Saturday, January 24, 2015

Surreal Beauty and Perfection on Monroe

"Load the car and write the note
Grab your bag and grab your coat
Tell the ones who need to know
We are heading North."
Avett Brother's
I and Love and You

        Sometimes, things are just perfect... The music on the way up to Base Station Road really set the mood... Dead, Dave Mathews, Avett Brothers were all much appreciated. It brought a certain calmness to my mind. Isis and I arrived at Base Station Road in good time. The sun was just coming up after negotiating the snow and ice covered road. At the base of the cog railway, we parked in the hiker lot and got ready. First I got Isis "dressed" and then I got myself suited up with my boots and my coat. I attached my snowshoes to my new Deuter ACT Trail 32 pack that I picked up at EMS recently. I had my spikes on the pack as well but I didn't use them. We got underway at 7:50am. The trailhead was up a little ways but not a bad walk past the Cog station and over behind the cabins. Isis and I got underway with about an inch of new snow on the trail but not enough to cause me to change my foot wear. At least not initially. Isis and I were stopped by another hiker for a quick chat and I also decided then to put on my shoes. I was going to wait until the Jem pool however, I figured I'd save myself the pack weight. The trail up to the Gem pool is decent with a mild elevation gain to it. Nothing like we'd experience once we got to the base of the pool at 8:55am. 

        Isis and I took a break at the Gem Pool for some food and a chance to catch my breathe. The next section would prove to be a work out considering this is where the bulk of the elevation gain is. I immediately put up the televators on my snowshoes to lessen the strain my calfs would suffer and we got underway at 9:06am. I anticipated some issues with Isis as she likes to play with snowballs and given the steepness of the trail, I tried to limit breaks to flat areas that would not kick up snow. My mind was on the return trip and how we would get back down. But my thoughts were not so clouded that I did not enjoy the views or remember certain areas from the last time I was on this trail in winter. I like the Ammo trail. I just knew that it would be a challenge today. Maybe it was the perfect challenge I needed to push me on? Determined to just take my time and hike today. It didn't matter if I caught up to anyone on the trail. And if anyone caught up to us, they could pass. 

       As Isis and I broke tree line just below the hut, things began getting interesting. The post holes took over the trail and it became very difficult to get even footing. Remembering my experiences the last time I was on this trail, I knew stepping too far off would send me up to my waist in spruce traps. So, I had to deal with the post holes. Isis was not too crazy about it either. But I was very proud of her for getting up the steep sections. I needed to take a few more breaks and catch my breath as well as rest my legs. My shoes were even having a hard time getting a purchase on the snow due to depth. None the less, the landscape was no less than beautiful and I was reminded of how I liked this range so much better in winter. Even for the harsh conditions, it's just beautiful when snow covered. I was humbled and in awe of my surroundings as George poked into view and then I saw the hut. 

    Once we crossed the ice field behind the hut, we came around the side and climbed up on the roof at 10:34am. The view was impressive for a grey day. The landscape was surreal. We looked to our destination and began our ascent first on the Crawford Path which we basically forged our own way towards a sign post for the summit spur. The snow was hard packed and crusty so it was easy to travel. Once we arrived at the summit spur, I began my ascent with Isis in tow. Another steep section and I just hoped that it would be smooth. I follow the rock path for a bit and then followed the snow field. Arriving close to the top of the first false summit, I needed to use my hands and let momentum for Isis help me up with a little boost from my capable hands too. Once standing again, we navigated some sparsely covered rocks and my snowshoes made an awful racket. Isis spied two others that were down at the hut and I reassured her that they would catch up. Again, making our way over to the official summit, I claimed my #45 Winter peak at 11:08am and Isis claimed one for her list as well. The wind was low and while it was cold, I was not in a rush to get down. I leaned my pole with my camera on a rock since it would not stand on it's own (not enough snow to grab) and we got our summit photo. 

      As we made our descent, the two gentlemen caught up to us and as it turns out they recognized both myself and Isis from my postings. Great to talk to Brewster on the false summit and always nice to hear that people are following the adventure. They were on their way to Franklin for the Trail Wrights list. As Isis and I made our way back down, I could not see the tracks and ended up bushwhacking across the summit taking an easier grade down so I could stay upright. We rejoined the lower trail at the rocks and I stumbled a bit but remained on my feet. Once we were on flatter ground, we again made our own trail on the Crawford path back to the hut. The snow was crusty and appeared to ripple from the winds that have blown up that high. We took another break at the hut for food and some fun on the roof. I could not get over how peaceful it was up there today considering the lack of wind. It was hard for me to believe that the snow was flying down home. At 11:35am, we began our descent back into the trees. 

         I knew that this would be a quick descent with the majority of it being spent on my butt. Not on purpose but because the momentum just carried me that way. No sooner than we cleared the ice field then it happened. Safe to say that some of those postholes got flattened out a little more too. It was not too hard to control my speed but I knew that steeper sections where coming. Once heading down, it was nice to run into Kim who we had run into on Pierce a few weeks back. We didn't chat long due to conditions and time but nice to chat none the less. It was pretty much an up and down descent in terms of if I found myself on my butt, I was going to slide until I stopped and could stand again. Another group was coming up and I waited as I knew I would just end up sliding down the section they were on so, to avoid hitting them, I had to wait. Isis and I were back to the trees in no time and with one final push, we were back at the Gem Pool. Another break to readjust things that had shifted in the sliding. Isis got some food and we got ready for our exit. It was not long at all that I found myself poking out at the start of the trail and wishing that maybe my descent didn't go so quickly. How can it be that I was already back at the car? It's only 1pm and I have a lot of hike in me still. Hard to believe that a hike like this would take such a short amount of time now considering, it would be a day long event if I was still at the beginning of this journey...

     It was great to meet and talk with so many people today and I feel again that peace in my life after making such a trip above tree line. Putting aside lists, goals, and other stats, today's hike proved that I can face challenges and over come them. The Ammo trail is nothing to take lightly given the steepness and today was no walk in the woods. It was work and work that I gladly took on. It's in my blood now. This is my way of life and I am thrilled to see where it takes me. I cannot wait for my remaining three peaks for Winter. The big boys are lining up: Jefferson, Adam's, and West Bond. Now is the time for feeling proud of my journey and how far I have come as I look forward to the new challenges that lay ahead for me. If you are looking for me, I'm probably up high looking out on the world and smiling. I'll see you out there!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Hancock's Boost Me to 200!

(My 200th summit! South Hancock)

          I hate anxiety. I'd rather deal with my depression than my anxiety... Anxiety sucks. I never really know if I am doing the right thing until it's too late or not. What if I fall.... But oh, what if I fly??? Planning for one thing while keeping another thing planning in the background. Wanting one peak while having to go for another and not even knowing if it will pan out because of the weather that you cannot predict. If you heard a scream on the trail this morning, it was just me... Letting go of a bunch of yuck! Today, it was the Hancock's instead of Monroe... Stupid weather. And then again, I boosted my grid, added to a total to bring myself over 200 peaks AND Isis is finally half way to her winter list. All this added up to a great day out there... Even if the weather was less than spectacular. 

        Isis and I started out at 7:20am from the hairpin turn on the Kanc. Heading down the Hancock Notch trail is flat and well packed. I'm carrying my shoes and wearing my spikes. This was not a hike for views. This was a put your head down and go hike. This was a forget everything for a few hours and sweat it out hike. This was an enjoy the place you love the most hike. Isis and I made quick work to the junction of Cedar Brook because all but one of the water crossings were bridged and the one that wasn't was a non-issue anyway. Here, Isis had something to eat (new treats made with bacon, apples, and bison) and I put my shoes on to prep for the steep ups we had to face. 

        The trail remains very well packed out and it's not long at all to the junction of the Hancock loop trail (about 24 minutes). The rain or the snow has not started yet and I am not worried about time at all. This has always been a quick hike for me and I was confident that I would not get too wet today. Isis and I have yet to run into a single soul since seeing two gentlemen start out ahead of us at the trail head. I'm thinking of going North to South today but really, I'll decide once I get to that point on the trail. Isis is having a great day diving into the softer sides of the trail and trying to root out any rodents she can. It's about 45 minutes to decision time for me and I again go South to North. It really makes no difference to me since I know what ever side I go up will only mean I will slide down the other. So, North it is for the sliding. As Isis and I climb, it's warn smooth from other sledders and I am again so thankful for my new shoes with the excellent traction. These shoes really grab in and hold on and the televators are a BIG help today. There are places that are a little flat so I can rest and catch my breath for a little while but I am careful as Isis has been playing all the way up and if she were to reverse directions, I'd go sliding down regardless of traction. So, breaks are quick and as we climb into the cloud, the snow comes. It's a small snow and not the big fluffy flakes from ground level. It stings the face as we crest the summit... 46 minutes after we started. and I thrust my arms up and yell... 200! This was my 200th 4K peak (it includes the 19 for the NE67) and that is something that I never knew I would see. It's been almost 4 years since I started and that says a lot. I've never stuck with anything in my life this long. Maybe the tide is changing? Maybe I'm finally settling down in my heart. Older, wiser, and a little more greyed than whenI started and still going strong in spite of anxiety and depression. Here is where I don't worry about anything. Here is home.

       Isis and I take pictures (and a few awkward selfies) and we head off down the ridge. Things are a little blown in and a little deeper up here and Isis handles it like a champ. The wind has picked up and I continue to feel the sting on my face. It's not terribly cold... Chilly but my hat and gloves do the job just fine. It's a great day on the ridge as we make our way over to North Hancock. It's 1.4 miles of relatively flat with a few ups. Not bad after what we just did. Isis and I run into those 2 gentlemen about a quarter of the way to North Peak and it's a quick passing. Too much wind to stop. The trail has some deeper drifts in places but they don't seem to slow us down too much. 52 minutes between the two peaks and Isis and I are standing on North peak. The wind is howling and the pictures are quick. We walked down to the outlook to see nothing...

               Isis and I begin our descent of the peaks and begin running into others that are coming up the North Side. Nice to see Alison close to the top and great to celebrate our victories with her briefly. It's hard to stop in winter on this steep trail and there is not a lot of room for people to pass let alone stop and chat. It's a confidence booster though when I hear congrats from people who may not necessarily be close in my life but remember me on the trails. It was shortly after this that I landed on my ass and began sliding down the North Side of the Hancock loop trail very fast... It took a while for me to find my pace as I used my shoes, pole, hands, thumbs, any thing I could to slow myself down. I'm convinced that this is how my time got to be so good. I generally try to stay upright but the momentum of Isis and the slope of the trails sometimes makes it unavoidable. Coming to rest a few times and walking little before landing on my ass again. We also ran into a rather large group of young adults and one genius with his shirt off. All I said was "Dude, put a dam shirt on. It's gonna get cold". With that, I am suddenly at a flatter section and heading back towards the junction to break off and go to either peak. My head is down and we are just walking. Trying to beat out the rain that is on the way and wondering how the ride home will be. In no time again, we make it to the junction for Cedar Brook and soon back on Hancock Notch. In-between we ran into Mike and Monica on our way over the water crossing. They too were trying to beat the rain that was lightly falling already.  Isis and I cruise down the Hancock Notch trail and out to the road to a steady rain that soaks us from that time until we reach the car. A very successful day capped off after changing to dry cloths with an extra large and extra hot coffee. The ride home is long with the ice on the road but the funny thing is, I'm not anxious. I'm in fact having a good ride. It's just long and slow. Very pleased with today.

        Today I stepped off my main focus and went with a boost to my grid and helped Isis get to her halfway point. I was able to forget if only for a little while responsibility and anxiety around life at sea level. It's always nice to go home even if that home is not the one with the roof over your head. My fingers are crossed for a return to my winter peaks with Monroe next weekend and while things may get hectic soon, I know I can come to the peaks for peace. See you out there!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Eisenhower Takes One For the Team

         Amazing restraint as I waited out the cold temps and winds from Saturday and chose to hike Sunday instead. After another hectic week at work and trying to continuously adjust to the roller coaster of my job, I was craving the mountains. This is how everything becomes right again for me and how I can make sense of the world around me. I clear my soul when I am up in the high peaks. I think you could see it in my eyes if you know me and you looked close. After watching the Patriots almost drop the game and then come back, I was ready to hike. Today, it would be Eisenhower for number 44 of my winter season and Isis' 24th of her winter peaks. Again, not going for a single season and happy to be getting down to the last few. We parked at the Highland Center and got ready for the cold temps. It was -7* to start the day and I hoped that it would warm up a little. There was a big group forming in the parking lot and while I wanted them to head over to Willey, Tom, and Field, I also wanted to know that someone else was on my trail. Company is desirable these days and even more so in Winter. 
       I started out in my Hillsound trail crampons with snowshoes taking a ride. I had a feeling that at tree line, I'd be switching out. There had been snow recently and the wind was bound to make a few drifts. As we continued up the Crawford Path, it's still well packed out and temps are so cold that my iPhone is only turning on as far as being available for an emergency. I was skeptical if I would use it to take a single picture once we broke tree line. At the junction for the Mizpah Cut off, Isis and I stop for a food break and we are joined by a Gray Jay who appears to be full from the group of 12 that I let pass. I was happy to know that I was not the only one out today. This Gray Jay didn't even care that Isis was barking. He just sat there looking fat. 

         I could feel the temps fluctuate as I hiked to tree line. It felt as though it was warming up a little at points and yet it was so clod at other points. Isis is having a good morning and since some of the water is still available, she is able to get nice cold drinks along the way. My line is tucked in my coat defrosting and my gatorade is a little out of reach. We continue on and start to break tree line with the snow starting to get a little deeper. Isis and I make it to the outlook below Pierce and we catch up to the group of 12. They have a nice looking husky with them named King and as it turns out, I have met up with some of them before. I take in the views as they are milling about. Turns out they are all friends who hike together and one guy just joined them this morning after talking to them in the parking lot. I check out the trail and as I thought, it's poorly broken out so, on with the new snow shoes (Tubbs Flex VRT's 22"). I am like a kid again as I put them on and have no issues with the bindings in the back or the nob tightening system that snugs them to my boot and when I say snug, I mean these things are not moving at all. I am in love with this investment from the moment I put them on... And they are purple too which I love.

              All set to get over to Eisenhower. Isis and I head out behind the group of 12 and eventually catch up to them. Ultimately, instead of leap frogging and waiting for them to pass, I just joined them. I also figured it would be safe for me if I was with a group. The views are all around us as we walk and some are in snow shoes, some are in microspikes, some are in Yaktracks which made me worry, and even still some were in nothing. A real mix of experience levels here and one older dog who was having a good day. Everyone was nice though and seemed like fun. We stopped a few times to take breaks and making our way over ice, drifts, and deeper sections sheltered in trees, we came to the junction for the Eisenhower loop. There was some question on which was to go and I explained that one will lead the group around Eisenhower so, the group needed to follow the trail up. This is a rocky, icy, and tricky part and it's also the final push to the summit. Isis gave space to those that were struggling on the ice and I offered my Hillsounds to one of the group members but there were no takers. We came to a tricky rock spot and took the wrong way up getting hung up on some rocks and on my knees to hoist myself up with my pack and my awkward larger feet with the snow shoes. Carefully, We are able to stand again and we begin walking on the wood "stairs" to the summit proper. These were also icy and my super aggressive traction on the shoes were worth it. No issues at all getting up the ice. The next test is of course, getting down. We made it to the summit and it's a little chaotic with everyone up there. I'm asked to take some group shots and of course I do and I also have my summit shot taken.

          The summit is a little chaotic with all of us up there and I make the best of things as groups sometimes frazzle my mind. I look out and see George and the rest of the Presidential's are in the clear and looking magnificent. One of the group members asked me how her makeup looked and I was a little tickled by this. I have to say it's the first time I'd been asked this ever and given as I had not showered yet today, I didn't know how to answer. I lock onto Monroe which is my next target and then my concentration is broken by a squabble between Isis and King (who had been getting along but apparently neither wanted the other in their space now). I kneel down to deal with them and as I do, I nicked Isis with the crampon on my shoe. I was horrified as her white fur turned red and trying to get this group together for a group shot was making my anxiety go up more. I knew I needed to get out of the wind to take care of Isis. So, I took two shots and gave back the camera, gathered my walking stick and began heading back down. I wanted to get past that tricky spot where we would be sheltered. Isis was a trooper though where I was a basket case. She's my girl, what can I say. She took one for the team and we both learned a lesson here. I figured that I would use the alcohol wipes from my first aid kit since they would not freeze and clean her up a little. Once we got down the ice path, and I scooted down the rocks, that is exactly what I did. And she kept squirming away from me. I was careful not to clean the ear as that may have been painful. Plus, I wanted it to stay closed and clotted. I knew that there was extra water in the car and I had my bandana to really clean her up once we were down.

            There were no hard feelings on anyone for any part after this... Isis and I hiked our own hike out and the group caught up and also hiked at their own pace. There was a light snow falling over the ridge and it made this hike so peaceful. I looked back at the summit when I was almost back to the outlook at Pierce and saw that weather was indeed moving in and the Upper summits were now in the clouds. I concentrated on getting back to the outlook, unaware of what time it was due to the cold temps. Once we were back there, I ran into more people that had run into us on previous hikes or knew of me from the blog and previous postings. It's always good to run into such familiar and friendly faces. I lingered at the outlook, almost unwilling to go back down to ground level. I wanted to stay up there for a long time even though the weather was telling me otherwise. We fell line behind a group and make our way back to the first junction of the Mizpah Cut off. Since we are moving rather fast, we are allowed to pass and as I contemplated taking the shoes off, I quickly change my mind since, why would I want to add the weight back on? They are not doing any harm on my feet. The trail goes by fast. There was a few more coming up and one big dog named Jackson that Isis paid no mind too. It seems like we were back to the car in no time. 6 hours and 15 minutes round trip was a really good day for us. So good that I was already looking forward to next weekend and possibly making a go at Monroe. 

             It's amazing how much this journey has shaped my life and how it continues to evolve right in front of me. I have never been one to latch onto any particular activity (unless you count softball in my youth). I can never put into words accurately how I feel and try my best here to give trail conditions and a little of that feeling. I am ecstatic that so many are following along and glad to hike with anyone on the trails. You all enhance my journey so much and I thank you all for that. The Winter Six has been reduced to the Winter Four... Watching the weather for a hopeful pass at Monroe next weekend.   

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year on Mount Pierce.

         Happy New Year! It's 2015 and what an amazing start it has been. After wrapping up 2014 on Owl's Head, I returned to solo status and began tackling "The Winter 6". After working late on New Years Eve, I skipped the ball drop (The same thing happens EVERY year!) and went to bed at 9:30 to wake at 4am. Everything was set before I went into work so, getting on the road was effortless. Except I forgot my wallet... Back into the house I went. I need my Dunkin Doughnuts card after all! Isis and I were off and feeling very positive about well, EVERYTHING. Now, the "Winter 6" are the last 6 peaks for my winter 48 list and they are kind of a big deal: Pierce, Eisenhower (Ike), Monroe, Jefferson, Adams, and West Bond. Today, I wanted to get Pierce at the least and Ike and Monroe to go with Pierce at the most. Temp would dictate what I actually got. We were in the parking lot of the Highland Center around 7:30am. A quick change and putting the new Tubbs VRT snowshoes (22" in purple no doubt) on the pack, and Isis and I were off across the road to the Crawford path.

       Everything is frozen and while I was bare booting, the Hillsound's quickly came on. Crawford Path is known to be wet in other seasons and that means it's ice in the winter. Especially since we had a lot of rain recently instead of snow. Feeling confident, we continued up the trail. Stopping first at the connector bridge for the parking area on Mt. Clinton Road, everything was frozen there. Then heading up the trail to see the dam also frozen and of course making a stop at Gibb's Falls. They were also frozen. Temps were destine to be below zero today and that's just putting it mildly. The good thing is that by keeping moving and having enough layers, you're fine for a certain amount of time out there. I'm watching Isis to make sure that she's OK too. We made great time up to the junction for the Mizpah Cut Off and took a food break there. Isis had her usual mix of biscuits, chicken/blueberry sticks, Cheese, and something new, Salmon bits provided by my sister in-law. She loved them and finished well before I was ready. Here I decided that it would be a good idea to put on my balaclava and heavier hat. It was getting colder as we climbed and even though I saw blue skies, I wondered about temps. As Isis and I continued, some of the ice flows had water still flowing freely and under ice. For the first time, I saw Isis totally stop in her tracks and try to follow the air bubbles at they passed in the flowing water. She was totally trying to catch them! Quickly realizing the layer of ice was unforgiving, she moved on.

             The Crawford Path up higher (and really the whole thing), was like a super highway. I was able to move pretty fast and that was when I noticed something, I hardly noticed the weight of my new snowshoes. Usually, when I add those to my pack (the old ones), I am very aware of the weight and how it shifts the pack. These new Tubbs are hardly noticeable and I love them (did I mention they are purple?). I also became aware of one other thought. I was not so much focused on the year that passed. I looked down at Isis and I said, "Where are we going this year?". I was no longer concerned with reliving the past. It was time to keep moving forward. Time to keep progressing and time to stop living in a time that while I don't need to forget, I need to leave it behind. The adventurous spirit I had lost was back and I was feeling strong. Time to explore this new world I was embracing and it all starts with Pierce. The light on the trail was nice and provided some warmth. It was really noticeable when we entered some of the more shaded areas though. I had taken my iPhone out to do a quick elevation check and the battery life was immediately sucked out and it shut down. Well, that showed me how cold it was. Isis and I pressed on happily and caught our first glimpse of Ike and the other presidentials. They were beautiful and you could also tell the clouds were on the move which meant the winds were higher and the wind chill was much lower. All things to take into consideration. 

       Isis and I stopped for a quick picture using my timer on the outlook just below the true summit and then continued up the quick incline to the summit cairn. Two grey jay's where up there looking for a hand out or maybe they were frozen to the branches? Naw, they were flying around but it was too cold to pay them too much mind. No food was coming out this morning. Isis and I snapped a few pictures and I quickly debated going on to Ike. Which was more like I looked over to Ike and said that I'd be back for it on Saturday before the storm blows in. Temps were suppose to be higher and today, I didn't really feel like having a frozen walk over on the ridge. The sun was strong but the wind was stronger. Isis was also lifting her paws up and I contemplated booties for her again. Maybe we'll just have to give them a try and hope for the best. She's pretty warm other wise with her double coat and in below zero, she get's her purple coat too. We made our way back down the Crawford Path, which would warm up as we traveled. 

           Back below the alpine zone, Isis and I ran into Lilley and her owner. Lilley was so excited for winter hiking, she looked as though she would pee all over the trail. Isis was quiet and I gave a quick run down of my experience on the summit.... COLD. We parted and I wished them safe travel as I always do. I knew that we would make great time going down with how fast the trail was to begin with so, we just enjoyed the walk. Quickly, we came upon another soul and it was Kevin R. Kevin was the owner of Brutus who was the Newfoundland who originally cut the Brutus Bushwhack to Owl's Head. So nice to meet and talk with him and Isis got some attention too. He informed me that our cut on the Black Pond Bushwhack a few weeks ago, shaved off .2 miles, which taking both ascend and descend into consideration is almost a half mile off that long trek. I probably could have talked for a lot longer if it were not for temps and a little white dog that was curling up. So, we opted to get moving and again wished one another safe travels. I swear Brutus might have been on the trail today in spirit! What an amazing feeling I had going back to the car. I was strong and ready to tackle the rest of my list. It may seem like it's only 5 left... It's a big 5 and I'm ready. 

       All total, we were on the trail from 8am (ish) until 11:30am (ish)... I never realized how quick a trip to just Pierce can be on the Crawford Path. I changed at the Highland Center in the parking lot and we headed for home. Ready to tackle the remaining of the "Winter 6" and ready to tackle 2015. I'm already feeling a shift in my thinking and liking the direction I am heading in. It's been an amazing journey so far and as it continues, I am amazed at my transformation. As it continues, I feel stronger and stronger. I never make resolutions at the New Year. I simply strive to improve on the previous year. So, let's see where 2015 takes me together. Thanks for following along and happy Trails to all. I hope to see you out on your own journeys soon! 
     So, the new year brings new stats and it's only just begun. Working on a number of goals, the most pressing is the Winter completion of the 48. The long range goals are the GRID and 4k a day... I had New Years Day already however, I am always glad to ring in a New Year on a peak! 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014 The Year in Review

(If ever there was a picture that could define a year, it's this one from Mt. Adam's over the summer.) 

                No one can really predict how a year is going to progress. I had started 2014 with a clear plan, to simply be better than I was the previous year. I wanted to do trips that would stretch my comfort zone and test myself. I wanted to continue working on my Grid but not letting it be the sole focus of my hiking. I wanted to do my Grid in such a way that I was not confined by rounds of the 48 (to date, I have pieces of my 4th through my 7th rounds completed and 2 left for my 3rd round). For those that are new to the story, I am working on what is called THE GRID or climbing the 48 four thousand foot or higher peaks in New Hampshire and climbing them in each month of the calendar year (48x12 or 576 total summits). A hiker has as much time as they need to do this  should they choose to undertake it and while some finish it rather quickly, I am taking a slower journey. Most importantly for myself, I wanted to experience the mountains with my dog Isis and I wanted to remember the trips and the seasons as they passed. Because of this, it was hard to find ten treks that I could highlight for the year. I started on January 1st by hiking up Mt. Moriah (4049Ft).

            As often was the theme in 2014, I was solo with Isis for this cold and wintery hike up Mount Moriah. Given that it was after the holidays, I was armed with new gear (warmer winter boots, goggles for the wind, and warm layers). Temps this day reached as low as -30 at the summit and Isis and I had a great day together. This was also a hike for Isis' multi season first round of the 48 and I was in pursuit of my Winter season 48. There was a lot riding on the beginning of the 2014 year and today, while I was pushing myself and struggling with equipment, I also learned of the beauty of the forest around me. In the quiet of the woods, I found beauty in the snow covered trees and joy in sliding back down the mountain on nothing else but my own back side with Isis out in front. We laughed and soon forgot all our frustrations from the previous year of 2013. I was hopeful for 2014 to be a great year on and off the trails (Even if shortly after that hike, I would find myself scrambling to make ends meet for the next month). I had set out to declutter my life and to surround myself with what mattered the most to me.

            Moving through the month of January, I found my footing in February and on the eve of a "new life", my little Isis was going for her 48th peak in her first set of the 4000 footers of New Hampshire. We were off to Mout Isolation (4004 Ft) on this first weekend in February after spending quite a few weekends hiking with friends through January, it was a mixed blessing to be solo again. I adore my solo hikes and I also longed for company on the longer journeys because I am still prone to turning back. Although, as I look back, I don't think anyone was going to keep me from celebrating with Isis. Taking Rocky Branch to the Davis Path without the bushwhacks proved to be the easiest and also a long day. There was minimal new depth on Rocky Branch but Davis Path was hardly broken. I can remember looking up at the summit spur and digging into the fresh unbroken powder to climb to our celebration. To this day, Isis probably has no clue what she did but I was very proud of her. For such a little dog, she's got a big heart and an even bigger personality. This would be the year that really solidified our very small "Pack" as it has been just her and I for a very long time now. She trusts that I'll make the right choices for the both of us. (In April, she attended the ceremony to get her scroll but I had sewn a patch on her harness after this hike.)

        As winter was coming to a close, it was becoming obvious that I was not going to meet my Winter 48 goal except, I was not going to give up without an honest fight at it. I did manage to get one of the toughest peaks on my list. This one, is one that I have yet to solo on and as I write this, it is the only one left that I need for a complete solo round (meaning I am not hiking with an organized group). Today, I was hiking with old friends and new. I was excited and nervous for the whole experience. Knowing that Isis has her own distinct style, I did my best to convince myself that this would be a great day and in many ways, it was. A trip to The Owl (4025 Ft) was on tap for the day and the company would be old friends Heather and Kali along with Gumby Hiker (who I had not seen in over 6 months since breaking off from his brother) and Dan. A 17 mile trip for no view and all the glory of just having made it for me was a great challenge and I can honestly say that I love this peak for the work it makes me do. I can put my head down and go and keep going. The bushwhacks are a challenge and I was up for it. All in all, this was an eye opening trip for me and it also marked my last hike with a group for a long time. The remainder of my trips (with the exception of my last trip in 2014) would be solo. 

             Ending my winter season on Zealand with just 6 peaks (later named The Winter 6 for 2015), I had begun to think of the warmer hikes that were to come and dreaming big, I wanted to backpack the Pemi Loop to see if I could pull it off. I figured that it would be a safe bet to backpack it with Isis. We had made it through the bulk of shoulder season and we were solidly in Spring now and looking at Summer. In June, I had planned to do a Full Moon Pemi to give myself extra motivation (and hopefully good pictures). Classically, the weather had other plans and my Pemi Loop turned into Mount Flume (4328 Ft). The rain was coming down in sheets to start and I had hoped that I could make it through the storm and dry out. What I soon realized is that the following day was going to be much worse and I had planned on being over by Garfield and Galehead at that point with no real desire to spend two wet nights out in the woods. So, on Mount Flume, we watched the clouds swirl and Isis and I decided to head back to the car. Lucky for me, I'm not one that gives up on things very easily. On the ride home, we regrouped and were able to make a short backpacking trip that weekend.

         Isis and I repacked a smaller pack and to my luck, my tent fit my red pack. Again we headed out in the rain and this time we would head to Hale and Zealand With the hope of maybe getting to the Twins too. Testing my flexibility, I had some great moments on Hale and Zealand which started going over Hale in a deep fog and down one of my new favorite sections the Lend a Hand trail to the hut for a break. People were mostly friendly that I would run in to for light conversations. Heading up to Zeacliff had taken it's toll on me and I opted to stay right there on the cliff. I probably could have kept going for a while after a rest except I found this sense of contentment sitting on that cliff. Isis and I spent a cold night out for June and woke up to rain continuing as we mad it to Zealand. Given the lack of sun, I again would cut my trip short for the energy drain that I was experiencing. Content with the success of an overnight on the cliff, we lingered at the hut and I let he mountain air fill my soul. We hiked back to the car a mile away at the Hale Brook lot and called this experiment a success. I was bound for bigger and better trips if I kept building on these little steps. I carried this experience with me for days after and my head was filled with even more pictures of hikes I loved.The fire had returned to me and I was ready to get moving.

           Isis and I tackled Franconia Ridge (Mount Lafayette 5260 Ft, Mount Lincoln 5089 Ft, and Mout Liberty 4459 Ft) in the hopes of doing the entire ridge (except we dropped Flume). What I got from this hike was something I had craved for a very long time (since I started in 2011). I FINALLY GOT A CLEAR VIEW and it was fantastic! Everyone who has ever been close to me knows that I struggled to get a view on this set and everyone that I have ever been close to has always told me of these phenomenal views. I wanted them because the experience is truly as though you are on top of the world. So, Isis and I set out early doing the Old Bridal Path to Franconia Ridge route and we'd eventually descend Liberty Springs and take the bike paths back to the car. Along the way, the people we met were mostly friendly and we even ran into familiar faces of Alton and her Shiba Cole. That was a nice meeting to finally get our dogs together. Again, Isis not being so good with other dogs, it was not all roses and rainbows but it was not bad either. They were on a solo Pemi Loop which again sparked my interest in wanting to complete that long set. Maybe some day... Today, I was content with the miles of views from Franconia Ridge. Once over to Liberty, we dropped Flume to head back to the car on the energy we had left. I needed to build up my strength and stamina if I was going to get anywhere. And I also needed to get over the dark and use my headlamp.... This is why we have these things after all.

       Rounding out a very warm spell in June, Isis and I tackled Mount Adam's (5774 Ft). I wanted to crack into the Presidentials solo just to see if I could do it. I needed to build some confidence in myself on this solo journey and I figured this would be the good test. I had not been here since April of 2013 with Gumby Hiker and his brother Scott who was also my former partner. Facing a lot on this hike, I was also cognizant of Isis and how tough the rocks would be on her. What I didn't count on was the heat and how much that would affect her. Once above tree line, it was touch and go with my little girl as she rested and I even carried her for a while. We made the summit after seeing a deer in the grasses and had one of the most beautiful moments of the year. I placed her on the summit sign and put my face to hers and just started crying and saying how sorry I was and how I would always be there for her and I was also sure that everyone up there thought I was crazy but I asked them to keep getting pictures until I looked at them and smiled asking for my camera back. The bugs were crazy up on the summit so we didn't stay and as a result of the humidity, I ended up packing Isis out for a significant portion of the trip down. She fit nicely in my pack and rested her tired head on my shoulder. Again, this was a hike that proved how much trust she has in me and it made our bond that much stronger. I got the summit and I was feeling stronger in my skills.

     Not being able to let go of The Pemi Loop, I set out to try again at the end of July except this time, I was going to try it in a day and I was leaving Isis at home. Hikes without her do not happen very often but I became cautious with her after Mount Adam's. I set out really early in the morning and hit the trail around 3am. Hiking in the dark solo was a new experience for me and I had trouble finding landmarks. I figured that I would hit Flume (4328 Ft) around sunrise and I was excited for that. Another goal was to catch a sunrise on a peak. My pace quickened on the ladders of the Osseo trail as the sun was creeping up. Making my way over the trail to the final push by the Flume Slide, I crested just as the sun was peaking out and I managed some pictures. I knew that I wanted to make it over to Liberty for breakfast and that was a little over a mile away. So, as I made my way to Liberty, I also began calculating my time for The Pemi. I was way off and would probably be out for at least a day or two at this point so, I began having those serious thoughts. I climbed up to Liberty and set up breakfast. It was this morning that I had these summits to myself and the hazelnut coffee at 4459 Ft tasted so good and the smell filled my nose as a new experience regaining my sense of smell. I tried my best to keep going and tried to convince myself to beat the odds and hike through the dark on the Pemi but entering Franconia Ridge by Little Haystack, I felt the rain sting my face and I turned back. I'm just not going to attempt a Pemi in the rain and I may never be a Pemi hiker. I was suddenly OK with who I was. A slow and steady hiker who had these great experiences on the trail. I had a story to tell after all and it was how the mountains shape my life. So, once again, I found myself heading back to the car after Chasing the sunrise .

       There were more shake ups in my life and ups and downs that I contended with and all along, I was learning how to be myself again and how to manage on my own again and it was as if I was wearing a new skin and not use to my own feet. I had switched jobs again and found myself in extremely familiar and unfamiliar territory. I was unsettled in so many ways and I had a whole new group to get use to and to let them get to know my passions. I could not believe it was Columbus Day Weekend already. I had had my annual trip to my Pittsburgh NH get away and I was planning one last backpack. This was going to be a BIG ONE. I was going to an area that I needed to get a handle on and that was Garfield, Galehead, and The Twins. I again set out from the Garfield trail head and I would end up down the road at the Galehead trail head the next day and just hoof it back to the car on the road. I just needed to hike it first. Isis and I started out on the crowded Mt. Garfield trail and seemed to run into less than friendly hikers on this holiday weekend.  Struggling to make it up Garfield and having a while to go on the Garfield Ridge trail forced me to camp at the base of Galehead in what promised to be a very cold night. I probably didn't have enough layers or a thick enough sleeping back but we made it through the night (Isis slept in my pack in her coat too) to the sound of coyotes. The views were not there in the morning either so we had breakfast on the porch of the Galehead hut. For some reason, my coffee tasted different down here. We made our way up and over the Twins for a total of 4 peaks and a very unfiltered trip where I finally found my voice with regard to people on the trail. I was very please with this trip on this section of the Pemi and proud of both Isis and I for the work we did.

      After Columbus Day weekend, I settled into this new job and became restless and then I settled again and continued to hike this cycle of restlessness and familiarity. Shoulder season was hard for me and I was craving winter. The holidays came and time with family was great but I wanted to hit the trails and keep moving forward. On the edge of Fall, I had my last hike of 2014 and it was another BIG one. A double grid finish for Jason and Andrew on the one and only Owl's Head and I was thrilled to grab this one for December. I probably would never pass up a trip to The Owl just so I could get it out of the way. It's a hard hike on this day and I am lagging in energy and lagging behind. I borrow Jason's snowshoes to finally reach the summit and get myself down. Isis is sluggish as well and yet the day was a big success. I had not hiked with anyone from March until this point and funny that they were both on Owl's Head. Amazing how things happen that way but what  fine day on the trail regardless of the struggles I had. I was please that the year ended on this note.

          The 2014 hiking year ended on a high note even if I was turned back because of rain as I headed to my first Winter peak of the 2014/15 Winter season. Incidentally, I had new gear just like back in January and I had ordered new snowshoes that would hopefully arrive before the following weekends hiking (Long 4 day New Years Weekend!), And back to the, rain?? Really?? In terms of the year in stats: I hiked 41 of the 52 weeks of the year. I covered 71 New Hampshire 4000 Footers and traveled 512.8 miles for the year. My Grid started 2014 at 18.2% and I close the year at 30.6%. While it often felt as though I was taking two steps back in terms of my progress, I think that the numbers do show that I've had an amazing year and I can do this no mater how I doubt myself. Even better I have done a lot of this year with just Isis and that has to say something in this largely mental game. Isis of course has hiked 68 New Hampshire 4000 footers and 487.4 miles for the 2014 year. What will 2015 hold? Beyond the last 6 winter peaks (Go Winter 6!), you'll have to keep following along to find out. I can promise you that the journey will continue and I have no place to go except up!