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