Two weeks between hikes was starting to feel like a long time for me. Usually close to the end of the second week, I was crawling out of my skin to get back into the woods and usually planning to go with or without my new hiking companion. Usually, it was not hard to convince him to come with me and this weekend, promised to be another good hike for us. Zealand Mountain, a modest 4 thousand footer was on target for my number 36.
“It’s a treed in summit with minimal views so, I’ll understand if you don’t want to do it with me.” Was what I told him. To my surprise, he agreed to hike it with me and he agreed to get up early on the morning and drive up rather than spend the night up there in a hotel.
We were able to get everything together and packed the night before and had good intensions of getting to be early. After all, 5am was still early for us. Not as early as I had been getting up to hike but still early none the less. Of course when the alarm went off, it felt like I had just fallen asleep since my body was playing the game of hovering around the edge of sleep which always seemed to happen at this time of year. I dragged myself out of bed and did my best to get ready as my partner did the same and soon we were heading down the road and north to the White Mountains. With one stop at the usual Dunkin’ Doughnuts for breakfast for him, we made great time to the trail head.
Even though a couple of days earlier, there had been an edge between us that was unfamiliar and a little unsettling, we were one again on the trail together. I was not feeling the least bit nervous on this hike. I felt that we had been around each other enough to know our pace and how we handle a trail. Mt Adam’s, while it nearly kicked our collective asses, also proved to be a good test for us. I was confident that he would enjoy this hike a lot more and that we would enjoy this hike together. At the trailhead, we got ourselves ready and made a few judgments about what gear to take and what gear to leave in the car. The time for snow shoes had passed so, they were not even a thought. Some of our winter clothing was also left behind.
We set off on the predominantly flat trail and we loved it. Being able to just walk side by side without aid of trekking poles, we set out for the summit. There was light hearted talk between us and I was behind him smiling all the way. There was a slight dusting of snow still on the ground as we walked up the trail as well as ice on the branches that would dangle into the streams of either side of the trail. Like it or not, it was still cold and I of course liked it. There were bridges mixed in among the water crossings and we started talking about different crossings that we had fallen into. Just as we were talking about one and crossing over some water, my companion lost his footing and in the water, he went. My first thoughts were for his warmth and safety. My second thoughts were that someone was listening and in he went. Never jinx the trail…You might find yourself with wet feet. We both laughed with each other and continued on. My companion had determined that he would dry off in time to reach the higher elevations so, I stopped worrying for him and for us.
I could tell that he was enjoying himself since he was pointing out the little things he would notice along the trail. Evidence that an animal had been walking by at one time, work a beaver had done to clear some trees, or a bird he noticed were all pointed out. We continued through the flat sections of the trail laughing until we reached the first climb up to the Zealand Hut. My anxiety rises as I climb because I have to take it slow and my companion is a faster hiker. Still, I am comfortable if he goes on for a distance and I can catch up to him. We pass a tent platform that is at a winter height and remark at the incredible lack of snow and how it might help with animals staying out of packs and things instead. Stopping gave me a chance to rest and collect my breath as it always does. And as we moved on, I kept thinking about getting another peak out of the way and how nice it had been to share these last few peaks with him (even if we had been fighting).
After about a half mile, we arrived at the Zealand Hut and took advantage of a brief rest on our way up. The caretakers and volunteers of the AMC huts are always nice and always cheering me on when I speak with them. This one was no different. We gather some trail information and are soon off on our way again. Heading up by Zealand falls was nice although I was cautious of my footing and aware of the icy water as always. The freezing patterns on the flowing water captivated me. My partner wanted to get moving up the trail so, I took it all in and got back on the trail. Heading up to the summit, the trail began to get vertical and that in turn slowed my pace down. I just can’t keep the fast pace heading up since my heart and lungs were getting a work out and that in turn made my legs tired. I needed to stop and rest and quickly called for one and of course hated to do so since my partner seemed to be on track to summit. I’m quickly reminded of the differences between solo and group hiking. When solo, I stop as much as I want and for as long as I want without worry. In a group, I’m always aware of my limitations and hate holding people (no matter how close I am to them) back. When I am solo, it’s less about time and getting there quickly and more about enjoying the trail and looking at things around me. Really connecting with my surroundings since I don’t have to worry about others with me and yet, I always crave hikes with others.
We got through steepness of the trail and found ourselves on the Twinway (trail from Twin Mountain over by Garfield and Galehead). The view provided on this late April day still showed snow on the Presidential and what a spectacular site that always is for me. I drink it in and try to keep it in my mind as I find I am at the most peace in the mountains. The world melts away and I am happy up here. I was standing back still taking it all in and I noticed my partner standing some distance away taking it all in. I noticed how small we were at this point watching him take in the view and I was also aware that he was distant to me in more than just the way he was taking in the view.
As quickly as he rejoined me on the ledge, we got back on the trail. Walking along the ridge, we felt the wind pick up and so did the pace again. The monorail was barely holding to walk on but my microspikes helped out a little. We moved quickly along and came to the wooden bridges over the mud bog and I had a laugh remembering the time my friends dog fell into the mud up on Pierce. Our time on the ridge was short as we climbed again and again my pace slowed. A strategically placed ladder provided some entertainment and a way to break up the climbing. If I can put my whole self into it, the climbing seemed easier and less of a work out on my lungs and heart. The sun was now bearing down on us and the monorail leading to the spur trail was in worse shape. It was safe to say that the snows days were numbered and spring was finally getting to make an appearance. I could not wait to hike in shorts again for as much as I would miss the ease of winter hiking trails.
One tenth of a mile to go to my thirty sixth peak and we climbed the last little bit happily. We were laughing and carrying on and then we came to the sign. Number thirty six was mine and I leaned against the tree to have my picture taken. My partner opted to climb the tree in an attempt to get above the sign which seemed to be his summit “thing”. I was feeling increasingly more proud as my numbers grew higher. There was a little celebration and then we were off on our way again. As always, I was grateful for the break as we began to pick up speed heading back down. Quicker and quicker we walked and as I was struggling to keep up, again I was reminded of solo hiking and that strange mix of emotions crept over me…. The world was just moving by, much like it does at ground level and I was craving a drink of the surroundings for my sanity. We made it back to the outlook again and had some lunch. I had made my partner a regular sandwich instead of one with the gluten free bread that I eat, hoping that it would be much better for him and he would not be so hungry. We ate with a little small talk between us and then I set up the tripod to get a picture of us together. I didn’t’ think much of it at the time but getting next to him, he still felt a million miles away.
This scenario repeated itself as we arrived back at the hut and someone offered to take our picture together. I was just happy to have gotten my peak in the books and happy to have shared it with someone I considered to be special to me. We made our way back down to the flats where I was able to hike at a faster pace without much effort. It seemed to make the time go by quicker and at this point, I was ready to be back at the car with the heat on a little and ready for my hot cup of coffee on the way home. Soon enough though (thanks to our quick pace) we were there and on our way and what was coming next was completely unexpected and yet predictable.