One thing I am starting to realize as I am moving through the New England 67 list, the road trips were starting to get longer than the actual climbs. My desire to get the Vermont peaks done was beginning to grow and now I was eyeing my #53 Mount Mansfield. From my place, it would be about 3 hours away which either meant a really early rise and a rushed day or I head up the night before and sleep at the trail head. Latter was the optimal choice and I decided that it was how I was going to do it. I wanted the experience and I was sure that it would not be the last time I would sleep in my car at a trailhead. I just was unsure of all those little details that made me think this was a bad idea. After work Friday, I packed up my gear and the pup in the car and headed down the road. A quick stop at Scott’s for some reassurance and I was on my way north to Vermont.
The ride was no problem as I genuinely like to drive and explore places. It seemed to fly by in no time and felt as though I was on auto pilot. I made it to the park and bypassed the ranger station in favor of the upper parking lot. I tucked the car into the back corner and arranged my sleeping quarters in the car knowing Scott had also given me his one person tent to use. I felt safer in the car albeit a little awkward (It’s a 2004 Ford Focus) and really didn’t want the dog to ruin the tent. The pup was walked and settled in the back. I cooked dinner, which was just heating water in my JetBoil for a freeze dried curry. It was almost 10 by the time I started eating. A few texts joking around about my 4 star dining in the trunk of my car and I settled in for the night. Unfortunately, then it hit me… “I’m in the trunk of my car.” I had to make a phone call to get my head right. I was outside of my comfort zone just far enough that a quick call was all it took to get me to sleep after a little while. It was so nice to hear the reassurance and the support.
My sleep was fitful due to the quarters but I did get a solid 4 hours (sometimes all I need). The pup was up and down but also settled curled up next to me for some time. It was cool in the night because I zipped up my sleeping bag at one point too. I was up at 4:30am and breakfast was ready by 5am (freeze dried scrambled eggs and a cup of coffee). On this particular morning, it all tasted pretty good and I sat in the quiet with my hands wrapped around my mug and just breathed in the air and let the mind wander a little. I had the whole day to myself again and hoped that it would be a good one. I was missing my hiking crew though and thinking of the next hike together.
Isis and I made one last check and then headed off down the trail which quickly popped out to a road walk for a little over a half of a mile and I had flashbacks to my road walk to Carrigain to get my 48th . Of course, a road walk is not always a bad thing but I would much prefer a trail. The road soon turned up hill and I felt it in my legs but I didn’t stop for a break which was a good thing. I wanted to push myself a little even though I was tired. At .6, I came to the start of the sunset ridge trail and Isis and I set off to get the summit.
I thought to myself again that I needed to get a saw for trail maintenance. It was on my ever growing gear list but I wanted to have one before I rejoined my group of hikers. I wanted to be helpful instead of the one that just stands there. Today’s trail would show me that there was no need for a saw or for me to do anything except hike. You’d almost swear that it was swept in areas, it was so well maintained. Isis and I walked and then the thoughts started to come about life and all that I had experienced since starting this adventure. I was in a good place with lots of support but I felt weak for my lack of support being given back. I wanted so much more for myself. The weather was humid as Isis and I walked the trail and I talked with my grandfather for a bit and decided that I was indeed happy. There must have been a bridge over every water crossing which made it easier for me. The rock hopping was also pretty simple since most were rock stairs (and pretty even at that). Occasionally, I was faced with a section that I needed to hoist myself up but those were few and far between this far from tree line. Isis and I enjoyed the ease of the trail and took the .2 spur to Cantilever Rock. Which as it turned out was a big rock formation that jutted out from the side of a rock face and looked rather phallic (at least that was my first thought upon looking up). I was impressed by it though and it made me smile and laugh.
Back on the trail and heading for tree line it became more rocks and less rock hopping. Isis was doing great jumping up and hardly needed my help at all. I had to pull her back a lot to make sure that I could make it up and keep my balance. She was really eager to keep moving and I was happy that we seemed to be in sync with one another finally as she minded my commands. There was one particularly troubling moment for myself as I was trying to get up a rock face. I was stuck with my hand on a rock and no matter how much I willed my leg to move, it just wouldn’t do it. It seemed as though my brain and my leg were not communicating anymore. I’m ever aware of my limitations and what my disease does to my coordination as well as my thought process but this was new and I didn’t like it. Isis stood on the rock looking at me and waited for me to figure it out. Thankfully, I was able to move after about a minute. But that was a long minute for me. Like most of my issues, I put it to the back of my mind. I had a summit to reach and nothing was going to stop me today.
We continued over the rocks just prior to tree line and enjoyed stepping out on the ledges to catch views of the summit and the land before us. It was breathtaking as always. I paused on one particular out cropping and thought about how far I had come and with Isis sitting next to me; I raised my hands up and took it all in. The wind was starting to pick up as we were more exposed and then it happened, we broke tree line. I was faced with something that resembled Franconia Ridge, the Presidentials, and the Bonds all in one. I was practically skipping, I was so happy. It seemed that I had the mountain to myself considering I had started so early in the morning. Walking up the ridge to the summit (chin) was freeing as I looked all around me at the land that stretched out. There was no place I would rather be. We stopped for a break and I looked ahead of me. The peak seemed to loom over us and I was thinking about my trips up Adams and how that peak seemed to do the same thing from the Airline Trail. I think at that point I heard the Presidentials calling me back.
Isis and I made it to the junction for the Chin in no time and she began barking and growling at the grasses as they moved in the breeze. Maybe there was something in them but only she could tell. We walked the board walks and rounded some rocks to pop out at the summit where two people were also enjoying the view. They asked if I had just taken the dog for a walk and took a wrong turn jokingly and I laughed to say yes, all the way from Jaffrey New Hampshire. A nice father and teenage daughter spending some time together hiking a mountain and in my mind there was no better way to bond. We talked for a while about different adventures and of course Isis stole the show being so cute and little. Pictures were snapped and I bid them farewell. Isis and I hung out at the summit to have something to eat and send off word that we had reached the summit well before afternoon and we would explore the ridge next.
We began walking and at the junction again, I veered off to take the Profanity trail just for the name and to see what it was. Turns out it took a pretty steep downturn and since I was not ready to get back to the car, I decided it best to turn back. But I could appreciate the name and could hear myself swearing if I was going up or down it. We walked the ridge and the rocks looked like waves on the ocean. Again, the trail was perfectly groomed it seemed and easy to maneuver. More people were starting to appear and Isis and I greeted everyone we ran into. There was not an unfriendly hiker up there today. The rangers were also out and thanked me for having Isis on a leash. Truth be told, she’d take off if she wasn’t. Closer to the radio towers, we met up with some people that had drove up and while we stopped and chatted, the conversation didn’t last too long. A quick break at the rangers station and were on our way back the way we came. I was not even feeling fatigued anymore. I was for lack of a better expression, on top of the world.
Once back at the junction and heading down the ridge, Isis and I began to hit “rush hour”. Lot’s of inexperienced hikers coming up to the summit. I spent a lot of time pulling off to the side to let people pass and checking on them as they went. Most were OK. I came to a group of two mothers and daughters (younger than 13) and stopped and chatted with the first group who had no gear. Turned out the other mother was carrying it as they were switching. The first mom gave me a heads up that the other girl was not doing so well. I made it a point to stop her and check on things. Shannon was struggling to make it. She was worried about thunderstorms and tired. Isis and I sat with her and she would pat the dog and slow her breathing as I talked to her and encouraged her to make it. “You’re almost there and it won’t be long now. You’ll have a beautiful view waiting for you. I know you can do it!”. She spent a little more time with Isis who curled up with her a little and provided some comfort. I gave her mother some of my provisions of energy candy (jelly beans of b vitamins) to help give her a boost. With that, Shannon was on her way and I was on my way back to the car. Things like that re-energized me to keep doing the work that I do and to push myself to get into a better situation. I am good at being a therapist. It just doesn’t feel like it some days.
Isis and I continued to walk and the rest went quickly once we ducked below tree line. We didn’t really stop for a break and got back to the car around noon. I was shocked at our time but then again, we started really early. I was satisfied with the day and happy to have had the whole experience. I do enjoy a good solo hike but also craved sharing the experience. I was happy to share it with the people I encountered and still hike alone. I changed out of my hiking cloths and got Isis settled in the back seat. We headed off to visit family and to eventually land at Scott’s for a nice dinner and an unfortunate Bruin’s loss in the finals. I was happy to fall asleep after a very full and rich experience and knowing that I only had one more visit to Vermonton the horizon. Also lookign forward to not only more solo hikes but also rejoing the crew I’d become so fond of.