A Week in the White Mountains – Looking for Memories

Back in the very early 70’s, from the time that Betty and I first began going out, our crowd used to spend a lot of time in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We all rented a lodge for a few seasons and skied all winter. In the summertime, we would go camping around the National Forest, sometimes just the two of us in a tent or later, in our van, and sometimes we’d go with another couple. On several memorable occasions spread over a couple of summers, a mob of 12 or 15 of us would leave Dorchester in a convoy, loaded down with beer and hot dogs and Mateus Rose and beer and beef stew and beer and…lots of other stuff.

We happily stayed a couple of times along the Kancamagus in the official Park Service campsites, rustic as they were, but with toilets, running water and nosy, patrolling rangers. Then one Friday afternoon the whole caravan of us got shut out. There was no room at any of the campsites. Believe it or not, in those days we were shocked to find the campgrounds all full on a summer weekend. It had never happened before. We had to quickly find an alternative and we headed back along the highway and across Rt 3 toward Lost River and Vermont. We eventually discovered a fire road that led to a clearing alongside the Wild Ammonoosuc River. There had at one time been a rude bridge across the river to where the fire road continued up the mountainside, but it seemed to have been washed away long ago, leaving only a strategically placed, rather stout log across the water.

Now in my beloved memory, this log stretched 50 feet across a raging torrent. But thinking rationally, it was probably about 15-20′ max across a late-summer placid three foot river. We all parked in the clearing and, toting beer and camping equipment on our shoulders, we took turns walking the log to the uphill side of the stream. The first few who made it across cracked open the beer and, of course, the last few of the stragglers were met with a hail of boulders splashing all around them in the stream as they attempted the now very slippery and difficult tightrope walk. Hilarity, and a few minor injuries, ensued.

We had so many great times camping in this spot with our friends. Last October, Joe and I tried to find the campsite on our trip to the mountains but we were unable to locate it. The river gets pretty violent for its size in the springtime and over 40 years time the topography can change radically. Our memories, too, might conceivably be a bit faulty when you consider our state of sobriety for most of our time camping there. Pagan Pink Ripple is not much of a memory retention aid.

But anyway, Betty and I set off to look for both the legendary campsite and also the Big Eddy, a swimming hole in Swiftwater that we would visit whenever we were camping in the area.

We believe we found the campsite about 1,000′ west of Cobble Hill Trail, just before the bridge where the Ammonoosuc crosses the highway from south to north. It was in about the right place.

Across the slowly moving stream, we saw the remains of the fire road still winding up the mountainside. Can we be sure? Maybe 80%, but if we had to pick a spot, this would be it.

My Solara parked in what was a clearing where we would have squeezed in about eight cars and vans.

We then continued west down Rt 112 to something we knew we could find, the Big Eddy. As I remember, some hitchhiking local kids told us about this swimming spot when we were on a beer run into Woodstock from the campsite. We then visited it pretty much whenever we were in the area.

It was pretty much underneath the Swiftwater covered bridge.

I remember we would slide out along the ledge wearing cutoffs and lean back against the granite and just let the icy cold water flow over you. In minutes you would be squeaky clean from head to toe, no small consideration when you have been living in a converted telephone van for a week. Campsites charged to use their showers, like it was a business or something!

We never littered or built a fire here, honest.

A lot of memories along this highway, a great way to end a really fun day.

And no, officer, you can’t check behind my paneling.

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