Even before I made the decision to complete the 48 peaks in New Hampshire, I had been talking about mountain climbing in general. Anyone that would listen would get an earful because I was trying to figure out exactly where this was leading me. I had completed all the smaller peaks I wanted to and was growing a little tired of the ease with which I was climbing. As a person who loves a challenge, there was only one way for me to go and that was… Up. After all, I needed to keep growing in my experiences and this was becoming so much more than just climbing mountains. It was becoming my way to broaden my horizon what had been limited for some time.
Mid-August, I made the jump above three thousand feet. I had chosen Mount Cardigan after looking at state parks on line and Cardigan just kind of kept coming up in my thoughts and in my searches. It seemed easy enough to complete after researching it further on line and it was one that no one I knew had done before. I was going for something different after all. Friday night, before the hike I packed up. This time I was taking some real provisions: extra clothing, food, water, and first aid supplies. I was progressing in my knowledge of hiking and always looking for new information. Cardigan was able to be hiked in sneakers so; I didn’t need hiking boots just yet. Those would come soon enough.
The alarm went off around five in the morning. Seeing as it was summer, I had plenty of daylight to play with and yet it seemed that it was a concern that I would run out. I think it was mostly because I was going someplace I had never been before and let’s face it; there is a certain comfort in bright sunshine to show you the way. So, I set out into the morning with the music playing and GPS set for Mount Cardigan State Park. I was in a great mood and ready for anything. At first, I got a little turned around on the unmarked dirt roads and after turning around and taking my second choice of roads, I found the entrance. After taking the long road to the parking area, I realized that I was basically the first one there for the day. I took my time and walked around the entrance and noticed an opening through the trees. I marveled at the fact that I could see above the clouds already and that there were some peaks that were above the clouds too. I really wanted to be up there looking down on the clouds below me. Maybe I would get my chance some day?
After getting my pack situated, I found the trailhead and started out. It was a mile and a half to the tower at the summit. What would I find today on the trail or at the summit I wondered? Having never experienced a trail beyond the smaller mountains in southern New Hampshire, I was officially in new territory and the smile on my face showed my excitement. Would I be able to do this? That thought constantly goes through my head. Not out of self-doubt but for other reasons. I am reminded constantly of the year before that I was not able to really move beyond my yard and my familiar surroundings. At this thought, I smile and turn the corner on the trail. I experience my first set of rock stairs going up an incline. Not too bad and I wonder how the designed such a trail. After all, nature does not put rocks in stair formation. I press on, stopping for water every now and then. I have a granola bar here and there too. As always, the ongoing conversation with whoever is listening ensues. I like to think that someone is listening to me discuss the latest stresses from the week or my usual wants and dreams. Sometimes, I’ll even speak directly to my grandfather and often state “Chief, you gotta help me out with this one…” As I am walking and talking in my head, I come to a junction and decide to take a more challenging route. Remember after all, the name of the game was to challenge myself. The blazes that I had been following quickly disappear and that was also soon followed by the trail itself. I found myself on a ledge that was very narrow (My feet were practically verticle) and looking up, I have two choices: I can either bushwhack up or I can turn back and take a less challenging and more direct route to the fire tower summit. Without hesitation, I opted for the less challenging route. I back track to the junction and talk myself out of disappointment. This was by no means me giving up on anything. I had a summit to reach. After all, the true name of the game is to get to the summit. Not get hurt… Or worse.
So, I’m continuing on the West Ridge Trail to the summit. It’s possibly the rockiest trail I have been on since I began this whole mountain hiking adventure. There are really good foot holds and no need to use my hands to hoist myself up but it is significantly more rocky. It was up here that I experienced my first water crossing. As I can sometimes have poor balance, I always seem to worry about these. After all, without a change of shoes and socks, my feet would be a mess if I fell in. And lucky for me, the water is not that high and I am able to navigate it fine. I stop to look at what I had just completed. Satisfied, I walk and discover that it’s only a half mile to the summit. I’m almost there! The trail quickly turns onto just walking on granite slabs. It’s interesting because I’m so use to walking on dirt trails. I like it for how easy it is on my knees. I’m able to pick up my pace and start my true ascent to the summit once I pass the rangers fire station. The granite starts slanting and my calves are suddenly aware that they need to keep working to hold me steady. The sun at this point is beating down and I am suddenly aware of how hot I am. I round some trees and look up… I keep moving but suddenly realize that I really need to sit down due to the angle of the rock and the strength of the sun. Lucky for me, someone else was also resting. I ask him if he minds if I join him and hikers never seem to mind. We chat and I ask him to snap a picture of me… For proof, we laugh. I sit and catch my breath as well as have some water. My company leaves before I do and I sit and look at the view. I can only imagine what is waiting for me at the true summit. I decide that it’s time to get moving again.
Cairns begin to mark the trail on the open rock face. I’ve always thought of Cairn as welcome guides on trails. As they guided me to the top, the trees began to get smaller and smaller until they were no more. Then I was just left with a bald summit and a fire tower. As I rounded the fire tower, I noticed a kind of storage shed. I thought to myself wouldn’t it be funny to see something that reminded me of someone from my past. I can’t even explain why I had that thought at that very moment. Only that he creeps into my thoughts from time to time. Sure enough as I rounded the base of the fire tower, I look into the storage shed to find two propane tanks from Suburban Propane…I blink and gasp. I can’t seem to get away from him, I think to myself. Another part of me is thinking… What are the chances of that? Seriously, it’s got to say something, right? I laugh out loud and smile. Say hello and then I move on. That was a nice touch, was my final thought to myself on the mysterious propane tanks. As I look up and outward, I find myself surrounded by a view that just goes on forever. I had no clue that at the time, I was looking at the peaks of mountains I would soon be climbing… I was falling in love with this new found hobby. I wanted to keep climbing and I knew that I was going to but what next and how seeing as I was alone?
I have lunch at the summit in the hot summer sun. There is a wind blowing but it’s still one of the best days of the summer. There were plenty of people and dogs on the hot rock. Most just sitting and quietly chatting and others just resting and saying nothing before the long walk back to the base. Everyone is friendly and I even have a few more pictures of myself snapped. Quietly I take a video of the view and I proudly state… “I can’t believe I did this… No wait, yeah I can”. You can hear the smile on my face.
I make my way back down to the car and as I am descending, the though occurs to me. “What goes up must come down”. As much as I wish I could sometimes stay up there forever, I know that I must head back down to the car. Back down to life. I’m already trying to think of my next peak and I am not even off of this one yet. As I take on the same trail I ascended in reveres, I am reminded that to descend is a lot easier on the lungs and the knees. Once down at the parking area, I see that it is now full of cars with more coming in. I turn on the AC and let the car cool off before heading back to reality. Ready for the next weekend to come. The question was, where to next?