My first introduction to New Hampshire’s White Mountains came when I started backpacking there as an adolescent. I therefore assumed, incorrectly, I see now, that the Whites were all about solitude, as the day hikers are all left behind by about 4 miles from the nearest road. Since having kids, I’ve joined the ranks of those day hikers, looking for scenic vistas a half hour’s walk from the parking lot. My trip up to Lonesome Lake was a particularly rude awakening as throngs and droves of casual trekkers with their aggravating dogs and radios looked for a reasonably accessible mountain scene before lunch.
Our trip to Greeley Ponds off the Kancamagus Highway, however, was perfectly aligned with my memory of the Whites as a place where you might not see another human soul for days. It had been raining for several hours at our campsite, and we elected to drive south out of Franconia Notch in search of better weather. As it turned out, it was only raining directly over our tent, and out of the Notch, it was clear blue skies. So we stopped at the trailhead for Greeley Ponds and set off. Almost immediately, it was clear that we had become tethered to our own personal raincloud. A drizzle turned to rain, then back to drizzle intermittently throughout the mile and a half walk in.
The trail is almost entirely flat, with a couple daring stream crossings, making it ideal for kids. On a sunny day, the place would have been mobbed. But we were alone, entirely. A set of large, fresh footprints indicated that someone had set off ahead of us, but we never saw him. We reached Upper Greeley Pond as the rain came down hard again. Standing on the gravel beach at the pond’s northern end, flanked by my sons and watching circles on the water from the rain above and from the fish rising below, I remembered why this place captivates me utterly. And even if my backpacking days are on hold, it’s a fair trade to be a mile and a half in, watching the sweep of the rain and trading a peanut butter sandwich between us.