Mt. Nancy & The Diameter of the Pemigewasset Wilderness
Updated: Nov 6, 2022
If there’s anything that gets Ryan and I going, it’s a trail that takes you deep into the middle of nowhere while accumulating high mileage and yielding no sightings of other people.
With a camping trip loosely planned, just knowing when but not where we played around with a handful of ideas ranging from Imp Face to Rocky Branch. At the end of the day, it was the opportunity to experience the gradually evolving differences between the northern and southern ends of the Pemigewasset Wilderness while racking up over twenty miles in a day’s work that settled us on a full Nancy Traverse partnered with the full Wilderness and Cedar Brook trails.
Having neglected to camp Friday night due to impending storms, we had to achieve particularly early wake-ups to meet my goal of finishing the traverse before dark; unfortunately, it had been a long time since Ryan and I had pulled off alpine start-type alarms.
We met up at the hairpin turn at 6:45 AM and from there I hopped into Ryan’s car so we could bear notch our way to Fourth Iron to get a tent site ready for our late arrival in the evening. Neither of us knew it was a good third of a mile walk into the site, but it was a distance well worth it as we snagged the very last site and pitched a tent before leaving as quickly as we’d come.
After setting up camp, we started up the Nancy Pond Trail, and the humidity quickly set in. Despite seeing a deer and getting the frog (we realize that they’re probably toads but will continue calling them frogs) count going right away, I was not feeling too elated on a long day at this point. It was sticky, hard to breathe, and I was still trying to decide whether or not I liked the Altras I’d recently bought. Ryan offered to call it off, but I’m a stubborn bitch until the day I die, so I refused.
We had a snack at the cascades, where we’d already gained 1,500 feet of elevation, and then carried on to the pond. The first big opening by the pond, where it looks like an infinity pool with the Bonds as a backdrop, was absolutely unbelievable and quite motivating.
At the big (not so) stealth site by the pond, we took a right up the Nancy herd path. When I realized we’d be gaining about 1000 feet in 0.6 I got worried. When I saw all the wet granite, I got more worried. When my feet slipped back on leaves, I thought back to how I injured myself earlier this summer. But, through heavy breathing and some false confidence, we made it up in well under the 45 minutes I’d estimated. Ironically, the herd path was the only place we saw other people in our path all day.
Thankfully, Nancy has an incredible view. No canister, but the clearing to an outlook I’d never seen anything like before was fantastic. After responding to my mom’s text about how hot it was with a selfie of me dripping in sweat, I put my phone back on airplane mode and we made our way back to the pond.
With what we assumed to be the hard part behind us, we went down the other side of Nancy Pond Trail and it was such a treat. With easy moving ground, more shade, and some unique passages through the woods, this became both of our “roses” for the day. We cruised the 3 miles in about an hour through an interesting dialogue that you’d have to pay me a lot for me to write about on the internet.
After Nancy Pond Trail, we did 0.8 on Carrigan Notch and 0.8 over to Still Water Junction. It was as fast and pleasant 1.6 miles filled with easy water crossings, a bunch of stealth sites, and a nice stretch of river where we sunbathed and filtered water.
The next several miles were repeat miles for me from my Silly-Pemi* last July but new miles for Ryan on the Wilderness Trail. At a time when tiredness was starting to catch up, it was sometimes difficult to stay motivated when I knew all we had to look forward to was the old stove on Wilderness Trail. Additionally, though we were able to move fast, the constant repetition of walking like Steve from Minecraft did a number on the hips with all the flat. After all, this is what we get for doing a hike with aggressive uphill, the most unnoticeable gradual decline you’ve ever seen, and then a whole bunch of flat. Plus, we later realized that we started at 1000 feet and ended at 2200 feet, making for a whole 1200 we gained but never lost.
As a reward for completing Wilderness, we got to do the same thing for another 4.8 miles on Cedar Brook Trail. Cedar Brook at first follows an old railroad before reaching an Old Logging Camp that was a lot more obvious than most are- complete with artifacts and a large green clearing. After this, we gained a bit to the height of land and then flattened out over mud when it started to rain on us a little bit.
Thankfully, the rain did not persist and we made it back to familiar territory once more as we exited the Pemigewasset Wilderness and got back on the section of Cedar Brook we’d both completed before when we did the Hancocks a few years ago. At this point, it was about 6:40 and the promise of entirely repeat terrain in front of us was exciting in terms of finishing before dark. We took one more break at the junction of Cedar and Hancock Loop before charging forwards towards Hancock Notch Trail, which we’d done in full just a couple of weeks prior.
We had a quick 1.8 ahead of us, I recalled it taking us 40 minutes back in July and knew we’d be motivated enough to do it faster. I was right. Alternating between a pathetic jog and fast walking, we made it out of the wood at 7:45, just in time to disrupt everyone watching the sunset at the Hairpin.
After digging my mom’s zucchini chocolate muffins and cream cheese frosting out of my cooler, we sat down among the families who were calmly watching the sun fade behind Scar Ridge to scoff down our first real food of the day- it was excellent.
By comparison to our last 22-ish mile day, when we did the Dry, today was a win for me. Though we had just one less mile and only 400 more gain on the Dry, I was worlds different at the end of that hike. I came out of the Dry wearing a headlamp, battered and bloody, and fresh off of some light hallucinating because my body and mind disconnected at mile 18. Today was different- I came out cheering, excited for my cupcake, and dealing with some blisters on top of where I burned my feet on the sand of Coastguard Beach earlier in the week. Not so bad for my first 20+ post sprain.
Final Stats: 22 miles | 4,559 gain | 11 Frogs
*Silly-Pemi (noun): Hiking the bonds in an unusual loop that includes hiking Pemi East-Side, Wilderness/Shoal Pond OR Thoreau Falls, Ethan Pond Trail, Twinway, and then up and over the bonds. It is the silliest way to do the Bonds.