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West Royce: The hike of the joyous strangers November 2, 2008

Posted by Jenny in hiking, White Mountains.
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Hiking distance 10 miles/Elevation gain 2800 feet (click on map for larger image)

People who visit the White Mountains quickly become familiar with the notches: Franconia, Crawford, and Pinkham.  Those are the obvious notches.  But conoisseurs of notches eventually discover Evans Notch, tucked behind the long north-south ridge that forms the Carters and the Wildcats.  This is the east side of the Wild River drainage, along the NH-Maine border.

We started in the Basin parking lot off Route 113 and climbed up to Rim Junction, past Hermit Falls, which was clogged with photographers.  As a meeting point of several trails, Rim Junction is cluttered with trail signs.  People coming up the Black Angel Trail from the west, or the Basin Trail from either west or east, turn here to go up Mt. Meader.  Whatever direction people come from, they stay for a while to gaze over the wide granite lip into the great bowl of space contained in the Basin.  In October, when we were there, the basin was glowing with reds, oranges, and yellows.

Apparently nobody goes from Rim Junction to West Royce, because we soon found the trail to be badly overgrown.  As trail maintainers, we judged that the balsam and spruce undergrowth hadn’t been clipped for three or four years.  There are certain flows of hikers in the Whites, and we were connecting the flow that comes out of Wild River Campground with the flow that comes out of Evans Notch, but it seems that connection isn’t made very often.  Around lunchtime we reached the summit of West Royce, which has beautiful views toward Kezar Lake, and we had our lunch.  Soon afterwards we continued down toward the col between West and East Royce.  A few steps down the trail we encountered a French-Canadian couple coming up from East Royce and Evans Notch who seemed filled with happiness.  “Isn’t this beautiful!” they said.  Just five minutes later, we met a man hiking solo who greeted us with almost exactly the same words: “Isn’t this great!”  He very considerately gave us detailed directions for reaching the true summit of East Royce, which is a bit beyond the end of the maintained trail.

We’d planned to climb East Royce, but when we got to the spur trail up to the summit, we looked at our watches and realized we didn’t have enough time.  So down we plunged into the upper section of the Royce Trail toward Brickett Place.  This is another trail section that nobody uses.  It is a complete mess, covered with debris—a washed-out stream gully.  With the fall leaves covering the ground, we had to look carefully for signs of the trail: old pruning cuts, polished roots.  Eventually we got off the steeps and down into the valley of a lovely meandering stream.  Here we met a trail crew with clippers and hazel hoes who were curious where we had come from.  They told us we had gone on the most neglected trails in the Evans Notch area.  The stream low down was flat-bottomed and gleaming in the afternoon sun.  The stones on the bottom sparkled like gold coins.  Bob looked for brook trout, the narrow dark ovals that suddenly dart into the shadows.  There were deep clear pools and riffles of fast-flowing water.  We had to wade the stream a few times, but we were near the end of the hike and didn’t bother to take our boots off.  So we walked with squelching socks a half mile from Brickett Place back to the Basin parking lot.

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