Driving back from Pittsburgh NH that Sunday in October at the end of my vacation, I was driving through Franconia Notch State Park. I laughed at Cannon and threw my fist up at it.
“I beat you.” I said to the mountain as if it was a person. “I don’t have to climb you again.” Although somehow, I know that I actually will climb it again someday.
I can’t even explain why I have such a reaction to a big pile of rocks. Just that the climb that day has stuck with me and while I think that the mountain is beautiful with its sheer rock face, I’m just done with it. I have no desire to climb that one again at the moment. Although, anyone that knows the trails knows that you can never count out a mountain for a re-climb. I was even done with North Kinsman. Well, except for the fact that I needed to climb over it to get to South Kinsman. Again, driving by the mountain, I grimaced since I’d have to go back there… Again. I convinced myself that it would be just that one final time and then I’d be done with the south bound side of Franconia Notch for the time being. It would be completed with my conquering South Kinsman. I felt a little better realizing this and as I drove, I figured that if the weather was good for the weekend that is exactly what I’d do. Just get it done and over with and besides, it’s just a mountain and I apparently was set on a trail to climb them. It also made little sense to me to let it hang there undone. So, I might as well complete it and then move on to other sections of the forest. As the week wore on, I made plans to finally be done with the Kinsman’s and then the plan was to bag Liberty and Flume the following day with Chuck and Cheryl and their dog Abby whom I had not seen since The Osceola's. While the question still hung in the air if I would make it, I was planning on a full weekend of hiking and I was very happy about this.
Thankfully, in the week I had gone back to work from vacation, Saturday morning came very quickly, I have the pleasure of being very busy with my work so, the week does have a tendency to blur and when I focus, it’s usually Friday. I was off down the road and heading up north to my new home away from home, the Lafayette Place Campground and Trailhead. I pulled the car around and practically threw it into the same parking space as I had done twice before. It felt a little redundant at this point and almost laughable but this would be the day that I finish off this side of the notch.
‘What goes up…” I said to myself as I crossed the bridge that lead from the parking area to the trail.
As I walked, I noted that there was still a lot of water on the trail and outside of that; the beginning of the trail had not changed at all. Well, except for the fact that the bathroom was now closed up and padlocked tight. There was still the large incline to climb before heading down to Lonesome Lake and even the cloud cover gave this area the same look as the previous two visits. I stopped in at the Lonesome lake shelter to get my gear situated and have a little something to eat as I seemed to be hungry this morning. I struck up a conversation with one of the guides about turning back on a trail. Seeing as I had turned back the last time I was on the summits, she agreed that I made the right choice. She also related that there was a time she turned back because someone in her party just gave up. The guide related that she truly dislike turning back for this particular member of her hiking party however, hiking safe declares that if you hike as a group, all decisions are unanimous and if one member is not comfortable or needs to turn back, all members must follow. It’s unanimous that weather is always a good reason to turn back. She hoped that she would see me on the return trip and wished me happy trails.
Hooking back onto the Fishin’ Jimmy trail, I again notice that the water is high on the trails and the mud is plentiful. There seems to be a new waterway that had popped up since I was last here too. Thankfully it is one to follow and not to cross. It actually gave the trail a different feel to it and I was thankful for the change as I had already come this way once. Perhaps the other good thing was that the clouds were lifting and I could see some of the views heading to North Kinsman that I had not seen before. I found myself to be enjoying the hike up and even the tricky water crossing were the water was now higher, did not faze me. I looked back on that one impressed with how easy the water crossings had become. I was progressing in my confidence to complete these hikes. The climb up to the first summit of North Kinsman was a little tricky seeing as it was wetter than when I was last on the trail. I just needed to take some extra time and watch my footings.
Coming up to the Ridge junction, I opted to not go over to the shelter again. I wanted to get over to south Kinsman and claim my summit and that was the only thing that was on my mind. Coming up over the ridge to North Kinsman, I paused just long enough to smile because I had already been there once. I then dipped down and began my descent before I ascended South Kinsman. I noted that this hike was largely a mental hike as I was not really talking nor was I thinking about things. I was just concentrated on the trail and that for the first time, felt really good to me. Finally able to fully move forward and not really looking back on anything. I was for once just in the moment and not in the past. As I made my way to the summit of South Kinsman, I was presented with views of the surrounding mountains and I was once again, in awe of my surroundings.
This particular hike, I ran into a fellow hiker and his dog Pepper. We stopped on the trail just before the summit and we were commenting on our mutual hobby and the sheer number of peak lists that is out there. He made the comment that I’d soon be doing “the grid” which is when a hiker does the 48 peaks each month for an entire year. He also showed me some of his hiking gadgets that he had packed for measuring the wind and weather. After briefly measuring the wind and proving the Mount Washington observatory wrong with regard to the wind speed (they had predicted speeds that were way higher), he was heading off in the direction of North Kinsman and I was taking the last steps to South Kinsman.
I came to the summit which really seemed to me to be a broad clearing. There was in the center a cairn to mark the high point. Given the broad shape of the summit, it almost seemed that I was on a flat plane looking at the surrounding peaks. I noted that the trail continued by the showing of a white blaze. The white blaze marks the Appalachian Trail and I paused to think of all the thru hikers that had passed over this section. I grabbed my summit picture which also marked my moving to paper signs to keep track of the numbered peaks. I’m not even sure why I was keeping track so precisely, it just seemed like the appropriate thing to do as I counted up to 48. Even though I was only on 11, I had already begun to feel like I was too far in now to turn back or to quit this journey all together. I paused again on the summit and hard the wind starting to rise from off in the distance. It’s amazing the things that a person can experience when they are still and quiet on a mountain top.
I began to make my way back to North Kinsman and came to the realization that I will have summited North Kinsman 3 times at the end of the day today.
“Do I get anything for that? I mean is there a patch for having to summit a peak three times?” I asked out loud and laughed because my friends had a thing for creating vinyl patches for different accomplishments. It was just one of the many trail jokes that we had between us. Climbing back over some rocks and then making my way back to the same ledge that I had stood on before, I looked out on the view that I had missed the first time. This would be the last time (for a while) that I would see North Kinsman. I sat and pulled out my sandwich as my stomach was now speaking to me and I heard a group of approaching hikers.
“Forty SEVEN!” One of them yelled from the actual high point.
Then all at once, my quiet ledge was full of laughter and conversation. People were taking pictures and congratulating the gentleman on his next to last peak. Oddly enough, I ended up getting in a conversation about real estate with his friend. As I continued to eat my sandwich, people would file on and off the ledge from this large hiking group. The small talk consisted of my name, where I’m from, and what number peak I was on. Of course, I was proud of having made it to 11 and the people I spoke with congratulated me. It’s a really good feeling to be recognized for the bagging of a peak. There’s no competition that says, one hiker is better than another for bagging more. We are all on our own personal journey and as I sat on North Kinsman, I was very pleased with myself for all that I had done so far. Little did the other hikers know that a year ago, I could not even dream of walking down my road let alone hiking a mountain.
The hiking group eventually moved on to South Kinsman and I backed up my food and got ready to make the descend back to the parking area.
“One last time.” I said as I got back on the trail from the ledge. I noticed that the clouds were rolling in and around the summit. “What’cha got for me now?” I asked and kept walking.
Heading back down the scrambles and back into the tree line, it quite suddenly began to hail all around me.
“Really? Hail? Seriously?” I commented to the sky. “I’ve had it all today and on these mountains ya know.”
It wasn’t even large size hail. Just enough to get me to notice and usually when things like that happen, I take it as a message or a sign. Someone was trying to get my attention. The only puzzling thing that remained with me was; why hail?
As I made my way back over to the junction where the Kinsman Shelter was, I was greeted by more hikers that had significantly heavier loads that I had. As it turned out, they were heading to the shelter to camp for the night. More hikers soon followed and I figured they were heading for the tent platforms since they would probably find the shelter a little crowded with the other group. I continued making my way back down to the base and continued to run into people still heading up to the summit. It always amazed me that in the afternoon, people were attempting a summit simply because it didn’t seem right to sleep in and then hike. There is however, a certain understanding that if you are going to do this, it should be started early and in any weather.
I had reached the Lonesome Lake Shelter and stopped in to rest before making the final leg back to the car. It was beginning to rain a little so I wanted to get my rain gear out as well. I also wanted to let the woman that I was talking with in the morning know that I made it out and back safely. I ended up meeting a young mother who had her son on her back in a carrier. He was just a tiny little thing and this was his first hike.
“Let me take a picture of you all if you have not gotten one yet. You’re going to want to remember this.” The young mother smiled and agreed. She passed me her camera and I snapped a few shots. Passed the camera back to her and they were on their way out and up the trail. I smiled appreciating the brief interaction. Sometimes it seemed as if that was all there was on the trail between people. Brief interactions that eventually fade. The thing of it is though, if you run into that hiker again, they usually remember you
Hiking back to the car, I felt oddly as if I would miss this particular set of trails. I was still determined to not come back here any time soon though. The mountains had made an impression on me. And as I drove back down the road, I again wondered what I got for summiting North Kinsman three times? The rain started to come down in the bright sun and I got my answer….
Then I remembered that tomorrow, I would see some good friends for another leg of this journey.