Mountain Crawl


Easter rose

We alighted to nature’s sanctuary

Our place of peace and resurrection

Away from the egg hunting crowds and feasted tables of obligation

The route took a detour

The conditions too muddy

A sure sign of Spring in mountainous country

A quick check on the GPS found a return to the ledge ridden twins of Welch-Dickey

We could not afford to be too picky!

Granite slabs in various conditions

Some slick with snow melt made the ascent a chore

 Forcing at times a climb on all fours

Still others were bone dry

 Standing straight in momentum

Surely we could fly!

Then what looked to be easy was deceptively so

As we found ourselves down on our backsides in the snow

Trails puddled and muddy

Leaf covered and ruddy

Narrow passages filled with slippery slush

Our day grow longer than we would have planned

 Yet it was worth it, as it ended with beers in our hands

Day 17. I should be asleep. The hike was exhausting but absolutely fantastic! Our original hike to Morgan-Percival had to be cancelled due to muddy conditions. We returned to another spot which was hard the first time due to rainy conditions. For some reason we thought it we be easier this time around. Not so much! My last full day here in New  England with my sons. Both boys were along for the trek today with blessed Izzy with us as well. My oldest gets the Mountain Goat award!

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Mountain Oasis

 

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View of Mt. Lafayette from the deck of the house

We’ve just come off a 12 day trip to New England, most of which was spent in the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire. I had been looking forward to the trip ever since we planned it in back in February. Not only were we to take up the challenge of a half-marathon in the heart of the Green Mountains, we were also reconnecting with our tribe-our children, sister, niece and closest friends.

Emily and I at the summit of Artist’s Bluff

I love the new life I am building with my husband. He makes me laugh every day; we are true partners in our relationship. I am grateful that I am in a situation where I don’t I have to prove myself with every breath I take. Also, I have really enjoyed exploring some parts of this new landscape in addition to re-establishing myself as an educator in a supportive and positive school community. But hiking and being in the mountains is one of the things I miss the most about living up north.

If you are neither a hiker nor a runner, it may be hard to understand the joy found in the challenge of a long hard run or a long hard climb. Or even the purpose of arising early in the morning to begin the trek! Although my half-marathon time was slow and the hills nearly impossible to run, the landscape raised me up and the weather cooperated by staying cool. I was so happy to be there! Rolling hills, farm houses, red barns, fields of green and friendly folk enveloped by misty mountains had a medicinal effect even during the hardest parts of the race.

One of the best cures for post-race muscle fatigue (besides yoga) is a good, solid, short hike. My husband and I chose the Sterling Pond Trail at the top of Smuggler’s Notch. At 3000′, it is Vermont’s highest trout pond. With a 1000′ elevation gain, it proved to be the perfect antidote to the previous day’s rolling roads. Slippery, wet rocks and muddy paths were rewarded by the view at the summit.

Sterling Pond, Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont

I knew this was only the beginning of finding my joy and, despite my aches and pains, I was ready for what the White Mountains had to offer us for the rest of the week.

Upon our arrival at the house in Franconia, we were greeted  by this view:

Mt. Lafayette on a sunny afternoon

My eyes welled up. I felt as if I was coming home. And indeed, home came to us in human form as well. My friends rented a place five minutes down the road and we shared many a meal and hiking paths together that week. My sons and stepdaughter arrived a few days later along with my sister-in-law and niece. We had girlfriends, boyfriends and other young adults added to the mix. At times, it felt like herding cats for hikes, but in a good way. Emily and my youngest  and his girlfriend (along with my sister-in-law) were always up and ready to go. And truly, everyone else was a good sport about heading out and attempting (and completing) the climbs.

We talked a lot about finding the joy in the challenge. For me, it isn’t only about reaching the summit, but in touching the earth along the way.

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Wildflowers across from Cannon Mountain

Being in the mountains makes it possible to be embraced by nature in ways that living here does not. The silence, the evergreen scents and sounds and the refreshing tingle of cool air are a reminder of how blessed we are to live on this planet and the need to preserve it.

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Arethusa Falls, Crawford Notch

 

Gatherings, Gratitude, Guidance and Gumption

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Photo courtesy of D. Jacavanco (jacavancostudios.com/blog)

I’m writing this piece looking out at my new back forty; a verdant park is now my backyard instead of the long expanse of grass and thick woodlands. The journey to my new life is at once complete and just beginning. We were married in late June on the beach with the roar of the Atlantic and soft tunes of a love song in a circle of friends and family.

 The day was picture perfect-the bluest of skies, the warmest of suns and greenest of grasses. The party was held outside in the backyard, a culminating celebration and the best way to say goodbye to my house and land that survived loss and was revived by love.

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The boys had moved to a beautiful apartment on the other side of town earlier that month. We had time to adjust to being apart before my own big move a thousand miles away. Although I had been in the house alone before, it was never so empty. I had trouble sleeping, not out of fear but in the sense of knowing it was permanent. It was difficult to work with all the emotional upheaval that comes with making five life changes at once. I was saying good-bye to everything.

I went for one last big hike in the mountains with my youngest during that time- a necessary reprieve from the planning of the wedding and packing whatever I needed to bring.

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I said good-bye to my therapist- a woman who provided me with strength and courage  for a decade and helped me get back myself.

So, two days after the wedding, we hit the road with everything I had- and all that I needed- packed in the car. Books, clothes, photos, paintings and two cases of wine arrived safely  three and a half days later.

And, two weeks after the wedding, my house was sold. My husband and I are  at last making our own home together. At times, I feel like a stranger in a strange land. The climate is different-and I am not just talking about the humidity! I will leave the details of my observations for future posts; they are stories unto themselves.

Until then, stay tuned!

Red Hill Resurrection

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Red Hill Summit: Lake Winnipesaukee in the distance

 

Morning broke with sunrise Alleluias at The Rock

Acoustic accompaniments to the voices of

altos, sopranos and those out of tune

Weary pilgrims shivering in the cold Easter dawn

Reflecting and reciting in the woods’ spring hush

Midday brings a bolder journey still

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The steep brilliant hike up a slush covered hill

Mother and sons make the 2000 foot ascent

Breathing deep

Each step more steep

The oldest using his powerful speed

The feast at the summit consumed in near silence

The youngest reminding us as we view the tranquil vastness

of why we do this:

We can’t let life pass us

The gang of three leave this sacred place

Hearts full, feet moving at a dancer’s graceful pace

 

Day 5. A little late after a great day with my sons.

 

 

A Hike in the Whites

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Summit of Mt. Willard: Crawford Notch

The backpack sits on my shoulders and hips

  A welcome relief

A warm hug from an old friend

               I smile

        A new climb commenced

Early April-a snow packed path

Standing in contrast to the hoar frost

of October’s last pass

           The rise is not steep

Yet our hearts burst with exertion

Our skin glistens

        Our hams beg us to listen

        222 steps to the summit

Spike rimmed boots keep us from slipping

The view is grand and glorious

We bask in Mother Sun’s heat

 

Day 4.  My fiance’ and I spent Good Friday hiking. A wonderful start to the spring season!

 

 

Cranking It Up a Notch

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Credit: www.its-not-about-the-hike.com

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”

                                                       ~Jack Kerouac

Is there such a thing as a hiker’s hangover? Possible proof of this phenomenon revealed itself this morning-the day after a grueling, not quite miserable climb on Sunday morning. Physical exhaustion and its accompanying aches tempered my usual enthusiasm for greeting a brand new day this work day Monday!

The window for hiking before the snow flies in the mountains is closing fast. Having reached our goal of  climbing Mt. Lafayette, the plan for the remainder of the season was to enjoy smaller elevations that afforded good views and the fundamental satisfaction of playing in the great outdoors.

Welch and Dickey Mountains (elevations ~2600′ and 2700′ respectively) in the Waterville Valley is a loop hike that seemed to meet the criteria for my son and I. We headed up for a half-day adventure with his closest friend, Wilson (not his real name), my pal Emily and her beautiful lab, Blaze. The forecast was for cool temps (50 degrees F) and a possible shower around noon.

As much as I was anticipating the day ahead, I was also functioning on very little sleep. I had gone to bed well after midnight and woke up at 5 am to get ready. (The night before was another adventure story which I will share in my next post!).  I was not going to let a little sleep deprivation get in the way of an “easy” family hike. But my hubris would definitely be a factor in the little known challenges this hike would bring to bear.

The drive off the highway brings us to remote country roads fairly quickly.  This hike is off the beaten path with houses separated by vast acres of green. The smell of heat burning in wood stoves is in the air- a bit damp after some days of rain the previous week. The sky is clouded over, lending itself to a day of low energy. Not many hikers are seen in the lot as we approach the trailhead.  Evidence of late autumn and windy storms is present on the path. Leaves cover the trail’s tree roots and rocks. The pungent odor of their last breaths fills our noses. We arrive at the first of Welch’s ledges quickly.

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Views here were pretty decent despite the partial cloudiness.  The mass of rock was well worn but served as a foreshadowing of what lay ahead.  This mountain and its sibling would prove to be a test for all of us.

Much of the climb involved wide open expanses of granite that sloped to varying degrees depending on the path’s direction. This was fine for a little while and would have been a blast on a sunny day. The previous week’s rain left much of the slab slick and slippery. It didn’t take me too long to start losing my confidence as I attempted to scale the moss covered sections.  I went from 0-8 on the panic scale at one point and just sat down and cried. I was genuinely afraid of falling back and then down the mountain! Blaze came over and licked my face and Emily and Wilson gently talked me out of my anxious state. My son took my hand and walked me further along to a safer point on the trail. He said to me: “This climb is going to be a test of your Strong Woman Syndrome!”  Exactly what I needed to hear!

Credit: nhdfl.org

When we reached what we thought was the summit, it started to rain (no showers as the forecast had stated). We donned our rain gear and plodded further along. My boy said he was glad for the conditions as they served as a test. He was right. We had been spoiled by near perfect weather conditions on all our earlier excursions; I was glad to be prepared but dreading the rest of the hike.  We encountered more moss and lichen covered stones before the final ascent of mountain #1.

I have to say that this became a climb of pure strategy. One or two of the boys would go ahead to check out the best possible way on the route and there were times that bushwacking was the best option.  Other times, I just held my son’s hand as I repeated: “Just keep walking”. Or as Wilson sang: “Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…” He provided the comic relief for our troupe and gave himself a chance to celebrate the boy that still lives inside him. He was a joy to hike with as we watched him traipse and tramp his way up and down and over and even under obstacles.

Credit: alltrails.com (picture this rain-soaked!)

Now and then we would get a break as the trail traveled through groves of trees.  Rocks still ruled but I was never more grateful for the sight of mud!  I cannot recall reaching the top of Dickey. By then the weather was so poor it was hard to enjoy any sort of celebration. Emily did snap a photo of us somewhere. Our faces a witness of wetness and weariness.

It is important when facing a challenge not to lose one’s sense of humor or inner mental toughness. You’re doomed if you don’t. Plus, you wish away time well spent with others who have your back.

One big surprise came upon us as we were making our way:

Credit:www.flickr.com

This is the saddle between Welch and Dickey on a good day (the dog’s name is Salty). Climbing through this was a load of fun!

We just kept coming upon one big slab surprise after another with each step needing to be purposeful and planned. As one hiker said to me as we were making our way down, “There are no heroes on mountains.”  He is right. Better to be cautious and careful and keep the risks to a minimum!

I guess the hardest part for me was the final set of ledges. Straight on traverse with a clear drop-off.

Credit: Google.com ( I think this is the right one!)

Lots of talking through this one. Emily was right with me; she is an assuring presence on the mountain and in my life.

I have no regrets about the choice of climb this round. Hiking experiences are inherently unpredictable; one has to prepare for the worst and always hope for the best.  And be ready for a challenge regardless of the elevation! For me it is always about the company you keep and the memories you make. That’s what makes the mountains matter.

 

Special thanks to Emily for inspiring the title for this post!

Up in the Clouds

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One of the many views taken from my phone

4 AM Sunday arrived quietly. I stepped out of the mudroom to feel the air and check the sky for stars and the waning moon. The day held promise – it was one we have been preparing for since my youngest son set it as a goal that long day in August  (Trails, Tales and Tails ).

I had been obsessively checking the forecast for Mount Lafayette all week. If the weather looked too dismal, the hike would need to be postponed. Any mountain above treeline becomes treacherous in bad weather. Caution and common sense must prevail. Lucky for us, it would be a decent day, albeit colder than the other hikes. No shorts nor short sleeves for this one!

Emily would join us once again and, after a quick stop for more coffee, we picked her up. Her first words after “Good morning” were  “I have some  Oktober Fest beers-do you want me to get them?” HA!  Great minds think alike.We had already put three Shiner Bocks in the cooler, a welcome reward awaiting us after a rigorous day!

It is hard to believe that in less than two hours we arrived in the notch. Hat and gloves and a third top layer were added to the ensemble before commencing the trail. Already the parking lot was crowded; we were lucky to find a spot. The summit was not yet visible; shrouded in clouds and a fog that we hoped would burn off by the time we neared the top.

Within minutes of walking, we shed the layers that we donned in the parking lot; the woods offering an insulating protection from the cold. Like our last excursion, we had plenty of company. Families, couples and many Canadians from Quebec out for a Thanksgiving challenge!

When you hike long enough with others you know, a natural pace and rhythm evolves. And as one hikes in this region, you come to expect tree roots and boulders to mark the path.You relax into one another and the pursuit before you. Time is suspended and you become wholly present. (I had been up this mountain long ago with my parents, brother and others. But the time and my age escape me.More than a lifetime ago – so much so that it feels like the first time today.)

There are three ways to climb this beast; all the trails offering their own special gifts and challenges. I decided on Old Bridle path as it was the shortest route (7.6 or so in all) with 3490 feet in vertical. The summit rests at 5220 feet.

The views were stunning as well as spectacular along the way, causing us to naturally pause and soak it all in:

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( This photo from my phone does not do it justice of course but you get the idea!)

Per usual, we encountered the unexpected. As we were rounding a turn in the path, we paused to let two hikers descend. As we resumed, I mouthed to my son: “That looks like so and so.” Then from around the bend came Sue! Sue and her son are old neighbors of ours who moved a couple of years back. Her son and mine were inseparable playmates for years but personal circumstances affected their relationship. We stopped for a long few minutes, attempting to catch up (they had spent the night with her brother, the first hiker,  in the hut after hiking over the ridge the previous day). Such a bittersweet encounter. My son was thrilled that he finally ran into someone he knew. But later on the drive home, he  would remark of how shocked he was to see his old friend, how he forgot to ask after him and how it really sucked that their relationship changed.

Onward we marched, remarking of how much easier the hike was before we saw the layers upon layers of granite stones before us.  The heart takes on a different beat while hiking these spots. Fervent and strong rat-a-tat-tats, reminders of being alive!

We reached Greenleaf Hut-an alpine respite for many.

 Credit: www.wunderground.com  

(This is not what it looked like yesterday at the time we were there!)

The weather changed  here in a significant way.Crowded and noisy with preparation for what lay ahead. A summit that was socked in and strong winds of frigid air. We stopped to capture some of nature’s new sights and then continued forward.

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Hoar frost at Greenleaf Hut

 

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View of Eagle Lake from the northeast side of the hut

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A field of stones leading away from the hut towards the rocky and clouded switchbacks of the summit’s route

Lafayette is a tricky mountain. Besides the weather, the summit seems just out of reach with just a mile or so to go.  But in fact it is the part beyond Greenleaf that it truly the longest and roughest stretch. They say this hike requires stamina and I would agree with that description! You may be physically fit and fueled, but the mental fatigue can get the best of you if you let it. Or you can take a page out of my son’s book and literally dance in celebration of the experience. What a sight! 6’4″+ of fully body exuberance! Joyful and thrilled at the fact that he had never experienced this before. A view of the summit was impossible but we could see lines of hikers making their descent. A human path. The cairns became towers and my son added his own piece to one, marking his climbing territory. As if to say “I AM HERE.”

We forced ourselves to stop for water. Arctic sips necessary for the remainder of the ascent even though we did not feel one bit thirsty. We stopped to strike a pose for my son:

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Strong mountain women!

The winds were blowing around us and the sun was battling to be seen as we reached the top. ( I have photos but wish to protect the privacy of my boy). We debated eating because of the temperature but we were starving, so we took shelter behind a small slab of rock. The place was alive with French chatter and thru hikers talking shop who had emerged from an unseen path via Franconia Ridge. The clouds parted briefly and a loud cheer went up as we celebrated and clung to its heat. We felt uncomfortable sitting in our cold sweat, a dichotomous bodily experience that only movement would alleviate!

Emily and I share an aversion to descents. We find them harder because we fear placing our feet on the wrong rock and going ass over teakettle. We move like turtles as we watch others jump and run like mountain goats. My son is one of those. He relieves me of my stick and encourages me to use my arms for balance and tells me not to worry about falling. Emily and I stop to let others pass. This helps me get a better grip mentally. We reach the hut once again and Emily makes a pit stop. The place is even more lively than before as the sun has finally won out over the wind. It is here that we see the summit:

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And lovely Eagle Lake once again:

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 As we reorganize our minds, bodies and spirits for the remaining 2.9 miles, I take in the raw majesty of Lafayette, its environs and its ever changing moods. I sigh, prepare myself and reckon that I must make the most of the rest of the day. And I surprise myself. I get better at my landings and when faced with slick slabs, choose the ass sliding option (coined by Emily!).  We make sure to stop at the outcroppings which offer us endless greens and oranges, an overall rich golden hue and views to infinity.

The rushing sound of  a wide-flowing stream signals we are near the end of our experience. My quads ache and Emily’s feet throb but we have enough energy to harmoniously shout a loud “WHOOP!” in the underpass that leads to the car. The packs are dropped as we open the trunk and cooler for a long cold one. The seven hour and forty-five minute hike ends with a  toast to another memory made. We remove our boots and hit the road for the drive home. The notch road is lined with cars. We saw them from the heights of the mountain. Many of them are like us. Longing for an escape. A few hours away from the troubles and annoyances of everyday life.  We journeyed into what truly matters. Time with Creation and with each other.