After arriving home from hiking Eisenhower, I had emailed Chuck and Cheryl to let them know that I was game for Jackson the next day and that I was thinking of adding Pierce for myself. This is the decision I came to on the way home after shaking my head in disgust of not making it the firs time. Oh, I knew that the mountains always win in this game but I’m the type of person that when I set my mind to something, there is no stopping me. They already had Pierce in their list of 48 so; I was not going to make them do it again. I also was aware that I was leaving myself open to a good natured ribbing, for the adventure, and even though that would be the case, it was nice to get a response such as this. (Especially when you still feel bad for missing a peak even though it was out of your control.)
“Rachel, Rachel, Rachel…When are you going to learn? We bring the good weather with us when we hike; you seem to think it’s a memory card and forget it! Lol…. We knew you posted to Facebook as soon as you come down so we knew about missing Pierce and being the extremely kind nice super great awesome couple we are, we started Plan B (add Pierce to Jackson tomorrow for Rach-Jaff), if you want us too otherwise you’ll probably be in the snow again! Lol Webster Cliff Trail goes over to the Mizpah Hut from Jackson, from there is that straight up part to Pierce. You can take the Mizpah cutoff too, but that will add another 1.1 miles to bag Pierce. We swore we’d never do it again, but when one of the Fantastic Four is in need, all of the Fantastic Four is in need. Meeting at trail head or Nashua still your call (Abby has had a bath)…”
I had realized that I truly lucked out with regard to hiking partners and I would gladly take the picking in order to complete Pierce and stay on track for the completion of the 48 next September 2012. There was no question about it for me now, I was in… All in.
Meeting at LL Bean in Concord NH, was perfect for me. I was able to once again get everything set for the morning and get to bed at a reasonable time. I was even able to get to the meet up spot early so that I could get my gear in order for easy transfer to their Jeep Liberty. Even at such an early hour, everyone was happy to see each other again. We were set to head off to the mountains and in the quiet of the morning, the joking started about my adventure the previous day. It was sort of a continuation of the email in that hiking in good weather was always a better plan. It seemed to cut down on missing peaks and generally having a better experience. In truth though, I did not mind hiking in different weather. I just didn’t like not completing my goal for that day.
Chuck and Cheryl filled the car ride up to the trailhead with information concerning where I could find other mountains. They pointed to different exits and told me which ones could be reached from the exits. I took everything in that I was being told and even took a few notes. The sun was beginning to reveal the mountains and as we drove through Franconia Notch, we all tried to get a good look at the “property”. Satisfied that the mountains were doing well, we set our sights on today’s hike.
Parking at the Crawford Depot, we again got our gear situated. I was able to show them my new pack and hydration system and we started out down the road to the trail head. Chuck introduced me to Elephant Head. It’s not even a peak really. But it does look like the head of an elephant. We joked that after we finished the forty-eight peaks, we were going to conquer Elephant Head. Then the thought also occurred to us that Elephant Head could also be the elusive forty-ninth peak. I could feel myself smiling and settling into the hike. We had some fun on one of the ledges overlooking the road by making it look like we took the hard way to get up to that point. These breaks served as a good chance for me to stop and breathe a little sometimes as the ascent always provided me with a good cardio work out and really gave me a challenge sometimes.
Continuing on, the trail seemed to get a little wet and muddy in places. This was so common at this point that it really didn’t faze any of us. We followed a stream for a time and at our next break, another hiker was coming back down from what we thought was the summit. However, after talking with him, we found out that he actually had not made it because it was “Full of water on the trail” and it was too much for him. The three of us (and maybe Abby too) looked at one another with questions but didn’t ask. We all noted that he had not packed the right gear but had these great big gloves on. We parted and all began to wonder out load about the supposed wet trail that we would encounter. As we kept walking, we then encountered another inhabitant of the trails… The gray jays. These are trail birds that are in the Blue Jay family. They are opportunistic and will eat right out of your hand if you have something for them. These birds will also wait patiently for you to get the food out for them. Both Chuck and Cheryl took their turn feeding them and getting it on video. I was also able to get the feeding on film. I however, did not take my turn. Part of me did not want to feed them as they were supposed to be wild birds. It didn’t seem right. But part of me also wanted to feed them and I knew there would be other opportunities.
Continuing on the trail, we noted again that the trees were getting shorter and that was a good sign that we were getting nearer to the top. We began to once again joke about how quickly we could complete the 48 by photo shopping ourselves into other pictures with similar views and calling it a summit picture. There was also the continued thought of installing escalators to the top or maybe an elevator in the case of bad weather. All of this was of course in good fun and out of fatigue as we were all now committed to completing the forty-eight honestly.
On our approach to the summit, we got views of the surrounding peaks and at the actual summit; we all noted that Eisenhower was still in the clouds. The jokes about my experience in the snow started up again and I laughed a long with them. We had taken our packs off to rest for a while and take some video as well as our summit pictures. Jackson was my number fifteen peak and I had opted to sit for this one. We each had a granola bar and as we were eating, the gray jays made a repeat appearance. I jumped at the chance this time to feed them because it looked like fun when my hiking partners were doing it. They were also able to capture it on video which I was happy about. This mission, adventure, quest, whatever you wanted to call it, was just as much about doing something I thought I could never do as it was about collecting some really great memories.
As we got our packs back on our backs, the jokes began again about heading over to Pierce and how Chuck had already completed it. There were also a few comments about the snow from yesterday which seemed to be non-existent on the summit of Jackson. And this also marked the start of our on going joke concerning Pterodactyl’s swooping down on us instead of Gray Jay's. We all laughed as we began to descend and even though the first scramble after the summit looked a little tricky, we all made it with relative ease. Again as we walked the conversation turned to all things Fantastic four related and the plans we had for our organization. Sometimes it would seem that our imaginations would run wild on the trails and we would dream up the coolest products and scenarios. As we were walking though we came to some beams over mud. Unaware of how deep it actually was, we all watched as Abby decided to try her hand at walking in it. With no luck at all, she appeared to be sinking into the mud bog and with a little help from Chuck was pulled back up onto the planks. She was covered up to her belly in mud. Of course, the humans of the group had a good laugh on top of being worried about her.
It was not long after the mud bogs that we came to the Mizpah Cut off for the AMC Mizpah hut. My legs were starting to ache but nothing was going to stop me from getting Pierce now. I was too close and not in a position to turn back any way so, we kept moving forward. Once at the hut, even though it was closed for the season, we were all able to break and rest. I grabbed a granola bar to get me to the top of Mount Pierce and as we regrouped, we were greeted by another hiker coming down from the summit. According to him, the trail was in good shape and not to watery or muddy. From this comment, we were reminded of the guy who bailed out of summiting Jackson earlier in the day. We again wondered where all this water was coming from that he had experienced. There were thoughts that because I was a therapist, maybe I could help him. That was if we could find him. Then as we began our ascent, I was reminded how not just anyone would summit a peak for a second time and that this is what being a member of the hiking group called the fantastic four really meant. In truth, it meant a lot to me. I really liked the company on the trails and today had been full of laughs.
Of course then I remembered what sometimes happened on these trails. They go up… As in vertical and don’t seem to level off until you get to the summit. These were the sections of the trails that made me sometimes question what I was doing and why I was doing it. My lungs would heave and my heart would pound and I would just keep going. No sense in stopping given the positives way out weighing the negatives on this journey. My legs were screaming at me almost in unison with my lungs but I was able to block them out and eventually appease them with some ladders that gave some variety to the hike. Within five minutes of going over some rocks, we were making our way up the ledges and the sky opened up for us. We could see forever and that sight made me forge the argument that I was having with my body. After the ledges, we came to the summit. Someone by the name of Sylvie Guy, or maybe it was Sylvie and Guy had completed their set of 48 on Pierce and marked it by a stone on the cairn. Each of us thought that this was a great idea and we discussed what we could do for our 48th peak. Of course this lead to a conversation about hiking our 48th peak the wrong way. This would have entailed wearing the wrong gear and carrying the wrong supplies as we had seen so many doing before. These were the people we worried about. The people that really needed to consider what they were doing on a mountain. The ones that you wondered if they were trying to make it to the summit or were just out for a walk in the woods and took a wrong turn, unsure of how to get themselves out of it. We laughed about these experiences and at the same time, the laugh was mixed with concern. We try to teach as many as will listen and that is how we can tell the hikers from the non-hikers. The hikers will listen and take things in. The non-hikers will tell you that they are in fact not hikers.
On the summit of Pierce, Cheryl took my summit picture and we sat to have lunch. There were no gray jays to visit us so, we assumed that our other gray jays got tired or were off to find other hikers. There was also no one else on the summit with us so, we had a nice break and enjoyed the views. As we descended via the Crawford path I was again reminded that this was the way I should have gone up Eisenhower. And while it was an easier path, I enjoyed Edmonds path to Eisenhower just as much. We made a stop towards the bottom at Gibbs Falls and Abby was able to wash the mud she had collected off her legs and paws. I was suddenly not feeling well in terms of it felt like I had pulled something in my shoulder but I kept this quiet. I figured it would work itself out so; I kept moving the shoulder around. The falls themselves were very nice although not running at full capacity. There was a joke about someone not turning the valve on for us and apparently that someone would need to be spoken too. These conversations broke up the hike into some very entertaining scenarios and made all of us laugh. As we left the falls and came out to the road, we stopped by the sign board were I was able to model my second favorite sign next to the one that posts about the worst weather in America. I was then reminded, much like at the beginning of the hike that it’s always better to hike in good weather. I do like the adventure that some bad weather gives me and I was pretty sure at this point that some winter hiking might be in order to give it a try.
We made our way back to the Liberty parked at the Crawford Depot. A stop for coffee at our Dunkin’ Doughnuts off of exit 28 on 93 south was in order and then it was home to start planning the following week’s hikes.