With my completion of Cannon and abandoning the Kinsman’s, it meant that I needed to rethink my hiking trips for my vacation. Originally I had it all planned out to bag a few different peaks (Tecumseh and the Tripyramids or Liberty and Flume were all being considered) I had until Wednesday night to hike since I was heading up to Pittsburgh, NH on that Thursday of my vacation. I had my eyes set on Cabot while I was way up north too. A crazy thought ran through my head as I took a planning day on Tuesday…. “What if I hiked Thursday morning on my way to the cabin?”
No one was around to talk myself out of it but thank goodness, I was able to since I would have been miserable. Plus, I will have had all my food for the cabin packed in the car. No need to have it all spoil on me before I even arrived. I had some great gourmet meals planned and needed to food to stay fresh. Because of all these factors, I figured that The Kinsman’s would be mine on that Wednesday. I continued to plan and run errands on that Tuesday. There were last minute provisions to buy at both EMS and the grocery store and I was feeling a little frantic as the last minute things began to pile up. I was not just getting away at the cabin, I was going to climb two mountains and hike a bunch of trails while I was up there. I don't seem to rest on my vacations anymore or this was my new way of relaxing. Things were bound to be a little hectic as I was trying to get ready for both my hike up the Kinsman’s and my trip. I would have hiked two days in a row except for the high winds in the upper summits making me have little desire to get blown away or clear off the summit. It didn’t seem like too much of a stretch for me to go up the Kinsman’s on that Wednesday. A vacation only required an early rise if I was hiking.
That Tuesday night, I finalized plans for the Kinsman’s. The weather was still questionable but I was going to chance it anyway. I had a plan to get up to 10 peaks by the time I went back to work and I was going to stick to it. The route was decided: Lonesome Lake (again), to Fishin’ Jimmy, to Kinsman Ridge and over both summits. North and south were separated by as much space as the Osceola’s so, I figured it would be easy. I made sure to pack some winter gear since the forecast was calling for near freezing temps. Not entirely uncommon for the higher summits in October. Heck, it can snow on Mount Washington in July so better to be prepared. As I packed up, again, I was thinking to myself that I must be some kind of crazy to be doing this. But I now had less than a year before I turned forty… I need to keep going as far as I can before winter set in or something happened.
“After all, tomorrow, I may not be able to hike anymore.” I said as I made my sandwiches.
Wednesday morning and the alarm was going off. I briefly hit the snooze and put my head back down on the pillow.
“Meow!” Tuna breathe in the face and I’m awake.
“Really? Is this a food thing or are you trying to make sure I reach my goal?” The cat was already in the hallway. “You know this would be so much better if you were a guy and you had breakfast for me. It’s really a food thing isn’t it?” But the cat had succeeded in dragging me out of bed. I was up and packing to go. Nothing was going to be forgotten and nothing was going to stop me from getting my peaks. I finally fed the cat and was on my way… Again.
Back to Franconia Notch. Back to Lafayette Place Camp Ground. Back to the Lonesome Lake trailhead. Man, I was already sick of it and this was only my second trip here. I was hoping that it would be my last one too. I again, slung my pack on my shoulders and cinched all the straps. I was off again and laughing this time since I would not have to take any pictures until I got to a new section of the trail. Pittsburgh was the prominent thought on my mind. In the lower half of the trail. I was excited to see what this place was all about and a little nostalgic over it as well as extremely happy that I was treating myself to a stay up there and I’d be able to hike up Cabot too. Heading down the trail to the Lonesome Lake Hut, I passed the first turn off for the Hi Cannon trail.
“Not today Cannon. Not today.” I laughed. “I’ve had my fill of you. I’m done.” And I kept walking.
Heading down to be level with the lake, the fog was lifting from the water. The foliage was really beautiful in oranges and reds. The trail itself would go from rocks, to mud, to beams designed to keep the impact on the environment low as well as allow hikers to keep their feet dry. I was heading over the bridge by the hut and noticed a memorial stone. I did not know him but I felt close to him. The quote was: ‘Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take. But by the number of moments that take our breath away”. It was a favorite of mine and on this particular morning, it had an effect on me that I could not explain. I needed to see it and I was thankful for it being there. It really meant something to me given my past, my present journey, and my future. I paused to remember and looked out over the water. So peaceful and so thoughtful was my mood. I began to make my way to the hut. I had decided to keep going and use the hut to stop at on my way down for a good rest before the last stretch back to the car. I really didn’t want to hit any bad weather at the summit which was another reason for me to keep moving.
The trail after to hut was mostly rocks and roots along with a lot of water. At one point, it seemed like the trees were just wrapping roots around the rocks hoping to get water from them. I needed to be careful of where I stepped. Not because I could trip but because my foot could go right through the roots and be caught in the rocks below. There also seemed to be no shortage of scrambles for me to climb. My mind was given a momentary reprieve from my thoughts as I concentrated on these sections. Which then lead me to more beams to walk across. At this point in the hike, my knees were thanking me as well as my calves for the stretch of level walking. The trail would seem to alternate between rocks and beams as it lead me up the mountain. The weather was not clearing and seemed to be building up to something. I was still in the tree line so, I was well sheltered from whatever was going to be coming down. The summit might be a different story. I pressed on still planning on making both summits. There were sections of rock bridges to walk over as well as boulders to hop. My heart was not into it like it usually was. There was something just a little off about this day. Something that was weighing heavy on my mind and preventing me from giving the trail my full concentration. When something is missing, it tends to creep into my life in the strangest ways and I was feeling a little lost on the trail without actually being lost.
I had come to a rather large section of water to cross. It looked to be a bit high from recent rains. I stood by the small stream and looked to see if the blazes went up the side… I didn’t see any. Then I looked to see if I could bushwhack to a lower level of water and there wasn’t an easy way around it. As I was looking over the whole scene, I saw the blaze… Right in the middle of the heavy flowing stream.
“Perfect… I only have this pair of boots left ya know. “ I looked upwards as I spoke. “What goes up must also apparently cross the stream.” And with that I began my wet rock hop. Stopping in the middle to reassess my footing and squeezing myself and my pack under a pretty low branch to reach some solid ground without water on it. It was a stretch but I was able to get there and that lead me to the trail again. I smiled as another water crossing was managed and I tried to not think of coming back this way. I was lead up a long section of rock stairs that seemed to go on forever and I started singing to myself.
“I can almost see the sky. When I need to close my eyes. You're the only thing that's worth holding on to… Angel you sing about beautiful things and all I want to do is believe. I traded my dreams for this mess of memories and they just stopped working for me.” I kept hiking up the trail which quickly turned to wooden beam stairs. My knees and calves were back to complaining again and I was sure that the weather being damp had more to do with it than the actual trail.
The clouds were coming down to meet me which was also a sure sign that I must be getting nearer to the top. The rocks got larger and larger to hop over and then I came to wooden steps nailed into the rock face. I had remembered seeing these in some of the trail reports I had read. They looked so much smaller now that I was standing in front of them trying to figure out how to navigate them. The quickest way was to use both hands and feet since the steps were not spaced to walk up in one section and the second set went around an awkward corner on a rock formation. Again, looking back and down at what I had climbed gave me some perspective. The temperature was going down the higher I climbed.
“I’m not a monster I believe. Like a liar would believe. Helps me navigate the wooden smiles, the raging sea. All my heroes pull their heads. Like a fighter would I guess? No one really ever likes getting older… Angel you sing about beautiful things and all I want to do is believe, I traded my dreams for this mess of memories And they just stopped working for me.” I kept singing as I made my ascent. No one else was on the mountain today. This much was clear to me as I moved on the trail.
Catching my eye and snapping me out of my thoughts was a stream of water that was behind two rocks. As if the rocks were framing the water in some kind of natural picture frame, I snapped a close up of it. These shots that I find on the trail are what I consider to be little messages and reminders to keep my focus small and to keep myself grounded. Reaching the trail junction for the Kinsman Ridge, I detoured to the new Kinsman Ridge shelter and campsites as well as the Kinsman pond. Given the cloud cover, mist, and lack of visibility, this area took on a very eerie feel and began to spook me as I was the only one on the ridge that day. I stopped into the shelter to put on a few extra layers and thought that it would actually be really cool to stay up here on an overnight. And even better to share it with someone would be ideal.
After a brief rest, I was back down the trail and moving towards the summit. The wind was picking up which reports said it would do and this wind was moving right through me. As I maneuvered over rocks and other obstacles, I came to what I assumed was the high point and knew that a ledge was not far off. With a left turn and a hop over some standing water, I was there. The clouds did not give me a view of Moosilauke or the surrounding peaks as I had read. This did not upset me as it seemed to be more about the hike and less about the actual mountains today. A great view is a great reward for a hike but there is something entirely cerebral about a hike in the gloom that has no view. There is something about moving through a trail as you move through distant memories and thoughts. With each step you take, things most often seem to get a little better. The wind continued to pick up and the spray from the clouds was beginning to freeze on the rocks. I set up the tripod and snapped my summit picture for number nine… North Kinsman was officially mine now. The act of taking the summit picture had become something that I looked forward to. That is the final capturing of the accomplishment. Along with eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The rest of the trip, the descend goes unnoticed and almost unreported sometimes. The descend is just that trek back to reality that hikers sometimes don’t want to make.
Today was a little different. Being up there on the summit alone, I was feeling uneasy and more than a little spooked by the howling winds and the freezing spray. In a split second, I decided that South Kinsman would have to wait… I would have to come back again. Better to be safe than sorry is what I said and I began to move back down the trail. Doing the scrambles in reveres was not always easy. Some of them required leaps of faith and balance that I sometimes didn’t have. Going back over the water crossing, I tried to remember exactly the way back and got a little stuck on a few rocks but I was able to negotiate a crossing. I looked back wishing I could remember since I would have to come back this way again to complete South Kinsman.
As I approached the Lonesome Lake shelter, I noticed that the sun was breaking through the clouds. At the base, the weather is often completely different than what is happening at the summits. Because of this, I did not feel bad for turning around. I never feel bad for turning around because of weather. I did stop in at the shelter for a rest and my last PB &J. Things were very quiet there for the dreary afternoon. Only the workers were busy cleaning up from lunch which was served while I was on the summit. I’ve always enjoyed meeting these volunteers as they seemed to have the best trail advice and the best knowledge of the mountains. Some will tell you the more interesting trails to go on for better views and others will give you gear advice. For that conversation, I was thankful for the day.
As I made my way back down the trail towards the car, it was getting crowded here at the base. Lots of people were playing in the leaves and very few making their way to the higher elevations. I was concentrated on getting back to the car. Again, I was spent and my energies were depleted. It was not that it was a bad day on the trail and it’s not like the mountain beat me. I had moments where I beat myself and moments where I was on top of the world. Working through the ups and downs made this a very good day. Number nine was all mine and I would be back for South Kinsman soon…