When all else fails, you head back to basics. You start at the beginning again. Last time I climbed Mt. Hale, I was avoiding someone and this time around, while I was not avoiding, I was certainly trying to escape for a while. The previous night I had returned to my practice of singing at the top of my voice while prepping and having a great time. By morning, I was dealing with a cat fight under my bed, a melatonin fail at 1:30am, and some really stiff achy and shaky muscles. Once I got my body under control, Isis and I were off to the same place we were last week, Zealand Road and this time we were parking at Hale Brook. Taking Hale Brook up to the summit and taking Lend-A-Hand over to the Zealand hut to meet up with friends would be a great day in the mountains. Isis and I were ready to go in no time at the trail head.
I had forgotten about the gain on the Hale brook trail and I was already having difficulty from the moment I woke up. I continued to have issues up the trail. First my boots were too tight and then I took a nasty spill that brought me down hard on both knee caps. Isis ran back from the length of her leash to check on me as I sat collecting myself. It was going to be a tough day. I got up and felt my knees groan and we then took it slow so that I could regain my composure. The trail continued to go up and over lots of roots, rocks, and leaves that had fallen from the change of seasons. It’s still a good trail. The beginning is just a lot of gain with very little warm up. The trail does level off and then climb through 3 switch backs and that is followed by another section of gain before the summit.
Isis and I didn’t run into a single sole on this end of the trails we were taking. As we approached the summit, I remembered seeing a view in winter up the trail to the opening. It looked completely different now without snow. We came up to the opening and the cairn even looked bigger and I thought about the amount of snow that was actually on the summit that first time I was there. It was a lot of snow. The winds were low and because Hale is treed in, there are no views. Isis climbs the cairn for her summit photo and we have something to eat. I am impressed because with all my issues, it takes me an hour and a half to summit. Half of our day is completed and the second half will be getting to the Zealand hut by the Lend-A-Hand trail. A completely new trail for me and a red line for the map.
We started out and the trail drops in elevation rather quickly which causes me to make sure the Isis goes slow. She doesn’t catch a command quick enough and I fall back while my right ankle (the same one I sprained a few weeks ago on Owl’s Head), catches again. The same process of Isis running back from the length of her leash to check on me as I sat on the trail and took stock of my ankle, took place and she realizes that I am fine and waits for me to get up. As I got up, I made sure to shorten her leash so I had a little more control. We continued down the rocky section of trail as we dropped in elevation and then it leveled out. It was 2.8 miles to the hut form here and if it remained flat, I would be able to get there in no time. The rocks and roots continued for a while and then opened up to slabs of granite to walk on. We navigated this section with no issues and enjoyed the sun on our faces (as much as a dog could). There was another drop in elevation followed by jagged rocks to hop around and through. Isis had little issue with her little frame and 4 paws to my 5’6”s and 2 feet (sometimes both left). We came to a wetter section and began navigating bog bridges which again made the trail a little easier. We knew we were near the hut when we began seeing people, people wearing jeans and sneakers, and thinking that Lend-A-Hand was a loop.
As we approached the hut, we heard that it was busy. Lots of people were milling around out front and there was a group of young kids. As we rounded the corner, I picked her up and heard several of the kids exclaim “A puppy” and all eyes were on us. Several of the children approached as we walked towards them and were redirected by the adults in their group. I sat down on the rock out front with Isis and then allowed some of the children to approach. I didn’t want to snub them and I also didn’t want Isis to get overwhelmed. There were plenty of questions and pats. Isis did well and I could tell she was tired. We had about an hour to wait for Jenn and Dave so, this would be a test. Thankfully, the children were on a school trip and had some tasks to complete. Most left us alone and there were only 5 that hung out. I had struck up a conversation with 2 other hikers about the 48, the 67, and gridding. They were impressed with my hiking resume and it felt good to hear. I also enjoyed hearing about how beautiful Isis was and how nice she is. I commented that the dog was actually more popular than me on the trails. People were amazed that my little girl did the Bonds Zealand traverse just last weekend.
Jenn and Dave arrived just about an hour after I did and I was never happier to see them. Big hugs and we chatted for a while. Both were here with family and staying at the hut. I was just up for the day. We had lunch and chatted about life and what we had been up to since they came to the house to climb Monadnock last November. Plans were in the works for a Franc Ridge traverse next month. The only thing left to do was to watch the weather. I spent an additional hour talking with everyone and just enjoying my time. I didn’t have to answer any questions about recent failures and setbacks and humiliations. There was just laughing and telling stories of hikes past as well as future planning. I was trying to wait for a third friend to arrive however, he was coming by way of Galehead and would probably be a few hours. I had to get going to get back to the car. Isis and I had another hike to do with my mother and needed to get home. We bid good bye to Jenn and Dave and their family members and made our way down from the hut.
This section was an easy repeat for us. We made a stop at Zealand Falls and took in the views as well as a few other stops along the way. We caught up to the group of school kids who were on their way back to the trail head as well. I tried not to get caught up with them by saying that we had a ways to go still and needed to keep moving. We passed them all. It was a great day to be in the mountains and as we got back to the car, I had to smile. I felt peaceful here and if I could figure out a way to be here more often, I would. For now, I’d settle for my weekend getaways to take a break from the real world. I had some changes to make and hopefully those changes were already in process. In the meantime, Isis and I would continue to hike the peaks and count them towards our goals.