Life as I had known it had changed in terms of my hiking all weekend, every weekend. Now, every other weekend was taken up with kids and activity and laughter that I welcomed into my life, as I had welcomed him and the kids into my home. On one of our weekends without the kids, we had chosen to climb Adam’s, the second tallest of the 48 and the second tallest of the Presidentials. I was a little surprised that he would choose such a tall peak to climb for his first climb back into the hiking season and post tonsillectomy. Yet, I did not dissuade him. I encouraged him and figured that if he was choosing Adam’s, it was because he could in fact conquer such a peak. I was caught between being excited to finally get the peak that had eluded me on two separate occasions and the fact that I was finally going on a hike with him. It had taken us a month to get to this point.
That Saturday while he was working, I made the preparations by packing a bag for us and my backpack for the hike, I got the food together, and reserved the hotel room. After all, if we were going to do this, we were not going to get up so early to drive up to the trailhead. I had found a great deal on a room at the Mt. Madison Inn in Gorham New Hampshire. Once he got home from work, we packed up the jeep and headed off down the road with a quick stop at EMS for what was originally a pair of microspikes and turned into a snack, snowshoe, and clothing spree. Then we were off down the road together and I was… Nervous.
Nervous, not because we were going away together for the first time. Not because we were hiking Adam’s and it was a big peak. I was nervous because I didn’t want to make a fool out of myself. I had been hiking either by myself or with a few other people for under a year and had a lot to learn still. We’d already been through the contents of my pack and got that down to a manageable level. But this was a day going up the side of a very tall mountain, together. What if he out hikes me? What if he loses patience and literally laughs at my lack of hiking skills as he out hikes me to the summit? What if my balance gives out and I start falling all over myself and the mountain? These are the things that go through my head because this has meant so much to me for so long that I don’t want to be let down nor let him down. I push these very intrusive thoughts out of my head and we sit down to a nice dinner after checking into the hotel.
We sit at the bar at a local pizza joint and talk to the people sitting around us. One was cracking jokes and another couple was trying to view pictures downloaded on their iPhone. We were just excited to share that we were hiking Adam’s in the morning and we needed a good place for breakfast. I would look to him and wonder to myself if it was really going to happen. Were we actually going to take the hike that we had been talking about since we met a month ago? Of course we were.
That morning, we woke up at about 5:30 and were ready by 6am for breakfast. The car was packed again and we checked out of the hotel. This had to have been the first hike where I didn’t have just a cup of coffee and a PB&J in the car on the way up north. Instead, it was coffee, eggs, home fries, and bacon. We are not morning people so, the conversation was minimal, just enough to continue the excitement and to discuss my ongoing journey to the end of the 48 peaks. The conversation continued to the trailhead and we discussed different people we had hiked with. He sounded like he had a great couple of hikes with two other women friends and I wanted to meet them and possibly hike with them as well.
The trailhead for Adam’s was the same one I had used with my two other hiking companions for Madison a few months back. I smiled thinking of that hike and how much fun it was above tree line and. We got our gear together from the back of the jeep, changed our shoes for our hikers, and made sure that everything was set to go. I started the GPS to track the hike and we headed off down the trail. It was just over 4 miles to the summit of Mt. Adams and we were taking the Airline trail. I had no idea what we were in for and I was looking forward to the adventure with him all the same. There was no snow on the lower trails and as we walked, things became apparent to me that this was going to be a tough hike and not because of the trail. This was going to be a tough hike as we tried to figure out each other’s hiking style. Again, I was faced with the fact that even though this was exactly what I had wanted since I began hiking, I had become so use to hiking alone that to be with someone else, made me anxious. I did my best to quiet these butterflies and enjoy myself.
As we continued to hike, he suddenly jumped on a small rock and exclaimed that he had just summited and it was time to head for home. I was snapped back to reality and laughed from deep within myself and smiled at him. We both had a good laugh as we continued up the trail and onward to the summit. He was patient with my picture taking and I was ever aware of his pace. We seemed to move with intent to summit and began to concentrate on doing just that. He was great at pointing out the little things on the trail and by little things, I mean signs of animals that were moving through. Things that I would never have noticed even though I was looking right at them. We happened upon a chipmunk that stood still just long enough for me to snap its picture and I then told him of the one that did the exact same thing for me on my way to Lafayette this past winter.
As we began to climb, he called for the first significant break and I was grateful so that my heart could rest. He was feeling uncomfortable in his pack and I began to worry (I’m the world’s greatest worrier) for him. I worried because I wanted his first hike back for the season to be a great one and one that would make him want to continue hiking the 48 with me. He managed to resituate his pack (after considering stowing some gear in the woods off trail) and we were on our way again. Of course during that time, I caught my breath and managed to have a granola bar to refuel my body’s insatiable need for food. Also during this time, we were overcome by another solo female hiker who appeared to be on a mission to the top given the speed she was moving. Still climbing, we began to see the snow and ice become heavier on the trail. My new companion was anxious to not only get the pack off his back (it was not sitting right on his person) but also use his new snowshoes we had purchased as an early birthday gift on our way to the mountains yesterday. I was overjoyed to head the excitement in his voice and assured him that we would more than likely need them at the top.
We made a decision to don our microspikes at a particularly icy section of trail. My companion made a joke about himself being a real hiker and he hiked right up the center of the ice flow on the trail using his microspikes to support and propel him. He laughed as he did this and it was music to my ears. I was grateful for his eyes to help me up the ice flow and teach me how to trust my feet and the traction on them to also get myself past it. In addition to my keen sense of worry for others, there was an even great sense of “I really don’t want to fall on my face”, which made me extra caution and almost foolish. We continued on after a series of breaks and were soon graced with views of the peaks. I explained to him that it doesn’t matter who I am with, more than occasionally, I get emotional when it comes to the views on the Presidentials. We also came to my favorite weather sign and I once again relived my experience on Eisenhower. He offered to take my picture by it and then he took it upon himself to stand on top of the sign. Again, I laughed from somewhere deep within myself as I snapped pictures for us. This provided a nice break for us just before coming out of the tree line. We laughed as we got our packs back on and continued hiking.
The views got wider and brighter as we exited the tree line and we were soon confronted with a section called the knifes edge. The wind was also picking up now that the trees were disappearing. There was just enough snow and rocks to make it look like winter was hanging on and yet we could rock hop through the trail. I enjoyed the exposed narrow trail section and we climbed all over the rocks to get different views of both Mt. Adam’s and the surrounding peaks. At last check, the pack on his back was still bothering him and I tried to make the best of it for him and still enjoy my hike. He seemed to be enjoying himself regardless of his equipment malfunctions. We were still about a mile away from the summit at this point and we were getting tired and still determined to make it. What we could not believe was how close the summit looked and yet as we crested another section of the upward trail, it still eluded us. We stopped because some skiers that were quite a distance away caught his eye. He wondered if his friend was among them and tried to give her a call. We continued on the trail and got a view of the Madison hut. He had never seen this before and was impressed with the size, design (being a carpenter by trade), and the technology of the solar panels. I pointed out the summit of Madison to him and retold a brief version of my summit experience. To my surprise, he was not amused by my hiking in high winds.
We reached another sign that said we had one tenth of a mile to what we thought was the summit. I was relieved as my legs were getting more than a little tired of walking. We laughed and joked about the summit that would never come to us and how it would finally be under our feet and then, we saw another sign… Mt. Adams .5 was what we read. I blinked and was standing there in disbelief. I felt my legs give out, oh so slightly and maybe cry just a little. Surely this is wrong. We were almost there not too long ago and now we’ve only gone three tenths of a mile? I was crushed and once more, I worried about my companion who seemed to be wavering under his heavy pack. We ran into Paige who passed us at the beginning of the trail and spoke to her for a while. My companion shared some stories of his hiking from last year and I explained my journey. She was amazed by the story that I still felt uncomfortable telling. When I explained that I was also a therapist who works with adolescents, she again praised me and told us the story of her working out some personal issues on the trails around the Carter’s and the Wildcats. I was happy to hear that I was not the only one that did something like that and I encouraged her to keep going. Then, it started to happen. I felt my legs give way and the next thing I knew, I was in the snow on my butt. There was not any wind to blame it on. Nor was there any one around that caused me to lose my balance. My legs just gave out. Pure and simple. It made everyone laugh (including myself), even though I was embarrassed. I was again reminded that I was doing this journey with more than just the pack on my back and all the same, I was going to complete it.We parted from Paige and kept walking.
“Come on, let’s get your 35th peak.” My companion said to me. The problem was that the summit looked so far away. There were few other words spoken between us as we were now concentrated on just getting to the summit. Looking up, it didn’t seem like we would ever get there and I felt as though I was dragging myself up the mountain. Keeping the last crest in view, I walked up toward the summit and this time, we actually made it. Walking up to the sign, I smiled and tapped it twice with my hand. I laughed a little and looked to my companion. He was equally excited and still seemed a million miles away. I believed it was because he was just tired from the hike up. He took my summit picture and number 35 was now a reality. After my picture was taken, even though the winds were high, he climbed on top of the summit sign and finally smiled so wide I thought he would fall off the very sign he was standing on. I was happy to see him complete at least one half of this incredible hike. We had our picture taken together at the summit and he still seemed far away from me.
We ducked down on the summit for lunch. Out of the wind and in the sun, we shared a sandwich and some granola bars. My companion was not thrilled with the gluten free bread I used so, I made a note to make his next sandwich with regular bread for him. We looked at the surrounding mountains and took in the scenery with all of our senses. I sat with my head tipped back on the side of the summit and I thanked my grandfather and whoever else was listening for the hike that I had been waiting for. Nothing else really mattered to me at that point except for the two of us on that mountain top.
The skiers that we had been watching had also made their way over to the summit and were also preparing to head back down. We had made the decision to do a snowshoe bushwhack off the side of Adams and cut out a lot of the trail back down to the trail junction. This of course gave my partner a chance to try out his birthday present and as he placed the shoes on his feet, I once again saw that smile that I had grown to appreciate. That smile that showed how truly happy he was. We made our way down off the summit and quicker than we got up, we were down at the junction. There was no post holing so, we opted to remove our snowshoes and go with microspikes. We also decided to head down Valley Way over going back down Airline. This brought us over to the Madison Hut and then we headed down into the tree line.
Valley Way was not the easiest trail to head down when it was not snow covered. Now, we had to deal with ice and snow on top of the steepness. My feet and legs were starting to get sloppy and I was beginning to trip over them or over things on the trail. I had warned my partner that this trail seems to go on forever and I could see his strength wavering once more. I was given the opportunity to take the lead and I was flattered. It was not often that I got to do this on a hike and while I was concerned for my partner, I lead the way. After all, I had already hiked this trail and knew it well. The snow soon gave way to bare ground again and it was warmer than hit had been this morning and at the summit. I began humming to myself (maybe a little louder than to myself) to keep myself calm as I walked down the mountain. We took a break and my partner sat himself down on the trail and looked defeated. I knew that he had chosen to complete this peak with me and I still felt bad that he was tired and feeling bad. In these situations, I don’t know the right words to say and I offer him a granola bar to try and perk him up. A short while later, we were off and walking again. The walk was quiet between us and I was still happy to have had this experience with him.
We arrived back at the parking lot and he collapsed next to the car. He was not hurt or anything like that. He was just tired. He kept telling me how he didn’t want to do that again and if I was going to do it in winter, I was on my own. We began changing out of our hiking gear and readying to drive back home. Each of us congratulated the other on making it down and commented that even though it was a lot of work, it was still a great hike. As we drove off down the road, I changed my top and smiled about the day and I began looking forward to the next hike that we could take together.