Sunday, December 14, 2014

Tom and Field for a Heart Felt Loop

           The turn around for the weekend was quick. I came home yesterday and got ready for today's hike. It's not often that I pull a double header anymore but I think this weekend called for it. I needed something. I was surprised that I didn't talk myself out of it at 4am this morning but on the road by 5am (I hit snooze a few times), Isis and I were off and feeling pretty good. I think the later start helps.  I do need sleep and by that I mean quality sleep these days. So, we are driving through Henniker on 202 and what catches the corner of my eye... A shooting star. I needed that although no wish was made. I just appreciated the sight. again, the roads were pretty good with clouds through the notch that stayed until we got to our notch... Crawford Notch. Isis and I park at the Highland Center since the Depot is not plowed. I have a confession to make. Last night I put my boots into my snowshoes and secured them in the bindings as tight as I could and left them like that. Sitting in the drivers seat, I slipped them on, snowshoes and all and it worked (as I had no issues all day!). I quickly got Isis ready and spoke to another hiker who was heading to Jackson. He was hiking his 48th today... The catch was that the 48th was a round solely in his fathers old hiking boots. What a tribute! Isis and I officially got under way at 7:50am.

          Temps are cold as we approach the trail beyond the Depot but they are not terribly cold. I know that I'll warm up soon as well with movement. The Avalon Trail is in such good shape though and that was a good thing. I'm able to really make good time today and I'm also well aware of the speed I am putting out. Such a difference from yesterday! Isis and I come to the first water crossing and it's a solid ice bridge to walk on. This is what winter is about and it's still fall. Everything is coated in snow and looking so pretty. Can it get any better? Isis and I make good time on some elevation gain and over to the next water crossing. This is also my favorite water crossing. I don't know why except that it was the first one that caught my attention when I started so many years ago in 2011. The first time I hiked these trails, I just felt that this was a good place and I fell in love with this hike. So, traditionally, I take a picture of my favorite crossing and it is also bridged so, Isis and I make it across easily. I am just at peace today and so very happy to have an easy hike. Heading up the Avalon trail, the next place I am watching for is the Junction that would lead us to Avalon or around to Mt Tom. I am opting to go by way of Mt. Tom today. There are a few new blow downs on this section that will either be buried with more snow or be at least easier to manage. No one else is on the trail as far as I know and that's when I stop and listen to... Silence. It's such a great sound sometimes. At 9:15 AM I am standing at the junction having some cheese, salami, and soup.

               Isis and I have 1 mile to the Mt. Tom Spur. One mile until I can take my pack off for a while since I always drop it at the spur to go up Tom. There are a few ups and downs and one more water crossing which is also bridged. My televators are coming in handy with some of the steeper sections. I am aware that there are animal tracks all over the place some are small and rodent like and others are bigger. I know of at least one Pine Martin in the area. Perhaps there are more? Isis and I pass the time on the trail just enjoying the scenery and the peace it offers. It's cold and we are in a cloud but we are happy. I did stop and put her coat on as I did feel that she was chilled. There are a few more steep parts to get through before it levels out by the Mt. Tom Spur. I was thankful to reach that level area as these steeps really put me through my paces. We arrived at the Spur trail at 10:26am and after hanging my pack and grabbing a few snacks, we make our way up the spur. My load is much lighter and I get my feet back under me noticing that my balance is different without my pack in snowshoes. This spur has a little more snow in it so, I am happy to not have the weight and happy to even it out a little. It's another world up close to the summit with only the animal tracks leading off the trail. We arrive at the summit at 10:51am and Isis promptly climbs the cairn buried in the snow. We snap some pictures and play with the Grey Jay's but unfortunately, they do not land on my hand like they use to because of Isis. That's OK, I still like that they visit. 

               There are no views so we head back down and I run into two others heading up. No snowshoes on them but I just let it go. I'm having a really good day. I am sure that we will run into one another throughout the day. So, once we get back down to where I hung my pack, we take a break for more cheese and salami and soup. It's piping hot and I burn my tongue! The Grey Jays had followed us down but again, would not land on my hand. We are on our way to Field when the two other hikers pass us. On the Willey Range Trail, it's starting to be a different story. There is more snow to get through and it's slightly choppy. Choosing to do the loop this way, you are going up hill to Field so, I am taking my time with the elevation gain. I'm just not a fast hiker in winter. I didn't care if I caught up to the others or not. Again, it's a winter wonderland on the trails and in the cloud it is a little colder. Isis and I keep moving slowly up the elevation gain. It takes us about 45 minutes to get to Field from the Tom Spur on the Willey Range Trail. Even with the slow pace, I am making good time. There are no views today from the out look that someone created. No one else is on the summit. Isis and I again snap some pictures and then try and decide which way to go.

         I lead Isis over to the trail that would lead to Willey. We did start down it and then quickly realized that it needs a lot more snowshoes to love it than the two on my feet. Having such an enjoyable day, I opt to turn back and head for the Avalon Trail. Willey for December will have to wait and I am OK with this. The avalon trail has a decent amount of loose granular on it to make the snowshoes needed still. I am happily staying upright for the moment although I know that some sledding will happen. It always does on this trail. The people we run into on this trail are friendly and even a few more dogs are on their way up too. We had left Field at 12:16pm and making our way down this trail is a rapid decent. After we cleared a few people, as predicted, I land on my butt and start sledding. I even picked up some good speed on a few turns. For the most part though, the snow is too wet and sticky for it and offered a lot of resistance. Still, this is the ideal way to descend a peak in winter sometimes. The trail was at least smoothed out and no longer pocked with boot prints. At the junction of the Avalon trail, we rested for a brief moment. Taking the Avalon Trail cut out a water crossing and a lot of ups and downs. Isis and I were on the final leg back to the Highland Center. The trail passes well under my shoes and we make it to my water crossing. From this crossing, we make great time back to the Depot and back to the car by 2pm. This was exactly what I needed.

             Taking a chance on a double header proved to be exactly what I needed to rekindle my faith in myself and how I approach my life, my work, and my hiking. It's always moments of clarity on the trail that I appreciate so much. I am not perfect. I am not a fast hiker. I am not in control of anything and I'm not interested in being in control of anything or any one. I don't live to work. I work to afford my life on the trails and that is how I like it. My life revolves around my dog and I could not have asked for a better trail partner. Without her, I may have given up on everything a little over a year ago. She keeps me motivated on the trail and moving towards my goals. I have some definite ideas of how the remainder of my life will play out and I really want to move in that direction now. The direction of what really make my heart sing. Life is far to short to live in stress and misery. I don't need notoriety, I just want to be happy. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Figuring it out on Wildcat... Another Attempt

              I have really got to learn that the mountains will take whatever you are going through and humble you all the more. This week had been a mixture of ups and downs for me. First to start the week by unloading a very large weight on my shoulders in the form of debt relief, I watched my dreaded hot tub drive away to a new home. Then to continue, on top of the world because my doctor finally made the move I had been wanting. I don't have to go back to see him for two years. That will be four years without blood work and to me that essentially means that I am Hashimoto's free. I finally beat it back far enough that it's not anything that effects my life and I did it all with hiking, a good diet, and dedication to myself. I was on top of the world. Soon to come crashing down with work stress, and vowing to "figure it out" (my motto lately), I began clawing my way back to feeling human. Then Wednesday hit... I'm so going to the Wildcat's that will bring back my spunk. By Friday, I was already mentally hiking the trails and psyching myself up. I'll admit, I could not get home fast enough Friday night and then I had trouble sleeping. I was still worried and still clawing my way back.

               Isis and I hit the road later than I wanted. Lucky for us, the roads were good and no real new snow was falling to accumulate. It was definitely in the air. We were destine to 19 Mile Brook Trail head and driving past Appalachia, I saw that it was not so busy either. Once we got to Pinkham and the trail head, I realized we may be in luck... There were a lot of people there and surely some must be going to the Cat's. I had a feeling that there would be a lot of trail breaking to do still. Right away, we were approached by Matt who remembered us from Cabot last January. It's always nice to chat with people who remember us and I feel bad for not remembering him (I'm bad with names sometimes). With snowshoes on my feet, we walk past the row of cars and begin... To navigate the maze of post holes.


                  I grin and begin my journey and it's painful and uneven. It's difficult because the snow is heavy and has already formed those dreaded holes that make using my shoes all the more difficult. Not to mention poor Isis who keeps falling and crashing into the snow. Neither one of us is happy but we are making the best of it. The scenery is beautiful with the trees heavily coated in snow and I am enjoying the water that is rushing by sometimes under ice and rushing by rocks covered in snow. Intermittently, I am rocked back to reality by the uneven footing of the post holes. The bridge is in better shape and mostly frozen so, we keep pushing. I just kept wondering who really enjoyed walking like this because the snow is deep and that has to be a lot of work to sink into the snow like that. Who does this and why? Isis and I make it to the next crossing with the boards. Those boards were great in the other seasons (and yes, technically this is a fall hike) but in winter conditions, they are too narrow for snowshoes. We balance across them and use the wider sections of rock so I can balance. Isis has no issue of course. We stop on the other side for a snack and a rest. My stomach is rumbling and I am sure Isis needs a break. Lucky for us, it's not too cold out. 

                We are quickly joined by a group of three heading to the Carter's. I was hoping they would say Cat's but then I quickly realized that two of the three did not have snowshoes with them at all. Ugh! I mentioned that it was pretty slow going because of all the post holes from people without snowshoes and that I was rethinking my plans. A look was exchanged between them as if to say "sorry".  The reality of it is, when you are a solo hiker, winter is tougher. You can't break trail by yourself and that was my real concern. I can muddle through post holes but if I need to break trail for a long time, there better be a meet up group coming up behind me that I can let pass so they are breaking trail. Isis is no good at it and I hate putting her though it. So, the group of three move ahead of me (mistake number 1) and the boots are tearing up the trail even more. I make he best of the ankle twists and the knee twists too (trust me it does not feel good). Isis and I keep moving and I am focusing on the scenery to pass the trail. All I want to do is get to the first junction to check the time again (I am already behind at the hour mark when I am usually at the junction). I am taking more breaks than I should and I am quickly caught by another hiker. I express my frustration and my desire to turn back. Thankfully, he understood and sympathized. I pushed to the junction. 

                  While resting at the junction, The Randomites catch up to us. It's an all male group today (testosterone hike) and always nice to see Michael Blair. We are all joking around at the expense of the bare booters and it's really funny. Another group departs the way that I am heading and I am hopeful that maybe I can make a good go of it today. After all, in this group they all had snowshoes on. I quickly realize though that they are going to Carter Dome and not The Cat's. I vow to judge at the next junction. Everyone departs and quickly I realize that the post holes are continuing with a cross country ski track also tossed in for good measure. This may not be my day after all. Quickly, I pass the first bridge and catch the group on the first rise. It was a quick break for them and I questioned their choice to head to Carter Dome this way... The hard way by the hut with the greater elevation gain and no switchbacks. More than half of the group was unaware of this and more than half of the group was now concerned. Isis and I passed them and continued for a little while. Unbroken trail for the most part and my wheels started turning. 

        Absolutely beautiful out there on the mostly unbroken trail but it's very hard work for one and one with a dog too. I check the time and it's getting later and later. Time to make a hard choice. Keep going and chance it and chance exhaustion or turn back and salvage with a possible return tomorrow. I look forward and back and stand there for a few minutes. I look at Isis and want her to decide for me. I look back and forward again. I begin to descend the trail... I am caught by the group again and I explain to them the likelihood of someone else taking the Cat's from this end is very slim and I really don't want to chance myself becoming exhausted and not being able to get out. It's too much for a solo hiker with no reassurance of back up coming. Since they were going to the hut, I could potentially get that far except in my mind, I can conserve energy for Owl's Head next weekend and of course The Winter Six which starts the following weekend. I keep descending as they keep ascending. My choice is sealed and every group I run into is going only as far as the hut. I am reaffirmed that it was the right choice. Even with knowledge of others up on the ridge, to get there, the .8 to Wildcat A, if unbroken would be a complete nightmare for one person. 

        Isis and I breeze past the junction and who is coming towards us but the older couple from Moriah two weeks ago. Same deal with them, no snow shoes and not really listening. Talking over me and not letting me get a word out. I'm done. I'm moving forward except the older lady is also moving towards me and not pulling over. Down I go getting tripped up in my shoes. I just keep going and I don't stick around. Later down the trail, I run into two groups of nice ladies who are out for a snowshoe to the hut. One group is new to snowshoeing and the other seem to be a little more experienced. I give the first group a quick run down to the trails and they are thankful for the information. Always nice to talk to people that are friendly and open to trail advise. I also encounter an AMC group that are all in snowshoes and also going to the hut. The trail behind them is beautiful and I thank them for their diligence. I can fly on a smooth trail. The last group I come in contact with is two gentlemen who are heading to The Cat's. The only problem was that each had either left their snowshoes at home or in the car. Really?? I know it's still Fall technically but it's also Winter here. I look that he trail behind them as we are talking and it's all tore up again. the smooth AMC trail is no more. They were reconsidering a Cat's attempt since they had no shoes. 

           The rest of the trail was another maze of post holes out to the parking lot which was littered with cars. There was the back line cars either backed in or parked head in. Then there was one car completely blocking in another car by parking directly behind it. It was also two away from my car. The icing on the parking lot was all the other cars parked along he road blocking the rest of us in... Save for the the two small openings that were caked with mashed potato snow just waiting to get a car stuck. I changed and got Isis settled then I began my trip home. Briefly getting stuck in the mashed potatoes before hitting the pavement. I officially declared myself to stay away from 19 Mile Brook Trail for a while... Until it calls me. Knowing that this would leave rounds hanging and being OK with that. It's time for a break from this one until I can mentally be ready. It's time to re-evaluate my Grid system. I am once again humbled from my on top of the world feeling to the feeling of I have no clue what I am doing and I must be a newbie hiker again. I hate this feeling. I will figure it out. I always figure it out... 

           So, here's the thing I love about the mountains, they give you perspective that you never wanted. In my roller coaster week, I had come to realize today that all the new winter gear that I accumulated over the last two weeks will keep me super warm this winter, I need to play around with the bindings on my snowshoes to get them right and secure, what ever I am sure of will become undone on this trail and as a solo hiker, this is really humbling. And let's not forget that no matter what, I will figure it out and I will always, always find my way to the mountains. This is where I find my calm and my center. This is the life I would love... Simple. Uncomplicated. I am still super happy that my doctor has declared me well and I am vowing to move forward with plans for the Winter Six and my Grid... Plus, I am throwing my hat in the ring for a go at the Long Trail this summer... Today was a training hike as will all my hikes be from here on out. But, I am resting The Cat's and The Carter's for a little while. I'm taking break from this trail while I "Figure it all out".  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Mount Moriah After the Storm and the Calm in the Storm.

                I've spent a lot of time in the mountains and it's becoming a weekly adventure for me. A way to get away for a while and only have to focus on putting one foot in front of the other. After all, at this time of year, that's all I can focus on in more ways that one. I need to keep moving forward or be left behind. And the mountains are my biggest success it would seem. This is what I am known for above all else. I'm not complaining either. I'd love to just escape, build a tiny off the grid house and just live. Either that or sell all my belongings and take one big hike. Today, I settled for Mount Moriah via the Carter Moriah trail off of Bangor St. in Gorham NH. Of course, this also meant that I had to get out of bed. It was hard this morning. I was running late and almost changed my plans. I was glad I kept pushing on. This was a theme for the day. 

              At the trailhead, I was busy getting my snowshoes on and Isis squared away. I was the first car in the small lot by the trail and knew that not many more cars would fit. I was followed shortly by a family (grandparents and a grandson) from Massachusetts. They recognized me right away from writing here. I kept getting ready and then made my ascent but not before the big question. "You're wearing snowshoes?", "Well yes, it's full winter conditions up there." I kept walking forward knowing that they would probably catch up. My thoughts were also on the storm that had just passed and the lack of trail reports. I was sure that we'd be breaking trail at some point. Snowshoes are a must. The Carter Moriah trail from this end starts out straight up and it's smooth. I'm assuming this is because it's in a residential neighborhood and people sled down the hill. As we crest this first rise, I spy the trail and it's pocked with bare boot marks. It's going to be a bumpy go today. 

             Isis and I are enjoying the quiet of the trails and making our way to the ledges. Because of the storm, it's an easy go since my snowshoes are doing the trick and the trails is evening out. We keep climbing and it feels as though the temps are dropping. I can see the blue skies and I am eager to get to the open ledges to see what's around me. It's been almost a year since I walked this trail last. My mind is on nothing except getting to the top an it feels as though weights have been lifted. It's not long before the family catches up to us and then pass (as that is how I prefer it), I notice that they are not wearing their snowshoes but they are carrying them. I am hopeful that they will put them on. The snow is getting deeper and we have not even hit the first ledge yet. We do catch up again and I pass this time. The temps are cold and I want to keep moving. 

            Life finally opens up on the ledges and I am treated to several views of the Presidential range. I stand there and name them all to Isis and I am thinking of the winter I have ahead of me. Largely spent up there on those high peaks. It remains to be seen if Isis will be joining me. Trudging through pocked snow trails as that family had passed us again just before the ledges, We make our way back into the trees. I am careful on the downs and slow on the ups. The snow just calls for careful footing in snowshoes. I'm doing my best to smooth things out. We reach mount Surprise and this little peak always reminds me of the second trip I made to these trails. When Jen finished her 48 and I came down from my cabin to climb it with her. That was a great day. I take in my final views of the presidents as the next time I see them, I will be standing on the summit again. Isis and I duck back into the trees and keep moving forward. We pass the family again and take the lead.

       As Isis and I hike, the snow is getting deeper still. I am glad that i have my shoes on now as we are suddenly breaking trail. I knew that at a certain point we'd be on fresh powder and low and behold, here we were. It was slow and tough going but I was determined to get there. This section of the Carter Moriah trail is full of PUDS and I loose count (as usual). Isis and I do run into another couple who appear to be struggling just a little. We stop just long enough to offer encouragement and then we keep going up a particularly steep section. Down again and then flat for a while. All the while we are breaking though the powder and laying a decent flat trail.

           We enter the final push to the summit (just before the marker) and I begin to struggle. The family comes up behind us as I am slipping both down the trail and out of my left bindings. I can hear them behind me, just waiting for me to make it up. I'm worried about Isis who is also struggling in the post holes of a previous hiker. I'm a little over come with a sense of I'm alone in doing this journey and this family is just standing there. My anxiety is going up and I'm mumbling, sputtering, and of course, swearing. I slip one last time and head back down this steep section. "Do you want us to take lead?" I look at their feet. "You need to wear snowshoes. You'll just post hole if you don't." They huff and puff and as they do, I fix my bindings and dig way down beyond my reserve and I begin again. Again, they are right behind me and I ask for space. The grand son has his shoes on and offered to take the lead. THANK YOU! I was exhausted and exasperated (hence the swearing). But in all seriousness, if you are in snow past your ankles, wear snowshoes! It just makes the trail even and easier for the rest of us. Not to mention, it packs it all down so if there is more snow, it's an even coating. We push on to the summit and I am greeted with a beautiful 360 view from the small summit rock. with 5 of us up there plus Isis, it's really crowded. Another gentleman had arrived before us and he was enjoying the view too. I offer to take the families picture and they do the same for me.

        We head down off the summit cone and away from some other dogs that are approaching and the couple we passed had finally made it. They recognized me from my first round and some Youtube videos I was once in from my hiking groups trail reports. I explain that I am largely solo now and still running a blog. They seemed like a happy couple and were doing the loop down to Stoney Brook. I wished them luck and kept moving. It was still cold and cold enough to suck the life out of my iPhone. I again catch up to the family and they are knocking the snowballs off their spikes. Gladly, they let me pass and I begin cruising down the trail. My one intent is to get back to the car before I need a headlamp. True to the Carter Moriah trail, there are great sections to slide on and that is exactly what I do (Maybe those PUDs are good for something?). Making good time of the down slopes and sliding on my ass. Butt sledding season has officially opened on the whites. I look back at the now smooth trail and smile. It's not packed into smooth ice. It's just smooth and not pocked by bare booters any more.

            Isis and I hit the open ledges again and the sun is now directly over the Presidentials. No Alpine glow yet but they are silhouetted nicely. We keep moving down the trail and back onto warmer temps (for pre-winter Whites that is). My gloves are covered in snowballs and I'm basically soaked and I am happy. I'm am probably the most happy I have been all week. This is where I feel the most at ease and I am forever grateful that I can hike these peaks. After the ledges, it becomes easier to walk on flat trails and I notice the volume of foot traffic as we are back on some uneven footing. I step with care and then suddenly, we are on the down slope back to the parking area on the street. We had made it to another summit and back. I opt to not sled down this last section. I was cold and really wanting that hot cup of coffee I get on the way home. And there was a big smile on my face. Today was a fabulous challenge.

        So many times I am reminded that this is a tough journey I have set myself on. When my back hurts, my hands are cold, my feet are twisted in snowshoes, and my dog is wondering why the heck she is not sitting at home on her ottoman looking out at the world, I am reminded that it's not only tough physically but it's also mentally. I have to focus on nothing but the trails and making choices to either keep going or turning back. Today, I wanted to quit when I was struggling and just wanting to give it up and let that family just over take me. It's these moments that I reflect on being solo and wishing that it were different. It's also these moments that I wonder if I can do bigger hikes and other journeys that I want to do. But I didn't give up, I dug deep and kept going to the top. If only I could translate that into the rest of my life. It's been a slow transformation below 4000 Feet. I'm finally feeling secure again in my personal life and I'm happy with that direction (which mostly involves the summits). All other areas will fall into place. I'll continue to live to play rather than live to work and I'll hopefully land on my feet and keep running forward. Don't forget to look up sometimes, you never know what you'll see.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Shiba Inu... On and Off the Trails.

     "Oh my God, I want your dog.", is something that I am quite use to hearing on the trail and when I am walking Isis around the neighborhood. It makes me smile and I agree (although I may be a bit biased) that she is a great dog. Trust me though, she is not a dog for everyone. You have to be a special breed of person to own a Shiba Inu. Let me explain....

         Shiba's are described as a breed who thinks she is superior to everyone and every thing. She's the queen of the world and no one can tell her different. She's got a bold and independent personality to go with that queen attitude and so, she's a little hard to train, nail down, or convince that your way is better. Although I have had the good fortune of training her on the trails since 4 months old, Isis is a wonderful trail dog. And for that reason, many people stop us and ultimately want to take her home. Off trail, she can be possessive of everything that is hers and mine and that also includes the cat of the house too. The cat of the house does not appreciate being a chase toy as Shiba's are born hunters and will probably NEVER get along with a cat. Although, there as only one time at a friends house that Isis was actually submissive to a Maine Coon. I think it was because Isis knew that we were not home and she was on her best behavior. My cat (a feisty Manx) tolerates Isis and understands that she can just go to higher ground. Shiba's are highly intelligent and the owner has to show dominance immediately or loose the the Shiba forever. Also in regard to intelligence, Shiba's have been known to figure out how to escape from pens and even yards. You have to stay one step ahead of this breed. It has been said that a Shiba is not for the first time dog owner. Mind you, Isis was my first dog ever and at 40 something, I feel I actually picked a winner (for me). I think that the Shiba personality and mine actually match and for that I am thrilled with having her in my life.

        Isis is very protective of me and of our home. The breed actually can make great guard dogs even though they do not bark much. She will often be protective of me on the trail or on our local walks too. I trust her with my life and I think that lends to the relationship we have. Shiba's can become dog-agressive with dogs of the same sex or in Isis' case, many other dogs. She is choosy about who she plays with and because of her dog-agressive nature, finds herself with myself and the cat for companions most of the time. Many other dog owners do not like the aggressive play and attitude of a Shiba. This of course has gotten better over time with more exposure to other dogs on the trails. Isis does not lunge or even bark anymore. She now practices that aloof ignore attitude that Shiba's seem to get around humans that are not their owners. However, it should be said that if anything were to happen to me, I'm pretty sure all bets would be off or Isis might run and find rescue before they found me. She is very much my dog. Shiba's are one owner dogs and become very bonded to their caretakers. A Shiba Inu will ignore most other humans in favor of their caretakers. That is unless your name is Isis. She LOVES people. I trained her that way and she is very friendly to other humans on the trail (again, other dogs not so much). I think it's also fair to say that Isis and I are a bonded pair given all that we have experienced together. She does not leave my side at home. Ultimately, the breed is very loyal to their owners and her territory (all toys and things included with in said territory).

        There should be an easy care label on the maintenance of a Shiba. They are cat like and often groom themselves. No need to actually take them to a groomer and no need to bath constantly. Because they are double coated, frequent washing will wash away the undercoat that keeps them warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Let them be and use baby wipes to freshen up. I bathe Isis once every 6 months (if that) unless I really need to. Of course, I learned this the hard way and let me tell you, when she lost her undercoat, she looked awful. I also felt awful for it. Rookie dog owner mistake but then again, I have never owned a dog until Isis. I trim her toenails if I need to because regular exercise keeps them trimmed. The only down side to the double coat is, it gets blown out twice a year. I have a dark house and a white dog... My vacuum cleaner actually cries when she blows her coat. Enough said. Isis goes to a vet every 6 months because she's an athletic dog and every 6 months, the vet tells me to keep it up. She has maintained her healthy weight and all bones and muscles are strong. I had originally thought that starting her on the trails at 4 months was a big mistake. Turns out, it was the best one for both of us! She gets regular exercise and I get a great hiking partner. Shiba's are smaller dogs with males standing 14.5 to 16.5 inches tall and weigh about 23 pounds. Females stand 13.5 to 15.5 inches tall and weigh about 17 poundsIsis is right on track at 16 pounds. 

        Because the Shiba Inu has originally been bread for hunting, they really cannot be trusted off leash. Isis would sooner forget about me completely if she saw a squirrel on the trail and because of that, she is on a leash when we hike. I have more control over her and she is safer for it. There was one occasion on Mt. Jackson in New Hampshire that she got out of her harness (cheap PetCo fashion harness) and I never want to go through that again. I was lucky she stuck to the winter trail and only ran wicked fast up and down a section. I had her extra collar and was able to get her secured again after a very anxious couple of minutes. So, because of this and because of our bond, I'm OK with that leash and after over a 100 summits with her, she is too. We follow all trail etiquette and I find that a 6 foot leash (non-retractable) is best. I use a carabiner to clip her to my pants for hands free hiking.

        So, the Shiba Inu who looks like little fox, wolf, or any of a number of woodland creatures, is quite fetching when seen on the trail. You really don't see a lot of them as hiking companions either. They have a very distinct personality that is not for every person and as they say, a Shiba is not for the first time dog owner. ( Unless you are me and you go in blind and it turns out to be a great match.) Isis was my greatest impulse buy ever and I am not sorry for one minute we have spent together. I feel bad when I have to go to work in the morning and heaven forbid I need to leave her at home for a hike or some other reason. I'm that dog owner that will show you pictures if asked and because I have no human kids of my own, her pictures are all over my house and office. She is my family.

        People ask me all the time about Isis and I never seem to go into too much depth about the breed. Please understand that I love my Shiba Inu and I mean the best when I say, DO NOT GET ONE if you cannot handle one. They are a lifestyle more than a dog to be owned. Isis, she fits my independent lifestyle and dare I say, we get each other because we spend a lot of time together. She's not traditionally trained but she is trained in the things that are important to me. She doesn't need to give paw or roll over. She just needs to sit when called to do so and that is usually on the trail. Isis has a great personality that is uniquely her's. I could not have asked for a better hiking companion and have never regretted my decision to start my dog relationship with a very challenging breed.

If you would like to follow Isis, feel free to like her page Hiking Pup Isis

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Liberty and Flume for a Thankful November.

         I have shown a lot of love to Liberty and Flume this year and November was no different. I remember last year how the entire ridge eluded me for the weather so, I guess I was making up for it. This area can be tricky for sure. Last week, I was on Lafayette and Lincoln so, to finish the ridge for the month seemed appropriate. For those that are new to the blog, let me catch you up. I'm primarily a solo hiker (although open to hiking with others) who is working on her Grid or the New Hampshire 48x12 or completing the New Hampshire 48 in all 12 months of the calendar year. I have given myself a lifetime to complete this latest goal so, I will be hiking for a long time. What ever life may bring, I'll still find my way to the mountains. I'm shooting for the number 576 and as of today, I find myself at 29.9% and will close November for this year probably over 30%. The goal is to keep moving forward as with most of my life.

          So, on to todays hike. Liberty and Flume to complete the ridge for November. I was up and ready to hit the road by 4:30am. Snowshoes in the car just in case and spikes on the pack. Isis settled into her seat and I just zoned out. We parked at The Basin in Franconia Notch State Park. First car in the lot and we parked right by the bathrooms. Getting underway, we hiked the bike path towards Liberty Springs. If I could find the Whack for meeting the trail earlier, I'd be ahead of the game. Heading down the hill, I get my first taste of what is under the snow. I'm instantly on my ass and my Nalgene's are flying everywhere. I did not put my spikes on just yet. As I thought, Isis and I did not find the entrance to the Whack so, we were standing at the start of the Liberty Springs Trail. I figured that I would try for it on the way out thinking that someone might travel it today.


        Liberty Springs Trail is crusted snow over ice and in places, there is a lot of ice. Welcome to winter (unofficially). After a quick pitstop for myself (I didn't have to go when I parked the car), I put my Hillsound microspikes on my feet. Ready to take on the summits, Isis and I kept moving because it was cold this morning. We followed Liberty Springs and the first .6 to the junction for the Flume Slide Trail, went by in a quick hour. I had a great sense of how my time was going to go today and I was pleased. I knew that I would slow on the vertical gain and I wondered about the winds. Isis and I kept climbing with our next goal of the Liberty Springs Tent site. The water crossings were open with some solid places to walk on so, things are firming up nicely. Intermittently, I break to rest but those breaks are quick because it is very cold today. The snow was building the closer we got to the tent site. On one break, we were passed by two ladies hiking today as well. I was busy eating some cheese and salami and soup (I think it was around 10am. No judging!) and Isis was cleaning her bowl out. I knew that we'd see them again but we did say a hello.

         At 10:30am, Isis and I made it to the tent site for another quick break and to gear up as my face was cold. I put on my face mask and quickly had to adjust to the constriction on my nose (I dislike things on my nose and that actually includes kisses too) and the moisture under the mask. So, I was adjusting it and then took it off for a little while after warming up while walking. As I was stuffing it in my pocket, who comes up behind me but... Larry!

                  "Rachel!" He says. "You should stay home more." He joked.
                  "I should say the same for you. Larry. Nice to see you as always." I smiled

          Larry and I seem to run into one another a lot now. We discuss plans for the future and where we are at in terms of peaks now. I am resting at 193 total 4K summits in New England. Larry hikes ahead and Isis and I give space. He's nice to run into on the trails and I can continue to hike my own hike. Isis and I make it to the Junction of the Franconia Ridge trail, the final push to the summit of Mt. Liberty. It's been cold and snowy for this last push to the junction.

          Making the last .2 to the summit fun, the wind was picking up just slightly. The snow was easy to walk and there was minimal ice... Until we broke tree line. The ice on the rocks was a tricky coating but Isis and I navigated it well. The snow itself had a nice crust on it too. I saw my summit. The classic Liberty Profile showed itself in great light today and then I turned around and saw my destination from last weekend in all it's Glory.

       Isis and I climbed over the rocks to the summit and the ascent was tricky and steep with the crusted snow and ice. Once up there, we ran into the two lades that had passed us earlier. Each group obliged pictures gladly and I scooped up Isis for our shot with Franconia in the background. After the pictures were done, we didn't stay long as I was moving on the Flume and they were heading down. All four of us were cold. So, Isis and I ducked back below the summit and the snow was a little deeper. It wasn't much but for a few feet, I had my first butt slide of the season. We came to a tricky section of rock that was a little bit like the rocks that turned me back on Wildcat. I slowly slid, gripping the available edges to hold myself to the rock and made it to a place to swing my legs down. Isis waited somewhat patiently. We continued to head down into the trees and warmed up little. I slid my facemark down knowing that I'd be pulling it back up for Mt. Flume. Once in the Col, we cruised on the flat sections. Another quick break for a snack before we made our final ascent and ran back into Larry again. He gave me some great tips on Whacks to avoid the summit a second time going back to Liberty and I took them into consideration. We joked about next weekend and who know, maybe we'll run into each other again. It's inevitable actually.

       Final push to Flume and I'm feeling little over come by the fact that I've spent a lot of time between these two peaks this year alone. It's become a nice hike for myself and for Isis. I pull my face mask back up and we again crest the summit. I look over to Liberty and beyond to Franconia Ridge and get a few shots. Three guys are coming over from the Osseo Trail side and I'm betting they actually came up the Flume Slide trail. I never fond out as the wind was picking up. I managed to have one of them take a picture and then ducked back below tree line as it was really cold. Isis going down the trail is very quick and I get my balance even quicker. We are heading back over the Col and still moving until we hit the incline for Liberty again. We rest as the guys pass us on their way ultimately to Lafayette. As it turns out, Isis and I did not take Larry's whacks around Liberty, we summited again and got a few more great shots in the light of the day. Another hiker was coming up to the summit as we were heading down we said hello in passing and he would be close to follow. People were moving quickly because it was so cold today.

         Isis and I made good time over the rocky ledges and down to the junction of the Franconia Ridge trail. It was not broken out when we were coming up and now on our way down, I saw that those guys were indeed on their way to Lafayette. I silently wish them luck not knowing the winds over there. In no time, we hit the tent site for a snack break. Our last summit company passed us with a hearty "Snack time is a good time. Happy trails!" and he was off and hiking. Below the tent site, I heard two ladies before I saw them.

          "Awww... THERE'S THE PUPPY!" One of them squealed and I just smiled. I loved this greeting for my girl. We talked Shiba Inu talk for awhile and pictures were snapped. They had been following her tracks up the mountain and I was glad to have met them. I love it when Isis makes people smile because it makes me feel good. Back down Liberty Springs trail and over the water crossings again. Isis and I hit the Whack for the bike path and in no time we are back at the car. I love how much time is saved by cutting down through the woods. Over all, I am pleased by the day and down at the car by around 3pm. Well worth it for the wind and the cold temps. The smiles and the people we met were in great spirits and it was contagious.

             I had spent a lot of time recently in a very negative space, seeming to struggle to get out of it and find balance. I'm am forever grateful that the mountains can bring me out of that negative space as they did today. It no longer mattered for the day today, that I had missed the boat on more than a few milestones in my life or any other struggle I might have. I still have a great life that affords me the chance to see some amazing things that those I compared myself to from time to time might never see. I'm reminded on this hike that Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful. Well, I am again reminded that a few years ago, I was sick enough to believe that this would never be my quest and now, I've beat the odds. I am thankful for the the strength I have and I never take it for granted. My life is not perfect and I am prone to my emotions and impulses and because of that, I can go into the silence of the mountains and understand that it will all work out as it should and that I need only remain positive in the face of so much negative. Where so many have nothing, I am blessed to have what I do have in my life.

         Another hike for the month of November, the Grid, and two more summits for round 6 (Working on 3 through 6 now). All this is secondary to the lessons learned.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Coming Alive on Franconia Ridge...

       One thing is for sure, if you are planning a trip on Franconia Ridge, don't count on the forecast to be accurate and plan for anything. I had set a target early in the week to head up because the forecast was clear and it didn't change for days. I actually wanted to do the entire ridge to Flume and as always, I'm flexible in my planning. I've learned this kind of fluid flexibility in my life and it helps me not just on the trails but off too. So, why should today be any different? Isis and I packed up Friday night and got to bed early. We were bound for Franconia Notch by 4am which would give us a start around 6:30am. Upon arrival at the trail head, the wind was blowing as it always seems to do. It's just that this time of year, it's a cold and angry wind. Today would be in the negatives and I was prepared with all my winter gear. I brought the snow shoes and ultimately left them in the car. It was not long on the trail that I decided to put on my balaclava as well. Stopping at my favorite tree, Isis had a snack and I layered up. Plus, it was time for a photo too. Today seemed to be shaping up to be a hike that saw not to many intrusive thoughts. I was glad for this as I just needed to be out on the trails today. Old Bridal Path, set me up for a classic day.

     Having hiked this route already in winter, fall, and summer, I felt confident today which honestly has been a new feeling for me as of late. Isis and I made our way through the trails below tree line with ease. The snow was minimal still and Isis was having a great time tracking different rodents and birds. I was truly enjoying the colder temps and the fact that we seemed to be the only ones on the trail. I half wondered if that would remain the case. Right before the climb to agony ridge, Isis and I stopped for a snack as my stomach was about to loudly complain that I forgot my banana back in the car instead of eating it on the ride up. I soon realized that the zipper on my pants was busted but thankfully, I had enough layers on that I was covered. It just seemed that my shirts were riding up making my lower back a little colder. I would hopefully not have to worry too much and still, this was a concern in the cold. So, once put back together, we began to hit the agonies and agony ridge. The views were popping up and so was the ice. I barely managed to get up on steep section and quickly pulled over to slip on my hillsound microspikes. Perfect! I was able to get up the remaining steeps and found myself standing on agony ridge and looking up at a very clouded, dark, and stormy Lafayette. Classic! I said to myself.

      The temps were dropping and looking at Franconia Ridge sent a chill through me. Isis and I pushed on to the hut and we saw our first two hikers over take us. We gladly let them go as we were taking our time today. Now unsure of the official length of our hike which could be just Lafayette or we could get all the way to Flume. I just wanted to get to the hut first for a break and some hot soup (even though it was no where near lunch). Isis and I kept climbing over rocks and ice on the Old Bridal Path and she seemed to be doing well in her purple fleece coat (I had put that on at tree line). with 1/4 of a mile to the hut, my legs were tired already and I wondered about the rest of the journey. We made our last climb and the hut was directly in front of us. I knew that I didn't want to sit on the porch today so, we ducked under the backside stairs to get out of the wind. Thankfully, this was where the least wind was too. Isis had some food and I got some of my soup. Again, I fixed my pants and the rest of my layers. We got moving quickly again as it appeared that the cloud was not going to lift from Lafayette. It's OK, I've had the view before and I'll have it again.

     Rather quickly, I realized that this leg of the hike was turning into my winter hike from 2012. I could not see the trail, the wind was in my face, and my steps were getting blown in as quickly as I was stepping. Isis did not really like this either but she kept moving with a lot of encouragement. I believe that if she had just refused to move, we would have turned back but she kept going, making her way to the summit. She did stop and she did hesitate except she did keep going forward. I was keenly aware of her stress level as it mimiced my own. I was careful not to get lost off the trail heading up (like last time I was in this weather). I was careful to stop and focus and look to see the cairn even they were blending into the white landscape. Other hikers were coming up behind us and passing. This again was fine as I needed to see where I was stepping. The sun was trying to burn through the stubborn cloud but was having no luck. Isis and I crested the trail to the summit and stood on the viewless summit. A few others were up there but all of us quick moved on in the conditions. Two gentlemen stopped long enough for pictures to be taken between us.  My original idea was to head back down. This was not a very nice day on the ridge. Or was it?

    Isis and I did start to head down again but she quickly about faced and went back and then towards the direction of Lincoln. As we began descending Lafayette, I found myself in knee deep snow and then with another step, I had snow up to my waist. I laughed and then quickly remembered how little Isis was. She managed to get through it though as did I and we were back on the trail as far as we could see (which was not very far). The wind was whipping and I wondered what I was doing. I also remembered the blue sky that i saw over in this direction. I wanted to punch through the weather wall that Lafayette often has and get to Truman or Lincoln to see. Of course, if I was going that far, I might as well go all the way. We would evaluate at Little Haystack as to the rest of the trip.

    Isis was not a fan of this leg of the trip either. She had icicles forming on her face and I did my best to keep her going. The ridge was definitely angry in this area today and I just kept pushing on. We crossed Truman and got a reprieve from the winds. I took advantage of this for a break and a chance to catch my breath. I too was significantly frosted over and seemed to be growing a few icicles myself. My water line froze as did my extra bottles. It was just cold today and I needed to keep moving.

      Somewhere between Truman and Lincoln, I saw the views and the blue sky. It seemed to brighten the mood from something concerning to I think I can do this. Isis and I melted just a little too. It was cold enough to suck the life out of my camera batteries and so, I began using my iPhone a little more. I was taking pictures just hoping that I captured something as the sun was actually bright in my face. The sense of urgency and my adrenaline had decreased and my steps got lighter. The scenes were breathtaking on this end of the ridge and the trail was actually down to the dirt in places. I kept my spikes on though since I knew I would find more ice in other places. 

   Isis and I slowly made our way through the gargoyles and over to Little Haystack where there were other hikers hunkered down or getting ready to head back below tree line on the Falling Waters Trail. We stopped to chat with two gentleman and they were quite taken by Isis and offered to snap our picture. The wind was probably about 20 mph here so, we crouched down and quickly got back up again. I didn't think that continuing on to Liberty and Flume was a good idea given how much energy it took both physically and mentally to get us this far. So, we quickly ducked below tree line on the Falling Waters trail. I neglected to get the two gentlemen's names and figured they would pass me and I'd ask then except they never passed. I guess I was moving downtime trail at a decent pace. Falling Waters goes straight down from the summit and there is ice and snow to deal with. Not enough snow to butt slide so, I am careful. Isis just wants to go which can cause me to fall. The crowds were coming up and most (at least this high up) had the right gear. As the trail flattened out and I was getting closer to the falls, I began running into several unprepared "hikers". Most were in regular street cloths (jeans and fashionable coats) and no foot traction. Luckily, they were turning around and not getting in over their heads. The water on falling waters trail is still flowing nicely which made for a tricky descend. It was well worth checking out though instead of continuing on to Liberty and Liberty Springs.

      It seemed like forever and yet it also seemed really quick that we were back at the parking lot. It was between 3 and 4pm that I found myself changing out of my wet hiking cloths and Isis was already asleep in the passengers seat. I was destine for the biggest and hottest cup of coffee I could find as my teeth chattered. The heat could not kick in fast enough. Reflecting back on the day, the one thing I could think of was how absolutely alive I felt coming across that ridge and how connected to myself I felt. Every fiber of me was concentrated on getting across that ridge and once I was at Little haystack, that release of energy once I realized that I did it. I pushed through not only the weather wall but also my walls. The walls that would have me turn back. Feeling raw and opened to this experience, I thankfully accepted an invitation to reconnect with a dear college friend. A perfect end to a high velocity hike with a glass of wine and some great conversation.

      Continuing on with my goals, two more peaks for my 5th round and mileage to add to my yearly and over all totals. I am becoming less focused on the numbers and more focused on how I can grow in these hikes. My journey continues as I try and build on these positives. I am stronger today than I have been in a little over a year and I can finally feel as though I am about to come alive again. I am in competition with no one except myself and from that growth is infinite.