Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Captain - 06/03/2016

For three years, I've long desired to reach the Captain. The Captain is a remote, trail-less mountain peak on a ridge between the Hancocks and Mt. Carrigain on the edge of the Pemigewasset Wilderness.  The Captain is visible from only a limited number of vantage points, so to see this peak up close and personal is a special reward for a bit of difficult bushwhacking.
Sawyer Pond Trail at the end of Sawyer River Road 
Entering a LZ 
North Fork Trail Emergency Landing Zone

Quickly after passing the footbridge for the Sawyer Pond Trail, we took a right onto the North Fork Logging Road.  Toward the end of the logging road, we came to the North Fork Road Landing Zone. We determined this must be an emergency landing zone for a Heli evacuation. We gathered that this particular location likely serves the snowmobile trails in the area. It was a beautiful open meadow.  I figured, at least for myself at least, that this location is worth being aware of.  After that, the trail closed in to a very faint herd path, a natural skin exfoliater, which continues fairly straightly.

Eventually we arrived to a pre-existing campsite, with a really nice view of the Captain, still very much in the distance.  This was pretty much the spot where we were going to camp for the night, based on our research. I've been reading about the approaches to this peak for the last few years, along with the Google Earth images and contour lines. We set up our camp and left the bulk of our gear behind.  It was about an hour here, and then we continued forward around 12:30pm with lighter loads.

Following the bootleg path beyond our spot, we soon came upon another fire ring and camp location. This particular one we read about in another online report.  While it was closer to the Captain, it was not as tent friendly, but had a very nice rock chair.  Shortly after the camp spot, we are led to the base of the slide that is seen on the Google Earth Image below. We made our way up the loose slide.  From the slide, the view out of the valley was obstructed by the enclosing slopes, and an impressive view of the Captain was blocked by a large tree, but it was amazing, and we continued up until we reached a wall. This was when the real fun began, this is where it becomes significantly more challenging.

Looking left to the Captain from the slide

Bill ascends the slide, with the steep slope of Hancocks in the background
Here, we are forced into the trees, where we need to cross and ascend a steep contour
The going got pretty tough quickly. We had to keep our bearing toward the ridge between Captain and Carrigain so to come out in the col. This meant traveling left to right, while shading uphill on a very steep slope.  Shortly after the slide, we came to a gorge-like riverbed in the steep slope. We had no choice but to descend until we could cross it without too much risk. After a minute of hiking down, we found a ledge that we could finally throwing down our packs, and hanging on to trees with our arms to lower ourselves.
Bill about to send his pack down
Once we got down from the literal cliff (seen in the right of the picture below), we started up the gorge to gain what we just lost.  A few short minutes later, we were near the top, and shading left (north) again towards the ridge.
Deep gorge to the right of the Captain
Heading up through blowdowns
After what was the most difficult part of this bushwhack, we finally made it to flat area in the col between Captain and Carrigain. It does not get any easier here, however, as there was really no defined path. We noticed a few "herd" paths in the tall grass, but it clearly resembled animal tracks, and we passed through a couple of quick but thick spots as we neared the final steep part of the Captain ridge. There is not a whole lot of give on this part of the ascent. Going left (closer to the ledges) was obviously steeper with ledge and much more dangerous, and more to the right (Carrigain Pond side) seemed pretty darn thick. We headed straight toward the highest point, and eventually we saw a magical summit canister atop a tree in the middle of this craziness.
Nearing the summit of the Captain
The canister as we reached it. Just amazing to reach this thing in the middle of nowhere
We enjoyed about 15 minutes or so at the summit. The mosquitoes and midges were just ferocious, so while we did our summit stuff, it was a battle. We were really happy at making it here. We've talked about this hike for so long. I really enjoyed seeing the list of well known White Mountain hikers who have visited before, even going back into the 90s. Out of the whole world, not many have been here.  I fulfilled my long dream of drinking Captain atop the Captain! There was even an eye patch to pose with.  This summit, despite the lack of view, was a beautiful reward, one that was much different than anything I've done in a while. It was needed. I still have many amazing things to see and do in the White Mountains.
On the summit of the Captain!!! 
Bill does a pretty decent Captain Morgan pose 
Aye, Captain! 
Bill and I have done a few extremely tough bushwhacks in the White Mountains
We left the summit, and our plan was to follow the same route back for the most part. At the summit there was absolutely no noticeable path. Other than a few spots with a noticeable trample, there is no path once up on the mountain. We were pretty good on our way out, except facing a couple of tough obstacles.  One of those was a steep drop with a tree to hang onto and lower ourselves down steep step. The slight change in our path, however, allowed us a rare view from practically a 10 foot ledge step on the edge of the Captain. Gripping my phone very precisely, I took a photo and then a self-shot so that I would remember what it took to get that view of the valley. :)
Leaving the Captain summit through a tangled and mangled pine forest  
Living on the edge, you might say....
A view from the steep slopes on the front of the Captain
It had been a beautiful and very warm Saturday. We made remarkable time on our descent. As we approached the large gorge again, we picked up some easier terrain just before it, and avoided it. Although it is still steep, its much easier to move down.  We even missed the slide too, and ended up back to the bootleg path below it.  It was actually a very pleasant evening below, one of the easiest and most relaxed nights in the White Mountains. My brother and I enjoyed a couple beers while we looked back on another tough hike and great memory in the White Mountains.
Evening twilight campfire beneath the Captain

A very challenging bushwhack.
My 2nd overnight in 2016. Before recently, my last "planned" overnight was March 9, 2014.
Bill's first hike since my grid finish last November.

Trail Conditions:
The conditions were mostly dry. (There is no trail) The ground was a little damp on the way in, making our boots wet. It was warm, very buggy, and mostly sunny.

Hike Stats
Trails: None; bushwhack
Distance: 10 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,170 ft.
Actual Book Time: 23:00 (overnight) The hike to the Captain and then down to our camp was 6:40.
Photo Album Link

**Before heading out to the Captain, be sure to read up on it, do research, have a plan, and be absolutely prepared for a night or two, and for possibility of injury due to the steepness and thickness of the vegetation. We have been reading about this trip for 3 years before finally doing it. 

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