I checked into my cabin up in Pittsburg, New Hampshire at about three PM. My plan for that Thursday, I was going to do nothing but relax and look at the river that was flowing swiftly by the cabin. Cook myself a nice meal with a good glass of wine and just disconnect for a while. Upon walking into the main living area, I was greeted with the charm this cabin held. A simple gas powered wood stove was the only heat source, there was no TV reception via cable or satellite, and there was no cell phone reception either. I had successfully completely unplugged for the next three days, unless I wanted to drive the 10 miles up to the main lodge to check in with the world. No one was going to be able to get in touch with me unless they had the number to the cabin and I was not going to be able to get in touch with them unless I took a drive. For now, I was content to set up my time and enjoy the solitude.
I had Mount Magalloway set for a climb tomorrow to keep working on another list called 52 with a view and then there would be Cabot (4180ft) on Saturday. Cabot would be my number 10 on my list of 48 4 thousand footers. I had brought all my hiking gear that I had collected so far and that meant that I also brought both pairs of hikers. Of course, my favorite pair was still drying out from Lafayette which seemed so long ago. I looked at the gas stove and looked at my hiker…. I then put the hiker upside down on the stove. I would have them to hike in soon enough! Satisfied that I just made a real hiker move, I laughed and went about unpacking. All I had for entertainment was the music on my laptop, a few books, and whatever wildlife happened to walk onto the property. This of course took the form of a curious grouse over the moose I was hoping for. Pleased with my discovery of a new get away, I settled in as the sun set, book in hand and feet up. Tomorrow I would find out what Pittsburg had to offer me.
A quick stop at the main lodge that morning to check in with my life. Thankfully, nothing major was happening and all was well. I quickly closed up the laptop and decided that I would pick up a few things to remember my stay. I stayed talking to the woman behind the desk and it turned out that one of the hunting guides was also trying to complete his 48. No matter where I went or who I told, I was always finding someone else that was hiking or someone that had already completed them and was going for them again. This hiking community was very active and I was thankful for each contact that I would make. The woman behind the front desk was very friendly and provided me with a list of trails and how to get to them so that I could do some exploring. Everyone was friendly and helpful. No one questioned why I was there alone. The people I met were again, genuinely happy that I was on this journey and more than willing to cheer me along. Because of this, I was already sold on this area and I had determined that I would be back the following year to celebrate my completion of the 48 peaks.
I made my way over some logging roads to the trailhead for Mount Magalloway (3360ft on the 52 with a view list). It was a chilly morning so; I had my heavy fleece coat on as well as a hat and gloves. Judging by the number of hunters in the area in proportion to well… Me, I should have worn something orange. Seeing as I was not in the National Forest all the way up here at the top of the state. But it was too late now so, I had to just keep going. The thing was, the only way to go was…. Up.
Magalloway’s summit was attained by one trail. That one trail was straight up. No switchbacks. No scrambles. Just a back breaking and calf stretching slog straight up. A couple of interesting things caught my eye: The ice that had formed on the ground from water that as it froze and expanded looked like glass ribbons and a fern that was frosted with frost. Because this was just a straight climb, I needed to take a few breaks but those breaks didn’t seem to help considering there was no place to stand flat. My legs were always at an angle and never able to relax. At least not until I reached the summit. I kept walking up and thinking about how lucky I was to have found this place at the top of the state. If I had listened to myself, I never would have made the reservation and I never would have experienced all that I was. Silently, I thanked the source of my finding this place and I kept moving. I reached the summit in just under an hour.
At the top, there was a cabin that the Boy scouts maintained and used in the summer. It seemed too small for a whole troop. There was also a fire tower to give me the view over the tree line. I am not a fan of fire towers because they evoke a kind of feeling of claustrophobia and they bring up my uneasy feeling on high things. I don’t feel safe on them at all so, I spend very little time up there. Just enough to snap a few pictures and I’m down again. I wander around the summit for a little while and here shots from the hunters off in the distance. As I head back down the trail, I smile because going down will be so much easier than coming up. Gravity just takes over and you are down before you know it. I did run into a group of 4 hikers that were making their way through both the 52 with a view list as well as making a return to the 48. One of the gentlemen that was in the group and I were discussing Cabot and he happened to mention that this was his first hike since a family tragedy and that he was going to be getting back to his lifelong 48 list. A person trying to complete the 48 list essentially had a life time to complete it. I’m one of the crowd that wants to do it in a calendar year. People that hear that applaud me and wish me luck. The look on their face is usually one of amazement. We wished each other happy trails and I wished the older gentleman a welcome back to hiking. I continued my descend and made it back to the car in well under an hour. The rest of this day was spent hiking around trails that were around the First Connecticut lake and the area just before the US Canadian Border crossing. I made sure to head back to the cabin around dusk on the off chance that I would see a moose in moose alley. No such luck. The moose were not playing today. I was back at the cabin for another night of relaxation, thoughts, and a good meal. Tomorrow would bring be back down into my familiar playground of the White Mountains. Tomorrow would see me bag my tenth peak; Cabot.
The trailhead was within the Berlin Fish Hatchery which will often close at 4 pm. Because I had no idea how long the hike would take, I opted to park outside of the gate and hike into the trailhead. This probably added an additional two miles to my hike for the day. Not that at this point in my journey it fazed me too much. It was after all, peak foliage season and the walk in was beautiful in yellows and oranges. The morning sky against the leaves was bright blue and the ponds and waterways glittered in the sun. I caught a glimpse of a possible moose in the area as I made my way to the trailhead. Cars would pass me and I could almost guarantee that I would not be alone on the trail today. It was after all a beautiful fall day and any hiker would be a fool to pass it up. Sure enough, at the trailhead, a young guy was tossing a ball for his border collie companion.
“First border collie I’ve seen on the trails. Are you hiking today?” I asked noticing his plates were from Massachusetts.
“Yes. Just waiting for a friend of mine and then we are heading up.” He told me as he tossed the ball to the enthusiastic pup.
“Great. Cabot?” I asked
“Yes.” He said.
“I’ll see you on the trail.” I smiled and left him to wait for his companion.
Heading up the trail, the sun was so warm and I felt a little lighter than in my past hikes. Of course, the sun being warm also meant that I was going to have to take a few layers off for a change. I stripped down to just my T-shirt and was very happy. The trail itself started out as a wide grassy path and I was quickly given a bridge to cross as well as a few water crossings that I could literally just stretch my legs over and keep moving. Ducking into the woods, I was in a sea of yellow for a while as I followed the stream until one red leave caught my eye.
“You seem out of place.” I smiled. “I know the feeling.”
As I kept hiking through the woods, I was given wooden bridges to cross as well as rocks to hop on over water ways. There were wooden beams to pass over a lot of the mud and still the mud on the trail was unavoidable in other places. I laughed as my boots got sucked into it and smiled because I had not had that for some time. I was back to my old hiking self. I was happy and on my way to the top. As I hiked to the junction of the ridge trail, I was greeted by the other hikers that started behind me. There were four hikers and two dogs now in this group. The other dog was a very excited whippet who was going for her first 4 thousand footer. I let them pass me at the junction as I was not interested in hiking with them. It wasn’t that I was being anti-social it was just that this hike found me reconnecting with myself after a string of unfortunate hikes and I wanted to enjoy the feeling. So, I gave them space and took a nice rest for myself. The sun continued to beast down on me and I continued to soak it all in.
At the junction of the Mount Cabot trail, I once again caught up to the other group of hikers. Junctions served as good areas to take breaks and grab food and water for hikers. Looking at the trail signs, I see that the trail is no longer maintained. I remembered what I had read about this trail. Due to a land dispute, the AMC and the land owner each stopped doing trail maintenance on the trail to the summit. I thought to myself that this will be interesting depending on how much the trail has deteriorated. Again, the other group had started ahead of me and I was OK with that. The incline of the trail was steep and that is where I seem to have the most trouble and need to take it slow. I began my final ascent to the summit.
The trail itself was over grown yet still easy to walk. The rocks were easy to walk over and there were a few views along the way. I recognized some high bush cranberries as I was walking and I smiled remembering them on Lafayette. I would stop every 20 or so feet on this section of trail to catch my breath and bring my heart rate back down. I made it to the ledge that Chuck had written me about and stepped out on it to be greeted by the same young guy that I saw at the beginning. I looked out at the view and acknowledged both the younger guy and his friend.
“How can anyone not like this? I mean it’s a perfect day to be on a mountain.” I smiled at them knowing that they understood. “Look at that view!”
They agreed and we chatted about our experiences. They each had about 5 mountains to go on their list of 48 and I told them that this was my tenth. I then asked one of them to take my picture since the summit had no view and I wanted to good summit picture to post. They were more than happy to help me out and I put up ten fingers with a big smile.
“Thank you so much.” I said as they were now getting ready to head up to the summit.
“Don’t forget the summit is not the cairn. It’s the stick nailed to the tree at about 100 feet from the cairn.” Was what I was told.
“Good to know.” I thanked them. “Would not want to summit to not count.”
Again, I lingered on the ledge to let them gain some space on me. I thought about how amazing this vacation had been for me even with that stretch of bad hikes, I was content with what I was doing. I was enjoying this new find in Pittsburgh and already planning my return. I began to make my final ascent to the summit to seek out this stick on the back of a tree.
First this I came to was the Boy Scout cabin and I wondered what it was about the boy scouts and why they needed to put a cabin at the top of every mountain in the North Country? Making my way to the actual summit, there were blow downs to contend with which were easily climbed over or walked around. The summit cairn was tiny under the summit sign which as I was told earlier, was not the actual summit. So, I walked about a hundred feet more and turned behind a tree. Feeling a little foolish, I looked up and there it was. A stick nailed to a tree.
“Really? The AMC has quite a sense of humor.” I found a clear spot to have a sandwich before I made my descent. As I was heading back towards the cabin, I ran into yet another couple and passed on to them about the stick. They had not heard of it either and thus thanked me as they too needed to summit to count. Funny thing about summits counting… We are all on our honor. No one actually checks these things. Yet we all want to be true to the journey. I continued to make my descent and thanked whoever was listening for the easy way down as always.
I caught up to the couple with the whippet who had apparently made the summit but was having a hard time getting back down. She looked so tired and a little shaky. I inquired to see if they needed any help and their decision was to pack her out. Lucky for them, she was small enough to fit in a pack. Lucky dog gets a free ride but the summit won’t count for her. Dogs, like people have to get up and down on their own power. I continued to retrace my steps back the way that I came and ran across a garter snake on the trail. He was kind enough to stop and wait for a picture to be snapped. I was happy that it didn’t take 15 tries to get the shot. With quick thanks, I was under way again. I moved back along the stream and back through the forest of yellow leaves. This hikes song selection appeared to be from Adele (Set Fire to the Rain) and Jimmy Buffets rendition of The Southern Cross. Music has always been a companion and I constantly seem to have a soundtrack playing in my head. The woods just seem to be a perfect place to belt a few of them out.
I made the trek back the car and arrived about a half hour before the fish hatchery was due to close. All the other cars had since begun their journey home. I wondered if I would ever run into any one that I saw today on other trails in the mountains. I changed my shoes and took a moment to look at the pictures I had collected. The weather was still warm for October so, I made my way back to the cabin with the window down. Once safely back at the cabin, I recorded my day’s adventures in the cabin log for others to read as well as a promise to be back next year. It was an early night for me after cooking dinner, the moon had caught my eye out the back slider as I curled up in front of the stove with my book and could scarcely keep my eyes open. Always a sign of a good day, I turned in to read in bed. Tomorrow, I needed to head back to civilization and I was happy because I had reached my goal of ten peaks by the end of my vacation.