís a very pleasant and unique hike.
Final note: The Cruel Joke, both Joe and I noticed and commented on immediately. There were 4 peaks in the clear that I saw. N. Twin, Adams, Jefferson, and, yeah, Washington. Ohhhhhh, hardy-har-har. Everything else in every direction was obliterated.