By Wednesday of that late October week, I had decided that Eisenhower and Pierce would be in line for that coming Saturday. I wanted to get as many peaks under me as I could before the winter set in as I was still unsure about hiking in snow let alone hiking in winter. Again, the horror show of what could happen would play in my mind and would serve as a block to hike in winter for the time being. So, I set a plan in motion to hike up Eisenhower and Pierce in the Presidential range. First things first, I made a trip to EMS to pick up a new pack, and hydration system. Along with whatever else I could find since that store was a designated trouble spot for my wallet.
Friday night, I nailed down the route and posted it on line so that people would have some idea of what was going on for the day. It also served as a way for people to know if something went wrong as I followed a clear plan of posting when I was starting, and when I was down from the summit. This was also followed by posting the pictures that night so that people knew that I was home completely safe. God forbid something was wrong and I missed one of those steps, my safety plan would have to be enacted and that would mean search and rescue would be called and that is the last thing that I want to happen. As winter approached, this weighed heavy on my mind. I’m more cautious when I am a solo hiker and less apt to take risks because I know that people are worried about me.
In fact, as I headed up the Edmunds Path that Saturday morning, I was thinking about the number of people who spoke up saying that they worry about me hiking alone. I put it out of my mind and I crossed a series of flat stumps and then the first bridge over water. The thought came back to me as the rain was beginning to come down and I was reminded that today’s weather was forecasted to be not so pleasant. Not bothered by this usually, I had become accustomed to hiking in the rain. I stopped to put on my rain gear and was suddenly taken by the thought of rescue again. Maybe it was the weather or maybe it was the fact that this was the presidential range and no matter what, there was an element of risk involved. I just could not shake these thoughts.
As I moved through the wooded path, it gave way to sections of boulders for hoping and some minor scrambles. The rain was letting up so I changed from rain gear again but put on another layer of fleece as it was getting cold. As far as the trail went, I was comfortable with the incline and the weather was not having too much of an effect on me. What I seemed to be thinking about was the fact that there I was… On the trail… Alone for now. And again, the thought occurred to me that this was radically different than last week with Chuck and Cheryl and of course I had to laugh since I would be seeing them the following day for a hike up Jackson. I also had to laugh because of the many discussions on how they don’t hike in bad weather and thus, never have a bad hike.
Continuing my ascent through the trails below tree line, I happened to catch a rather interesting looking tree that reminded me of Halloween and how much I had loved that holiday in the past. I briefly remembered old friends that had come and gone in my life and those old friends that had stuck around through many changes both positive and negative. Trying to loosen the roots of the past and move forward was sometimes harder than it seemed as I remembered, I said to myself;
"With you I could never be myself. Yet through you, I was more able to become myself."
I was again thankful for all those that have shaped my life and lead me to that very point on the trail. My hikes always seemed more introspective when alone and while I enjoy it, today, I wanted a lighter feeling hike. The weather and my thoughts can sometimes be a deadly combination for my mood. I continued to move through these thoughts and the incline began to get steeper. The ascent was getting tougher as the trail wound through the trees and upwards. There was a series of large smooth boulders to get over lead me to a cairn. The cairn marked the beginning of some tougher scrambles as well as to sections of the trail that were predominantly roots and dirt. It was here that I caught my first glimpse of snow. Not rime ice but honest to goodness snow… In October.
As I continued, I came across a few water crossings that were not too difficult but gave me reason to pause and really think of my footing. Considering how high up I was at this point, the fact that these crossings were completely open and exposed, and the wetness of the rocks from the water and the rain, I figured I had better be careful. Again, the thoughts of all those that worry creep back to me. The trail turned to loose slate and soon the green moss on the sides of the trail was covered in snow. Another few feet and I am looking at the White Mountains Stop sign…. “Stop: The area ahead has the worst weather in America. Many have died there from exposure, even in summer. Turn back now if the weather is bad.” I always have a little giggle at this sign. It seems so ominous to me. Below this sign is the sign for the Alpine Zone so, I know that I am not far from the top now. I smile knowing this.
The clouds begin to roll in about 10 steps away from that bad weather sign. I am completely enclosed in clouds and I can barely see around me let alone in front of me. I am on a ridge walk that is comprised of the same stone formation that I experienced on Washington. These stones are very loose, very ragged, and very wet from the rain/snow that has been falling.
“Maybe there was something to that sign back there…” I said to myself as I tried to balance and cross the stones. I kept moving forward though and I was still determined to get both my peaks for the day.
As I came to a bend in the trail to head to the summit of Mount Eisenhower, the snow really began to fall. Because of the wind, it was stinging my face and I would have to stop and wipe it from my glasses. I began making a mental list of more equipment that I would need to buy before long. Winter was no longer coming, it was here and I was hiking in it. I kept making my way to the summit. Pausing at a trail junction to get my bearings and try and see which way it was to the summit of Eisenhower. I made my way over stones and was brought to some wooden beam stairs. My legs no longer hurt due to the lack of incline and I was moving at a pretty good place considering the conditions. It was not slippery so, my lack of traction for my feet didn’t bother me. Coming up and over the path of wooden beams, I get my first look at the cairn marking the high point. I smile and congratulate myself knowing that another goal is reached. I drop my pack at the base and begin to fish out my number and my tripod. It did not appear that anyone else was around on the summit this day so, a self-portrait would have to do.
As I am getting the camera set on the small tripod, two younger hikers also appear out of the clouds.
“Beautiful day!” We all laugh at his statement. It turns out that they were coming from Mount Pierce and this was their second stop.
I ask them to take my picture to capture the summit for my journey. The snow was still coming down and they wanted to get below the high point to have something to eat. I wanted to get over to Pierce before I lost too much time or the weather got too bad (not that it wasn’t bad already). The snow was still stinging my face as I got my pack squared away and on my back. Heading down the trail I thought was to Mount Pierce, I wished them happy trails.
As I continued walking, the questions began again. What was I doing up here in a snow storm that I could barely see my way in? The trail was becoming covered over and hard to distinguish as I tried to make my way and trail signs were getting covered. I did my best to navigate and eventually lost the trail for a little while. I stood still where I was standing on a rock overlooking a junction and tried to see if anyone was coming. And luck was on my side because I did see a few people. I knew that I was off the trail to Pierce so, in meeting up with this group, I was able to take a look at their map to find I was indeed heading in the direction of Monroe. Not where I wanted to be heading at all. I thanked them and asked them to be careful as I headed back to Eisenhower. I figured it would be best to go back to the summit and then head back down to ground level at this point. The weather was getting way too bad.
Back at the cairn, I came across another set of hikers who were much older and I felt a little out of place being the only female there. I really needed to have something to eat at this point so, I decided to take a break and catch my breath. This particular group of hikers began pulling cans out of their packs… Cans of beer. Of course my first thought was that they could have brought a better selection. My second thought was that it was not actually a good idea to down a beer on a 4 thousand plus foot mountain. But everyone has their own summit “thing”. I joined in the conversation about gear and one of the gentlemen kept admiring my hiking boots while the others just seemed impressed that I was up there by myself and hiking the 48.
Unfortunately, the weather was still picking up and I wanted to get back down to ground level so, I said my good byes to this group and wished them luck up there on the rock pile. It was truly becoming a nasty day to be up there. I made my way back towards the sign that marked such a change in the weather. Once past that sign, the weather seemed to improve. It was still raining however; it was easier to see which is really all that matters. I can hike in just about any weather but give me really high winds and diminished sight and I am not comfortable at all.
As I am making my way back to the parking area, I am running into people that seem to be turning back as well. Not because they heard the weather reports but because they could not make the summit on their own. Some overestimated their ability and some just didn’t have the right gear for the climb. As I was getting closer to the parking area, a young man was behind me and happened to comment that I kept a good pace. I was surprised give that this was the end of a hike that probably wore me out a little. I was able to lead the way right to the parking area and he thanked me for it.
I loaded up the car and changed from my hikers to my shoes. There is no better feeling than doing this and I believe that my feet actually let out a s sigh when this happens. There’s no cell service this deep in the woods so, I need to wait until I am almost back on the interstate to pull over and post that I am down safe and sound from the climb. By doing this, all those that worry about me are put at ease and also, this allowed Chuck and Cheryl to know that I did not make it to Pierce. They in turn, unknown to me at this point, decide to amend tomorrows hike to include Pierce… Just for me. As I am driving home, I am a little upset that I could not make the summit and then I remember… The mountain will always be there. One wrong step in bad weather, and I may not be. So, I made the right choice to get down from there. I made it home in good time to repeat the process from the previous weekend which was to clean up, eat, and repack for the following day. Jackson (and Pierce) was calling to me.