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The Captain January 3, 2012

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, memoir, peakbagging, White Mountains.
Tags: , , , , , ,

The Captain as seen from the upper right fork of the Sawyer River

I’ve had little chance to hike the past couple of weeks, so once again I’m reaching into the past. This memorable outing in the White Mountains was undertaken January 1996 with an AMC group led by Dennis Crispo.

The only people who even know about The Captain, let alone talk about it or climb it, are peakbaggers working on the New Hampshire 100 Highest. At 3530′ elevation, The Captain is #93 on the list, below other such glamorous peaks as Stub Hill and The Fool Killer (neither one should be underestimated).

One reason nobody talks about The Captain is that it can only be seen from a few vantage points, as it’s tucked away at the head of a long, winding valley south of Mt. Carrigain and east of the Hancocks. And yet the extensive smooth granite ledge on its south side gives it an impressive appearance for those who venture far enough to find it.  It is also known as Carrigain Pond Peak, as it is located close to that remote pond which has no trail leading to it—and yet is stocked via helicopter with trout for adventurous fishermen.

You can click on the following link for a map that shows the Carrigain/ Captain/ Hancock area. Look for the red arrow pointing to the Captain: Franconia map.

On a late January morning of wispy clouds and sporadic sputterings of snow squalls, we met at the gated Sawyer River road and put on our skis. Bob and I had our regular long skinny touring skis, while I noticed that Dennis had short wide skis with homemade bindings that enabled him to ski with his regular winter boots. Bob and I, on the other hand (and most of the others in the group) had to wear our ski boots and stash our heavy boots in our packs—as well carry the snowshoes that we all would need to make the steep climb up to the top. The wider skis and lighter pack gave Dennis enviable stability compared with our top-heavy arrangement.

We skied the four miles up the road, then bore right on a logging road another mile or two until we reached the point where the woods closed in and the way steepened. Here we all stashed our skis in the woods, changed boots if necessary, and put on our snowshoes. The weather had stabilized in the meantime and delivered a crystal clear blue sky.

We switched to our snowshoes around this point.

And then we climbed more and more steeply through the woods, bypassing the big ledge around to the right and aiming for the Carrigain-Captain col. The brush wasn’t too bad—if we’d been 700 or 800 feet higher, we most certainly would have been crawling through krummholz, or perhaps trying to bounce over the top of it. But the going was slow. No one who hasn’t climbed steeply in snowshoes through unconsolidated snow can imagine what this is like.

Eventually we reached the ridgetop, turned southwest, and trundled through spruces, birches, and firs to reach the summit. A large boulder stands right at the top—a crown on The Captain.

Late January makes for a stingy allotment of daylight, and we could not linger. We made fast progress slithering down the slope, obliterating the neatly packed snowshoe steps we’d created on the way up. Nevertheless, by the time we’d returned to our skis and switched over to them—and generally re-combobulated ourselves—it was getting dark.

But the gods of the mountains were smiling on us. As we started gliding down the logging road, a full moon was rising.

Rising full moon

It lit our way like a great lantern in the sky. We swooped around the gentle turns of the logging road and swished around onto the Sawyer River Road—and never needed to turn on our headlamps.

I will always remember that lovely time of coasting along to the soft humming sound of skis moving fast over packed snow, the great genial moon beaming down on us.

The photo below of The Captain in a different season was taken by John Compton. You can visit his blog for a tour of the Whites by a skilled photographer and entertaining writer.

The Captain, summer 2009. Photo by John Compton.



1. 1HappyHiker - January 3, 2012

Jenny, many thanks for the kudos given to me at the end of your Blog posting. But most of all, thank you for sharing this marvelous report. Wow, wow, wow! What an adventure! It is such a well-written report which provides some very nice background information, plus it makes you feel like you’re part of the action!

It’s so very easy to understand why you “. . . will always remember that lovely time of coasting along to the soft humming sound of skis moving fast over packed snow, the great genial moon beaming down . . .”


Jenny - January 3, 2012

I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

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