Sunday, August 31, 2014

Field, Willey, Tom, and Avalon for a Rainy Day

             I had originally planned to hike the Twin's today for the challenge of and out and back. Weather had me choose a loop of Willey, Tom, and Field instead. The week had been very frustrating for me at work and personally and I really wanted to get a full day in on the trails even though I would need to do OT and I was working on Monday, I got myself to the Crawford Depot by 7am and hit the trails by 7:15pm. The good thing is that this is an easy loop for me and because of that, I decided to go by way of Avalon first and then hit Field. I would then head over to Willey and double back to Tom. This promised to be a good day in spite of the weather. 

          Heading up the Avalon Trail, Isis and I get our feet under us. This trail is traditionally rocky and in wet weather, this could prove slippery. The rain was already spitting and I had put my pack cover on but I decided to leave off the rain shell and bucket hat. It was just too humid today. Work had been done recently on the Avalon trail to improve drainage and the new water bars were nice. All three water crossings were also not a problem and as usual, I stopped to take pictures at my favorite one. 

           We moved quickly up the trail and made it to the junction by 8:30am. I decide at this point to head up by Avalon and get most of the elevation gain out of the way first. This section of trail is also in great shape and has had recent work done on it as well. New stairs and water bars are in place before the rocks and are greatly appreciated on this upward section. Isis and I continue up the trail and I keep reminding myself that after this it's just walking a ridge and dealing with a few PUD's. We take a few standing breaks so that I can catch my breath and we continue on.  We reach the junction for the Avalon Spur at 8:45am and because of this, I decide to finally go up the 100 yards to Mt. Avalon (52 With a View List). I was impressed by the small summit and sat on the rocks with Isis for a little while over looking the AMC Highland Center. 

                After exploring Avalon, we made our way quickly down the spur and began making our push to Field. Our first hiker of the day would pass us here and I was thankful that the trails were so empty for a holiday weekend. The trail to Field lead us over new bog bridges and some pretty decent terrain. Once we got into the final push, I felt like it was going on forever and thought I missed a turn or something. I saw the section of trail that someone in winter bushwhacked straight up and briefly thought of taking it except  had no clue where it came out. So, we played it safe and continued winding through the trails to the summit. I was feeling the humidity and as though I was swimming in my hiking clothes. I wanted to take a decent break at Field and hoped that the rain would hold off. The trail is a mix of rocks, roots, and loose rocks so, I am careful not to slip too much. After what seemed like forever, Isis and I arrived at Mt. Field for my 6th visit and her 3rd. The Grey Jay's made a brief appearance and one made a pass at my handful of mini dog biscuits to no avail because Isis wanted to eat him. We settled in for an apple and some much needed water for my furry companion. Hikers filtered in and out and we had a great conversation concerning the grid and how I was approaching it. Essentially, I am hiking now to hike and not staying to a set pattern of rounds. Hiking to the weather and what I want to in a given month makes it less like I am gridding and more like I am hiking.

                  We begin making our way to Willey and the rain is getting a little heavier. For a brief moment, I stop and almost turn back for fear that I'd be hiking in the pouring rain. Something told me to keep going to Willey. Something told me that it would not be that bad and that I would make it and back to Tom. So we kept walking over the Willey Range Trail and made our way down the loose rocky section and the brief scramble down the rocks. Then over a few more PUD's and made a few rest stops along the way. The rain actually felt nice up this high as it was still humid so, still no shell to speak of. We approached the messy section where a blow down had been obscuring the trail only to find that it had been cleared. I think I may have cheered just a little bit. Isis and I continue making our way over to the summit and make it in no time at all arriving at Willey for 11:45am. The day is moving to good time. 

        As we took a break for food and water, disappointed hikers were milling around the summit as if they were going to get a great view. Most had never been to this summit before so, I just remained quiet. Isis and I were just enjoying todays hike for the day being so relaxing. I was enjoying some beef jerky and gatorade while Isis ate her trail mix. We were joined by two ladies who stopped at the summit not knowing it was the summit. They were immediately taken by Isis and enquired about her breed and vital information. They asked her name and something made me hesitate. I said it any way and I was again told that this was not a good name. My face dropped and I kindly told the hiker how offended I had become by hearing this all too often and how disappointed I was that people automatically assume the negative when in fact, she had the name first (before the media made it negative) and that I who also had a now famous birthday could understand as I had my birthday first too. She apologized and unfortunately, I didn't really want to stick around any more. We chatted as we began packing up about favorite peaks and this hiker seemed to want to debate everything. I knew now to just get moving. I was growing tired of people who talk to talk and don't talk to listen. Isis and I began our trek back to Tom which would take us back over field. Heading back over the PUD's and back up the slide like trail, we made it back to Field by 1pm.

           After leaving Field for the second time, I began to laugh... I figured that Isis had earned the trail name of terrorist and I half wondered if I was put on some watch list because everyone was so up in arms about my dogs name. It made the time pass while we made our way to the Tom Spur entrance. Once there, we made our push up the now .6 spur. New signs were up and there was also new work on this trail as well. stairs had been built into the upper trial and this made the vertical gain a little more bearable on my tired feet. All the new trail work was much appreciated. Tom is also a viewless summit and it's extra viewless today with the clouds. We had arrived there at 1:50pm. The rain is lightly falling and Isis and I tag the summit and have something to eat. I finally decided to eat my high protein peanut butter sandwich (Peanut, almond, flax seed, and pumpkin seed butter) while Isis has some sweet potato sticks. We are joined by another couple who do not stay long. The bugs are also relentless as they have been on each summit.

     Before long, it is time for Isis and I to begin our trek back to the car. She had been plain with a stick and I found her falling asleep on top of it so, I hated to disturb her. The rain was getting heavier again except I was still hot and so, still no shell. Just the pack cover. Isis and I make our way back to the car. The going was slow due to the rocks and the rain making them slick. I was slipping because Isis was excited and pulling me downy he trail. She gets that way when she knows we are heading back to the car at the end. The same as when we begin to approach a summit. It's a balancing act with us. We pass a few hikers on our way out. One curious couple where the guy had no pack and his poor girlfriend was following behind with the pack on her back. I felt sad for her and wondered what their relationship was like. Then I also remembered how I was enjoying being single. Something about that couple just didn't seem right to me. Heading back down the trail and over the water crossings, we made it back to the car by 4pm. All in all, not a bad amount of time on the trails today and a great day in spite of the weather. 

      Once back in the car, I change and we head for home. I have to head back to work tomorrow after having just today off and I am a little tired of working six days a week. Better days I know are coming and I am hoping that the changes on the horizon arrive soon. With next weekend a non-hiking weekend due to family obligations, it now appears as though my next hike would be kicking off September as a birthday hike for myself and home base would be my favorite get away in Pittsburgh, NH... 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Washington and Jefferson... Fabulous!

                Now that I am working six days a week, it seems like it takes forever for a hike to get to me. Not to mention that sometimes that one day off seems to be spent catching up on sleep so, that pushes the hike to the next week. This morning, I was determined to hike. I was also determined to hike Washington and Jefferson via the Jewel Trail and Gulf Side. This would be a long day and I really hoped that I would not talk myself out of either peak. I needed a challenge beyond the weekly challenges. I needed to feel like I actually did a hike. This was perfect.

                Arriving at 7am, we got under way (Isis and I) and crossed the tracks for the cog railway at Base Station.  Immediately, there is a small water crossing with stairs that have s decent drop at the bottom to the water. We cross easily and hit the trail in the cool morning. I was moving well over the trail which is also very well maintained. There are 3 bridges to cross so water crossings are negligible. We start our ascend to tree line and settle in to a rhythm for the day. Isis is doing well and is enjoying the cool morning. I’m getting lost in the trails and the sights. The trails are not crowded so, I am enjoying the quiet. I had high hopes to beat the cog to the summit…. It was a long shot.  There are two branches on the trails one a walk under and one a step over. Both are not large so, they seem to be a nonissue  as well.
                Two hours after we started, Isis and I break tree line after quietly moving past sleeping hikers off the trail (one in a tent and two in hammocks).  The sun was getting stronger as we moved up the Jewel trail and decided to head over to George. I heard the cog running and knew that we would time it just right to be mobbed at the summit. We in fact met the Cog on the Gulfside trail and waved as it passed. The people on board were taking pictures as I was taking pictures of them. I was amused by this because, I’m just a hiker. I stood talking to two Thru Hikers who had given the cog their traditional greeting of Hiker Ass. I continued following the cog and then turned away and actually walked the auto road for a while. It really didn’t faze me as I was not planning on spending too much time at this summit. Not only did I have to deal with the cog, I also had to deal with the auto road drivers. I should note that I have friends and family that have reached the summit this way and I have no problem with that. Reach the summit however you can and appreciate it and understand that this is a great area and is actually full of history… I have a problem with rude people who have no respect for the mountain or the people who hike it from top to bottom or the Thru Hikers that are traveling. At the summit sign, you now have to wait in line if you want a picture. This is my reward (even within the clouds), to the guy that cut in front of me, you are lucky I didn’t unleash my inner righteous hiker on you and thank you for realizing the error and letting me have my shot.

                Isis and I sat and had some cheese at the summit but we kept getting over run by people. I was pleased that cheese and apple season had finally come to the mountains. Summit snacks just got better. We headed back the way we came and encountered more and more people. There were larger and larger groups moving slowly down the trails and I had a long day. It was 11am when we left the summit and I was ever more concerned that Jefferson would have to wait. So, Isis and I did our best to put some distance between us and the large groups. The boulder fields also slowed us as we made our way over the Gulfside trail again. We passed the junction of the Jewel Trail and committed ourselves to the try.
                Isis does not like the boulder fields and this slows us a little more but I am willing to put aside my need to sleep for work in the morning for a great day up above tree line. We take is slow and stop to tlak to a SoBo Thru Hiker who goes by Miss America and she was concerned for her time. I offered some encouragement and Isis offered some trail magic in the form of some love. More and more I am realizing that this little dog puts smiles on faces that seem concentrated on the trails and for a moment, people forget something. We hit the Sphinx Trail and I wanted to set my alarm for my turn around time. A moment of panic as my phone is not in my top compartment. I had accidently put it in the front pocket and once I realized this, I set the alarm and put it in its right place. We had a hard mile ahead of us and we kept going. More boulders to hop and my feet were getting tired.

                Isis hates the boulders to Jefferson so, we take it slow and we summit at 2pm. A full hour ahead of our cut off. But this was not before Jefferson bit my calf. At the summit, it was pointed out and I just shrugged it off. Knowing the scrape would clot and dry before we left. I’d it later. Isis and I laughed with our summit company and talked hiking. It was agreed that the Wildcats are not a favorite. After some food and a rest, Isis and I head back. It’s a long way down to the car. I was pleased with the day so far and could not believe we did it. Except we still needed to get back to the car. It was very slow going with lots of breaks and it seemed to take forever to get back to the Sphinx trail where we met up with Peakbagger and his hiking friend. It was great to chat with them for a while except Isis was about asleep when I needed to get going again. She was fading and yet able to liven up. We hit the boulder fields and just kept thoughts on the junction. It was a lot of up first and as we approached, we ran into a family group that had missed the junction and was on their way to Jefferson while not wanting to go there. I quickly turned them back and told them that I was going in the same direction, saving them from a miserable night.
                Isis and I hit the junction and it was truly downhill. Going back to tree line was slow and painful with my clumsy feet and Isis being tired. The crowd in front of us, while nice was also moving slow. We managed to get to flatter dirt trail and I gave Isis a break except she just wanted to sleep. So, I gave her a little encouragement and we began cruising down the dirt of the Jewel Trail. Once we hit the bridges, I kept pushing and soon we were running into curious tourists who we told to be careful before they got in over their heads. Isis and I crossed the last crossing and let me just say that getting up on those stairs is rather difficult at the end of a long day. We crossed the tracks and got back to the car by 6pm. A very successful and satisfying day for both Isis and myself.

                Driving home, I realized that one of the good things about today was that there was no talk of lists, grids, or redlines. I was distancing myself from these things and happy to have such a positive effect on my hikes. Lots of good things coming in the future as I keep hiking when I can and enjoy a new found comfort in myself and everything that I am.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Galehead... Isis get 100!

                Isis and I were celebrating this weekend. She was turning two and getting ready to set her paws on her 100th overall summit (with 3 being below 4k in elevation). I had planned on Galehead and the Twins for a number of reasons. The least of which were grid needs and rounds. The most of which was it’s a great hike and Isis and I have not soloed on these three yet. But of course, I needed North Twin with played into later decisions. So, Isis had a birthday full of treats and presents yesterday and then a promised hike today… What can I say, she’s my child (since I won’t be having my own) and I never break a promise to anyone (animal or human). I had intended to get up early to allow for time to do the hike except working OT is exhausting at my job and I hit snooze. We were on our way at 5am and would start the hike around 7:30am.
                Why is it so hard to find the trail from Gale River trail parking area??? I went to one “entrance” and then another before I found it at almost the head of the parking area. I guess I have not been here for a while as I have hit this section a lot in longer hikes coming from other trailheads. It’s busy with hut traffic but there is parking. Heading down the Gale River Trail, it’s pretty easy to travel and is in great shape. There is mud to travel through which is really not a big issue. It’s just there. The water crossings are low and easy but of course, Isis doesn’t want to do them. So, I assist her across. We are having a great time with very little defiance from the little two year old. I am surprised when we come to some deep mud and she walks right through it…. Instant knee socks for her. I was remembering that the last time I was here, there was snow and ice and of course, the trail looks very different now. So, as we walk, I am noticing how easy the grade is and also how many rocks and roots trip me up. The water crossings we encounter are a non-issue (unless you count the 2 year old refusal to cross). Also noted is the incredible lack of people out for a beautiful Sunday… A bonus in my mind as I smile.

                Isis and I hit the elevation gain and began to slow a little not before she finds something interesting to dig for and roll in... My white dog is black and what's worse, I cannot bathe her as it destroys her coat. And here I had worries that she would begin her habit of laying down and refusing to budge (The Shiba breed are stubborn button pushers and you have to show them you are the HBIC in the house). To my luck, she was in the mood to hike. I guess her break to help her dermatitis helped her out. As we were going up the rocks, the traffic from the hut was coming down. An interesting mix of folks including one spirited 4 year old (Ausrick as he corrected me from calling him Isaac) and the consummate group of pre and post pubescent boys with two tired adults bringing up the rear. Everyone was in such great spirits that it had no effect on me and the hike was very pleasant. The weather was perfect and my spirit was high today. I was trying to decide if I wold go to the twins or to Galehead first? My logic being that I needed North Twin and did not want to get into a situation where I would have to leave it hanging (again), Isis didn’t really care which was her 100th summit really, the trail to Galehead was an easy one, and the trail up South Twin was guaranteed to add time to my hike. The latter of course increasing the risk of me leaving North twin to hang if I needed to turn back. So, ultimately, I would decide at the hut.
                Continuing on our way, we ran into Isis’ fraternal twin of 7(?) years, Dasher. Except is also a Korean breed and not a Shiba. Just the same colors and tail style and about the size of our friend Cole.  Final push to the hut over some bigger rocks and slabs over the Garfield Ridge Trail and here we are, Galehead Hut. There are very few people milling about and it’s again a surprise considering it’s around 11am and such a nice day out. Isis and I settle down on the porch and rest. I am taken by the stillness of the area and the almost silence (except for the hut staff cleaning). It’s heaven for someone like me who cannot shut out noise on a regular basis. I’m looking at the Twins and Galehead and I’m comparing my map. Adding up time in my head and trying to think of best and worst cases for my hiking pace. Adding in to it a healthy dose of, ‘I have to work in the morning and I cannot call out because it’s not exactly allowed and I am HBIC tomorrow so, people are depending on me’. OK, Galehead it is to play it safe. I really didn’t want to leave North twin hanging… Again as well. Dasher and her traveling companions are coming down from Galehead as I am heading out. Isis barks just a little but is OK. Dasher escapes without getting his face eaten. Isis for her little stature has a reputation… Just like her mother.

                We are off down the Frost trail to the spur for Galehead. This trail is also in great shape and easy to travel. We hit the spur and start to head up. The climb is not as bad as it was in the past. Maybe it was the company? Maybe it was the lack of snow and ice? Maybe in was both? I have had very few good experiences on this mountain and I was hopeful for today. Isis and I hit the outlook and took some photos. I love looking down on the hut and I remembered a certain date gone wrong that started to go south in this very spot. I chuckled at the memory. It’s funny how memories come back to me on the trails. Most are happy. Isis and I make our ascent of the summit and she is not too agreeable to climbing the small cairn. Nor is she agreeable to sitting still. Classic Isis. But I do get one picture of her on her 100th summit. I promise her snacks at the hut again. I am suddenly taken by the fact that she has done so much in really less than two years. I guess I really have been hiking a lot. It’s just better than sitting at home. Not that there are not a million and one projects at home either. I’d just rather hike because out there it does not seem like I am doing everything alone and trying to constantly keep my head above water. This day marks and anniversary of sorts for me. I've been single and managing a house on my own now for an entire year. happy to be this way really. It's going to take a really special guy to make me say those three words again and not be afraid he'll walk away with out an explanation. I have a great relationship with my dog and the mountains I love. Out there on the trails, it does not matter. Everything can wait.

                Isis is a funny little girl, we head down and she gets a little squirmy and grouchy on me. So, we struggle a little. She needs to stop back at the outlook and would not budge until I went down there. We made our way down and ran into a Pemi Looper who would later come back to us before we even got off the elevation. I admired his quickness and also appreciated my slowness. I don’t’ want to be a fast hiker. I am good with today just being Galehead. Sometimes you just need a hike and not a mission. Today was a hike… It was great. Isis and I hung out back at the hut before heading down. We were ousted from our seats on the porch by a mini high school reunion practically happening in my lap. No, not my high school but two hikers who happen to go to high school and lose touch. Amazing who you run into up here. I felt like I was in the way so I moved. They were oblivious to almost stepping on my dog anyway… So, I talked to a few other hikers and then decided that I needed to head back to the car. Responsibility to keep my head above water overruled coming home late and getting the Twins.
                Isis and I headed back the way we came despite a protest that the start of the Twin Way to the South Twin Summit. We navigated the rocks well but I think that the heat was getting to Isis’ remaining dermatitis. We kept moving as best we could. Going down, while easier had gotten a little tricky as of late with the new glasses (Bifocals) and I was still tripping a little. I was however pleased with the hike over all. The easily navigated trails helped make this a great day. Isis and I were not fighting with each other’s stubborn attitudes and getting back into things well after her break. To my surprise, she does the water crossings on the return where I had to carry her up in the beginning. Classic Isis again. We run into a few more people coming up. All with serious looks on their faces that makes me wonder if I should utter a peep at them. I choose silence. It’s better that way. I want this to end on a great note. After all, my little dog just hit 100 and that to me is amazing! She is a love/hate dog which has us on a bit of a solo hiking tear. I’m happy for this time as it further allows us to know one another and for her to know that I am in charge. I’ve made my share of mistakes with her but we are on the mend and she has forgiven me for the most part. It has taken almost a year to establish a routine with her and we are finally settled into something that we can both work with and that includes hiking on the weekends. I don’t foresee me hiking without her again soon.

                We arrive back at the parking lot and all is well. We load into the car and I get changed. No one is around so, standing in the parking lot is fine with me. Isis and I are bound for home and for coffee as always. No more munchkin’s for her though as she is now grain free to help her skin and coat heal. I am pleased with today and happy to look forward to the next hike to keep chipping away at 576.                  

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Chasing Sunrise... Flume and Liberty.

                Today’s hike was going to be a Pemi Loop in one day. I had even prepared for it by leaving Isis at home (shocking!) because she’s too little for this one. I had even packed an outfit for the cooler night temps since I was planning on being back at the car after dark. I was in a word, determined to do this. Of course, the other thing I had to do was start early and I had decided that 230am would be a good time for that. Boy was Isis a little upset that I left her behind. I drove off and made it to Lincoln Woods in no time (even with all the police on 202 through Henniker. They were busy!).
                This was going to be a very different hike without my little white companion. Getting ready to head out, I had nothing to worry about as far as Isis getting out of the car before I was ready. It was a cool start that early hour and I put my wind/rain shell on. Crossing the bridge was surreal as I could hear the Pemi below but I could not see it unless I shined my headlamp on it. Heading down Lincoln Woods was also easier since the headlamp was a little like a blinder. You have a very narrow field of vision with it so there is less distraction (unless you count noises). I made the 1.4 miles to the Osseo trail in a half hour flat which peaked my interest further in the Pemi (I had been wavering). I agreed with myself to evaluate at the summits. I turned onto the Osseo trail and was immediately aware of the difference between night and day. Again, with the blinders on, I was able to move down the trail without distraction except, I was aware of every noise as I headed into the woods. I turned around several times to make sure I was not being followed.
                The Osseo trail is littered with what I call ‘birch trash’ or branches that have fallen across the trail. I made a note of it because I didn’t expect to be heading back this way. I began having a conversation with myself to provide some other noise and to maybe distract anyone that might be interested in the contents of my pack or me. I determined that hiking without Isis was a drag on this stretch and I also quickly realized that I was really freakin’ hot. In that I was sweating under my shell and there was a layer of water between me and it. So, off came the shell and the pack was rearranged. I was much more comfortable and I was hopeful that this would help as I was feeling sluggish. The inclines are tough for me and this is where I lose the most time. I hoped that this would not affect the day for me. I had to shut my phone off because for some reason, my iPhone was no longer recognizing my external battery charger and thus, I needed to save the battery if it was going to last all day. The phone hiccup, I would deal with later. The down side is that I had no idea of mileage and could not see my landmarks very well. I kept anticipating the ladders and was relieved that I hit the switchbacks sooner than I thought I would. This meant that the ladders were coming.
                I had calculated that I would hit the Flume summit close to sunrise (at 5:30am) and once I hit the ladders, I made my way to the outlook where you can view the Bonds and that side of the Pemi. Fist light was breaking in dark hues of blue and rose with one star hanging in the air. No moon but that was fine. What I saw was beautiful. It was about 4:30 at this point and I had been sucking wind all the way up the trail. My chest hurt and my legs were tired already. I promised myself that I would evaluate at Flume and at this point, I had visions of a sunrise while on the trail and not at the summit. After calming myself, I continued up the last of the ladders and continued up the flatter section of trail. The next anticipated land mark was the .1 push to the summit. I alternated between my head lamp and walking without it for this stretch and was still eager to get to the summit. I pushed hard and tried not to stop but had to catch my breath on several occasions.  I came to the Flume Slide entrance and knew I was close. I pushed and soon saw the opening to the rocks above tree line. I broke the trees and made my way over to the rocky summit. I turned around and saw a tiny ball of red/orange light just appearing over the distant peaks. I smiled and looked at my phone which I had turned on for pictures. I crested the summit just as the sun was rising and it was breathtaking. I stood and snapped pictures as it moved higher in the sky and spent a good half hour at the summit. The wind picked up and I decided to head over to Liberty for breakfast.

                Heading down from Flume, I had a reprieve form the inclines and was able to breathe a little easier.   I made good time again and navigated the rocky sections of trail even though my feet were getting clumsy. I came to the final push close to 6:30am and climbed the rocks and crested this summit which was windy and exposed. I found a nice sheltered spot to get my stove out and heat up the water for my breakfast which was a freeze dried Denver Omelet and some hazelnut coffee. I snapped pictures while I was waiting and noted the clouds were getting darker and moving in (swirling) around me. I questioned my day again and agreed to enjoy a break and then try for the ridge. Maybe I just get the ridge and maybe I continue? Either way, I was fine with is because I’d already done something that I wanted to try (hiking at night for a sunrise). I was only wishing that I could share it.
                The coffee smelt amazing and the taste was even better it seemed as I clutched the warm mug in the cool morning air.  The omelet was inhaled but also tasted well. I was enjoying my newly re-acquired sense of smell and smiling as I drank my coffee. After another half hour, I packed up and even though I saw some serious weather moving in, I decided that I would give the ridge a try. I headed down the summit and hooked onto the Franconia Ridge trail. Again, on the down sections and the flatter sections, I was able to move with relative ease and as the winds blew, I agreed with myself to evaluate at Little Haystack. The Pemi was hanging there in my thoughts and at the same time, I had probably scrapped it and just not recognized it yet.
                I made a few stops before I got to the rocks to climb prior to Little Haystack. Once I hit those, I was careful as they were big and slick from use. This is by far the most popular ridge and the rocks are well worn. I believe this also took a lot out of me as far as my energy level was concerned. I began walking towards Little Haystack on the bog bridges and felt my feet getting heavy. If I was going to turn back, now might be the time. I pushed on and stood on Little Haystack having trouble taking pictures with my phone due to the wind pushing my arms up and misaligning the panorama. I watched Lafayette become engulfed in dark clouds and again decided that I would try of it. I heard voices coming up the trail and decided to go.
                Walking the ridge is very easy for me and I remembered sections that I had seen in winter. I may have made it half way to Lincoln when the rain started and I believe the words out of my mouth were “Fuck this, I’m heading back”. And without a thought, as if the rain was a message, I turned back the way I came. I was not even affected by this in the least. School groups were coming up the trail and I told them about the weather. I watched as they took a break on Little Haystack for what I presumed was an evaluation of their next move. I ducked below tree line for my long trek back to the car. I had mixed emotions about this only because there was no better option for me to get back there. Passing the time with plans in my head, I arrived back at the junction for the Liberty Spur to a larger group of boys that were also heading to the ridge. I wished them well and told them to be careful. I made my way back up Liberty and stopped for a few pictures and a snack. The rain was beginning over on this section and I did not want to be above tree line for long.

                Dipping back down and heading to Flume, I began running into others and a few dogs too. Ivan gave me a huge Pit Bull smile as I greeted him with scratches while his owners caught up. We had a nice chat and they were on their way. There were a few other families on the way to Flume and all were in great spirits. The rain was harder on Flume so, I did not stay long. The ledge is too small and I was not going to get caught on wet rocks. It was all downhill from here.  Making my way back to Lincoln Woods, I remembered that the birch branches were littering the trail and I began moving them as I went down. I moved a tree trunk with a crash and scared a lady in front of me. She thought I had fallen. Once back at Lincoln Woods, I traded my boots for sneakers but my feet did not really thank me. The only difference was that my feet were a little lighter. The walk out was quick but long. Back at the parking area, I saw that the rangers station was actually open. The first time I had ever seen it open and I stopped to give Pippy the 2 year old golden retriever some love as well as talk with the rangers. I think they were impressed that I started at 230am. Back at the car, I changed and headed for a large coffee which tasted completely different from my coffee on Liberty. I was on my way home to another relaxing day off.

                I was fully prepared to complete the Pemi except that hiking to book time is not Pemi time and I estimated over on Little Haystack that I would need an additional 20 hours to hike after going for close to 7 hours already. Long trips are not in the cards for me and for that I am actually grateful. I admire and enjoy my friend’s stories from their long trips. And love seeing the reports. I now know that they are not in the cards for me from this experience. Perhaps if I break it up into a backpack except even that has limitations for me. I am proud of my meeting the sunrise on Flume this morning. It was more than I could have asked for as if it was a gift from my grandparents and every pet I had lost above. It brought tears to my eyes from both the summits today. For me, this is a journey into myself. It’s no longer an adventure and it’s far from an event. This is my life and as I walk these trails, I learn how to work with my limitations as well as gently challenge myself. I am a slow and deliberate hiker and for that I am grateful because I am out there and experiencing this gift that is the White Mountains.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Jefferson Attempt...

                First full and hard week back into the grind below 4000 feet and I was thinking that we’d knock of Jefferson via the Caps Ridge. Like I had said, Isis has done the North side of Camel’s hump and those ledges with no problem, the Blueberry Ledges trail was barely barked at, and countless other scrambles were well… Scrambled by my 4 legged power pup. So, I figured, why not… At the very least (as always), we turn back. The thing of it is, we have all these summits and there is no “need” anymore. The journey I am on is a marathon now and not a sprint so, if we turn back then so be it. I am just grateful that I am still getting out and on the trail.
                So, in the morning, we load into the car and make the drive. Jefferson Notch Rd is in great shape all the way to the trail head and there are not too many people there yet. A few recognize us and we stop to chat, swearing that we’ll see them “up there”. Isis is just raring to go and is also soaking up the attention that she gets. This of course, makes me feel good and I view it as a win win. It’s a meager 2.4 to the summit from this point and I estimated that we’d have breakfast at the summit. We just needed to get over the caps and that was the question. Could she handle them? Could we handle them together considering the leash between us. I brought he extender leash just to give her a little more room on them over her usual 6 feet.

                Caps Ridge Trail is in great shape. A little muddy around the bog bridges but nothing that can’t be walked over. The grasses taste good to Isis too. Rocks and roots are easily maneuvered. We are having a great day so far and I am looking forward to breaking out of tree line. The trees are getting a little shorter and the skyline is beginning to make an appearance very shortly after starting the trail. That is the advantage to starting around 3000 feet and only needing to go about 2000 more feet to the summit. You get places a little quicker.

                So, Isis and I hear this cracking of wood and discover a little woodpecker making an awful racket for such a little guy. We break for a snack, bug spray, and sun block (I am making a conscious effort to remember this always now) because everything is necessary and then get started again with no problem. Isis is doing much better in the cooler temps and her dermatitis is looking better too since using a cone and changing up her diet a little (as well as getting her into a routine so that she’s not stressed). So, we come to the first outlook where the rocks have the glacial pools in them and meet up with fellow hiker Ken and his hiking partner who is going to get the summit finally after a failed attempt. We all talk and I tell them my plan. Photo opts are taken and they get under way again eager to hit the Caps. Isis and I linger for some solo photo shots but she is of course, uncooperative (and I love it).
                So, we too get moving and hit the rocks on the way to the first Cap. Isis and I begin working together and I am lifting her over some sections. There is not a whole lot of room to move so, this is very difficult unless I reach and put her much higher than I need to be (to give room for me to stand). I don’t have the stretch in me to get her where she needs to be so, we keep trying and I try to verbally guide her to other sections. She is getting spooked by the spaces in the rocks (as if she would fall into oblivion). I am a little determined but cautious. We come to the first Cap and we catch up to Ken and his hiking partner who are just cresting it. The path to maneuver is a little long and a little straight up so, I lean my belly against the rock and try and lift her to a ledge… No such luck, she slides back down and I feel her freeze against me. Ken is looking down as I look up and simply say, “You know what, nope, it’s not happening today. I think we will turn back and hit it some other day.” Ken smiled in agreement which in turn makes me smile as someone who understands the choices in hiking, that being, be stupid and press on or admit when it’s too much and turn back. The latter is always a better choice.   I wished them both well and congratulated her for reaching the summit (early). It was simply a stunning moment on the caps and I was happy to turn back.
                Taking it slow over the tricky spots we encountered, Isis was in my arms a lot more and I was doing some scooting over the more steep sections (which seemed steeper on the way down). I could only imagine what a trip back down the entire Caps Ridge might have been like. Again, I was happy to make this choice. Kneeling down to navigate a few rocks, we are over taken by a family of three. I asked rather politely to be given the time to continue to maneuver the rocks that I was on and without even looking up, the father scowled and continued up the trail which sent Isis into a panic. I scooped her up and continued to move down as the mother and daughter waited. I thanked them and continued moving in case anyone else was coming up. I understand that these sections are tricky and people with the ascent have the right of way however, if someone is trying to get down and is in mid “scoot”, wouldn’t it make sense to let them have the right of way? Especially if there is a dog involved? What happened to common sense and politeness?
                Isis and I continued to the next section and were again met by a couple who were coming up. They can see that I am trying to get her down and instead of waiting, also continue even though I again asked them to wait. The only difference the woman of the couple decided to make comments about my “little dog” and how I should not have her here. I would have been fine had I not heard her. Instead I let out a very loud and disapproving “Are you kidding me? This LITTLE dog is over half way through her second round.” She kept sputtering up the trail but I really didn’t care. We got off the rocks and took a break to collect ourselves. I probably needed it more than Isis at this point however; she was stressed by the descent of the rocks. I was reflecting on a lot of different situations over the past year to a year and a half of my life and was just floored by the crass rudeness of some people.
                We came back to the section where I had initially caught up with Ken and people were taking their pictures and there was a family with a baby in a carrier as well as a little boy (who I think was 2). I love this so much and since Isis and I had planned on stopping here for a while, she grabs some love from the little boy (who is playing shy) and his father. They ask about the difficulty and I tell them of Isis’ experience level and that she has finally met her match as far as ledges and scrambles are concerned. They are not going to the summit and just enjoying the day as far as they can go. I love that about them and wished them well.

                Isis and I sat on the rocks and I got her something to eat and some water. We had a brief moment where she was sitting in my lap and looking up at me as I rocked her back and forth. She licked my chin as if to say that she was OK as I was crying. I also got my bandana out and something to clean off her back and butt of bugs. She’s not thrilled about this but it’s something that must be done to help her. She seems to settle a little after some quick disagreeable yelps and butt shakes and then quickly realizing that I was actually helping her feel better. I take a few shots and even though I am still musing over the experiences on the trail, I am having a great day just looking at everything around me and feeling peaceful. A younger couple (very clean and very well put together with pristine gear and a well groomed pooch) approach the rocks musing that there is a little friend for their Irish Setter and I warn them that she’s not really a friend right now. So, they believed that they could get around us by going in front of the big rock with the glacial pools cut into it. When I correct them and tell them that it’s not the trail, the guy just kind of misunderstood my correction as a person affront to him and just started unleashing on me as he continued to move up the trail. I had also offered instead to keep moving considering this was a pretty popular photo spot. I could hear him pretty loud and clear and just finally had had it and just let out a louder “F*#! Off”. I had officially had it with the lack of filter and lost mine too. Yes, I too did not handle that as well as I could have.
                Isis and I make it back into the trees and as we get closer to the parking area, more and more are on their way up. Most have very little gear and some have no packs what so ever. It’s just not the same crowd as the winter crowd and I am left wondering what the rest of the season will be like. Isis and I make it back to the car and it’s packed to over flowing with more people coming in. One convertible sees the “space” at the head of the trail and briefly contemplates parking there… “The lots full”, I say. If looks could kill, as he turns around. I continue to tend to Isis and get ready to change. I am taking my time in the parking area as each car pulls in and looks at me as if they are waiting for me to leave. I must have been quite the site in my sun dress and hiking boots at one point. Finally, I am moving out and there is barely room to get the car out with the way people have parked. The last guy to see me put my sandals on had waited patiently and was able to move up to my spot (next to a Porsche from Mass of all cars).  I am very happy to be heading home and the plan is maybe the Jewel Trail next weekend (weather dependent).
                My week day life is full of negativity and situations that will make anyone question reality. My team does its best to keep things positive as we try and support one another in the face of a never ending barrage of negativity and violence and still, there is one thing that makes me get through the week. A trip to the mountains that I plan throughout the unbelievable weekdays. I work with kids who manage their behaviors in some very negative and sometimes violent ways because that is all they know. A physical hold to prevent aggression on themselves and others (to keep everyone safe) is easier than changing their own behaviors and it makes me sad to know that this is their life no matter what I try and teach them. Something in me has also shifted and the fairy tale died about a year ago for me in place now is a stronger reality where I am more important than anything else (well, except Isis). I have to look out for me now and develop a life on my own so, I hike to change the view that I have during the week. The world is changing and it makes me sad to know that people would rather keep their head down and just keep walking rather than having to look up and deal with what is in front of them. Conversations have been lost to texts and messages as well as likes and comments on social media. We’re slowly losing the ability to communicate effectively. I am just as guilty of this even while making an effort to change (familiar is comfortable, change is not). Hikers help one another out and support each other and for that I am grateful to the community at large. If only more people would look up and have an actual conversation rather than jumping to conclusions, making judgments, and just walking away. Today was a good day to open my eyes to things and I will be more careful of the day and trail I hike from now on. You can’t keep me down for long and I will get to 576.