2013 started out quiet. The hikes I was taking were few and far between producing a less than stellar winter season for 2012-2013 and for me. I wanted so much more for myself and for whatever reason, I did not produce it. I was determined to continue on with the New England 67 in the spring and that would prove to be a focus for the year. I spent a lot of time while I was not hiking, trying to figure out two plans. One for hiking solo and one to try and find my people. The ghost in my house was slow to leave and as I waited, I began solo hiking and getting comfortable with both myself and my pup Isis (and she was a pup of just 5 month that January 2013). I had a great solo trek around The Bond's save for the winds blowing me over and making me back off of West Bond (missing the complete set of 3 for my winter list) and Isis and I closed out the winter season on Jackson by sliding down the summit cone on my ass with Isis pulling me on her leash and discovering that she might just be a great winter companion and musher all in one. Old Speck at the beginning of April would kick off my spring for 2013. Isis and I made the first long trek and ended up breaking trail together up to the cold and windy summit observation tower of the first Maine peak for me. We had formed a solid hiking partnership between human and dog and slowly left the ghost behind (we never hiked together again after the Kinsman's in Feb of 2013). It was not until the Annual Meeting in Mid-April that I felt the year finally take shape and the ghost was gone by May. Surrounded by people of like mind and sitting in that middle school auditorium, with two good friends and my mother, I felt accepted and with a small cheering section (one voice louder than the rest) that I never knew I had until I stood up to receive my first scroll, I smiled my best smile. I was set to go further than I had before and I could feel it in my heart that I had indeed found my people.
Knowing that I had my original goal of my Winter 48 set, a goal of completing my New England 67, and intent to help Isis get her Multi Season 48, I set myself up for a possible triple threat for the annual meeting of 2014. I also decided that I might was well start a Grid for myself too. All of these goals would remain flexible and I would not be disappointed if I did not complete any of them. The Grid seemed natural now after all, Isis’ first round would build on my second round so, to keep going seemed natural. Meeting a solid group of hikers (Scott, Gumby hiker, Heather, and her dog Kali) to hike with had an influence on my confidence and I enjoyed hiking the peaks with them for that reason among other reasons. The first big single day trip of my hiking career was taking Isis from Madison to Jefferson and then down the Jewel Trail in the Presidentials at the end of April. She was only 8 months at the time and we all secretly had our doubts about her making the trip. I can remember the slow and deliberate pace below tree line and then breaking out and feeling the sun touch my face and smiling at how much fun we all were having (Scott, Gumby hiker, Isis, and myself). We laughed and joked all the way across the peaks through the remaining snow and all the while getting burned by the sun (well everyone except Scott). We had run into fellow hikers Silverfox and Val (My first introduction) that day as well and they had quietly questioned my decision to have Isis up there not knowing what I strong hiking dog she would become. It was a beautiful day for all of us above tree line and I was even able to see my first moose off the side of the road on 302. I was energized by hiking with such positive and supportive hikers and excited to see where else I could go.
One fogged over day in June, Scott and I joined about 25 other hikers from an internet group on Moosilauke for a social gathering. Bringing Isis along, I tested her out on our first bushwhack. The decision was made to take the Asquam Ridge trail to the summit except we would detour along the way and take the old Beaverbrook trail as well. We were joined by fellow hiker Chris for this trip and all of us enjoyed the wet and wild adventure. We were truly soaked as we walked through the pine boughs and I found myself giving space so that Isis was not under everyone feet as the guys worked to cut away a few of the branches. We broke out of the trees and were covered by the summit fog so there was no dramatic entrance from a trail that was not really there for the four of us. This was our secret and I believe to this day that not a lot of people know where the entrance to that trail is. Chris, Scott, Isis, and I enjoyed a summit meeting and finally putting the faces together with the actual people we had been conversing with on line. Moose’s summit was traditionally cold and windy I changed into cold weather gear from my shorts and used a pair of gloves from my companion. The summit meeting was a great success and as the three of us walked down the carriage road together mixing with other hikers and dogs, we began to warm up again. On the carriage road, I stripped back down to summer gear and was back to sweating by the time we got back to the car.
Memorial Day weekend is traditionally a big Outdoors weekend for a lot of people. It’s the kick off to summer and plans were forming for a camp out on The Royce’s, Eagle Crag, and The Baldface’s would also be visited. The four of us (plus Kali) set out in the pouring rain for a great weekend and Heather and I felt honored to be included as this weekend was traditionally a guys weekend. The problem was, we could not find a dry place to pitch the tents. So we scrambled around the Royce’s and enjoyed the beauty of the mountains in the rain. Using Heather’s house for our camp out, we ate well at area restaurants and our gear was able to dry out each night. The second day was much dryer for Eagle Crag and Scott and I had a great hike and talk to the summit. The wind was whipping when we got there and we hunkered down behind a huge rock together for some snacks while we waited for the rest of our group. Again we hiked out and as we were coming down, we found ourselves standing above a rainbow. I was once again amazed at the sights I get to see in the mountains. Mother Nature never disappoints no matter what the weather is. The final day of the weekend, was by far the best for us as we set out to explore the Baldface’s. The ledges leading to North Baldface were beautiful and a lot of fun for us to maneuver around. The summits were blustery however, summit moments were pure bliss as we all savored the views in our own way. Summer had been successfully kicked off and I was enjoying my connection all the more.
Not long after that trip on Memorial Day weekend, I began my journey for the New England 67 as the sole focus of my summer. To do this, I struck out on my own for the Vermont Peaks. I had the support of Scott who was always there with a pep talk if I needed one. I had never had such support before. It was very strange for me to initially not hike with him. Mount Mansfield was the first time I had ever slept in my car at a trail head. Arriving the night before the hike, Isis and I settled down the jokes were flying via text about my freeze dried dinner and as I settled in for the night, I suddenly realized that my head was in the trunk of my car. It felt strange and uncomfortable (even with Isis there with me). I called and my mind was set right again. The hike the next day was beautiful and Isis and I enjoyed the ease of hiking the Vermont peaks. The other four were much the same (minus the car pep talk each time I slept at a trail head). As I completed the Vermont required peaks for the New England 67, I began to wonder how I was going to get the Maine peaks. They were so far away and this would take some planning. It would also take me away from Scott and those I enjoyed sharing the trails with.
July fourth saw the group camping on Flat Mountain Pond and exploring that area. It was chosen for its general lack of elevation gain making it an easy hike on knees. The four of us and Kali again set out with full packs and extreme humidity. I have a tendency to crumble in humidity now and that probably explains why I love winter so much. I can add layers in winter. In summer, I can only subtract so much. Our bandana’s served as cold compresses as we stopped by a stream for a break. Making our way around the pond, we found the best camping site or so Scott and I thought. We were trumped a short while later by another site on a peninsula which gave us beautiful views of the surrounding area. The four of us and Kali settled around a nice fire for a dinner of Steak tips for some and Pad Thai (freeze dried) for me and of course there was laughter. There always seemed to be laugher with our group. I was silently grateful for the company that was caring and less abrasive than the former ghost in my house. Each of us settled in our tents for the night and as my body dictates, I fell into a very comfortable and deep sleep rather quickly (unlike my partner). Our hike out the following morning brought us around to the shelter and through some beautiful forest terrain with lots of railroad debris to look at. The humidity it seemed was cut in half as well. The four of us once again enjoyed a successful trip into the woods.
Mid July brought Seek the Peak (climbing Mt Washington for a fundraiser), and Maine front and center as I had planned a hiking vacation. I would spend four days in Maine, some time on Caribou Valley Road for The Crocker’s, Redington, Sugarloaf, Spaulding, and Abraham. Then I would change locations and car camp for Saddleback and The Horn. I was greeted with a search party for a missing AT hiker (never found) and that seemed to set the tone for my vacation. I got the Crocker's but skipped Redington (unaware that I could have just gone down the road and followed the arrows) on the first day because I didn't want to get lost on the Bushwhack. The second day was more grim news of the AT hiker as I made my way around on the AT for Sugarloaf and Spaulding . Abraham proved to be too far away for me to even conceive of getting to it so, I shortened the trip. The terrain of Maine was a lot tougher than my beloved White Mountains and Vermont combined and it was effectively kicking my ass. I was feeling weak and defeated even though I had managed to hit half of the peaks I intended to. The hikes themselves were soul cleansing as I realized that I could possibly do this leg of the journey on my own (for as much as I craved company). Cutting the vacation short because I felt it was time, I headed for home and I headed for big changes.
I struggled to continue on my journey for the New England 67 through July, August, and September. Things had changed drastically in my little hiking community and I found myself a solo hiker for the remainder of the journey. Scott had reached the point of no return with his ailing knee and faced a life changing knee replacement at the end of August. Being aware of this, I had always intended to continue hiking while he was in recovery and remaining an encouraging force around him without smothering him (multi-tasking between life above and below 4000 feet). So, my focus became Maine and my strength came from within as he concentrated on his recovery. I struggled to give the space needed and still maintain a connection and fell silent for this leg of the journey. I would break it for important peaks such as Katahdin . I gradually began to enjoy the solo journey for the strength I called on to complete the remaining peaks. As I kept climbing, the views became spectacular (even those that were in the clouds), the trails were challenging except I welcomed the challenge rather than shying away from it. Prior to my final push for the New England 67 in September, I made a major trek in the Presidentials for Isis to complete those peaks for her multi season 48. It was a trip that had been discussed and I wanted to do it anyway even though it had been canceled. I wanted to do it now to see if I could go for an extended trip in the Presidentials solo. Isis and I traveled from Pierce to Monroe in mid-August and had a beautiful Bluebird day to do it. Again, I found the trip to be strengthening and soul cleansing as I tried to make sense out of the senseless. I resumed the Maine peaks and the New England 67 shortly after that trip and I figured out a way to get the peaks on my own and with Isis for company on some, I felt myself relax and just go with things. I appreciated the lessons I learned and standing on North Brother, I proudly stepped right up to the summit post and claimed my New England 67 finished. Emotions ran over as I sat with complete strangers and had summit ice cream (a tradition from our group) and wine. I had not only conquered the New England 67, I had conquered the peaks on my own. All but Killington were done solo. I was never more proud of the hiker I had become and I was also aware of the different person I was evolving into. The mountains had a way of changing a person for the better.
What was next for me? I was returning to the White Mountains with the hopes of reconnecting with my hiking troupe and quickly realizing that would not be the case. I continued on my solo journey as well as connected with other members of the hiking community. In October, I finally got the experience of a Zealand Bond's Traverse (a hike I had only heard about and wanted to do). Myself, Silverfox, and Isis had a great day above tree line with lots of light hearted talk and beautiful views through the Bond’s. Isis had proved herself to be a formidable trail dog and a great companion. She was connected to me not just by leash but by heart as well. If I tripped, she checked on me. If my step was off, she slowed down to be aware of me. She listened well and was constantly at my side. Another bonus for her and I was an invite for Owl's Head and our opportunity to learn those bushwhacks. Isis again handled them as if it was just a walk in the park. My eyes were growing ever wider at her ability and mine. Again, the company was enjoyable and the hiking was nothing short of fun. I was back home in my White Mountain’s and loving it all.
There were trips that were below four thousand feet as well in 2013. My mother had approached me to do a hike and I was thrilled to lead her (at Scott’s suggestion) up Mount Israel. The trip was great for mother daughter bonding and to give her an idea of what goes on when I hike. Isis joined us as well and it gave my mother a chance to get to know her too. The terrain for me was easy. My mother struggled with the leaves and some of the incline. She summited though and I was so proud of her. In the bitter cold, she stood by that summit cairn and smiled, proclaiming her victory. The trip back to the car was slow and steady. My mother took a few significant tumbles that tested my ability to hold it together as well as her trust in me. Even though he was only a shadow in my life, I had Scott’s winter poles and they had become something of a running joke between us. Those poles probably saved the hike for my mother as she was able to stabilize herself and walk out on her own. She still talks about her experience to this day and that makes me feel proud.
A second trip below four thousand feet brought me home to Mount Monadnock. I was not going to summit though on this day. I was going to find the Pumpelly Cave. This was a trip that was circulating between the ghost and Scott. It had never come to fruition until I had decided to complete it. Unsure if I would find the cave, I set out for the Pumpelly trail on the other side of Monadnock in Dublin New Hampshire. Isis sat this hike out as well due to dogs not being allowed on the peak. To my surprise and my ability, I was able to find it with relative ease and I celebrated with cheese and other snacks while sitting in the shelter of the cave. The trails were deserted for a beautiful Sunday so, the only bragging I could do was with family or the on line community. Considering this to be a personal victory as I had never done a bushwhack on my own before (regardless of how small it was to find the cave). The attention I received for finding it was amazing as email after email came in asking for how I found it and if I would lead people to find it. I agreed to consider it in spring time. Winter was coming and that was now my focus. I had an important season coming up and another was going to stop me from getting the 27 remaining peaks. Nothing of course, except myself.
November saw me making headway on my Grid and Isis’ multi season 48. Weather was cooperating for a lot of hikes below tree line. The temps were falling and in some cases bottoming out with high winds. Winter was knocking at the door of each and every hiker (myself included). In my history as a hiker, there has been one view that has eluded me. That view is notorious in the hiking community and it’s on Franconia Ridge. Scott had a perfect day for one back in July prior to surgery and I was in Vermont for that hike (rather than with him). I kicked myself a little and at the same time I understood why we were separated. I would have my view and I had scheduled the ridge for November. The ridge however eluded me as conditions were not ideal and I was not about to go up there again with no view. Time pushed it to December and the two weekends before Winters official start. While I had wanted to get the entire ridge and have someone with me to share the view, I would have to settle for the classic Lafayette to Little Haystack loop and to share the view with Isis as well as anyone who happened to be up there for the day. This would give Isis two more peaks and even up the peaks that she needed versus the peaks we both needed to continue our counts for the threefer goal. We took the trip backwards and went Little Haystack to Lafayette. Bitter cold, ice, and wind greeted us along the way. More importantly, when I broke out above the trees, a view to end all views greeted us. I was struck speechless save for a lot of obscenities. I managed to send off a text to Scott (since he knew how important this was to me). Of course, true to Lafayette, the view disappeared and the angry weather greeted us for the final summit. Isis and I posed for a quick picture and then hightailed it down into the trees. I was satisfied with the view I got and the day was a complete and utter success.
Now, to bookend the year, I sit in the quiet as I did at the beginning of the year and await a winter storm. Winter planning is in full effect as I opted not to hike today before the storm blows in and plays around for the night and I try and negotiate with my anxiety over hiking solo in winter and look forward to my hikes with many members of the hiking community at the same time. It’s going to be a good mix and another great set of lessons for myself and the little powerhouse that is Isis. I may or may not reach all of my goals: My winter set of the 48, Isis’ multi season 48, along with the completed New England 67. I plan on having fun trying though. I am reminded of all the many memories from hiking over the past year and also reminded that the single most important event of the 2013 year was something that did not happen on the trails at all. On a November morning, I went in for my yearly exam at the doctors. Over three years of hard work paid off for me as the doctor declared me healthy. My Hashimoto's Disease no longer required a yearly blood draw to check my levels although I would still be monitored, just not as closely as I had been. I was declared in remission and even though there is no real cure for this disease and I will have symptoms from time to time, I have it under control. It does not control me any longer. I just need to continue to climb and take care of myself as I have for the past three and a half years. For this news alone, I am pleased to end the year on such a high note. Happy trails and Isis and I will see you on the summits in 2014.