Earlier in the week, I had one too many confrontations with ego’s that were larger than the sun. I had my fill of people trying to compete with me over accomplishments and I now understood how someone would always just say “yeah, I hike a little” in response to peoples inquiries as to how much. I was thankful for the support of friends and grateful for the encouragement from an unexpecting and old familiar source. My body had also decided to revolt and switch into hyper drive with my head feeling like the vice grip was being squeezed tight and a few other unpleasant symptoms. Would the weekend ever get here??? Wednesday, I developed a head cold. Ugh! As my luck would have it, the weekend did come and I was bound for Flat mountain pond, a place fraught with memories. What was I thinking going this way to Mt. Whiteface and Passaconaway? I wanted the red line for the McCrillis trail. Again, what was I thinking?
The sunrise in Sandwich was beautiful and as we pulled into the trail head, things looked similar and yet different. Had I really paid so little attention to my surroundings back in July? Well that was it, it was now October and the place was riddled with leaves. Isis and I made our way up the wider trail to the start of the Flat Mountian Pond trail and I explained to her how we all missed it the first time. I found my marker in the form of a Burr that looks like a koala clinging to a tree. It was a sight for sore eyes given the past few months of ups and downs and distance. Flat Mountain Pond is not well blazed and we were able to follow it with no issues. The leaves covering the trail told me that not a lot of people had been here recently. Isis and I enjoyed our time in this familiar (to me) forest. We crossed the river and found the McCrillis trail.
From here, the trail was not blazed at all it seemed and even less traveled. The leaves were barely disturbed which made me think of our return trip and anticipating issues. There were a lot of blow downs to contend with and I lost the trail a few times on the way up going around them. Isis would just climb them and walk the length of the trunk on a few of them. There were also plenty of step overs and walk unders. A turn in the trail signified a time to add some elevation and to also add some snow. I became excited to see it as I had waited for this since it melted last April. There was not enough for microspikes and the leaves were also making it tricky. Isis and I took it very slow and deliberate with our steps. We had taken a lot of breaks and I was concerned about the time. It was a long day to get over to Passaconaway and back again. As we climbed, I layered up and some were in my travels, I lost my snot rag. Having a head cold, this was a problem. Sleeve and sniff it was!
We hit the ledges… I didn’t know there would be ledges. And while Isis tried to power up the middle, I tried to get up the sides. Being tethered together, this was a problem. We compromised and made our way up and over. I was on my knees a lot and hoisting myself up with tree trunks. It was a work out today. The reward were some of the best views for the mountain. I was now in love with this trail. At the last ledge, Isis and I had company. A gentleman was also hiking and seemed a bit confused to think that this was the summit. He was joined by two others who also thought it was. I explained that it was actually a treed in summit and that they were both treed in summits. The three had no clue that this was fact and that there were actually two peaks. Not to mention, one was in shorts and the couple had minimal gear despite telling me that the woman had just gotten back from Everest Base Camp. I showed them to the summit and had our picture taken. Then I began to book it over to Passaconaway.
The snow was falling and I was in heaven. I’d butt slide when I had the chance and Isis was loving the cold temps. She’s a snow dog after all. The pace was good. It was the miles that would work against us. Not many trail maintenance notes to make except for one down hill section that looked like someone had cut through the tress and just left them rather than clearing them. Isis and I didn’t run into a single sole until we got to the junction of the Dicey Mills trail. We took the hard way to the right rather than the easy way to the left. Sort of on accident and subconsciously I probably told myself to go that way since I needed to complete the Dicey Mills trail that way to the summit. It was not easy to navigate the steep elevation gain with Isis. My cut off time was 2pm and we were getting dangerously close. Several times, I thought of turning back and did not. Yes, I probably should have. I also thought of messaging or posting to see if someone could pick me up at Ferncroft (Down Dicey's Mill) and drive me back to my car. I didn't do this either. We made it to the summit at exactly 2pm. My luck pushed me towards the easy way down and I was so thankful. Isis and I ran into the solo gentleman from the original group of three, on his way up and we discussed our exit plans. I had my headlamp already on my neck and he had a full overnight pack. Isis and I began making our way back over to Whiteface. We nixed the plan to get Tom Wiggins due to time and energy. Isis and I actually ran into another party of 3 and stopped to talk quickly. They were working on their first round and when I said I was into my second round, the youngest said.. “S… Second?” with a question. I didn't even go into the fact I was counting a third or a forth round. I explained the grid and he seemed to be into it. “Good for you guys to keep going on round one. You have to start somewhere.” I wished them well and got on my way.
It was stop and go over to Whiteface and my legs were feeling heavy. Isis was doing great and seemed to be loving the deeper snow and cold temps. Getting back to Whiteface seemed to take forever and when we saw the cairn, I cheered. We were getting closer to heading down. Rounding down the trail and over a few tricky steps, we hit the ledges. I paused to take in the view on the first one and then, my ass hit the rocks and down we slid. Isis did great to watch my speed and not get caught up. I was good to not go wild and break anything. We made it down those ledges in no time. Isis and I watched the snow disappear and I was watching day light fade. Footing was getting bad and I was tripping a little too much. I was able to retrieve my snot rag from the trail and even though it was soaked, I was happy to see it.
Isis kept a good pace going through the leaves of McCrillis. She put her nose down and kept the trail scent that we put down as we made our ascent. My goal was to get to the water crossing by the time the sun was going down so, I did not stop her speed. We ended up bushwhacking back to the river at one point and never saw the sign for the McCrillis trail. We made it though, and we crossed with little issue and both of us had trouble picking up the trail in the leaves. Isis and I must have gone back and forth over the leaves a half dozen times and I began to take stock of my emergency gear. We kept coming to a camp site and I knew I also had matches for a fire. I paused to think of a plan and decided to follow the river back the way we came. At a certain point, Isis’ nose kicked in and we were on our way. I pulled out my GPS track and we were still way off. This could have also been because of a restart back on the ledges that may have reset the map. The sun was getting really low and I needed to be back on the trail. I was not going to panic. I refused to let this get to me. I had thought several times of texting people to let them know I was in trouble and I refrained. I was going to figure this out. I needed to get back to my marker.
Isis and I were bushwhacking and I looked up and saw a log laying on the ledge that looked vaguely familiar. I needed to get up there. I thought to myself. And so, up we went. It was a tough climb with no trail to speak of and It was steep so, I could not carry Isis. We came out to… The trail! I was ecstatic. I praised Isis for sticking it out and helping to find the way. We made our way down and suddenly, in the darkness, I saw that my marker was right in front of me and I was on my way back to the car. The jam I had gotten into was worked out for the best and I did it on my own. Isis and I picked up the pace again. The true home stretch was here. I was so impressed with my little pup that put her nose down and kept the trail and when we lost it, she helped find it again. She had such a rough start to life with me and now, I could not imagine life without her. I didn’t care what people thought of her. She was my amazing pup. As we approached the gate, I paused and I punched it. I let out an audible “Unfucking believable! I did this. I did this all on my own. With just a pup”. It was truly and amazing day to revisit a very familiar place and have it turn unfamiliar in an instant. I was grateful for the first experience in the area and hold those memeories fondly and even more grateful for today’s experience. I was coming into my own and hopeful that success would keep coming. October closed with a total of 113 summits, 34 individual summits for Isis, and 22 of her multi season 48, I was 31 into round 2, and 91 into the Grid, as well as 747.3 total miles since I began. The journey continues…