In the days before I was to climb Mt. Chocorua, the weather reports started coming in. Hurricane Irene was going to be paying the New England area a visit. What form it would actually take (Hurricane, tropical storm, or rain shower) was yet to be determined. I kept thinking to myself, that if I was going up to the mountains, I’d probably miss it or at the very least, I would hit some rain on the way home. I thought nothing of it and continued to make plans to do the climb with the sky diver whose idea it was originally. He had made the suggestion at about the same time I was planning on taking on Crawford and Stairs. We had been talking about hiking for a little while and so, I figured this would be a great way for us to get to know one another. For lack of a better descriptor, he loved this mountain. He had some kind of childhood connection to it and I on the other hand had never set foot on the trails for it. I just wanted to climb it to say that I've climbed it. To add it to my list and to try and get to know someone that was inmy life.
The day before the climb, I saw on the National Forest Service was planning on closing the White Mountain’s for a portion of the weekend. The whole forest was closing as of six PM on Saturday. How can they do that? Was it even possible? On this typical Friday, I set about my day not only thinking of the storm but thinking about the climb that would not be solo. I was looking forward to it. It never even occurred to me that a storm blowing in might prevent it from happening.
I’m a gluten free hiker so; part of my preparation sometimes includes baking a loaf of gluten free bread for sandwiches. I set about my night baking a fresh loaf and gathering the things that I would need. I had bought new hiking boots and was eager to try them out (so like any hiker, i put them on and walked aroudn the house in them). My pack needed to be repacked with some extra gear. Since it was forecast to rain, I had also added a rain jacket. I put in a few pairs of socks and my sneakers in case I needed a change of shoes. The bread was just about done and I was settling in for the night when phone rang.
“I was just going to call you but you beat me to it.” I said.
“I think we should cancel the hike and not because of the weather. “ He told me.
“Oh, why then?” I asked with a slight tone of ‘Whatever.’
“I just don’t see us together for the long run.” Was his unapologetic reply.
Upon hanging up the phone, all I could say was. “Ha! Screw him. I’m goin’ anyway.”
Typically, the person I was would have crumpled and stayed at home. Not anymore. I continued with my night and got to bed early. After all, I still had a mountain to climb and I had a storm to beat now as well. As the alarm went off at four AM, I kind of tossed myself out of bed. The cat looked at me as if she was not expecting the early wake up. I got myself dressed and double checked my supplies and my route. I poured myself a cup of coffee, fed the cat and I was on my way.
“I just don’t see us together in the long run…” I said sort of mocking as I was driving up the White Mountains. “Whatever… I’m still going to climb your mountain. For me. Whatever… never mind the fact that we only knew each other for a few weeks. You knew all about me from two weeks? Whatever… Most people that have known me for years still don’t know me. “The conversation continued periodically going up interstate 93.
Heading up the highway, I saw signs for the impending hurricane that would pay a visit. These signs were warning people to stay off the roads. I kept wondering when it was that I moved back to North Carolina? As a drove the Kancamangus highway looking for the trailhead, I began to focus on the hike. It was no longer about him. This was now about me going on and making it to the summit on my own. Parking at the trailhead, I popped out of the car and got my pack on my back. I stoop by the sign for the trail head and read…. Due to the threat of extreme weather, the White Mountain National forest has been closed effective 6 pm Saturday August 27, 2011 through midnight Monday August 29, 2011.
“Wow, they’re actually going to do it. Close down the freakin’ forest.” And with that, I set out to climb.
As usual when I start out, there seems to be no one on the trail. It was a relatively flat trail to start out and followed a stream. I found myself very comfortable on this trail by myself and navigated it easily. The trail gradually began climbing and I found myself looking down on the stream I had been following. This quickly gave way to a stream crossing which I handled with relative ease. I was still aware of not getting my feet wet even though my boots were waterproof and I had plenty of socks to change into. Once again, after the crossing the trail began to climb again and I was greeted by rocks and roots (so typical of these trails I was learning). I continued to walk the trail discovering that the stream was leading me to a series of falls and on several occasions; I was able to walk out onto the rocks to get a great view of the water as it cascaded over the rocks. At the last set of falls, there was almost a grand staircase set into the rocks that I was able to walk up with little effort.
“What goes up must come down.” I thought to myself and behind that was a thought of the storm that was to roll in.After passing all the falls, it was about two miles to the summit. I had plenty of time to get up there and back down before the forest closed for the storm. The start of the trail to the summit was full of jagged rocks and down branches that I navigated without issue. There were no real rock scrambles but it still took a great deal of concentration and careful foot placement to navigate the way to the summit. Once beyond the rocks and things, the trail was flat granite to walk on. This I did not mind at all as it was easy on the knees and while it was not flat, it was better than the jagged rock I had been walking on. At about a half mile from the top, I got my first look at the rock summit. It looked massive and a little tricky but I was up for it. I had certainly come this far on my own and was not going to stop until I was at the top.
On the Piper trail, I was given a combination of all kinds of trail conditions. There was mud, roots, rocks, and flat granite to navigate. Once the flat granite began to tilt upwards, I knew I was on the ascend. There were no cairns to follow and the blazes were few and far between. I had made the decision to drop my pack at one point in order to make a few of the scrambles up to the summit. This would prove to be a wrong decision because as I had discovered, returning for the pack was difficult when the rocks seem to all look alike. I panicked only slightly and it was mostly because my car keys were in the pack. How would I explain this one if I could not find it? Then of course, part of me slowed down my thoughts and I was able to concentrate and retrace my steps. I looked down from a ledge and there it was. I hopped down and grabbed it. Pulled myself back up and followed the blazes to the very top of Chocorua. At the top, I pulled out my PB&J and thoroughly enjoyed it. I watched the clouds swirl around and saw storms off in the distance. I wondered if it was part of Irene? The skies to the south looked dark and slightly angry so, I knew that it must have had something to do with the storm. Two people came up over the ridge and caught my eye. It was nice to see that others were out hiking on a day like today. I packed up my lunch and made my way back down. I eventually met up with the couple I had been watching and asked them to take my photo. I had commented that it was nice to know that I was not the only one crazy enough to be out on the trails today. We had a nice laugh over things too. When I moved to the ledge to have my picture taken, I put my arms out to either side and stated.
“How can you not want to spend the day playing in a playground like this?” And with my arms out to my sides and a big grin on my face, the nice lady took my picture.
It was soon discovered that a rather large spider was going to try and hitch a ride on my pack to the bottom. I ushered him back to the granite as I didn’t feel like taking on any hitchhikers. I never did get the names of the other hikers but we talked as if we’d known one another forever and we wished each other well and went our own ways. They to the summit and I began my descend.
On my way down, I had quickness in my step for the storm that was supposed to role in. I laughed at the fact that I’d been through a few big hurricanes in my life and had a hard time believing that such a big storm could reach all the way up into the mountains. I also had a good sense that I am capable of hiking to a lot greater height than I was currently aspiring to. It was by the falls at the base of Chocorua that I decided to climb the 48 peaks in the White Mountains. I was going to do this with or without help. As I was descending the mountain, I began running into a lot more people towards the falls and the base. People with less than half the gear than I was already carrying (and I was not anywhere near carrying what was appropriate), people that were dressed in their perfect hiking outfits that they probably didn’t want to get dirty (usually pink or white with white sneakers and I’m covered in dirt), and the general White Mountain Tourist that rarely ventured into the woods. For the first time, it didn’t much matter what I looked like. I had begun an experience that few have a chance to do and I was going to complete them in one calendar year. So where was my beginning point going to be?
As I pulled into my drive way, the rain had not begun. The forest was going to be closed as of 6pm… The rain officially started around 5:30. Timing is everything.