I had spent the better part of 17 months finishing off a new garage. They framed and sheathed it, I did the rest, outside and in. That'll definitely put a damper on silly things like hiking. And with a weather forecast that was finally cooperating with my weekend (now Mondays and Tuesdays), I needed to get out. I tossed about various ideas, finally setting on one of the remote East Branch and Lincoln logging camps, number 24-B. Most are numbered, but the A and B deginations were used for camps that were not on the railroads, used to house loggers in remote locations so they didn't have to keep going back and forth to the main camp (Camp 24 on Cedar Brook in this case). The A and B camps (5 in total) were also used during the Parker-Young era (after the Pemi was bought from J.E. Henry). As much scorn is heaped upon Henry, Parker-Young seems to escape this somehow, despite rapidly stripping huge swaths of land before the government created the forests. If you ever see one of the pictures of Mt. Hancock's utterly bare slopes, that was Parker-Young's doing.
But times were different then, and what astounds most of us now, did not have the same effect back then on so many people. Now we have a Wilderness where clear cutting was the rule, and someday all of it will be virgin forest, eventrually with all traces of such practices completely gone. Well, almost. Large pieces of metal will likely remain for far longer, which is the thrill of hunting for these camps.
I picked this hike because of easy grades, having come as far as the Pemi boundary to climb E. Hitchcock before, and it looked to be no more than 10 miles round trip. A little hefty but do-able for the shape I was in. The forecast appeared to be botched in a good way, as the skies kept clearing up on the way. Which was the other reason I picked this hike. Wasn't supposed to be a good views day. Oops.
First in the lot at the trailhead, only to be followed minutes later by a couple. I tooled off on the trail, which I've always enjoyed for those easy grades (and lack of mindnumbedness unlike Lincoln Woods), having a singular map as a reference (the danged printer died on me trying to get a second). First I would be looking for Camps 8 and 9. I wasn't so sure where 8 was, but I had an idea where 9 lay. Unfortunately, when I arrived at that area looking for a spur, it further emphasized what I don't like about this area. It seems all you see left and right is thick young growth and blowdowns. Looking for the spur proved utterly fruitless. This area just appears to swallow pretty much everything up, something that would play out again and again throughout the day.
OK, next objective, find the end of the line. This follows an old railroad grade (from Henry's era on this side) and I was pretty sure the trail left it near its end. Coming to a bend where that should be, I headed off, finding some camps and herd paths that may or may not have been a grade, checking my map, and realizing I was too far off. I headed further in, eventually trapping myself in this.
After figuring I had gone too far in the other direction without seeing anything, it was time for a “screw this!” and intersect with the trail ahead pronto. Well, not pronto. Ever so slowly. Thick, thick, thick. I hate these woods. Finally coming back to the trail, feeling a bit discouraged, especially as the sky was now overcast, I came quickly enough to the Hancock Loop, amusing myself at the superhighway to the Hancocks, and the piddly path continuing ahead. Well, I like piddly paths, so now knowing I was away from any crowds that might be following, I happily made my way to the height of land, which marks the Pemi Wilderness boundary. A new sign was there, “Who Passed this Way?” with a prominent Native American on it. Huh? I hadn't heard of any Indian relics around here. Ah! Generic sign, they're referring to the logging artifacts ahead. Never mind!
Now on new ground, I enjoyed the path especially, even if it was a bit brushed in.
I was looking for two other things besides the remote camps today, and that was a couple of roads. One led nearly to the top of East Hitchcock, which I thought might make an interesting approach, and the other was a very used haul road that led up to the west slope of the Hancocks. And again, it looks like the woods just swallowed them whole. I spotted nothing even remotely suspicious, and these were from only the 1930's. Sigh.
On the bright side (so I hoped at this point), thanks to a tip from a friend, I knew exactly where to look to know the location of both camps 24-A and B. 24-A is right on the trail (a former main haul road), and is referenced in at least some older versions of the WMG. And sure enough, a telltale sign of a camp location where I was sure it was.
Now where's the goodies? I search for a good long while, exploring outside the glade and finding nothing. This HAS to be it! Why am I zero'ing all day?? And finally:
A little more searching, and a barrel hoop and a (very) few other artifacts. Hmm, I wasn't used to finding so few. After fruitlessly searching for anything else, it was time to go. Grumble grumble. I stopped for a bit a little further down, cursing that I forgot bug spray on top of everything else. Cigarettes held them at bay.
After some walking, it was now time to start bushwhacking. 24-B lies far off the trail, so at the nearest point I kept looking for decent woods. Again, these woods suck. And then (cue the angel chorus):
Now this I can deal with. A little steepness at the start and I was off following a brook. I normally don't like to give out too many details about these camps' locations, for fear of looting (highly illegal and morally reprehensible – please leave relics as is so others can enjoy them!), and the hunt for these things is an immense part of the fun, but I think it's safe to say that loggers needed water. And thus camps are located next to rivers or brooks. At one point I found evidence of an old road.
Which petered out shortly after I took the picture. Part of my wanted to parallel on the left bank, but it was steep getting up there, and I feared crap woods like much of this area once I got there. So I crossed over to the other side. And then crossed back. Etcera etcetera. The other side always looked better. This was sucking up an immense amount of time, but there were some nice cascades, although I missed at least one of the louder ones.
I finally dug in and headed up the bank. Again, the angel chorus came forth.
And then a clearing ahead. And then:
Well, hot diggity. Replete with a can of Gulf Oil Livestock Spray! Hey, what? Livestock? Gulf OIL? Yoiks. And I didn't find much else. WHAT? This remote? There's no way they packed nearly everything out, it's unheard of! But this had to be it. I looked further beyond and nothing. Bewildered at my luck, I said screw and started following an obvious road towards E. Hitchcock for quite a ways until I lost it (turns out if made a sharp turn and I missed it). Heading back, I went across the stream, looking for traces of the road heading back to Camp 24. I wasn't going to follow it today, but wanted to see its condition for future reference. At least I found that. Sheesh.
And then, out of the corner of my eye...
Idiot! Apprently the horses were kept across the stream, while the camp was over here. I should've know better to search both sides, and I could have almost missed it. Which was amazing, because the more I looked, the more I realized there was a wide area just littered with artifacts.
There was even some tar paper, and many other things I will neglect to mention. Nothing major, but each piece I found just made me happier and happier to see this little piece of history. And it was clear I was far from the first person to be at this place (evidenced by the stacked horseshoes), which I both knew and certainly didn't expect. It's fun to know others were enjoying this little game as much as I. And this was a beauty of a spot for a camp. The picture doesn't quite capture it, but it'd be a serene place to pitch a tent sometime.
After a long lunch, it was time to finally do the other half of the hike. And there were uphills that I were dreading. This felt a long longer than 10 miles (and it was by about a third). This time, I was going to stay high paralleling the brook and see what that brought. My good fortune continued.
Other than annoying sidehilling, the going was fast. Until I boxed myself in before a stream crossing. Steep to the left of me, steep to the right, here I was, stuck with steep in front as well. I really did not was to backtrack, and finally found a not as frightening way down, and in short order was back on trail. Back at Camp 24-A, I poked about some more and found stove piping. Bingo, that was the proof I needed of a camp, not just lost junk. And a few other items. Things were looking up!
I still wanted to find that main haul road, and at the approximate location, I looked more carefully, finally spotting some terrain that didn't look quite natural. I followed it for a short ways, but it was a game of maybe I see it as a road or maybe I don't. Upon getting home, I think that was indeed the road, but again, nearly swallowed up, at least there. It's funny because I've seen a road on the side of Shoal Pond Peak that was plain as day, and I don't think it saw nearly as much use. Well, something to explore another time.
The uphill to the height of land wasn't terrible, just tiring as I was really feeling how out of shape I was at this point. Rejoicing at the downhill, I did not look forward to the number of small climbs that awaited me. And they did not feel good. So much so that I took the old Hancock Notch Trail to avoid the re-route. I found this to be annoying as hell on the way in with too many undulations and muck. So I opted for flat muck. It wasn't bad, but at an area that used to be festooned with campsites, I followed a herd path instead of the trail and ended up on the reroute halfway through it. Argh.
Now it was just plod, plod, plod until I was out. Arriving back at the car, very tired, I just dumped my stuff in and drove off, looking forward to a cold one.
So, I failed at estimating distance, and this was more than I should have done, but overall a very rewarding day. It felt good to get a hike in, and getting some bushwhacking in as well was a treat. Obviously, finding a couple more of the camps, and the gems at 24-B, were the highlight. As gloomy as the area is, it will be far from the last time I end up here. Ummm, as long as I can actually keep getting out to hike. Yeah, that.