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Willey, Tom, and Field... WTF... 576!

                When planning out peaks for the month of November, I placed Willey, Tom, and Field on the list. It’s a great loop for a sheltered hike and often gets brought up and then pushed aside (especially on an above tree line day). Some friends and I have affectionately dubbed the peaks WTF and yes, it stands for exactly what you are thinking. We’d always say, “It’s no big deal really. It’s just What The F---.” In regards to hiking this loop. The truth is, it’s such a mellow hike and the grade and the gain are gradual enough to make this a really good hike. When it comes down to it, I enjoy this hike. This month, my choosing WTF happened to coincide with my friend Cynthia’s Grid finish. How exciting for her to finish 576 summits on a gorgeous blue bird day. Today, belonged to her. 

                The alarm went off at 4:30 and I lingered in bed. It was warm and well, the house was cold. Eventually getting myself ready for the day, I poured the coffee and Isis and I were out the door. Once we hit 93, I had a feeling that this would be a very good day. The car moved down the highway and as I was going through Franconia Notch, I got a good look at what I had left for the month (Franconia Ridge) and it looked beautiful. Isis and I got to the Highland Center early so that I could get some miles under me. I am never sure how I will move until I am on the trails and I wanted to at least cross paths with Cynthia and the crew if not spend time at the summit with her. While heading up the Avalon Trail, I decided that I would do the standard hike based on not knowing if I could make it to the summit on time if I was heading all the way out the Willey. So, I was on my way to Tom first which happened to be Cynthia’s finish peak (She was starting from the other end with Willey first). Isis and I made our way up the trail and she and I were doing well together. She had been having some peculiar behaviors this past week which I just attributed to changes happening in her little world. The trail itself was easy to hike. The snow was beginning to accumulate and become packed so, there was some ice is spots. It was not consistent enough for microspikes.

                Isis and I were making great time and the weather was feeling perfect. I kept my winter shell on as well as my hat and intermittently wore my gloves. The trail was moving well with no real tricky sections. I carried Isis on one water crossing because I didn’t want her paws to get iced. The other ones, the rocks were hopable for her and she did great. I lucked out when I chose her since I have learned that the Shiba Inu breed was bred for hunting in the mountainous terrain on Japan as well as the snow. This was her home and I could not ask for a better hiking dog. We hit the A – Z trail and continued our good pace. The snow was catching my eye as it hung on the trees and then as the trees allowed it, I got a good view of the Presidents across the notch. What a beautiful sight that was and I would gasp each time they caught my eye glistening in the sun covered in snow. The climb was not bad at all and I found myself wondering about times when I thought it was bad. In the very beginning, every hike was tough and now, it seemed like second nature. The snow looked extra white against the blue skies over head and there must have been about 4 inches of snow on the ground however packed out the trail already was.

                Isis and I made it to the start of the Mt. Tom spur and I took my pack off. I was giving myself a break for the round trip mile and as I looked up, I saw my friends the Gray Jays. Two of them were waiting for some food and I had packed in some granola just for them. I was not sure if I could get them to my hand with Isis there and it took a little time however, they did pay me a visit. I got a few good shots, and they got fed. I think it was a win win. Isis was fascinated by them and watched intently. Once they began to get skittish, I hung my pack on a tree and we made our way up the spur. We moved quickly without the extra weight and enjoyed a run at one point. Isis and I ran into 3 other hikers who were taken by her and I spoke about her and all she has done.  I didn’t have to talk about myself which was something I was trying to get away from. I could put it all on the dog and just hike my hikes. We had the summit to ourselves and Isis owned the cairn. She had her tail mix which I had slipped into my pocket. We then made our way back and kept a great pace being without extra weight had its advantages. We were back at the junction in no time and on our way to Mt. Field.

                Heading down the A-Z Trail, we kept great footing and our speed was good. Not that these things really mattered to me. Today, it caught my attention because of how good I was feeling and how comfortable I was with both myself and Isis on the trails. Confidence had returned to my world and I was just enjoying the hike. Numbers didn’t matter to me. Months didn’t even matter to me. What did matter were all the sights I saw around me. The beauty of the woods was striking in the fall/winter conditions. I stopped a few times and that didn’t even matter to me. I began to wonder when I would begin to run into people from Cynthia’s group. The trail to Mt. Field continued to be snow packed and some icy spots. Still not enough to put the spikes on so, I kept moving. Isis and I arrived at the summit of Mt. Field and were greeted by the same three that I had seen heading up to Mt. Tom. They laughed after seeing my pack on my back because they thought I was traveling without provisions. I reassured them that hiking with the dog meant the I needed to carry a few things. We talked blogs and they brought up my friend Chris ( mentioned that we hiked the Carter’s last weekend when they brought him up) and told them that I manage Such Great Heights. Beyond that, Isis and I just continued to hike through our day. 

                Now, heading over the Mt. Willey, I was sure that we would begin to run into the group and sure enough, at one of the trickier and steep sections heading into the Col, we began to run into the others. The trail would go from deathly quiet to explosions of happiness and laughter. Cynthia was so excited to see Isis and I that she leapt over a blow down and gave us the biggest hug she could. It was wonderful and such a great day for her.  Shortly after Cynthia, Isis and I ran into Silverfox and his crew and told everyone we would see them back at the Highland Center to celebrate. Isis and I continued on our way to Mt. Willey and after a quick interchange with a few of the dogs in the group, we were back in the quiet of the forest. The peace I felt today was such a comfort to the craziness I had been feeling lately. It seemed that more and more I was not hiking for a number or a month but I was hiking for peace of mind and to just be.

The forest was chilled and I put my gloves on and kept them on until I got to Mt. Willey. Isis and I paused there and had something to eat however, she refused her trail mix in favor on my cheese. We each had a good rest before heading back. The good thing about doubling back was that it was mostly downhill and we continued our good pace. The snow pack was perfect for us and there were hardly any slips along the way. We came back to Mt. Field and there was a large group of what looked like college students having what looked like a feast made for a week long backpack. We tried to talk with them however, they seemed a little stand offish and uninterested in anything we had to say. Isis and I were bound for the Avalon Trail to head down figuring that we would be late for the summit of Tom, we figured we’d just meet everyone at the tailgate.

                The Avalon trail is steep and icy. It’s probably the most ice I have seen this shoulder season. Isis and I have not run into a soul since field and as we make our way, slips happen and I start laughing. I still have not put on my spikes and I probably should going down this trail. Considering, I usually slide down on my ass, I am continuing a good pace and only glissade on a few down sloped sections. Isis and I run into another couple and stop to chat with them and then I put my spikes on (finally). Shortly after that as we continued down the ice, we happen upon some middle schoolers who are being lead on a hike for the first time. Two are sitting by the side of the trail resting and one was apparently overcome with nausea. I spoke to their teacher for a bit to make sure they had what they needed. Moving down the trail, I ran into the rest of the class who were waiting impatiently. As one yelled out, I asked him to stop and consider the other hikers who like to hike in relative peace and solitude. He didn’t yell after that and Isis and I kept heading back to reality and onward to the celebration. I thought for sure that I would be late still. The spikes came off as the trail turned to what can only be described as spring time sloppy.

                Once back at the parking area, we were ushered to the tailgate after Isis and I went to the car to change and grab two hard ciders that we had brought with us for the occasion. It was great to see some good friends and share some time together. Right there in the Highland Center Parking lot, all the hikers converged and we celebrate Cynthia’s major accomplishment. 576 peaks, 48 by 12, The grid… She had completed it today and was elated. This day was her day. Isis and I just had the pleasure of hiking it with her.  

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