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Backpacking the Upper and Lower Greeley Ponds

Packrafting on Upper Greeley Pond, Mad River Notch
Packrafting on Upper Greeley Pond, Mad River Notch

Upper and Lower Greeley Pond are two backcountry ponds in Mad River Notch, a mountain pass that links the Sandwich Range to the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Bounded on one side by Mount Kancamagus and the other by East Osceola, the two ponds are surrounded by high cliffs that form a veritable lost world, surprisingly near to a popular trail but seldom visited.

I recently took a mixed-modal backpacking trip that combined hiking, camping, fishing, and packrafting in order to test out some gear for a series of backcountry fly fishing trips I plan on doing this summer to remote alpine ponds in New Hampshire and Maine. While most people think of the White Mountain National Forest as a place to hike and grow trees, it was first created to protect the water supply and watersheds of the great northern forest which were threatened by industrial scale logging. Fishing and packrafting are natural extensions to hiking here and provide me with a deeper and more satisfying way to immerse myself in the wilderness on my backcountry trips.

Greeley Ponds Backpacking Route
Greeley Ponds Backpacking Route (Click for Caltopo.com map)

I had a whole bunch of gear to test on this trip, so I humped it all in at once to take advantage of the locale. I’ve been using all of this gear down in Massachusetts in the frontcountry, but it’s a very different story when you take gear off the grid into the Wilderness.

The items of interest included:

This gear was rather bulky and ungainly when combined with my regular backpacking and fly fishing gear, so I packed it all in the Seek Outside Unaweep 4800 (see review), a semi-custom, external frame pack that I purchased last year. I originally had it made for hauling bulky winter backpacking gear, but it also excels for packrafting since it’s made of waterproof fabric like cuben fiber backpacks, but also has a proper frame and a plethora of external attachments for carrying heavy and unwieldy objects. I’d tried using a smaller Seek Outside Divide Backpack and my Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400 Pack for this trip, but they both proved too small for my purposes.

The Seek Outside External Frame Pack loaded with two packrafts, two rods, and a bulky foam PFD in addition to my regular backpacking gear
The Seek Outside Unaweep 4800 External Frame Pack loaded with two packrafts, two rods, fishing net and a bulky foam PFD in addition to my regular backpacking gear.

The Upper and Lower Greeley Ponds aren’t a huge distance from the road, only about 2.5 miles, but long enough to deter most other fisherman and I didn’t see any others during my visit. It was still an 800′ climb up to the height of the pass, but this was the first day of 5 days of hiking and backpacking I had planned so my legs were fresh.

The Greeley Ponds are stocked by New Hampshire Fish and Game so I knew there’d be trout in them.  But it can be difficult to fish many backcountry ponds the shore, since they have steep “banks” and dense trees. I figured a packraft would be a good hack to get to deeper water and help eliminate a lot of frustrating bushwhacking that is normally required to get into position for casting in areas where fish were rising and breaking the surface of the water to feed.

Hammocking at Upper Greeley Pond
Hammocking in the White Mountains is often the best camping option.

I hiked past Upper Greeley Pond and continued south to Lower Greeley, which is larger than the Upper Pond. The Lower Pond has a visible beaver population and I decided I liked the looks of the upper pond better, since I’ve found many beaver ponds to be too still and lifeless to hold many fish. I retraced by steps and headed that way to get out on the water.

I found a good location for a campsite and hung my hammock, before inflating both of my packrafts and suiting up for some paddling around the pond’s perimeter. I’d had the foresight to bring along some wetsuit pants which were needed to stay warm in the cold water, while protecting me from the leeches the patrolled the pond’s shores.

Tenkara Fly Fishing on Upper Greeley Pond
Tenkara Fly Fishing on Upper Greeley Pond

I’d also brought a Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Folding Foam Pad for hammock insulation, but ended up cutting a few panels off of it to form an insulated seat for one of the packrafts I’d brought, the Supai Adventure Gear Matkat, which doesn’t have any floor insulation. Bringing that pad was a lucky choice since I didn’t anticipate that need at home when planning this trip. Necessity is the mother of invention.

I caught a bunch of trout and smallmouth bass but none of them were very big. I shouldn’t complain I guess. I wasn’t nearly as successful last year when I started Tenkara fly fishing. Since then I’ve learned a lot about fish behavior, such as when and where they feed, which has significantly improved my ability to catch them. It’s really night and day.

Fishing from a packraft is a bit challenging, although there’s (thankfully) little chance of snagging your rod or line on an overhanging tree or one behind you. Casting was easy, even though I used a much longer line than I’d normally use for stream fishing, with about 15 feet of line + 5 feet of tippet. I experimented with both a level flourocarbon line and a furled line and really didn’t see much a difference between the two in terms of performance, although the furled line is much more wind resistant and less sensitive as one would expect.

Casting with a furled line - 13.5' - with 5' of tippet
Casting with a furled line – 13.5′ – with 5′ of tippet

If I had to name my biggest challenge on this trip, it was the wind, which blew through the mountain pass and switched directions several times. I constantly found myself being blown across the pond away from the area I wanted to fish or my line would get blown around when it gusted. Trying to paddle to get back into position with a two-bladed paddle while trying to manage an extended Tenkara rod and line was a clown show. On hindsight, what I need is an ultralight anchor that my boat stationary until I’m ready to move it. Turns out this an established need and product category in the world of kayak fishing, so there should be products or techniques that I can leverage on future trips.

While packrafting is often associated with whitewater paddling on backpacking trips or as a way to offset hiking miles by floating them, flatwater packrafting also represents an interesting way to augment the enjoyment you can derive from your backcountry adventures. I love hiking as much as the next guy, but I also want to squeeze as much enjoyment out of a beautiful destination as I can. Paddling around backcountry ponds, looking at wildlife and nature, and fly fishing float my boat, you might say. I love experiencing places that you can only get to by foot. Best to enjoy them fully, before you need to be on your way.

Disclosure: Klymit, Supai, Tenkara Rod Company, and Seek Outside provided Philip Werner with demo gear mentioned in this article These products are currently under review by Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) and reviews are forthcoming. All other gear is the property of Philip Werner and was purchased with personal funds.

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12 comments

  1. While I’m sure some of us may bend the camping rules from time to time, I’m not sure it’s prudent to broadcast illegal campsites.

    From the most UTD WMNF camping regulations: Greeley Ponds Scenic Area (No camping,
    wood or charcoal fires)

    • My bad. I didn’t check the regulations beforehand and thought that the established campsite was ok. Will check in the future. I guess you can even mess up if you try to follow all the rules.

      • This is b.s.! I thought I knew you Phil?!

      • That fact that I honestly screwed up and have the balls to apologize?

      • I think you guys are giving Philip more grief than he deserves. Yes, he camped some place he shouldn’t have. But he’s acknowledged that and I “know” him well enough to believe that it was an honest mistake. I’m also familiar with the campsite in question and wonder why the USFS has not dismantled the fire ring there or brushed in the trail to the far side of the pond. They don’t even have a small no camping sign there! The reality is that the USFS is very inconsistent in enforcing camping regulations in the Whites and basically turns a blind eye if you use an existing campsite as Philip has done. It’s worth noting that Philip used standard low impact camping techniques including a hammock, stove, and did not build a fire. Few people are so conscientious.

      • I was just teasing. I forgot the winky face emoticon, my apologies. Bobby Clems and P Dub would probably get along eye are ell. I’m just jealous that I haven’t camped there because I really want to.

  2. In regards to the “ultra light” anchor. Would it be possible to use a parachute anchor? You wouldn’t be stationery but it would slow your drift. Or what about simply using an old dry bag/stuff sack and filing it with sand or rocks and lashing it to the raft?

  3. Ultra-light-weight anchor = small dry bag you can fill with rock/sand/dirt on site + attached line. ?

  4. There is a wide mesh nylon bag sold as an anchor. You fill it with rocks on site. Works well on still water, but not if there is a real current.

    https://www.boundarywaterscatalog.com/spring-creek-outfitters/canoe-anchor-bag-21963

  5. I have used a basketball net and carabiner to hold the rope. I then used a heavier gauge wire and closed the bottom end. Find a larger rock to put inside the BB net. I used this in a canoe in the BWCA. May work for your issues in pack raft.

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