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Getting DOWN! on Madison.

The day after I completed Tecumseh, I took on Mount Madison with the usual crew. It was not uncommon for me to do one mountain and then turn right around and do another making it a whole weekend of hiking. It was not too difficult; I just came home, and turned right around to prep for the next hike. It’s what I enjoy doing more than anything right now on the weekends. Which is odd for me since I have not been a fan of winter in well… Ever. I had made friends with the cold. I had made amends with the season for all the back breaking work I had to do around my house because, winter was giving me the best playground to play in. Today, was the section of the playground known as the Presidential Range. I was thrilled to get up there and get the hike started.

We took the truck up instead of the jeep and put our packs in the back. Again, we drove up in darkness and laughed pretty much all the way. It was interspersed with silence though as it was still really early in the morning. I officially had one more weekend to hike after this and then it was the holiday season as well as time for me to take my state licensure test for my mental health counselor’s license. This could very well make or break my career or make me spend a lot of money for a retake. I pushed it out of my head and concentrated on the task at hand… Mount Madison and possibly Mt. Adams. As usual, the warning of “if the dog can’t make it, we will turn around”, was given. The forecast was calling for a windy day on the summit and we all wondered if we would make a summit or if this would be the first one that we turned from and not claimed victory.

The trailhead was 3 hours away near Gorham, New Hampshire and we arrived as the sun was coming up. The gear that we had stowed in the back was fine except for the fact that our water lines had frozen in the cold temps and wind. We were off on the trail regardless of the frozen lines at 7am. To ease us into the woods, the trail was pretty flat and open. We crossed the snowmobile trail to begin with and then we were into the woods and climbing with ease by a small river.  I began patting my head through my hat because something didn’t feel right to me. Something felt different and given that I am ever in tune with what is going on within me and sometimes with other people too, I was beginning to draw attention to myself. All along, I kept patting my head and then I realized…
 “My hair is up in a ponytail. That’s what feels different.”

This statement of course caused everyone to stop, look me flat in the face, and burst out laughing. I too thought this was funny and chuckled as we continued up the Valley Way trail. The water from the river was flowing nicely and it looked really cold for this almost mid-December morning.  As we turned away from the river, I secretly hoped that I would make it all the way to the summit. A quiet conversation was started in my head to get myself up there. Valley way seemed to go on forever with more than its share of roots and rocks to climb and stumble over. True to form, I was uneasy on my feet. As we stopped at one of the many trail junctions, I took a pack of sport beans out of my pocket and ate a handful. These were little jelly beans of Vitamin b for energy and they really work. There was intermittent talk about the current guy I was dating. It was more wondering if he’d be able to cut it up here above 5000 feet (I had my doubts). He had not even done a 3000 footer let alone one of the 48. I believe my companions sensed my doubt and still supported me to see where things would go. A relationship is not just based on hiking and yet for me, it was a big part of a relationship as it had become my passion and something that I wanted to share with anyone I was with.

As we kept walking, the trees began to split apart and provide us with a few views here and there. We happened to come to my favorite bad weather sign and I relived my experience on Eisenhower. Very shortly after that, there was a short stone staircase and then we were above tree line. My favorite place to be in this entire playground of the mountains. There was truly something so freeing about being up there and I smiled the widest smile could manage. I turned and looked at the view and that’s when they started flying…
 “Holy Fuck.” I said. “Look at that.” But I was quiet and no one really heard me.

I was referring to the view of course. We continued to walk to the Madison Hut that was already closed for the season.  We got a good look at Madison’s Summit which oddly enough looked like a huge pile of rocks that you’d find at a construction site. Except of course, the summit was much bigger. I was thrilled to meet this challenge as we explored around the hut and found our way to the summit trail. There was a group of people coming down and we had thought that they had made the summit. We were told that they could not make it because it was too windy. There were some telling glances between us and we decided to go for it any way. Heading up, we immediately caught the wind and were almost pushed over. And as soon as we caught the wind, it was gone. Completely still. Yet, you could hear the next gust approaching.  It was the most amazing thing I ever heard. I smiled and as I looked out at the view as we were climbing, I exclaimed again.

 “Fuck.” My companion laughed at my sudden potty mouth. I had to explain that it’s always been there. I’d just been holding back and they kept flying as we made our way up. We heard the wind again and my companion exclaimed, “Down!”

This was his call to get down and out of the wind. None of us needed to be blown off the mountain. This of course was the exact fear that kept me from the summits (any summit) for years. And the very notion that made the last man who stole my heart laugh heartily.  Once we were down and out of the wind, it passed and we were able to move again. This maneuver literally lasted until we got close to the summit cairn. Every 10 feet we would have to get done behind something of hold on tight. There was no standing upright on this peak. We made the decision that in order to get to the cairn, we would need to ditch our packs and just take our numbers to the summit for pictures. We crawled on our bellies to get those pictures and it was worth every frightening moment of this climb. We did not waste time on the summit however as the dog was getting nervous and her hair was flying everywhere. We made our way back down which seemed easier. The question remained of Mt. Adam’s. We were so close. Stopping on the way back to the Madison hut to talk to a fellow hiker who was also attempting the summit with a dog, we gave him the warning. Making it back to the hut for lunch, we were all impressed with ourselves. There was a quick quip about North Lafayette and my experience… Again. I let it go mostly because I was hungry.

Ultimately, we decided to not head to Mt. Adam’s today. It was late and we were getting tired. Heading back down Valley Way, we hiked down in longer periods of silence. I could feel my legs getting tired and as we dipped below tree line, my thoughts returned to reality and the week ahead. Once back at the car, we changed our shoes and headed for home. I was satisfied with my full weekend of hiking and looking forward to the next time I could hike, already planning my next trip in my head on the way home.

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