As October began, I had rewarded myself with a hiking vacation. In planning it though, it had not started out that way since I had only planned on a few days up at a cabin I was renting as a true "vacation". It evolved into several days of hiking as the time grew closer to accomodate my new found hobby. I had just completed a week of being the emergency on call clinician for my agency and that meant being available twenty four hours a day for that entire week and the kids I work with do not cause trouble durning normal business hours. Taking into consideration the type of job that I do even not being on call, it’s a job that I never really know what to expect day to day, a job that demands a lot of me mentally and sometimes physically, one would think that I’d spend them time on some tropical island or at least a longer stay at the cabin but that is not the case. I am the type that truly needs to keep active and I need to keep moving towards my goal. I need to reach forty eight. And here I was getting ready for numbers six and seven. Often though, in order for me to move forward, it becomes important for me to remember where I had just been and to remember where I had come from. Driving up to the trailhead for Mounts Lafayette and Lincoln, I am reminded in the music playing of exactly where I came from.
Remembering again, the month of July as the month I started hiking, I had also started a short but intense stint in therapy. Back then (and not too long ago) for the first time in my life, things had gotten admittedly out of hand. I had no grasp on things and more things were getting piled on top of me. Feeling as though I was suffocating with a lack of direction and a feeling of real hopelessness for the things that I really wanted, I found solace on the trails but I felt a little empty still. I had concurrently started therapy to sort out my personal darkness and I was diagnosed with depression. Perhaps it had been building for a long time or perhaps it was just a few devastating blows that brought on this phase of my life. I was not shocked to hear this and also considered my medical condition and how that has a component of depression rolled into it. True to myself, I was determined to treat it without medication. I don’t take medication for my thyroid disease so, I was not going to take it for my depression either. And so, we worked and worked hard to reverse some long standing feelings and thoughts as well as unravel some of the newer situations that had recently occured. All the while, I would continue to hike on the weekends and build on my experiences as a positive. Slowly, I began to feel better. I began to feel like myself again. I began to have some success beating my fears on the trails and I was finally connecting with something that I loved to do and something that was apparently beneficial to my mental state. Now, in October I had been on a step down to a once a month appointment. My next one would be after this grand hiking vacation. Depression was not going to stop me and neither was the rain that was about to fall.
I arrived at the trail head for the bridal path and falling waters trail a little before seven am and there are a few cars in the parking lot but not many. Probably the cars that were already there were the ones belonging to late season campers. I gather up my gear and begin to walk towards the trail head. Making a stop at the bathroom before I get going, I am thankful to be in a heavy tourist area (Franconia Notch Parkway off 93). I am not at all concerned that it’s going to be raining at the summits. I am more concerned with the scrambles and water crossings that I have ahead of me. I start off down the trail. I was happy that I remembered my trekking pole and countless other things that I had forgotten on my last hike. As I set out, there was music in my head to keep me company and also there was a phone call from a fellow hiker that seemed to lift my spirit a little. It’s nice to hear from likeminded people sometimes. Standing there just after the first bridge on the trail, I was wished good luck and I was off in earnest.
Being peak foliage season, the trail was full of yellows and reds and still a few shades of green. There seemed to be lots of interesting things to catch my eye. There was a tree that looked like I could crawl under it and countless rock stairs and water crossings. I was really enjoying the ease of the climb but I knew that the real ascend would begin soon. I was told that I should take the bridal path up because it had great scrambles to climb. Someone had suggested that I take this because that person knew that I liked scrambles for the fact that I could put my whole self into the trail. Coming up to this section, I approached them with great excitement. The first one was relatively easy and as usual, after the climb, I’d look back and down at what I had accomplished. The second one was a little more challenging… There was a slight rain falling down and there was also water already running down the scramble.
“Go up the bridal path and hit Lafayette first. You’ll love the scrambles.” I mocked “Bloody fucking brilliant in the rain.” I smile. “But what goes up must come down and I’m not stopping.”
Next thing I know a line for a song pops in my head “So stop talkin’… Put your back into it.” And I start singing as I go up. Nothing like a little music to keep me company. So typical, I never seem to run into anyone on the way up. I keep climbing and singing different verses from different songs. This is also a feat considering the lung power I usually use on the ascent. There is a strange comfort in the music and in the rain that was now falling a little harder. A couple of the last scrambles were completely unsheltered from the trees and had me a little nervous as I climbed completely exposed to the elements and the ground below. I pressed on to the ridge before the greenleaf hut.
Walking the ridge, it was mixed with ledges that showed the beauty of the area (even in the rain) and a few more scrambles thrown in for good measure. The clouds were rolling through and every so often, would allow me a view of the foliage like I had never seen before. I was able to get a look at Cannon Mountains observation deck and seeing that was probably the only reason why I knew it to be Cannon Mountain. I also knew that it was on my list to climb. The rain was picking up and so was the mud on the trail along with the rocks getting slick. This particular climb was about to get interesting due to the weather. Luckily, I had reached the Greenleaf hut. Taking shelter from the rain, I was able to check the weather and have a little something to eat. A group of guys had come in behind me and I watched them. These guys were in shorts, cotton T Shirts, and sneakers. I think I saw one pack between them all and not enough water or food for sure. I was now traveling with a full pack which included safety equipment and extra cloths along with a supply of food and water as well as a decent camping knife at my side. The temps were going down the closer I got to the summit of Lafayette so, I wanted to change from my short sleeve to a long sleeve top. I started rummaging through my pack and found it. Leaving my pack, I found the rest room to change and upon my return, that group of guys was getting ready to hit the trail again.
“Promise me that if it starts thundering, you’ll come back down here?” The AMC worker asked them with a note of telling in his voice.
I knew why he was saying this. Lightening on a rock pile will usually spread and hit anything that it can… including trees, other rocks, and people. Certainly that would just ruin any hike. This group of guys however, did not seem too concerned about things. I along with the AMC worker was concerned for them. We stood around talking for a while and the volunteer was satisfied that I knew what I was doing on the trails. He had commented that judging by the full pack, the fact that I changed for the weather, and my equipment, that he had confidence in me hiking today. He also had confidence that I could complete my 48 peaks.
“Do me a favor? I know you’ll catch up to them. Look out for them?” He asked me.
“Sure.” I told him. It seemed like the right thing to do. And with that, I was off down the trail again. The rain was coming down harder now as I disappeared into the trees and left the hut behind.
On the ascent to the peak of Lafayette, I did catch up with that group of guys from the hut. They were looking a little ragged and cold but they were still going. We began to play a game of hiker leap frog going up to the summit. This is essentially where groups of hikers pass one another on the trail as the other group rests. At first they tried to play it up that they were getting ahead of me. I made them aware that hikers hike their own trail at their own speed. Lesson number one was given. They reached the summit before I did and as I crested the top, I offered to take a picture of the group of them.
“Is this your first four thousand footer?” I asked them and received a few strange looks. “There are forty eight of them and some, like me are climbing them all. This is my sixth and Lincoln will be my seventh.”
They were not planning on bagging the peaks. This group was just up hiking for the weekend. They had no idea what they were doing. After stopping for a rest and a little something to eat again, they were off and I was soon to follow. I first explored the old ruin of a structure. As I crested the other side of the summit, I felt the cold air hit me. I had plenty of cold weather gear in my bag already so, I pulled out my gloves in addition to the hat I was already wearing. Again, I had caught up to the group of college students.
“Wow. We don’t have any of that stuff.” I was told.
“You really need to be prepared for anything up here. “ I told them. “Please tell me you at least have a first aid kit?”
“Nope. Didn’t think we’d need one.” Was the answer I got from them.
Lesson number two for this crowd. Someone should always have a first aid kit. I separated from their group again partly to enjoy my hike and partly because I needed to slow my pace. I was in no hurry to get back down the bottom. I continued to hike along the ridge and navigated some tight sections in a couple of places in the clouds. Visibility was going down fast as I made my way to Lincoln. Knowing that it was not far from Lafayette, it took me no time at all to reach the summit however, because it was unmarked, I did have to ask a passing hiker if I was indeed standing on the high point. Number seven was indeed mine. With the rapidly deteriorating weather, I began to make my way to a bonus peak called Little Haystack which was too close to Lincoln to be considered for the for thousand footer list.
On my way there, I caught up once again to that group of college guys. They were still making their way down although they were moving a little quicker due to the weather and not wanting to be cold anymore. Together we navigated a stretch of trail that was narrow and had a severe drop on either side. With the decreased visibility, it was rather tricky but not completely out of the question. I had asked them what they thought of Lincoln and was told that they did not think that they had reached it. Explain to them that it was the unmarked high point about 10 minutes back from where we were, they didn’t seem too much care at that point. On ward they walked to Little Haystack and we separated again.
The summit of Little Haystack was a lot busier than the other ones on the ridge. It was becoming clear to me that most everyone had started from this end of the loop so, I was happy to have started at the other end. When the trail is less crowded, I seem to do better. After spending a little time of the summit, I headed back into the trees. What I found on this end of the loop was a mix of experienced and inexperienced hikers. There were two young women huddled together on the trail. One was trying to warm her hands with hand warmers to no avail. Her hands were ghostly white due to her poor circulation. She really wanted to summit all three of the peaks.
“It does you no good to try this if you can’t feel your hands.” I tell her “The mountains will always be here.”
They did the smart thing which was to turn back. I continued my descent stopping to talk to a few friendly hikers along the way. Mostly people were asking how far it was to the summit. No matter how far away I got from it, it was always about fifteen minutes away. You lose track of time on the trails and you really don’t mind that it happens. I’m making my turn onto the falling waters trail and I once again run into the group of college guys that I have been following. They were breaking for the last little bit of food that they had with them. I kept walking and preferred to just greet them and keep going at this point. I had a lot of water crossings and water falls to deal with.
At one particular section of trail, the group had caught up to me again and I was trying to navigate a tricky water crossing. While they were trying to be helpful and get me across, the noise that they made threw off my concentration and my right hiker went into the water. Completely submerged. I was both worried and mildly upset. I could feel how wet my foot was after I had gotten to the other side and given how wet my hiker actually was, changing my sock was not going to do any good. So, I needed to keep moving. The good thing was that I was nearing the end so; I just needed to keep going.
The falling waters trail was leading me by a series of waterfalls that even in the rain looked beautiful in the fall colors. The trail itself would lead me down onto the rock faces of the waterfalls and walk me right by falling water. I was amazed and I completely forgot about my wet foot. Watching my footing so that I don’t fall again, I am careful. Loosing myself in my surroundings and some of the thoughts of the day, I started to sing…. “I am just a poor boy, Though my story's seldom told. I have squandered my resistance , For a pocket full of mumbles such are promises. All lies and jests. Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest…” This song always made me think of how far I had come in life and seemed to fit the moment. Making my way through the trail, I was lead back into the trees. “In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade and he carries the reminders of ev'ry glove that layed him down or cut him till he cried out in his anger and his shame "I am leaving, I am leaving" but the fighter still remains…” I kept singing as I walked. I was leaving a lot on the trails today but I was taking a lot of new experiences with me.
I was stopped by a family that was crossing another section of water. They were attracted to my hiking cloths and in particular my pants that were waterproof. Chatting for a little while I pointed them to getting away from cotton clothing in favor of clothing that would keep them warm and dry. They appreciated the lesson and I moved on. Getting closer to the parking area, I ran into people that were not hikers at all. Some had umbrellas on the trail to keep them dry. Others appeared to be in a silent argument with their partners over hiking on a day like today when she didn’t even want to hike in the first place. I laughed at the sights that I saw and decided to let them all be. Not everyone was cut out to do the hiking that I was doing. I made it back to the car in fine time and decided to drive home with the heat cranked up and my boot off. Seeing as I had no other shoes, I made a note to always have a change of shoes in the car for myself. I smiled all the way home realizing that a new life for myself was truly unfolding and I was feeling entirely at peace. Tomorrow would be a well-earned day of rest for me.