Saturday, November 28, 2015

Bond Cliff is a Fantastic Test for Time.

For weeks now, I have been wanting a larger hike. I've wanted to test myself out hiking in the dark and I've also wanted to visit The Bonds. Thanksgiving provided the time as an extra long weekend with enough time to recover both from the meal and the eventual hike. Watching the weather, it was a toss up between the two days (Friday or Saturday). So, considering I needed a day to sleep off my Thanksgiving meal, I decided on Saturday. Lucky me, I was able to get up at a decent dark hour. Driving up in the dark, we greeted the sunrise at the Lincoln Woods parking lot. I had saved a Gluten Free Muffin that I had bought the day before so, I had that for Breakfast (this was a great idea as I usually don't eat). Lil' Nugget and I were under way around 7am. I had layers and I chose to wear my winter boots (another good choice at least for the water crossing). First up was the long flat walk out to the Bond Cliff trail. 

There is not a whole lot to be said about the Lincoln Woods Trail out to the Wilderness boundary. It's long and flat. We made good time for it, even with stopping for snack breaks (Lil' Nugget) and actual food breaks (me). The weather was warmer than I thought it would be so, I quickly lost the hat and gloves. I thought about taking off the coat too but figures that would be pushing it. Lil' Nugget and I just kept walking over the railroad bed out to the boundary. Hopping onto the Bond Cliff trail, it was another hour out to the bend in the trail where the climb begins and the trail actually looks like a trail an opposed to a railroad bed. Once we reached this point (after another hour), I took a break for food again. I was not feeling hungry this trip at all due to constantly eating and replenishing calories. The day itself was kind of grey and I was hoping that the weather would clear as it was suppose to. Lil' Nugget and I headed into the woods and began our meander to the real elevation gain. I was taking note of trees and landmarks as I knew that if the day went to plan, I would be coming out in the dark. The leaves were overtaking the trail itself and the seeps were easy to step over. I also noted that we are in desperate need of snow. Everything gets filled in when it snows. 

At a certain point, the trail turns and you begin climbing and climbing, and climbing still. There are rock stairs to help with this. I'm feeing OK but I do note a hot spot in my right heel which I should take care of (it takes me a while). After another hour, I stop for a snack and I check my head lamp. It's dead. A moment of panic as I look for batteries, change the batteries, and it's still not working. I cleaned it out and try one more time... Blinded by the light. Success and we don't have to turn back. It was at this point that I decided that if need be, Bond Cliff was great for today. I was not turning back now until I got there. The water crossings (3 major and one minor) were no problem as I wore my winter boots which are highly waterproof (Merrill Whiteouts). I did carry Lil' Nugget through most of them so, that we could keep moving. The terrain was varying throughout the upper trail. Sometimes it was sand, sometimes rocks and roots. We continued to climb and hit ice around 4000 feet. It's not consistent enough for microspikes at this point and there is no snow either. We ran into a Scottish hiker who was on his way down. He got a view and was quick to add that it had clouded over again. We continued to the steps. A great piece to climb on going up. We broke tree line and entered the clouds.

We came across the rocks and over to the iconic summit of Bond Cliff. You of course, couldn't pay me enough to go out there in the clouds today. Even with no wind, I was not going to chance it as I usually get dizzy out there. So, we sat and ate. I got Lil' Nugget to pose with the summit behind her by holding up a piece of cheese. As we got ready to head back, I took my selfie as well. I did look to the nonexistent view of Mount Bond and decided that walking through that thick cloud was really not that worth it for me. So, we made our way back to the stairs. Not so fun going down with a dog. I tossed my pack down and guided myself and the dog. Stressful but we did it. Now it was just a matter of getting down. Easy when you know that it's really all down hill. I navigate the ice again and just... Keep.... Going. Amazingly, I ignore the hot spot on my foot and navigate everything in reverse. The water crossings were a breeze and before I knew it, I was back at the junction. It was 3pm at this point and I wanted to get back to the car by 5pm. It's not that simple as that long flat walk is not something that gets sped through on the way out. It drags and drags. From the junction to the bridge back to civilization, it was a long half an hour.

Once we crossed the bridge, I tried to push it to the next landmark (Black Pond trail) but had to finally stop and look at my foot. One huge blister reminiscent of my LT days, I grabbed my moleskin to at least get me to the car. It helped... A little but I do regret waiting too long. I would not have lost any time early on had I look at it then. We continued on the Lincoln Woods trail and ran into a few walkers. The sun was getting low and close to the new trail section, two hikers were coming towards us with heavy packs. They were on their was to the very place we came from as one was celebrating 48. It will be a cold night but so worth it for a view tomorrow. Shortly after that, we crossed the bridge back to the car around 4:30pm. What a fantastic way to spend the day, meandering through the woods and climbing into the clouds. I changed and got ready to head home. Lincoln was crazy so, I stop for coffee in Campton to get me home. Thanksgiving leftovers for dinner would be welcome and Lil' Nugget would finally go to sleep. 

If there is one thing I can reflect on today it's that the long flat trail so brought me back to the LT. Seeming to have no destination in mind, I walked and looked around and enjoyed the crisp day. I had been missing that feeling on my shorter day hikes. Today, more than making the 3 summits, I wanted to test myself hiking out in the dark. It makes no sense to me that I have headlamps and I go out of my way to avoid using them in these short days of the season. Basically, I'm busting my butt so that I don't use them or I go out of my way to limit myself because I am solo. The only thing I should be concerned about is my dog and that's about how I reframed hiking for the season and for Winter. I will do nothing that my dog can't do. Fortunately for me, there is not a whole lot she won't do. Which also makes it up to me to decide... I played it conservative by skipping the other two summits. But I still made a fantastic discovery... 18.2 miles round trip in 9.5 hours is a 2mph pace on 3245feet of vertical gain is a fantastic day.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Cannon Mountain for Plan B

I did not expect to be on Cannon today but I was in the end happy with it. So, my alarm started going off at 2am so I could trek across The Bond's but that was not to be. Choosing sleep over epic hike was only hard when I finally woke up and sat on my couch having coffee. Before I succumbed to another lazy day, I got everything in the car and that included Lil' Nugget (of course). It was 7:30am when I left my home in Southern New Hampshire. It was unusually bright on the ride up due to my late departure. I arrived at the Cannon Mountain Tram parking area around 9:30am and we got ready to go. There was a fair amount of people already on the trail. It was Saturday after all. I just never really expected to run into what I did this late in the season. 

The Kinsman Ridge Trail from the tram parking lot is only 2.1miles to the summit. It's 2.1 vertical icy and eroded miles. 2.1 rocky, clear cut, up miles. But you also get a pretty nice walk on a ridge which can be easy as they designed it so that people walking off the tram can walk it. You just have to climb to get to it... Of course. As I began today, I was determined to take is slow as always. The family ahead of me had on a mixture of jeans, sweatpants, and sneakers with only a few backpacks for them all. Not really prepared and not really understanding the trail, I warned them that it gets icy this time of year and that they really need to be careful. They kept going even though the kids really didn't want to. Lil' Nugget and I were also passed by a couple who equally had minimal gear but seemed a little stronger than the family. As we all climbed, first we went through sections of erosion with some standing and running water. It's running over a thin layer of ice. You can't use spikes on this either. Once we cross a minimal crossing and continue going up, the trail opens up to a clear cut area over icy boulders. We came to the slabs and saw some sheer ice. I was disappointed as I stood there studying the ice flow. Again, it's glare ice and not enough for micro spikes. Two hikers stumble up behind me without any kind of traction and minimal gear. They debate as well. I decided to try my microspikes as I was really not interested in turning back this morning (that might have killed me worse). Surprisingly, it did help just a little but I probably sacrificed them to the mountain.

It was before this section that the family, thankfully turned back (they had no traction). Lil' Nugget and I continued through fields of what looked like refuse from the ski resort. It's just a difficult trail to manage when there is no snow filling things in and covering things up. I left my microspikes on because I knew I'd run into ice again. It was warm but it was also cold so the layers stayed too. Soon, Lil' Nugget and I evened out to the ridge and my heart went back into my chest and my lungs stopped heaving. A flat walk was very welcome and we ended up stopping off at an often clouded in view. Today, it was nice to look out to Franconia Ridge "across the street". The couple that had passed us was also there sharing a beer. Turns out that they got engaged on Mt. Willard yesterday and the celebration continued. I congratulated them and took their picture and they did the same for me. Sans congratulations though. I'm just having a normal day.  Lil' Nugget and I continued to the observation tower (true summit proper) and since I would never see the couple, they must have decided to head home. 

This is a nice walk in spots but today, there is a lot of ice that when you step on it, it cracks and breaks like glass. Lil' Nugget was not to keen to step on it either. So, after a short down trail, we head up again over rocks that are a little tough to navigate due to the spacing but we do it slowly. People are starting to come off the summit now as well. It was fun to be the one coming up still for a change. Sometimes not getting up so early is good. Lot's of nice people on the trails though today. Everyone up this high at least had some experience under them. Once through the rock climb, Lil' Nugget and I evened out again on the easy trail to the summit due to it being used by Tram traffic. It might as well be paved. We pass our favorite inscribed bench and continued swiftly to the junction for the summit observation tower. We were almost there.

Once up on the tower, Lil' Nugget and I enjoyed some time to ourselves. It was quiet up there and the winds were low for a change. She didn't really like the climb on the stairs but she did settle on the platform once we got there. We had some cheese and some salami. She enjoyed the last of her dried muscles too. I sat in the quiet and the sun and thought about a lot of things but the furthest from my mind was anything that was affecting me at ground level. I had such plans swirling around in my mind for the winter and for my continued hiking. Even as I struggle with hiking these peaks over and over again, I have a few ideas for some longer backpacks that I'd like to see come true, as well as ways to keep hiking in The Whites. Up first though is winter... One month from today. I'll be there with my snowshoes for my final tow peaks. We began our descent of Cannon and I knew I was up for a challenge. Coming off the summit, we ran into a few more hikers and a few more dogs. All were friendly and respectful of Lil' Nuggets space. We met Petey who's a 14 year old dog and his owners who also read my reports. He seemed to be handling the KRT rather well. We tramped back over to the KRT and were greeted by a couple. The gentleman had his arm in a sling and as it turns out had some kind of surgery two days prior. Seriously??? I get that he wanted to get up and get going again but take it a little easier. The KRT is awful and I'd would have hated to reverse anything that surgery was correcting. To each their own though. 

We ducked below tree line without too much notice and began navigating the rocks and ice again. It seemed to take us no time to get back to the disaster zone of cleared trees and rocks. We encountered a 3 year old German Shepard who was on her 2nd 4 thousand footer. I wished her well and said that we'd see her at the awards night some day. Such a cutie too with floppy ears still. Lil' Nugget and I made it all the way past the area where I initially put on my microspikes and as I reentered the "erosion zone", I slipped and fell smack on my ass on a rock. Ouch! I guess I'll add these bruises to the collection from the Osceola's last weekend. My legs have that shoulder season look to them right now and it's not pretty. After I recovered, we continued down and I ran into the last couple of the day. These two were "classic". The woman was in white pants, a nice coat and gloves. She did not want a dirty dog jumping on her. The gentleman was dressed a little more appropriately but he had on a walking boot. Turns out he's broken his foot and decided to still try and walk up a 4 thousand footer... I CANNOT make this stuff up. I told them the conditions and they took it to heart but decided to keep walking to some kind of an outlook. Yikes! It's shoulder season. I thought these people were suppose to stay home?? We ended our day back at the Tram lot and changed back into more comfortable cloths. I was probably way over dressed for today but I was happy for the layers. I got back not he road home and headed for coffee... Extra Large Blueberry Decaf. Another hike in the books and even with the challenges, a fantastic day out. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Mount Osceola Peaks to Get My Winter Feet Back.

A smile shows just how good life is... Amazing how much has changed but the one thing remains the same and that is the mountains. Last night, I was going to head to Mount Whiteface and Mount Passaconaway. My issue was that I didn't want to hit the ledges with Lil' Nugget and that would put the mileage over 14 miles. Normally, this would not be a big issue except that the sun goes down earlier which means I would have to get up earlier. I chose the Osceola peaks as an understudy of sorts. I had not been there since last July so, why not? It's a little closer to so, I slept in and left after 6am. Something I have learned about myself is that I don't need to get up so early for a hike below 10 miles. We hit the Mount Osceola trail around 8:30am for a late start. 

The trail started out in fall conditions and who put all these rocks in the way?? Seriously, there are a lot of them to navigate. I'm kidding, this is my 4th visit to these peaks and I know full well what I am in for. Rocks, slabs, ice, snow, and maybe some wind. Lil' Nugget would have some water to drink as some of the seeps were bound to be unfrozen. It was warmish so, the hat and gloves came off and even then I was still warm but I dared not remove any other layers. We began to encounter snow which built as we climbed. Lil' Nugget had a great time with the sticks and the voles on the trail. I was just happy to be out in the fresh air. I have been dreaming of longer trip though... Maybe soon?

At a certain point on the trail, the flow ice took over and my microspikes came on. There are several sections where you walk low on slabs that are covered in ice. The lower ones are still soft thankfully and these were followed by some flat sections. As we continued to climb, I heard the wind pick up and die down and turning to push on to the summit of Mt. Osceola, the flow ice was solid and I probably jinxed myself because I thought, "Yep, I'm gonna fall on my way back... It's inevitable." Lil' Nugget was also trying to find her footing too. Seems we both need to get our winter feet under us for the coming season. Slow going, we made our way to the flat walk to the summit ledge and were welcomed with views and low winds. We took pictures and I took in the sights.

You could see clearly for miles and miles in all directions. I took several deep breaths of thanks and LIl' Nugget and I had a snack before making the mile walk to East Osceola. It's a dip down with a ridge first and the wind usually howls through this section. Not bad today. Then it's a steep down with another flat section followed by... The Chimney. Lil' Nugget and I usually take the By Pass as it is easier to navigate for a dog (less steep but still steep) and if you know it, picture heading down with a pup on a leash. We do it very well and it takes us no time. I catch my breath and we continue to head over to East Osceola. The snow is pretty on this section and it's a little deeper as usual. I can remember falling in to my calfs and then having to switch to snowshoes on one hike (not this one). Today the snow is just about 3 inches deepest in places. As we hike, we encounter a few hikers here and there. It's cold but only if you stop for an extended amount of time. I did stop in the Col to eat my Epic bar (real name too). It's this kind of meat bar  (Soft Jerky) with cranberries. Mine was bison which had a good deal of protein and calories. Just what I needed. Sounds gross but really, it's good. Lil' Nugget was upset that she got none however. As we got moving over the next rise before the final push, we met up with Renee and Mike. Very nice to put voices with the names and faces. Lil' Nugget loved the attention even with all the gloves and movement. She always likes to meet people and we always like to talk for a bit. Everyone got moving before we got too chilled. This final up to East Osceola is a mix of big and small rocks and roots. I can't wait until it all fills in with snow so, it's easier to travel. We arrived at East Osceola and it was before noon.

We walked down the trail for the view which was not too bad but we did not stay too long. Back at the summit, we had some cheese and I had some salami. Then we prepared to head back. The good thing about retracing our steps is that I can pick out land marks and at a certain point, it is all down hill. The bad part, Lil' Nugget does better on loops. There are quite a few stops and starts. We head back towards the chimney and I had again thought that maybe I'll take that back up but again looking at it and knowing how Lil' Nugget moves, I changed my mind. The by pass it was...

We continued to climb over the two rises, walked the short ridge and up the last push back to Mount Osceola. There was a crowd of students and other hikers up there on what I would still consider a marginal day. Everyone was happy and everyone kept moving. As we headed back to the flow ice, the student group seemed to be sharing microspikes. I called them one spikers for the fact that many had just one set of spikes on one shoe and bareboot on the other. Can make for a slow descend. Lil' Nugget and I were moving great until I took one awkward step and went butt over head and slid. My first thought was, "Is anything broken? No." Then I thought "Am I bleeding? No. OK, did anyone see? No. Perfect." Got up and dusted off. We continued and would pass a few more sets of hikers. As we descended back into fall, it became hot again and eventually the spikes came off. My thoughts were preoccupied with Christmas for some reason which was better than months past and all the other thoughts I would get preoccupied with. Oh, and add a healthy dash of thoughts for the LT next year. I was all set and ready for coffee on my way home. Lil' Nugget and I landed at the parking lot a little after 2pm. Ready for another week and looking forward to next weekend. Rejuvenated!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Northern Long Weekend and Mt. Pierce

I'll get to my trip up Mt Pierce in a moment... This was the one long weekend I had been waiting a whole year for. The weekend I get to spend at the cabin in Pittsburg New Hampshire. Thursday to Sunday is nothing but good food, reading, music, and hiking. There's not a Big Box in this town. There's not traffic light either. There's no cell reception, no cable at the cabin, and a much needed disconnect. It's the one weekend I can literally feel my anxiety level go down the minute I cross into town. It's just that good. So, Isis and I had planned on hiking Mt. Cabot since it's only about an hour and a half from the cabin. We spent the first full day hiking around the Connecticut lakes with the intent of hitting Cabot on Saturday. But, something told me not to when I get up and got ready. Maybe it's the fact that I've been going strong, every weekend since I got back from the Long Trail? Maybe I finally realized that I just needed to sit and read by the fire? So, even though we tried to head out to Mt. Magalloway, after nixing Mt. Cabot, I eventually decided that down time was more important. I love this cabin and I love Pittsburg NH. I'll be back next year. 

So, after a very nice recharge of my batteries and almost finishing Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, I checked out and headed back to reality. But first, a stop at The Highland Center but not before pulling over to gawk at the sight behind the Mt. Washington Hotel. What a beautiful sight to behold but I also knew that it was very windy. I was taking a slight risk heading up but I had packed the majority of my winter gear too. So, at the Highland Center, I changed into my hiking gear and we set out. It was about 11:30am when we started and my intent was to just go up to Pierce an then meet up with a hiking crew back in the parking lot. I had figured that it would make a nice way to end my trip North. And I also thought that I'd be a lot slower than the other crew. The Crawford Path up to the junction for the Mizpah hut was muddy in places with a gradual buildup of snow and a frosting of ice glaze. It's sort of enough to remind you how slick it can be but not enough to wear any kind of traction for it to be of help. So, you just keep pushing. Careful of your step. I knew I'd be falling when I was heading down. We stopped for a beak at the junction. No Grey Jay's met us which was totally atypical. There's some standing a running water on the trail that is not quite frozen yet but it's easy to get around. We had also run into a few hikers who were on their way back down. Nice people and everyone was a great spirits today. There were several comments about Isis and I matching. What is it about dogs and their owners starting to look alike? 

Continuing on from this point, the snow was getting more apparent (by about a half an inch) and the ice was building. I probably could have used my microspikes in places but it's still not consistent enough to keep them on. I again grin and bear it. The Crawford Path is relatively easy and straight forward to the summit of Mt. Pierce and I am eager to break tree line. My 4 legged hiking partner is however not. She hears the wind we are facing. She does not like wind so, it takes a little convincing and a lot of treats. But we are moving again over some slick rocks. We encounter a couple coming down who are not very experienced in the conditions but enjoying the day. They loved meeting Isis too and wished us well. As we continued, the water was becoming more apparent on the trail. Sort of standing and running water that has not yet frozen. This is the start of the ice on the Crawford Path. It just needs to freeze and build so I can use my microspikes. Again, I get eager to break tree line and Isis and I are greeted by a stoic hiker. It'd been a long time. After a brief drink for Isis out of the run off on trail, we were on our way again. Happy to keep moving on.

It was shortly after this and slightly before 2pm that we broke tree line and went up to the true summit proper for Mt. Pierce. Stopping to admire the view only briefly as the wind was whipping and the cold was bitting. There would be no break at the summit for food and I was hungry. I'm always hungry though so, I'll eat when we get back below tree line. My famous last words. Isis and I headed back down and re-navigated the rocks with the nice coating of ice. Yes, I fell. No it was not enough ice for microspikes. Ahhh... Shoulder season. There was one other gentleman heading up to the summit. He was going to make quick work of it today as we did and it was nice to chat with him briefly. As we went down in elevation, the snow retreated and the warm increased. Not enough to strip a layer but enough to note that I was hot (I'd be instantly cold again if I took a layer off). So, we just dealt with it and we were back at the route 302 in no time. I had thought that I would meet up with a rather large celebratory group once we got to the car but that was not the case. A fellow hiker was completing his grid today (all 48 peaks completed in each month of the year or 576 summits) and we had hopes of joining the celebration. I lingered in the car. I got changed and let my family know that I was down from the hike. Then began to get cold and finally let the pull to be home get the better of me (a rise in anxiety). Isis and I hit the road for home but first there was... Coffee to warm me up. This was the best way to end my most anticipated long weekend. Pierce is always a favorite for it's ease of access. Best time for me yet at just over 3.5 hours round trip... But I'm not hoping to be a speed hiker. I just want to enjoy my day.

It's amazing what happens when you knock out a lot of the noise of life and just relax. Things that seemed so important are now trivial and the only thing that matters is that you are completely in the moment. It was a lot like that for me on the LT this past summer. Perseverating thoughts were distant and life just seemed to have a new meaning and a simple meaning at that. Spending time at the cabin and in Pittsburg in general was the best thing for me as I miss the trail more and more with each noisy day. I didn't have to hike a 4K to find peace either, I just needed to be on the trail and those trails around the lakes were perfect. Then to cap off my time on a favorite Mt. Pierce was also good. Weather was almost perfect except for some wind and for the most part conditions were good (ice made a few slips on the way down). I am truly grateful to know a lot of great hikers out there and know that as I continue my journey, I might always run into someone with a smile on the trail. I'm equally good with just passing by silently. As long a I continue to recharge and feel the pull of the trails I'll be there. I've come such a long way in the year between my visit to the cabin and always proud of myself. It seems that at this time of year, my growth is most evident because I've shut out all the noise to really take a long hard look. It's great to know that when the words won't come, I can just keep moving forward because maybe there doesn't need to be any words at all.

Next up for me... Winter 2015/16... West Bond and Adams to put my FINAL list to bed. Then it's on to the Long Trail 2016 for that completion (Lincoln Gap to Trails End). I'll have plenty to celebrate at the cabin next November. :)

Friday, October 30, 2015

Windy Waumbek Wandering and Pondering.

Wind was blowing so, I took to the shelter of the trees for this week. I've been picking off the lower summits this month and today, I decided on Mount Waumbek. Needless to say, as we approached Franconia Notch, it was raining but I could see bright skies beyond. So, sure enough as we approached the trail head, we not only got a clearing, we got a rainbow too. Then we got some more rain. At the trail head, I got ready to go at a snails pace... Because of the rain. I switched my winter shell for my rain and wind shell. I got my boots on and got Lil' Nugget ready. Then we sat and I was transferred back to my tent at the Kidd Gore Shelter on the LT. I was simultaneously listening to the rain on the roof of my car and on the roof of my tent. Then much like I did before, I got up and got going. This time though, the rain stopped. It was cold and definitely windy today so I was glad for the tree cover. 

 As you start out hiking the Mount Starr King trail, the first thing you come to is an empty well. It's not very deep but I would not want to jump into it. Lil' Nugget usually likes to jump up on it and of course avoid posing or doing anything I say. The trail today is covered in leaves that are slick from the rain and some standing water on the trail. From this point it's a constant and gradual climb that takes you through a hard wood forest. It's kind of creepy since a lot of the trees are older and well, showing their age. It's a very quiet day on the trails and the wind is the only company we have so far. I set the pace to just take our time. Lil' Nugget is given ample time to sniff and eat grasses. There is nothing like hiking and being fully present in the hike itself without a worry. Having an easy trail makes this possible. Having no negative thoughts to battle makes it equally possible. We are passed by two other hikers. One clearly is not a dog person and the other didn't pay much attention to my tiny partner. I was changing into my winter shell at this point as it was getting cold.

Walking the trail, we reached that turn to signal a transition to flatter hiking. We had hit the ridge. There are a few more ups to go from here but for the most part, we can just walk and my heart can go back into my chest as it has a tendency to beat loudly in my ears on the steeper ascents (this one being no exception regardless of easy grade). I note to myself that this trail never fails to send shivers through me. It just has that creepy energy which as tomorrow is Halloween, makes it perfect. From here, we continue but make one stop at the spring so Lil' Nugget can get some water. She loves fresh mountain water. Again, we are passed by an older hiker who is also very pleasant. I then become aware of my grey hair. It's sticking out of my hat and in the corner of my eye I see it. When I started this, I was not that grey... Time flies. I'm feeling good though... Not old. On the final push, we pass the Mount Starr King cairn and come out to the fireplace. Probably my favorite area in the Whites. I'd love to camp here and actually have a fire sometime.

After a quick selfie since someone was not cooperating and refused to sit by the fireplace and we are off to Mount Waumbek. It's a quick walk with some good footing but there are a few sections that are soft mud and decaying branches. These are all covered in the winter so, I have not seen them in a while. A group of 3 hikers come towards us and we laugh and chat for a bit. They were the first car in the lot today, I was the second. Everyone was very happy today too. I would see a total of 8 people all day when all is said and done. We continue and run into the others who passed us before. One last push up and we arrive at the dead tree and cairn. Mount Waumbek... Again. the older gentleman who had passed us was there having a snack. We had a great talk about being older hikers and just taking our time and enjoying the day. Before Lil' Nugget and I had our lunch, we went to the outlook just past the summit. Another mixed emotions view as this is a man made clearing... I remember when there was no view on Waumbek and I was fine with it. Not every mountain needs a view and the day Owl's Head gets one is the day I hang up my pack! We continue to chat as I eat my soup and have some cheese and salami. Lil' Nugget gets some more dehydrated muscles and of course shares my cheese ( I pay for this later... Trust me). He parts and we stay for a bit but I do notice that she is getting cold. We head back and run into two other ladies and two very well behaved dogs who were off leash. Soon, we were back at the fireplace.

The clouds had parted just a little as I sat and decided that I was not ready to go back down yet. The hike itself was going very quick today and I wanted something more as usual. So, I had a snack and so did Lil' Nugget. Going back down to the car was going to be a challenge. Slick leaves means I am bound to fall. It's just inevitable since I trip on flat surfaces. After the turn from the ridge, it warms up but I didn't strip my winter layer. I knew I'd be back at the car to change soon enough. On this section, I did fall. My feet flew out from under me on some leaves and I sat down hard. Another bruise to add to the collection. We passed the well again and made the turn for the car. At the trail head, I changed and got ready to head back home or to coffee first as I was chilled just a little. Next week, I'm going to my favorite get away up in Pittsburg New Hampshire for the long weekend. This means that Cabot will be closer than it usually is... It's a given what I will hike already as I enjoy some down time celebrating everything that this year as brought me.

I've really come full circle in my hiking and in life. When I started this adventure, I was alone and looking for direction. I've wandered from group to group and now I've come back to myself. Well, the only addition would be Lil' Nugget. To think that had my life taken one single turn in another direction, I may not have had all these experiences that have shaped me. I'm a strong and confident hiker and person because of my hiking. I may be a little greyer than when I started (I stopped dying my hair a while ago) but my legs are probably stronger and most of all, my spirit has been realized. The trail provides and I think in my case, it has now given me a second chance from where I started. I dream of the LT and my hammock every night and I'm making plans to return... In the mean time, I have my White Mountains to call home.

I've grown away from stats and traditional Grid hiking... But occasionally, I do look at them to keep up. I've hit 40% as of this hike. Something for me to be proud of since I seem to not stick to things too well sometimes. Hiking has a definite hold on me though and I'll keep going. Even more impressive, Lil' Nugget has hiked over 1000 miles since she began back in December of 2012 at 4 months old. She's just amazing (more so than me) and my best trail partner. We'll keep exploring together for as long as she likes.