Many White Mountain hikers went to Nancy Pond and Norcross Pond a long time ago, and haven’t returned. I was one of those until last Friday.
Sometimes my choosing a hike is a mystery, even to me. I fly over the mountains in my mind, pick one and head. This time it was to the Nancy Pond Trail.
I’m glad I did. As Steve Smith, editor of the “AMC White Mountain Guide,” said in his blog Mountain Wandering, “Few trails in the Whites pack as much scenic variety as the Nancy Pond Trail. For a fairly rugged 8.6-mile round trip, with 2,200 foot elevation gain, you can take in towering waterfalls, an old growth spruce forest, a pair of high country ponds and a unique view into a remote corner of the Pemigewasset Wilderness.”
About 9:30 a.m., I pulled into the modest Nancy Pond Trail parking lot located on the left about 7.5 miles north of Bartlett village on Route 302. I followed the lower trail up a well-marked assortment of dirt roads and paths. At one point, I passed a side path to the Notchland Inn. In 1.6 miles, I crossed the substantial Nancy Brook. I was struck by the piles of boulders left there by Hurricane Irene. The trail had been diverted around these.
At that point, I was entering the 1,385 acre Nancy Brook Research Natural Area. This is one of the largest tracts of virgin forest in the Northeast with old growth red spruce and balsam fir. It includes the summit of three mountains and Nancy Pond itself.
The trail after the crossing was pleasant, a gentle dirt path with occasional roots and rocks. In 1.8 miles I noticed a few odd pieces of old rusted metal and then the remains of a low brick structure. This was the Lucy Mill, run by Conway’s Lucy family recovering timber after the 1938 hurricane.
The trail recrossed Nancy Brook, and I reached the base of the impressive waterfall called Nancy Cascades. I clambered down to the pool, sat its base and paused.
Was it the penetrating sound of falling water that caused me to recall the story of Nancy Barton, namesake of both brook and pond? She worked on a farm in Jefferson in 1788. She became engaged to another farmhand, to whom she gave her entire dowry.
But he left one day in the early winter and headed down Crawford Notch toward the coast. She followed, found his campfire cold but continued. She made it as far as Lucy Brook, where she lay down and froze to death, later to be found by a party from Jefferson looking for her. When her lover found out, he went insane, dying soon after.
Above the falls, the trail became steep. The rock was mica schist, part of the Littleton Formation, more known in the Presidentials for its rough character. I passed a great outlook over the upper slides of Lucy Cascades, with its ribbon of whitewater.
Then the trail wound its way up to a moss carpeted virgin spruce forest, with trees of moderate height. From then on, in Steve Smith’s words the trail was “quite the root-fest.” It leveled approaching Nancy Pond, with an occasional bog bridge.
Approaching a subalpine pond is as good as a summit. I stood on the shore of the 4 acre Nancy Pond, breathing in its character. Then I continued on the flat trail in the woods by the shore, heading to Norcross Pond. I passed over frequent bog bridges made of precut boards.
On one day in 2010, material for 120 bog bridges for the Nancy Pond Trail were flown in, airlifted from Sawyer River Road. Cristin Bailey, forest service trails manager for the Saco District was in charge, and volunteers assembling the bridges included campers and leaders from Camp Pasquaney on Newfound Lake and the New Hampshire Corps of the Student Conservation Association.
I soon passed Little Norcross Pond, which is a dying lake and mostly marsh, then arrived near the south shore of 7 acre Norcross Pond. I walked down to it and enjoyed the unique view. The water was dotted with yellow water lilies, the dark pointed trees of a conifer forest surrounded it, and the green summit of the nearby trail-less Mount Anderson rose to the west.
On the far end, I could see where the well- known view from the Norcross Pond outlet was, with blue sky beyond, so I returned to the trail and walked there. On the way I entered the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
I heard voices before arriving at the outlet. Two couples sat on the boulders there. I joined them and had lunch. The outward view was great, with the ridge of the Bonds rising in the distance. One woman mentioned feeling as if we were in heaven, and we all acknowledged that feeling with a grin.