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.