Mike and I were cold and wet when we reached the pond. We’d both gotten soaked on the bushwhack up to Mount Anderson (3740′) and had decided to hike back down to Norcross Pond and camp out instead of continuing deeper into the backcountry. It was the prudent call. We’d received much more rain than the forecast had called for during the day, the winds were picking up, and we knew that it would be a frosty night as an overnight low pressure system pushed through the area.
We changed into our dry sleeping clothes and puffy jackets and made hot drinks to warm up. We were cold but not showing any signs of hypothermia yet, although the conditions were ideal for it. A cold fog had blown in obscuring all of the mountains around us, with temperatures hovering in the low-forties. My rain jacket and rain pants had wetted out and my hiking shirt, pants, underwear, fleece pullover and socks were soaked. The same with Mike’s. We hung our clothes in the trees to dry and made dinner to fuel the furnace (stomachs) for the long cold night ahead.
Mike and I had had a good climb up Anderson, entering the woods from the Nancy Pond Trail, just below the outlet of Norcross Pond. Nancy and Norcross Pond are both located on a high plateau at 3121′, so the summit of Anderson was only about a 620′ climb. The big elevation had come earlier that day, when we climbed 2200′ feet up from Crawford Notch and Rt 302 in light drizzle.
We’d planned a much longer trip – including two other bushwhacks to Mt Lowell and Duck Pond Mountain and a “wild” camp between the two peaks, but after summitting Anderson, it was an easy call to abort and hike back to a known location with good water and camping options. This was my first hike with Mike, although I’d met him before, and he was on the exact same page as me when I suggested we hike back to the ponds, camp, and reformulate our agenda on Sunday morning. We were both cognizant of the fact that things can spiral out of control rapidly in the White Mountains when you have left a trail and move from a well-defined set of risks to a place where you don’t know what to expect.
The bushwhack up Anderson had been moderate, alternating from fairly open woods to pencil woods, to tough spruce, and then short easy spruce around 3500′. We found an old herd path which we followed the final 240′ up to the summit although we lost it a few times because it had filled in with blowdowns.
The descent took a little longer than expected however, because we ran into some cliffs on the south side of Anderson that we didn’t anticipate when examining the topographic map. They’re definitely visible via Google Satellite however. We backtracked when we hit them and worked our way further east to the ridge before descending back to the Nancy Pond Trail.
When we woke the next morning all of our clothes were still soaked. The temperature had dropped to 30 overnight, there was a heavy frost on the ground and on our tents, and the wind was blowing snow. I called over to Mike, who was still hunkered under his tarp, and we quickly decided to hike out, since we only had our backup sleeping clothes to wear. I cooked a hot breakfast because it was a four mile walk back to the car and then we packed up camp and split.
We had a great time on this trip despite the fact that the weather turned much worse than expected. We made all of the right decisions about when to back-off from our trip plan and when to bail, and we stayed safe. There’s a reason why the White Mountains have a bad reputation when it comes to weather. You really do need to hike safe in New Hampshire and make conservative judgements when conditions turn sour. Turning around is always an option.
If there’s one lesson I learned from this trip…we’re always learning and practicing…it’s some more insight into why my bushwhacking friends hate to hike off trail in the rain. We really got wetter than just soaking-a-baselayer-with-sweat wet during our climb to Mt Anderson. That’s definitely a good reason to avoid bushwhacks in cold rain, something that I’m going to take to heart in the future.