Return to Backpacking: Finding A Wilderness Experience Memorial Day Weekend 2017

07th June 2017

After a long winter filled with more work and family duties than hiking and photography, I had been thinking a lot about returning to the wild. Day hikes with tons of people and roads in view would not be enough. I wanted a true wilderness overnight experience.

I wondered: Is there anywhere I could go backpacking in the Northeast that would deliver a legitimate wilderness experience?

What is wilderness? Is it a tangible definable space? An experience? Both?

The definition the U.S. Congress used in "the Wilderness Act" (1964) reads " A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."

Another definition I have heard that is that wilderness is a (natural) place that makes you feel small, humbled, and ultimately connected to something bigger.

Or another one: Wilderness is where people are not.

When my opportunity to go backpacking came on Memorial Day weekend, I especially wondered if I could find the necessary solitude on such a busy holiday. Leading me to...

The plan:

I wanted to create a route than had low hiker traffic, an awesome backcountry campsite with a view, and away from visible roads and road noise. I knew I would have to avoid the NH 4000 footers and other peakbagger areas. The White Mountains have 5 official Congressionally designated and governed wilderness areas so I started looking into those areas. I decided upon a T shaped route in the Presidential-Dry River Wilderness where we would set up camp 4.5 miles in to ensure getting our choice site and then go explore from there. Those familiar with the whites will be able to figure out where we went from the photos. But considering we only saw a few hikers all weekend, and shared our camp with only one other party of 2, I don't want to write where it is to try and keep it low key and unsearchable!

The payoffs of finding wilderness:

Having a normally popular summit with views tracing north the Presidential Range all to ourselves by arriving late (5pm).

Looking ahead to where we already set up camp (legally designated site) on the top of a cliff in the Presidential Dry River Wilderness:

Look for the tiny person in orange to see the exact site of camp:

Ridgewalking in the evening with no other hikers encountered:

Ridgewalking the next morning with no other hikers encountered:

Enjoying the changing light of sunset from camp on top of the cliffs:

The shadow of our mountain in the valley below:

Waking up to find an amazing sunrise treat...

Undercast in the valley below!

"Purple Mountain Majesty" at first light (4700' Mt. Carrigain is the highest in view)

The Tribulations of Wilderness:

Wilderness is not always picturesque. The storm damage from the 2011 Hurricane Irene is still evident along the Rocky Branch River.

Trails were soaked ad muddy after several rainy weeks and snow melt.

Black flies were out in force at times.

Since we had a dry camp 1.5 miles from the nearest reliable water source we had to lug 8lbs of extra water up 1700' feet gain of steep trail to camp. The photo below is before we filled up and before the trail got steep.

But.... this is the image that stays in mind in the days and weeks after the trip rather than those tribulations.

Wilderness found!

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