Hancock Mountain, North & South Peak

  • Elevation: North Peak: 4,380 Feet, South Peak: 4,278 Feet
  • Location: Lincoln, NH
  • Dates Hiked: October 23, 2017
  • Companions: Stud
  • Trails: Hancock Notch, Cedar Brook, Hancock Loop

Stud and I debate whether or not we can motivate ourselves to get up and out early enough to see the sunrise on top of the Hancocks.  We have just hiked the Osceolas the day before and we are staying in a tiny cabin just 20 minutes from the trailhead.  We decide to get up early but not THAT early and we are at the trailhead by 6:45am.  The parking area is tucked inside the crook of the tightest hairpin turn on the Kancamagus Highway.  Its dark and spooky and we have to cross the highway but its easy cause no one is coming. We don our headlamps and we are off!  My headlamp is SIGNIFICANTLY dimmer than Studs.  I really got to change those batteries…

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Not long after we make our way into the woods, the trail lightens up enough to put away our headlamps…and since mine isn’t really working that great anyway., I happily tuck it away in my pack.  The trail is lovely and fairly flat and wide.  We walk along the North Fork of the Hancock River. There are some great camp sites and I take notes in my head about revisiting this area. We quietly pass some sleepy tents followed by their trash and food tied in a low hanging bush up the trail that basically yelled “come n get it bears and other ground dwellers!”

We pass by these bright red berries and I wonder about them.  Stud says “gut berries” referencing the youth novel Hatchet where this kid gets in a plane crash and has to survive in the wild and eats these “gut berries” that make him sick but hes so hungry that he continues to eat them until he figures out how to sustain himself.

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We check the map at the upcoming intersections and make our way deeper in towards the edges of the Pemigewasset Wilderness.  We take a big break when we arrive at the Hancock Loop Trail where the real ascent begins.  We eat and pee and hydrate and then start making our way up.  Its an intense .7 of a mile with over a thousand feet of elevation gain and we are feelin it!  Since we got such an early start, we take our time and take long breaks soakin up the balsams and the spruce.29CEF154-8099-462A-9A5D-17307DADF58D37D3E5D7-0057-4B3C-8DBA-0E64E23992FBWe push up and up until boom!  We see this sign!51A4781E-05CF-486B-A435-465A53017A6EWe make our way over to the outlook for North Peak and the clouds sit below in the valleys and its all just almost too much to bear.  We exclaim and curse and jump around trying to not fall off the mountain.  I take lots of pictures of a stick that I found along the way up and then lay it to rest near north peak as a gift.A3E1857D-6D8B-416B-89B0-4CECD124D5A179963BC3-1D40-42B7-A69D-9F20788F5918DB6B3AFC-61FB-4051-9BE8-3F7327CEBCB3F856DD5C-9A6D-435D-9488-242CC73DEA95

 

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We then head towards South Peak which looks impossibly far away.  I am always amazed how far away a mountain will look across a valley and can’t imagine that I could ever just walk there in an hour or so but we do.

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We dip into a scraggly mountain spruce forest and the morning light flickers between the trees like a film strip.  Its not even 11 and we’ve already had our lunch break and I feel so peaceful and present in this mountain.28CECF81-0EA9-42B8-9BC1-7C7E35C9EA3F98D29F20-8299-4455-B3AD-1D3DF6EA466EF285C422-8E7C-4C66-A3EB-7A302BD71CEB890FDAB5-5FC9-4521-8162-0A90C44FA1F9942DE4D5-8571-4411-9395-006E35BD1E28

Almost too soon we pop out on South Peak.  I am not ready to descend but that is whats next.  We sit and look out and talk about Mount Carrigain which looms off to the east. We talk about maybe saving that one for last on our NH48 list.  We try to distinguish the many peaks and then start our descent.D6B00A18-04EA-46E2-8714-52506C28AA92637F3418-5413-4004-A1EE-03348D4951F0

The descent is steep and brutal and we grunt and take breaks to rest our knees.  By the time we are back down it is only 2pm and we take a long leisurely rest on some benches at the scenic parking area where we are parked.  It overlooks the Osceolas where we were the day before and there are some informational stories and pictures about the history of peak baggers and hikers who use to be called Mountain Trampers who came up from the city just like us to find adventure and wonder in the White Mountains. Many of these mountain trampers were women.  I would like to read their journals.

We head back to the cabin for a rest and then back into Lincoln to explore the gear shops.  We check out some hiking boots.  I ask to try on a pair of mens boots and the clerk ignores my request and tells me that she will go get the women’s equivalent boots.  I say I am not interested in that boot and she tells me not to worry because the color is very “neutral”.   I cringe a little at her assumption and then I ask again, politely, for the mens size.  She asks about my foot width.  I ignore her question and I ask her again for the boot I want to try on until I am exhausted by the exchange and we decide to leave.  In these moments I wish I had an index card to hand out that just lays it all out for people who just don’t get it.  Also, dear world, when you see a pair of butch dykes, tomboys, masculine appearing women, whatever, please don’t call us ladies.  Just don’t.  Here are some alternatives: ya’ll, folks, or just “hello” will do.  This slight effort will go so much farther and deeper than you can ever know.

 

 

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The Osceolas and The Step Of Truth

  • Elevation:  4,315 Feet (Mount Osceola) 4,156 (East Peak)
  • Location: Lincoln, NH
  • Date Hiked: October 22, 2017
  • Companions: Stud
  • Trails: Mt Osceola Trail

Stud and I make a spontaneous decision to turn off of 93 and head up Tripoli Road, a long and winding dirt road that neither of us are familiar with.  It will be closed for the winter and it feels exciting and unknown.  The foliage is blowing our minds and we spot all these stealthy campsites along the road with cute little fire rings tucked into the woods by streams.

We are ultimately headed to a tiny cabin in Lincoln for a couple nights with the intention to hike some 4,000 footers for a few days.  But we’ve been busy and we haven’t had time to plan or look at the maps before now.  All that was certain was the cabin reservation that Stud made for us.  The day is young and we are dressed for hiking and our packs are full and ready to go with water, snacks and the essentials.  As we cross from Massachusetts into New Hampshire we start tossing the question back and forth about what we want to do first.  Stud pours over the maps in the passenger seat and we talk through our options deciding to hike the Osceolas.  There are 2 approaches.  We decide at the last minute to hike in from Thornton Gap which is suddenly our next exit.  The tiny dirt lot is full and cars have started to park on the side of the road and we do the same.  Its a beautiful mild fall Sunday in the whites and this is a fairly moderate hike and there are lots of people out but we manage to not get caught up in a big leap frog situation.  The trail is well maintained and full of switchbacks which seem like a rarity in the northeast.  I love a switchback and am always delighted when they appear.  We climb steadily popping out on Mount Osceola within two hours.  The summit is packed so we don’t stop.  We snap a quick pick and keep moving.  The trail heads down from here over to the summit of Mount Osceola’s East Peak.E07585F8-A573-4C3F-BD50-C71A9484FD92We reach a fork and it looks to us to be a little rocky outcropping off to the side of the trail so we plop down and dig into our snacks thinking we are well enough out of the way.  We don’t realize that we are sitting on top of a section of the trail between the two summits known as the “Chimney”.  And there are 2 ways up or down the Chimney: the steep way and the steeper way.  Just as we are getting comfortable and shoving food in our mouths, a couple hikers are coming up this steeper side of the chimney which happens to be just below us.  Its sort of around a bend which is why we didn’t notice and the hikers rising up catch me off guard.   We cut our break short and move out of the way and decide to just keep moving.  We start our decent down the chimney.  There is a mom and her 2 young boys ahead of us and one of them is pretty nervous, hesitating for a long time before climbing down.  The mom gets nervous about us and keeps apologizing to Stud and I who are stuck behind this little guy while she tries to coax him down.  We don’t mind and I feel for the kid.

We climb down slowly finding the foot and hand holds and taking our time with it.  Once at the base its a leisurely stroll to the other summit and we arrive at Mount Osceola’s East Peak maybe an hour after having left the first summit.  The summit is in the trees and marked by a cairn and there is a really funny pair of women lingering.  We sit and eat and take in the scenery.  The funny pair move along and yet again we are blessed with a summit to ourselves.  We enjoy our quiet afternoon up here.  I have come to really love a summit in the trees.  I love the way the scraggly mountain firs fragment the sky letting in streams of light.BF4C94F6-6C7A-4D86-AF33-AB6202FF641548B9A3DD-B036-489E-BC1C-5186D50166A699519857-1874-41B1-9DE4-94C93960A7FC

Now we have to go back the way we came and we catch up with the funny pair of women climbing up the Chimney.  Its looks wicked steep from below.  We decide to go up the “steeper” way just for kicks.  Stud goes first and as I climb up behind her she acknowledges this one tricky step which I then name the “Step Of Truth” and we think this is hilarious.  02CECC07-47D7-4477-8677-176D79EE185F940C897D-CFC4-4523-924E-1BFDACB5B6712B8BCFA5-5141-4B93-BB5F-9C4C46E3CD06

I hereby dub this the “Step Of Truth”

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Just as I make my way to the top of the Chimney and am able to lift my gaze up again, I spot this perfect little toadstool under the mossy underside of the rocky trail.

DF14AA40-4226-4D40-9F86-B2D4F6C83501We pass some hikers who ask about the Chimney ahead and I really want to make some kind of comment about the “Step Of Truth” but I can’t figure out how to do it without being obnoxious but we joke about it after.  Once back at Mount Osceola’s summit we sit for a long time enjoying he views and enduring the little crowd of fellow city slickers and dogs.  We start to feel uneasy about some hikers getting too close to the edge so we make our way down to the car.  We feel great and its not very late so we head to our cabin and take hot showers flip on the TV and get lost in a marathon of American Ninja Warrior and become immediately attached to who we want to win.  We head into Lincoln for dinner at the Gypsy Cafe where I have the most aesthetically pleasing cup of tea ever.  Back at our tiny cabin we get sucked back into American Ninja Warrior until our eye lids get heavy. We each have our own little tiny room connected by a screened-in porch that hangs right over the Pemigewasset River which lulls us to sleep.532CFCA4-75C2-4F66-8241-0AC462746D5D0B1A837F-E262-4BBC-8F8D-1A559135F8DF

Owl’s Head – The Holy Grail of the NH48

  • Elevation: 4,025 feet
  • Location: Franconia, NH
  • Date Hiked: September, 23 2017
  • Companions: Stud % 5e
  • Trails: Lincoln Woods, Franconia Brook, Lincoln Brook

What makes Owl’s Head the Holy Grail of the NH48?  For starters, it is set deep in the middle of the Pemigewasset Wilderness on unmaintained trails far from any parking lot, established campsites or huts and sits far off the beaten path of the many other popular hikes in this region.  It requires multiple river crossings that can be seriously hazardous during high water.  One has be prepared to spend a night in the backcountry OR be able to hike big miles to summit this mountain.  The actual “trail” or “path” up Owl’s Head is basically a super steep exposed rock slide of sand and loose gravel and boulders that basically crumble under foot.  Once you get up top, you are in the trees and have to climb over and under downed trees to find the summit cairn which has been moved in the last decade to the “true” summit making the whole trip .4 miles further than it already was. Because of all these features, Owl’s Head is often put off and left last on people’s list who are attempting the NH48.

After much perseverating over routes and options, Stud I finally came to the conclusion that we would attempt to reach the elusive Owl’s Head summit as an out and back 19-mile day hike in late summer/early fall when the water levels were low.  This way we wouldn’t have to cross the rivers with full packs and just have a lighter carry overall. Typically I have zero interest in hiking big miles.  For me, anything over 15 miles is what I consider big miles and I prefer a nice 8-12 mile hike in the mountains where I can have time for extended breaks to take in the forest atmosphere and notice as much as possible beyond the ground in front of me.  I knew this hike would be hard and different from other hikes.

5e, Stud and I head into the Lincoln Woods at 7am wearing most of our layers and start hiking at a pretty good clip to warm up.  We figure that we have about 14 hours of daylight and we guess that our hike will take about 12 hours.  We have our headlamps, water treatment, extra food and all our essentials.  We are hiking on an old logging railroad so the terrain is very flat and the leaves are just starting to change and it is magical.  Our first 2 river crossing are over bridges and we scope the water and keep our anticipatory talk about the upcoming river crossings to a minimum but we know we are all nervous about them.  We leapfrog with a few other hikers.  Its a clear day and the parking lot had been pretty full but most hikers are not headed to Owl’s Head.  That said, we are not the only ones on this adventure and we are relieved to meet others headed that way knowing we will not be completely alone out there.IMG_2794IMG_2795

The walk is lovely.  A true walk in the woods.  Unlike other hikes that just head straight up, we are hiking many miles over the course of many hours just to get close to this mountain.  We reach the first river crossing and I feel super anxious.  Stud rock hops across like its nothing and 5e and I follow suit.  But I don’t feel  relieved when I make it to the other side cuz I know there is more to come.  We reach the next crossing.  Same thing.  And the next.  By our fourth crossing we are cheering and finally feeling relief about the water.  We keep our breaks short and eat often.  We are walking and weaving along the river and its so pretty and peaceful and its flowing babble just lulls me into a rhythm.  The few hikers we pass are very friendly and humble and the vibe on the trail is one that I really love.  Owl’s Head starts to come into view on our right and we figure we must be getting close to the slide path that goes straight up it and we start to look for it knowing it may not be well marked having read this in the guidebooks.IMG_2796IMG_2797

We manage our last crossing just before reaching a pair of cairns marking the Owl’s Head Path and I consider them a threshold to this myth of a mountain.  We pause and take a short break before heading up.  We chug our water and refill our liters and have a last snack.  As we start our ascent, I am very aware of how deep in the woods we are and how late it feels to just be starting up a mountain and how we’ve already been hiking for over 4 hours and the toughest part is yet to come.  We reach the slidy stuff and each step up sort of slides back a bit.  It is profoundly steep and the gravel and loose rocks crumble under foot and we are all scared.  Stud panic hikes ahead and 5e expresses her fear just below me while I try to keep steadily moving up.  We do our best to not loosen the rocks so that they don’t fall on each other but they fall everywhere.  I grunt and laugh nervously and we encourage each other until alas we reach the top of the slide and find ourselves on more of a trail with more solid rock scrambles which are fun and a relief. The steepness starts to level out and we have entered the mossy greenery and we can see the blue sky start to peak thru the wind blown spruces ahead of us.

We climb over and under and around the downed trees towards the “new” summit and reach the cairn and it feels fricken awesome.   It reminds me of how I felt when I reached the summits of Mansfield and Camel’s Hump on the Long Trail.  I can’t believe I am standing on Owl’s Head.  It is surreal.  It feels amazing.  We collapse and eat and chug water and then we are joined by another hiker who asks us if we would help him cheer for his friend who is coming along behind him.  He tells us that this is his friends 48th and final mountain in completing his NH48 goal.  We are pumped!  We hear him coming and we all stand up and start clapping.  He is shocked to hear us as we start cheering for him and I almost get emotional.  He looks to be in his late 50’s and I find out later that he’s from NY and has been chipping away at the NH48 for the past 7 years.  Its my first time being on a NH48 summit with someone celebrating their final peak and he is touched and humble about it.  His friend’s final mountain is Madison and they plan to hike that the next day.  We congratulate them and end our summit break a little early to give them some time alone on the summit.

Walking back Stud spots a big brown rabbit.  Its was huge and hopping around on top of this mossy summit and something about that rabbit just really got to me.  A message for sure.  As we begin our descent down the slide trail we are pretty freaked out about going down but its okay.  We slip and slide and we loosen rocks that knock each other behind foot and I even have a dramatic fall at one point but we are fine and we just take our time and talk each other down it and when we reach the bottom and cross back over the threshold between the cairns, we collapse by the river.  We lay on the soft pine floor and chug our liters, eat snacks, refill water and rest.  Its mid afternoon and we have a long hike out.  We feel great and we manage to get across all the river crossings just fine.  A couple hours later the light starts to fade and so do we.  We are exhausted and things start to hurt.  The last 2 miles are brutal and I just want to collapse but I just keep walking and we all start to just drag ourselves forward.  I keep drawing my attention away from my physical discomfort and try to focus the trees, the river, the leaves, the beings and I a, so grateful to be on this land.  I am delighted to see so much Balsam Fir.

We reach the suspension bridge at 6:30PM, exactly 11.5 hours and 18.5 miles later and we climb down underneath it to soak our feet in the cold river.  I attempt to get all the way in but its too cold and the light is fading and I don’t want to get over cold.  But I wash the dirt off my calves and splash water on my face and arms.  We hobble to the car and change into jeans and flannel and it feels so good.  We drive away from the Lincoln Woods as the sun sets over the misty blue mountains and we feel incredibly accomplished, exhausted, sore, and content.

 

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Franconia Ridge to Garfield Ridge to N. Twin

Stud and I park at the North Twin trailhead and get swooped up by Notch Taxi who arrives early and is super nice and drops us in Franconia Notch at the Whitehouse Trailhead where we walk north to pick up the Appalachian Trail.  Its 11am and our packs are loaded with everything we need (and more) for a potential 3 night/3.5 day trip in the Pemigewasset Wilderness.  We start our ascent up the Liberty Spring Trail gaining 2,000 feet of elevation in 2 miles until we reach the Liberty Spring Tentsite approximately 2 hours later.

We are relieved to get into this campsite early because there are just a few backcountry campsites that sit along the high peaks of Pemigewasset Wilderness where friendly AMC (Appalachian Mount Club) caretakers collect a small fee in exchange for a tent platform, a bear box to store food overnight, a composting outhouse, daily weather reports, and there is usually a water source to filter from.  On sunny summer weekends these campsites fill right up and caretakers will fit upwards of 40-60 hikers into these sites. This is impressive considering that these campsites sit on a very steep mountain side pitches and there are only like 5-8 tent platforms at each campsite.  These caretakers will find a spot for everyone and no hiker is ever turned away and even at capacity they don’t feel crowded.  Some of these sites are directly on the AT (Appalachian Trail) so many thru hikers rely on them because there are very limited stealth campsites spots in the alpine zones of the White Mountains.  Given the rugged terrain of these ridge lines, these campsites can be a fun place to connect with thru-hikers, weekend warriors, school groups and whoever else saw those same sweeping views and managed those same hard rock scrambles and long exposed ridge lines.  Many hikers who come thru these sites, whether it be to camp or just refill water, will arrive weary and worn down by the terrain and in need of a witness.  We witness each other, some more humbly than others.

The caretaker is this smiley tough woman and Stud and I connect with her immediately. She sets us up in what she calls “the penthouse” which is a tent platform high up and further off the trail and kind of hidden.  We set up our tents next to each other filling the small platform and later we are joined by 2 young French-speaking young women who squeeze their tent onto a tiny flat spot next to the platform.  We ask about eachothers days and Stud and I throw some water and snacks into a smaller day pack and head off to ascend Mt Liberty and Mt Flume.  Its late afternoon and it feels great to hike without our big packs.  The views are sweeping and the summits are rocky with many cliffs and many sunbathers.  We relax on top and I pull out my new tiny binoculars that I acquired last week on a job helping someone purge their apartment.  We admire the dozen or so mountains around us that we have summited over the last few years and study many dozen more that we have yet to attempt before returning back to camp and make dinner and then study our maps before crawling into our tents.We wake up early and are packed up and hiking north on Franconia Ridge in the cool morning processing about queer life, pronouns, gender, music, future goals, politics, the various organizations we associate with and all the things we like to process about in between eating candy and trail food.  We pass many hikers.  We stop to chat with some and not with others.  Some of the bro-dudes mistake us for other bro-dudes and so we just kinda grunt back to them in our lowest voice and move along.  But we welcome more conversation from the hikers who recognize us as the late-30 year old women that we are.  One of these hikers says to us “Thank Goddess for this wonderful day!” and we fall in love with her and talk about her for the rest of the trip.  We share this enthusiasm of being on such a beautiful ridge line and mostly avoid conversations about what lies ahead and whether its “good” or “bad”.  People tell us what to expect and how much water to carry even though we don’t ask for this kind of advice.  I don’t bother to mention that I’ve actually hiked this ridge before and I just respond to the various unsolicited advice with “cools thanks” and try to gracefully disengage.  I’ve hiked enough to know how much water I need but the bro-dude-splanations still get to me and I fight hard not to internalize any assumptions other hikers may make about me and I notice that I care less and less with every year older I get.  I decide I love being 39 years young.

 

Its a long gorgeous climb over Little Haystack, Mt Lincoln and Mt Lafayette.  Its a mix of rock scrambles, long steep pitches, and short stretches of nice footpaths.  Once we are up above 5,000 feet the wind picks up and I can no longer wear my hat and sunglasses for fear that they will blow right off me.  The sun is bright and the wind is almost knocking us over.  It is so intense so we don’t linger long on any of the summits.  We take advantage of any wind breaks along the short slightly sheltered spots where we hunker down to drink water and eat snacks and relieve ourselves.  Weary, we are eventually make our way up and over Lafayette and turning northeast along the Garfield Ridge.  My eyes water and I blow record breaking 10 foot snot shots behind me into the wind.

As soon as we get back down below tree line we lay down on the trail on this boulder cliff and eat and drink and rest.  Its not a good spot for a break but we have been pushing hard and have to stop.  We push down the relentless descent and after hours and thousands of feet of elevation gain and loss we are back down in the pine forest.  We find a perfect spot for an afternoon siesta.  We take off our socks and shoes lie on a bed of soft pine needles elevating our feet of a log while eating salty crunchy things and bathing in the mountain breeze laughing about how tired we are.  We see some hikers pass by who we camped with last night who we have been leap frogging with all day.  Its a young woman and her father and they are thru-hiking the NH section of the AT and I am inspired.

 

 

Rested and restored we start our final ascent of the day up Mt Garfield which takes everything we have and when we get to the top we have the summit all to ourselves.  We take our time up there soaking in the views of the long jagged ridge line we had just hiked.  I look at Lafayette thru my binocs and see dozens of tiny silhouetted people up there.  I could even see the Long Trail’s Camel’s Hump and Mount Mansfield.  I think I could also make out Whiteface and Madonna Peak if I was correct.  But Camel’s Hump is so distinctive and it was connecting to wave to some of my old mountain friends from over here.  Its fun to know the mountains and name them off and see them from various sides.Next stop, Garfield Ridge Campsite.  It feels late but we still get into camp early enough to get another awesome tent platform spot.  This site also has a large lean-to and it fills up with AT thru-hikers.  Our neighbors are the daughter/father hikers and we chat with them about their hike and its really fun to talk to them about the trail.  We eat and crawl into our tents and sleep better then the night before.In the morning we are packed up and back on the trail by 6:45.  We make our way down the almost comically steep cliff stretch of Garfield Ridge where I imagine the look on thru-hikers’ faces when they get to this spot…like how it this even a trail?  Welcome to the White Mountains.  We reach the intersection of Franconia Brooke Trail and make a decision about our next move.  We had been strongly considering hiking down into the Valley and setting up camp at 13 Falls and then attempting to summit Owl’s Head via the northern Lincoln Brook Trail the following day.  This is a remote stretch of trail that few people travel on and everything we’ve read about it says the trail is hard to follow and its easy to get lost.  There are lots of water crossings and its a big day.  While we have been enticed by it and read a lot about it, in the end we decided to stay on the ridge.  After all the elevation gain and loss that we’d already done, adding more felt exhausting and we were losing confidence about that northern stretch and our (lack of) compass reading skills so we listened to our intuition and decided to stay up top and head towards the Galehead Hut for a big late breakfast break and take advantage the huts views, shady benched front porch, running water and bathrooms.  After some coffee and oatmeal we stashed our packs inside the hut and took a spur trail out and back to the summit of Galehead Mountain.  Back at the hut we each chugged a liter of water and sat with an older AT thru-hiker while she ate every leftover the hut croo offered her.  One the hut croo cooks brought out a big leftover pot of soup with some bowls and we watched this hiker down like 5 bowls of soup and we felt genuinely relieved and happy for her.  Hiker hunger is impressive and kind of fascinating.  I was tempted by the soup but decided to leave it for the thru-hikers since our new plan would have us hiking out that afternoon which meant we’d get to eat whatever we wanted later.

 

We filled our waters and started up South Twin which is basically straight up and gains 1,200 feet of elevation in .8 of a mile.  Its like a rock staircase and eventually we popped out on top and the wind wasn’t too strong and we were able to really enjoy this summit.  I felt a little shaky and dug into my food bag no longer conserving for that extra day.  We had been on this summit 2 years ago but it was so windy that we basically half jogged right over it on our way to the Twinway towards Guyot.  But today, the day was young and we would be hiking out from here so we sat for a while and I pulled out the binoculars and we took in the 360° views all around.

We branched off the AT  following the North Twinway Spur over to North Twin Mountain.  This 1.3 ridge was simply a beautiful stretch of trail that went in and out of the trees passing thru fern fields and bright moss covered boulders and the blue sky and distant mountains were visible thru the scraggly mountain pines cooling us off with that mountain breeze coming in from all directions.We popped out on North Twin, our final summit of this trip, and went to a lookout to eat and drink.  It was hot.  The clouds started to gather and within minutes we watched the puffy benign poofs thicken into growing thunderheads.  It was amazing how fast it formed.  We couldn’t have been more grateful to be heading down and off the exposed ridges.  We descended down the North Twin Trail down a steep gravelly slidy rocky path careful to not lose our footing.  Our legs were tired and we slid down many big boulders on our butts until finally the trail mellowed out and we could actually hike and not just brace ourselves the entire way.  We were maybe 2 miles from the car when we started hearing thunder like I’ve never heard before.  It echoed down the mountains and we could feel it in the ground vibrating through us.  As the sky darkened over various peaks and the thunder grew louder and stronger, we thought about the hikers we met and hoped that everyone would be safe.  Then we had these huge river crossings.  The water wasn’t very high and we could totally rock hop across it but it was a long stretch of many rocks to hop with some big hops over rushing water and between the grumbling thunder and some distant flashing in my peripheral vision it took so much focus and concentration to stay balanced on these rocks and not freeze up half way across or fall in!  Finally we were done crossing the “Little River” for the last time and we cruised along very moderate (almost flat) stretch of trail until we reached the car.

We kicked off our shoes and just as we drove down Haystack road back to route 3, the skies opened and the rain started to fall.  What timing.  Things seemed to clear up as we rounded the bend into Franconia Notch so we jumped into Echo Lake at the base of Cannon and before changing into some dry cotton clothes we had stashed in the car.  We discussed our lingering Owls Head Plan B which would be driving down to the Lincoln Woods, camping nearby, and then hiking Owl’s Head as a day hike the next day.  From the Lincoln Woods, its an 18 mile round trip hike which is a LOT for us but the trail is easier to follow from that direction and its mostly flat until the final ascent and we wouldn’t be carrying full packs.  But 18 miles is a LONG day for us.  There is also a significant water crossing that can be sketchy especially with anymore rain coming overnight.  SO we decided to post-pone Owl’s Head for another time and drove home stopping for some real food on the way.  Owl’s Head, perhaps we’ll see in September.

 

Mount Washington Mountain Magic 

5e and I shuffle past the sightseers at the Mount Washington Cog Railway Base Station. We fumble with our packs and trekking poles and make our way towards the Jewell Trail.  First we have to cross the cog rail tracks and it was confusing because there were trains moving up and down the mountain so I asked a conductor nearby if if was okay to cross and he waved us on.  Our first few steps onto the trail felt like being shot out of a cannon. Immediately after crossing the tracks  we climb down a very steep ladder-like-staircase into a swollen creek teetering on some tiny stepping stones while the cog is blowing its horn. It was totally overwhelming.  Within minutes we find ourselves at another fast flowing brook with a small log appearing to be the only way across. I was ready to turn back and hike something else.  It was 9am and I really was not sure I could get across this water crossing.  When I first stepped onto the small log my legs were shaking and my heart was racing and I had to step back off and like breathe and try to center myself before trying again.  15 minutes later we both made it across and with our adrenaline pumping we cruised up the trail humbled and reminded who’s boss when climbing the biggest mountain in the the northeast.  We found our rhythm and before we knew it we were popping out of the trees and climbing along an exposed ridge towards the presidential range. 

That tiny building in the middle is the Cog Base Station where we started our hike.img_2369The views could not be clearer and there was barely a breeze up top.  We scrambled our way up the lichen covered alpine rocks carefully studying the cairns trying to stay on the trail as we made our way higher into the alpine zone. From this side of Mount Washington there is a loop that leaves from the Cog Base Station and goes up and around the Ammonoosuc Ravine. Typically hikers ascend on the Ammonoosuc Trail which is made up of long steep rock slabs that weave up various waterfalls and then descend on the Jewell Trail which is more gradual.  We decided to switch it up so that we could leave open the possibility of bagging nearby Mount Monroe, also on the NH48 list which 5e is also working on.  Mount Monroe is just .3  of a mile from the Lakes Of The Clouds Hut which sits perched along the ridge at the intersection of the Appalachian Trail and the Ammonoosuc Trail about 1.5 miles down from the summit of Washington.  We figured we would summit Washington and then hike down to the hut and see what time it was and how we felt and then decide about Mount Monroe.As we climbed towards the actual summit of Mount Washignton we discovered a long line of maybe 15-20 mostly cog and auto road enthusiasts waiting for summit pics.  We had just hiked up thousands of feet for 4 hours and were not prepared to wait in line for our hard earned summit pic.  We were shaky and cooling down so went inside the observation deck and ate our lunch, used the bathroom, refilled water and rested for a bit.  It was a complete circus all over the summit given the amazing weather and clear skies.  It was both entertaining and exhausting up there and we weren’t interested in lingering too long.We headed to the summit sign line and once we got our pic, we wasted no time getting back on the trail, heading south towards Lakes of the Clouds Hut.  It was maybe 2PM so we dropped our packs and practically ran up Mount Monroe and back.  We returned to the hut and took another short break before heading down.  It was so beautiful and perfect on the ridge that I did not want to ever head down.

But we were doing this as a day hike which meant we had another 3 hr drive once we got back down to the base so even though there was plenty of light at 3pm, we quickly started our descent down the very steep Ammonoosuc Trail.  We were well aware of its steepness because a couple of hikers that we had brief conversations with along the way had asked about our route and when we said we were descending the Ammonoosuc Trail we got some of that classic unsolicited and nonconsensual warnings about it.

This happened to Bear Bait and I a LOT on the Long Trail.  We were Soouthbounders (Sobo).  Northbound (Nobo) hikers were constantly “warning” us about upcoming scary ladders and hard scrambles.  It totally stressed us out and then our experience was often really different than what other hikers would tell us it would be..mainly because we were hiking up things that they had hiked down and vice versa.  We learned not to listen to this unsolicited advice. When NoBo hikers offered us a plate of fear we just looked at eachother as if to say “don’t even listen to this”  We named this phenomenon a “Nobo-A-No-No”  We learned to shake it off.  But still it would be there in the back of my mind and the night before we had to climb up the chin of Mount Mansfield, neither of us slept a wink due to the many scary stories shared with us by NoBo hikers the previous day.  It ended up being fine.   It was descending the forehead that had us trembling and no NoBo mentioned that!

While the Ammonoosuc Trail was steep, it was fine.  It was great actually and I’d descend it again.  Sure we had to go slow and there was some butt sliding and swearing and squeaky knees but that is all just part of the fun of hiking as far as I am concerned.

We were back down at the cog base station by 7 pm and we were stoked.  Perfect day.

Mount Zealand

  • Elevation: 4,260 Feet
  • Location: Whitefield, NH
  • Dates Hiked: July 2017
  • Companions: Stud
  • Trails: Zealand Trail to Twinway

Summer in the Whites has arrived.  I finally broke in a fresh new pair of sneakers that I had stashed away.  They are the same sneaks that I hiked the Long Trail in after finding them on a clearance rack of a cheap department store.  I loved them so much and they were so cheap that I ended up buying 2 more pairs online.  I was really waiting for summer to kick in before breaking in this last pair.

Stud and I decided to hike Zealand as we are chippin away at the Pemigewasset Wilderness section of the NH48 ever since our heavenly backpacking trip over the bonds a couple summers ago.  Zealand Road, the road to the trailhead, is a long dirt road that is closed in Winter.  Zealand Hut stays open all year round and outdoor winter enthusiasts will ski and snowshoe up the 3 mile road all the way to the trail head.  The trail itself is super gradual and mellow.  Once at the hut we refilled water and ate some snacks and I left a big fun encouraging note in the trail registry for Little Bear Stumbles who is currently thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and making her way thru the White Mountains right now!

I met Little Bear last summer on the Long Trail.  She started north from Harpers Ferry in April and I’ve been following her blog and enthusiastically waving my internet pom poms as she makes her way north.  I figured once she got into the White Mountains I might run into her on one of my hikes. The White Mountains have a reputation among the Appalachian Trail.  They are hard, they are beautiful, and have some long stretches of relentlessly rugged exposed alpine ridges that can be super dangerous in bad weather. These same ridges offer some of the most spectacular views and fun scrambly hikes in good weather.

I reached out to Little Bear as she got closer to the Whites offering support if she wanted any.  We talked in the phone once she crossed the border into New Hampshire and she told me her plans for hiking thru the Whites and asked some questions about it.  I gave her lots of encouragement while cautioning against traversing the Presidential Range in any chance of lightening.  We reminisced about the Long Trail and I reminded her how rugged that northern section was and that the whites would be similar…just more exposed.

I knew there was a chance that Stud and I might see her on our hike because we would be hiking south on the Appalachian Trail/Twinway Trail towards the summit of Zealand and Little Bear would be in this area hiking north.  But I honestly didn’t expect to see her given the heavy rains, thunderstorms and tornado warnings from the day before so I figure there was no way she would have gone over the Franconia Ridge in that.  But she did!  And made it across just in time getting into shelter before the weather kicked up.

Once Stud and I left the hut there were a couple water crossings that made me think our hike was over.  With all the rain from the last few days the Zealand Falls were running high and I honestly didn’t think we could get across.  We hiked up and down the bank looking for a better spot and there just wasn’t one so we went back to where the trail crosses and debated what to do while the white water rushed by in front of us.  Finally Stud figured out a good way over and I followed her with my adrenaline pumping wide eyed and wide awake.  Neither of us slept the night before but after a couple of these water crossings we were wide awake.  Water crossings scare me so much.  I don’t mind getting wet.  I just tremble when I feel the pull of that current.

As Stud and I climbed up the rocky trail I see Little Bear Stumbles coming down the trail and I holler out “WHATS UP LITTLE BEAR STUMBLES!!!”  She was like “NO WAY!!!”  She recognized Stud from my blog and we chatted.  She told us of her wild adventures thru the Pemigewasset Wilderness.  I was shocked that she was this far along given the weather and I was so happy to see her and regretted not having like a backpack full of oranges and like ice cream sandwiches to offer her.  I had texted her to ask if I could bring her any special requests in the chance that I ran into her up there she just said to bring sunshine and fortunately that worked out!  Stud and I brought loads of sunshine and it was a beautiful hike.  

We parted ways with Little Bear who still had many miles to her next campsite.  We hooted and hollered as we hiked on and popped out on Zealand Cliff which was just stunning with views for miles.  Then we followed the ridge to the  summit of Zealand which was not particularly mind blowing but the ridge was one of the most fun hikes I’ve had in a while mostly in the trees but with views thru them the whole time and occasionally popping out on some rock ledges.

There were lots of hikers out given the good weather and the holiday weekend but the trail did not feel like a hiker highway or anything.  We hardly leapfrogged with anyone and the trail was unusually not super challenging so we didn’t take many breaks.  Once back at the car we drove down the road a little ways to a spot along the Zealand River where we soaked our feet and tried to fully submerged but it was just way too cold.  We managed to sit in it for a few minutes but that was it.  We cleaned ourselves up and put on dry cotton and headed home stopping at the Red Arrow Diner for a fun dinner.

As I head off to work this morning I am thinking about Little Bear heading into Crawford Notch and gearing up for the Presidential Range!  Weather is lookin good Little Bear!!! You got this!

Mount Tom!Mount Field!Mount Willey!

Spring has sprung and the White Mountains are thawing out.  I picked Stud up at 5:30am on Saturday and we drove north thru Franconia Notch, up and around the Pemigewasset Wilderness, and then down into Crawford Notch.  We parked at the train depot, lathered ourselves in bug stuff and headed up the Avalon Trail. There were no bugs.  There was some mud and the babbling brooks were running high but we managed to keep our boots mostly dry on the ascent.  There were flowers, woodpeckers, bird song, and the pine scent was strong.

We reached the A-Z Trail and continued up to the ridge were we reach the intersection of the Willey Range Trail.  We took the spur trail up to Mount Tom and took a summit pic with the rock cairn and then took in the views of the fog. It was chilly up there so we headed back down to the intersection where we sat on a log and had a snack watching the very plump mountain jays encroach on us.  Couldn’t sit for too long so we continued along the ridge towards Mount Field where the sky started to open up giving us views.  We ate our lunch on top of Mount Field, took another summit pic with another rock cairn and continued on to Mount Willey.

We found whats left of the “monorail“.  Most of it was melted down and avoidable but there were still a few stretches of the snow packed balance beam.  We had our micro spikes in our bags but didn’t bother to put them on cuz it just wasn’t that much snow and it was mushy so our boots were able to get just enough traction.  There was definitely some slipping and sliding and we sorta skied off the sides of it a few times and some light falling but always laughing.  We referenced American Gladiators as we negotiated the monorail with oncoming hikers and I imagined dueling with my trekking poles.  But instead we took turns politely stepping off the monorail and attempting to yield accordingly.  Technically, the downhill hikers are suppose to yield to the uphill hikers but yielding on a ridgeline can get confusing when the trail goes up and down and then flattens out.  Add the monorail and its just laughable.  Most of the hikers we passed and leap frogged with were friendly and open hearted.  There were a few bro dudes out there as well who had more of a “get the fuck outta my way” kinda vibe.  Whatevs.  Stud and I like to stop and smell the pines.  

By the time we summited Mount Willey, the skies were clear.  To the East we looked out into Crawford Notch and across the range at the southern Presidentials with Webster Cliff with all its landslides..  To the West we admired South Twin and the massive peaks of the Pemigewasset Wilderness.  We ate some snacks and headed back taking the Avalon Trail side loop.

Lots of blowdowns but the trail was clear.

Lots of rocks!  Getting our trail legs going again!

8 hours later we were back at the car removing our wet and muddy boots and changing into fresh dry cotton.  Had a gorgeous road trip home.  Summer hiking season has officially begun!

Mount Waumbek

Mount Waumbek

  • Elevation: 4,006 Feet
  • Location: Lancaster, NH
  • Date Hiked: 3/12/2017
  • Companions: 5e & Brenda
  • Trails: Starr King Trail

Nothing like going up a four thousand footer on a 0º winters day with a -30º windchill.  No seriously…there is nothing like it and I mean this in the most neutral way possible.

As I obsessed over my layering system, waiting for 5e and Brenda to pick me up in Lincoln where I had been staying in a tiny cabin for the weekend,  I seriously questioned the decision-making spot on my frontal lobe.  5e had proposed this hike way back in January inspired by daylight savings.  I enthusiastically agreed to join her despite my lack of winter hiking experience and my snow-shoe resistance.  She brought her best pal Brenda who had never hiked a 4000 footer before (never mind in winter).  Fortunately we were all on the same page as far as not being overly attached to summiting and keeping the communication lines open in order to stay safe.

The hike was described as being one of the more moderate of the NH48 for winter hiking and thats why 5e picked it out.  The trail was a 7.2 miles round trip out and back with a steady grade and nothing too steep or exposed.  There was a smaller peak called Mount Starr King along the way followed by a mile of ridge but the ridge was in the trees so we were protected from the wind.  The trail was snow and ice covered and totally packed down so we were able to just wear micro spikes without needing snow shoes.

Twenty minutes into the hike and we were sweating bullets stopping to shed layers and trying to stay dry.  Our body temperatures dropped as we gained elevation.  We steadily climbed for hours and I became aware of the places where I was getting cold and I wondered if I would be okay, if we would be okay, if I would know if I wasn’t okay and where my edge was.   As we ascended,  we checked in a lot and helped each other with zippers and laces and buckles and clips.  Gloves and freezing temps make everything more challenging.  I take my gloves on and off dozens of times when exerting myself outside in winter.   My hands get sweaty and I don’t want my gloves to get too wet or I need to get into a zippered pocket and then unwrap a snack.  Then my hands are cold and I put my gloves back on and so on.  We checked each other out from time to time assessing each other’s okayness.  Now 5e and Brenda have been pals for 20 years and know each other pretty well.  But since they don’t know me nor do I know them as well, the gauge of “are you okay” was less precise and had a steeper learning curve but the trust was there.  The thing about hiking a 4000 footer with others is that it creates instant intimacy.   You go from, “hi my name is__” to detailed accounts of whats going on with your body as you burp and rip farts and help each other in and out of your clothes and boots.

The higher we got the more snow was on the trail and caked all over the trees. Any pain or discomfort or cold spots I had went to the back burner once we popped out onto the ridge.  The blue sky creeped through making way for a breathtaking wonderland up there.    Once on that first summit called Starr King we put on more clothes, ate some snacks and then quickly moved along.  Stopping for even two minutes was enough to start rapidly cooling down.  The ridge was gorgeous.  We were in the trees but there were some clearings with some intense views.  The first summit, Starr King actually had more views than Mount Waumbek.  We passed some remains from an old fire cabin…ironically all that was left was the fireplace and I wished it had a fire in it.

Before we knew it we had summitted Waumbek exactly 3.5 hours later.  We were elated.  5e made a snow angel, we snapped some pics, ate more snacks, and I discovered some ice chunks that had formed on my eye lashes that were just impressive!

We cruised down the mountain half trotting and I even butt slid a few of the steeper snowier sections saving my knees.  My feet started to throb once we got to a lower elevation I laid down on the trail and elevated my feet on a log reminding me of all those painful descents on the long trail last summer.  It was so beautiful looking up at the trees and the blue sky with the fast moving clouds and I tried to take in as much of it as I could.

Once back at the car we were stoked to have had a successful hike and it was a relief to take my boots off and change into dry cotton in the warm car.  It was a lovely drive home through Franconia Notch with Lafayette looming on the left and Cannon rising up on the right.  We texted and called our loved ones to let them know we were safe and off the mountain.  I got to know my new friends during the 3 hour drive home and we shared stories.  I was home in time for dinner and I was in bed by 8:30.

In conclusion, I’m still not sure how I feel about winter hiking.  I love the snow and I love the snow caked scraggly trees up there.  But zero degrees is kind of intense.  I’m hoping my next winter hike will be at least 20 degrees warmer.  I have yet to snowshoe up a mountain and to be perfectly honest, I am not that eager to.  I don’t mind the micro spikes…they feel like a super power.  I AM however VERY eager to hike up a mountain in sneakers and shorts and I can’t wait for that.  In the meantime I will continue to experiment with winter hiking.

Voluntary Hike Safe Card

I finally got myself a Hike Safe Card from New Hampshire Fish and Game.

For a measly $25, the money goes directly to NH Fish and Game who spend thousands of dollars and hours often risking lives in order to rescue hikers and outdoor enthusiasts who get into trouble out there on those rugged White Mountains and deep woods.

The card also keeps you from being liable for costs associated with a rescue mission.  For example, if you go out on an aggressive hike totally unprepared (like wearing jeans and carrying no food or water or map) and then something happens and you need a helicopter evacuation, than yes, you will get a bill for that and have to pay for your negligence.  You can still be held accountable even with the card (like the example I gave) but I think the idea of the card is more about that act of buying the card.  It shows that you are thinking ahead and making the extra effort to be prepared out there.  This is something I think about and talk about with my hiking companions when I go on a hike.  I consider how I might be evaluated if I were to be evacuated by a helicopter…like if NH Fish and Game looked in my backpack upon rescuing me and discovered that I only had 8/10 of the Ten Essentials, what would be the ruling if I forgot my whistle or compass?  Having the card simply helps me remember my whistle and compass.

I feel proud to carry one now…like I’ve made a commitment to hike more and be more safe and more prepared.  You might say I’m engaged with the White Mountains now.  Remind me to show you my shiny new laminated Hike Safe Card.

You can get your own Hike Safe Card here:
Hike Safe

Mount Hale

  • Elevation: 4,055 Feet
  • Location: Bethlehem, NH
  • Date Hiked: 10/23/2016
  • Companions: Stud, Zannah, Seven
  • Trails: Up Hale Brook Trail, Down Lend-A-Hand trail and Zealand Trail

From sunny glistening peaking foliage and crispy fall breezes to gale force freezing winds and snow.  Welcome to the White Mountains.

Some time ago Stud and I had blocked off a couple days to try and hit a few more peaks on our NH48 list before fall turned to winter.  We recruited our pals Zannah and Seven to join us on an epic 22 mile round trip traverse over the Willey Range to try and summit Mount Willey, Mount Field, Mount Tom and maybe Zealand Mountain as well.  We reserved 4 bunks at Zealand Falls Hut which is maintained and operated by the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club).  Some of the AMC huts stay open during late fall, winter and early spring with self service rates.  During self-service season you bring a sleeping bag but they still give you a pillow and a bunk with a mattress.  Instead of the Croo (Croo=AMC staff of young energetic outdoorsy campers) cooking dinner and breakfast for the guests, you get to use the kitchen and cook for yourself.  But they still keep the water flowing if not thru the pumps and pipes they keep it gathered and keep it potable.  Guests can use all the pots and pans and cutlery in the kitchen.  And there are pit toilets.  It’s a pretty sweet deal and it’s about $100 cheaper then the full service rates.  It’s a good way to try  an overnight hike without having to carry a tent, sleep mat, stove, fuel, pot, bowls, mugs, sporks, etc…

The weather forecast called for snow, gale force winds, and freezing temps.  Like I said, I’m not trying to die on a mountain.  We decided to avoid any exposed alpine zones and cliffs given the forecast.  Instead we chose a much shorter route to the hut on a more protected trail that would still bring us over one of the NH48; Mount Hale.  All the while, never leaving the trees.

The drive up was ominous and the foliage changed the more north we got. Once the White Mountains were in view we could see them living up to their name as everything above 1500ish feet was dusted in snow and stormy clouds swirled over the higher summits. Driving into Franconia Notch always flips my stomach and even more so in winter.

The dirt road we would be taking to our trail head closes in winter but not until November.  It was all snowy on the road and there were lots of downed branches.  We heard later that a tree had fallen and was blocking the road and some hikers were waiting for Fish and Game to clear the road so they could drive home.

It was fully snowing and very cold as we started walking up the path. We warmed up quickly and started shedding layers before we got too sweaty.  It was too cold to take breaks so other then stopping to pee or to quickly eat something or chug water we had to keep moving to avoid cooling down to that dangerous speech slurring hypothermia.

The snow wasn’t deep but it left the trail slick and it was slow going as we deciphered what we were stepping on.  We felt the wind pick up as we popped out on the summit which was a big cairn of rocks in the trees and we took a quick pic and ran back into the trees following the Lend-A-Hand Trail towards the hut.  There were lots of little water crossings and we miraculously kept our feet dry.  We reached the hut around 1pm and all was quiet.  We discovered it was no warmer than the outside air. In fact I think it was colder inside the hut then it was standing on the icy front porch outside.   The sun shed some rays on some mountains in the distance and it was beautiful.  We sat drinking hot chocolate and soon the caretaker popped in and made a fire in the tiny wood stove.  Other weary hikers came in covered in snow describing tales of literally crawling on all fours in fierce winds over exposed alpine ridgelines and losing their rain covers.  Some hikers talked about continuing onto other exposed alpine ridges.

The caretaker (AMC Croo Member) shared the weather report of dropping temps and gale force winds.  130 mph winds and negative whatever wind-chills were being reported on Mount Washington.  We looked at each other wide eyed and relieved we made the decision not to traverse the Willey Range in these conditions while the caretaker strongly discouraged another party of hikers from continuing on up over the higher peaks as they planned.  He told tales of other hikers stumbling into the hut the night before at 2am all hypothermic and sleeping on the floor next to the wood stove.  Fortunately the group that wanted to keep hiking heeded the caretakers caution and settled in.  We all warmed our boots by the wood stove and cooked our dinner and played games and laughed and talked to other hikers.  It was cozy.

I was concerned I’d be cold in my light summer sleeping bag but with my liner and all of my layers on I was toasty even though I could practically blow “smoke” rings with my breath.  I found a copy of “Not Without Peril” in the huts’ library and I read aloud to my companions in our little 4 person bunk nook.  We had our lights off and were drifting by off by about 9PM.  I listened to the howling wind outside and hoped no hikers were stuck or lost out there.

In the morning we made our coffee and oatmeal and followed the Zealand Trail under a sunny sky.  The moss and smell of pine revealed itself as we descended thru the valley and we walked by beaver ponds and across streams.  The clouds moved quickly over the higher summits and we happily strolled thru the temperate valley.

Once back at the car we drove in and out of Crawford Notch and through Franconia Notch and left the stormy White Mountains in the rear view mirrors while the brilliant peaking foliage came into focus blowing our minds under the bluest skies with the puffiest Simpsons-like clouds.

It was rather invigorating to face some more intense elements in the White Mountains.  Zannah talked about the quality of aliveness that comes with harsher weather.  Stud shared excitement about our forced change of route and how we still managed to bag a NH48.  Instead of views and relaxing summits, we got muffled snow caked pines and frozen air delightfully snapping us into the present moment again and again.  Seven posed a question about hiking away from something vs towards something and then later concluded that it might be possible to be doing both at the same time!  I recently had the opportunity to notice that I am often living my life almost a week ahead of myself at a time.  When I finished the Long Trail I set an intention to scale back my involvements in ways that that would allow more simplicity and spontaneity and less rushing around from thing to thing.  Last Monday after hiking the Kinsmans with Stud I learned my dad had a heart attack.  A few days later he had a double bipass heart surgery.  All week I was forced back into the present moment with no other choice but to live in each day as every plan I attempted to make or unmake was not in my control.  Things happened really fast and really slow at the same time.  Yesterday my dad went home after a long week in the hospital and days in ICU.  I just got home myself after staying with him and helping him get settled in after returning from my hike that he insisted I not cancel.  He’s doing so great and I am so grateful for the reminder to slow down as every plan I made last week ended up not being what I expected.

Hiking continues to be this great metaphor for life in that I can set my intentions and make my plans but I can’t get too attached or I might miss out on what’s right in front of me or I might really suffer when things have to go differently.  Hiking simply supports my desire to be more conscious and suffer less.  Grateful for the babbling brooks that are like miracle grow for my amygdala and grateful for my companions who willingly walk into snowy cold mountains with big smiles, open minds, and great senses of humor.