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2014 The Year in Review

(If ever there was a picture that could define a year, it's this one from Mt. Adam's over the summer.) 

                No one can really predict how a year is going to progress. I had started 2014 with a clear plan, to simply be better than I was the previous year. I wanted to do trips that would stretch my comfort zone and test myself. I wanted to continue working on my Grid but not letting it be the sole focus of my hiking. I wanted to do my Grid in such a way that I was not confined by rounds of the 48 (to date, I have pieces of my 4th through my 7th rounds completed and 2 left for my 3rd round). For those that are new to the story, I am working on what is called THE GRID or climbing the 48 four thousand foot or higher peaks in New Hampshire and climbing them in each month of the calendar year (48x12 or 576 total summits). A hiker has as much time as they need to do this  should they choose to undertake it and while some finish it rather quickly, I am taking a slower journey. Most importantly for myself, I wanted to experience the mountains with my dog Isis and I wanted to remember the trips and the seasons as they passed. Because of this, it was hard to find ten treks that I could highlight for the year. I started on January 1st by hiking up Mt. Moriah (4049Ft).

            As often was the theme in 2014, I was solo with Isis for this cold and wintery hike up Mount Moriah. Given that it was after the holidays, I was armed with new gear (warmer winter boots, goggles for the wind, and warm layers). Temps this day reached as low as -30 at the summit and Isis and I had a great day together. This was also a hike for Isis' multi season first round of the 48 and I was in pursuit of my Winter season 48. There was a lot riding on the beginning of the 2014 year and today, while I was pushing myself and struggling with equipment, I also learned of the beauty of the forest around me. In the quiet of the woods, I found beauty in the snow covered trees and joy in sliding back down the mountain on nothing else but my own back side with Isis out in front. We laughed and soon forgot all our frustrations from the previous year of 2013. I was hopeful for 2014 to be a great year on and off the trails (Even if shortly after that hike, I would find myself scrambling to make ends meet for the next month). I had set out to declutter my life and to surround myself with what mattered the most to me.

            Moving through the month of January, I found my footing in February and on the eve of a "new life", my little Isis was going for her 48th peak in her first set of the 4000 footers of New Hampshire. We were off to Mout Isolation (4004 Ft) on this first weekend in February after spending quite a few weekends hiking with friends through January, it was a mixed blessing to be solo again. I adore my solo hikes and I also longed for company on the longer journeys because I am still prone to turning back. Although, as I look back, I don't think anyone was going to keep me from celebrating with Isis. Taking Rocky Branch to the Davis Path without the bushwhacks proved to be the easiest and also a long day. There was minimal new depth on Rocky Branch but Davis Path was hardly broken. I can remember looking up at the summit spur and digging into the fresh unbroken powder to climb to our celebration. To this day, Isis probably has no clue what she did but I was very proud of her. For such a little dog, she's got a big heart and an even bigger personality. This would be the year that really solidified our very small "Pack" as it has been just her and I for a very long time now. She trusts that I'll make the right choices for the both of us. (In April, she attended the ceremony to get her scroll but I had sewn a patch on her harness after this hike.)

        As winter was coming to a close, it was becoming obvious that I was not going to meet my Winter 48 goal except, I was not going to give up without an honest fight at it. I did manage to get one of the toughest peaks on my list. This one, is one that I have yet to solo on and as I write this, it is the only one left that I need for a complete solo round (meaning I am not hiking with an organized group). Today, I was hiking with old friends and new. I was excited and nervous for the whole experience. Knowing that Isis has her own distinct style, I did my best to convince myself that this would be a great day and in many ways, it was. A trip to The Owl (4025 Ft) was on tap for the day and the company would be old friends Heather and Kali along with Gumby Hiker (who I had not seen in over 6 months since breaking off from his brother) and Dan. A 17 mile trip for no view and all the glory of just having made it for me was a great challenge and I can honestly say that I love this peak for the work it makes me do. I can put my head down and go and keep going. The bushwhacks are a challenge and I was up for it. All in all, this was an eye opening trip for me and it also marked my last hike with a group for a long time. The remainder of my trips (with the exception of my last trip in 2014) would be solo. 

             Ending my winter season on Zealand with just 6 peaks (later named The Winter 6 for 2015), I had begun to think of the warmer hikes that were to come and dreaming big, I wanted to backpack the Pemi Loop to see if I could pull it off. I figured that it would be a safe bet to backpack it with Isis. We had made it through the bulk of shoulder season and we were solidly in Spring now and looking at Summer. In June, I had planned to do a Full Moon Pemi to give myself extra motivation (and hopefully good pictures). Classically, the weather had other plans and my Pemi Loop turned into Mount Flume (4328 Ft). The rain was coming down in sheets to start and I had hoped that I could make it through the storm and dry out. What I soon realized is that the following day was going to be much worse and I had planned on being over by Garfield and Galehead at that point with no real desire to spend two wet nights out in the woods. So, on Mount Flume, we watched the clouds swirl and Isis and I decided to head back to the car. Lucky for me, I'm not one that gives up on things very easily. On the ride home, we regrouped and were able to make a short backpacking trip that weekend.

         Isis and I repacked a smaller pack and to my luck, my tent fit my red pack. Again we headed out in the rain and this time we would head to Hale and Zealand With the hope of maybe getting to the Twins too. Testing my flexibility, I had some great moments on Hale and Zealand which started going over Hale in a deep fog and down one of my new favorite sections the Lend a Hand trail to the hut for a break. People were mostly friendly that I would run in to for light conversations. Heading up to Zeacliff had taken it's toll on me and I opted to stay right there on the cliff. I probably could have kept going for a while after a rest except I found this sense of contentment sitting on that cliff. Isis and I spent a cold night out for June and woke up to rain continuing as we mad it to Zealand. Given the lack of sun, I again would cut my trip short for the energy drain that I was experiencing. Content with the success of an overnight on the cliff, we lingered at the hut and I let he mountain air fill my soul. We hiked back to the car a mile away at the Hale Brook lot and called this experiment a success. I was bound for bigger and better trips if I kept building on these little steps. I carried this experience with me for days after and my head was filled with even more pictures of hikes I loved.The fire had returned to me and I was ready to get moving.

           Isis and I tackled Franconia Ridge (Mount Lafayette 5260 Ft, Mount Lincoln 5089 Ft, and Mout Liberty 4459 Ft) in the hopes of doing the entire ridge (except we dropped Flume). What I got from this hike was something I had craved for a very long time (since I started in 2011). I FINALLY GOT A CLEAR VIEW and it was fantastic! Everyone who has ever been close to me knows that I struggled to get a view on this set and everyone that I have ever been close to has always told me of these phenomenal views. I wanted them because the experience is truly as though you are on top of the world. So, Isis and I set out early doing the Old Bridal Path to Franconia Ridge route and we'd eventually descend Liberty Springs and take the bike paths back to the car. Along the way, the people we met were mostly friendly and we even ran into familiar faces of Alton and her Shiba Cole. That was a nice meeting to finally get our dogs together. Again, Isis not being so good with other dogs, it was not all roses and rainbows but it was not bad either. They were on a solo Pemi Loop which again sparked my interest in wanting to complete that long set. Maybe some day... Today, I was content with the miles of views from Franconia Ridge. Once over to Liberty, we dropped Flume to head back to the car on the energy we had left. I needed to build up my strength and stamina if I was going to get anywhere. And I also needed to get over the dark and use my headlamp.... This is why we have these things after all.

       Rounding out a very warm spell in June, Isis and I tackled Mount Adam's (5774 Ft). I wanted to crack into the Presidentials solo just to see if I could do it. I needed to build some confidence in myself on this solo journey and I figured this would be the good test. I had not been here since April of 2013 with Gumby Hiker and his brother Scott who was also my former partner. Facing a lot on this hike, I was also cognizant of Isis and how tough the rocks would be on her. What I didn't count on was the heat and how much that would affect her. Once above tree line, it was touch and go with my little girl as she rested and I even carried her for a while. We made the summit after seeing a deer in the grasses and had one of the most beautiful moments of the year. I placed her on the summit sign and put my face to hers and just started crying and saying how sorry I was and how I would always be there for her and I was also sure that everyone up there thought I was crazy but I asked them to keep getting pictures until I looked at them and smiled asking for my camera back. The bugs were crazy up on the summit so we didn't stay and as a result of the humidity, I ended up packing Isis out for a significant portion of the trip down. She fit nicely in my pack and rested her tired head on my shoulder. Again, this was a hike that proved how much trust she has in me and it made our bond that much stronger. I got the summit and I was feeling stronger in my skills.

     Not being able to let go of The Pemi Loop, I set out to try again at the end of July except this time, I was going to try it in a day and I was leaving Isis at home. Hikes without her do not happen very often but I became cautious with her after Mount Adam's. I set out really early in the morning and hit the trail around 3am. Hiking in the dark solo was a new experience for me and I had trouble finding landmarks. I figured that I would hit Flume (4328 Ft) around sunrise and I was excited for that. Another goal was to catch a sunrise on a peak. My pace quickened on the ladders of the Osseo trail as the sun was creeping up. Making my way over the trail to the final push by the Flume Slide, I crested just as the sun was peaking out and I managed some pictures. I knew that I wanted to make it over to Liberty for breakfast and that was a little over a mile away. So, as I made my way to Liberty, I also began calculating my time for The Pemi. I was way off and would probably be out for at least a day or two at this point so, I began having those serious thoughts. I climbed up to Liberty and set up breakfast. It was this morning that I had these summits to myself and the hazelnut coffee at 4459 Ft tasted so good and the smell filled my nose as a new experience regaining my sense of smell. I tried my best to keep going and tried to convince myself to beat the odds and hike through the dark on the Pemi but entering Franconia Ridge by Little Haystack, I felt the rain sting my face and I turned back. I'm just not going to attempt a Pemi in the rain and I may never be a Pemi hiker. I was suddenly OK with who I was. A slow and steady hiker who had these great experiences on the trail. I had a story to tell after all and it was how the mountains shape my life. So, once again, I found myself heading back to the car after Chasing the sunrise .

       There were more shake ups in my life and ups and downs that I contended with and all along, I was learning how to be myself again and how to manage on my own again and it was as if I was wearing a new skin and not use to my own feet. I had switched jobs again and found myself in extremely familiar and unfamiliar territory. I was unsettled in so many ways and I had a whole new group to get use to and to let them get to know my passions. I could not believe it was Columbus Day Weekend already. I had had my annual trip to my Pittsburgh NH get away and I was planning one last backpack. This was going to be a BIG ONE. I was going to an area that I needed to get a handle on and that was Garfield, Galehead, and The Twins. I again set out from the Garfield trail head and I would end up down the road at the Galehead trail head the next day and just hoof it back to the car on the road. I just needed to hike it first. Isis and I started out on the crowded Mt. Garfield trail and seemed to run into less than friendly hikers on this holiday weekend.  Struggling to make it up Garfield and having a while to go on the Garfield Ridge trail forced me to camp at the base of Galehead in what promised to be a very cold night. I probably didn't have enough layers or a thick enough sleeping back but we made it through the night (Isis slept in my pack in her coat too) to the sound of coyotes. The views were not there in the morning either so we had breakfast on the porch of the Galehead hut. For some reason, my coffee tasted different down here. We made our way up and over the Twins for a total of 4 peaks and a very unfiltered trip where I finally found my voice with regard to people on the trail. I was very please with this trip on this section of the Pemi and proud of both Isis and I for the work we did.

      After Columbus Day weekend, I settled into this new job and became restless and then I settled again and continued to hike this cycle of restlessness and familiarity. Shoulder season was hard for me and I was craving winter. The holidays came and time with family was great but I wanted to hit the trails and keep moving forward. On the edge of Fall, I had my last hike of 2014 and it was another BIG one. A double grid finish for Jason and Andrew on the one and only Owl's Head and I was thrilled to grab this one for December. I probably would never pass up a trip to The Owl just so I could get it out of the way. It's a hard hike on this day and I am lagging in energy and lagging behind. I borrow Jason's snowshoes to finally reach the summit and get myself down. Isis is sluggish as well and yet the day was a big success. I had not hiked with anyone from March until this point and funny that they were both on Owl's Head. Amazing how things happen that way but what  fine day on the trail regardless of the struggles I had. I was please that the year ended on this note.

          The 2014 hiking year ended on a high note even if I was turned back because of rain as I headed to my first Winter peak of the 2014/15 Winter season. Incidentally, I had new gear just like back in January and I had ordered new snowshoes that would hopefully arrive before the following weekends hiking (Long 4 day New Years Weekend!), And back to the, rain?? Really?? In terms of the year in stats: I hiked 41 of the 52 weeks of the year. I covered 71 New Hampshire 4000 Footers and traveled 512.8 miles for the year. My Grid started 2014 at 18.2% and I close the year at 30.6%. While it often felt as though I was taking two steps back in terms of my progress, I think that the numbers do show that I've had an amazing year and I can do this no mater how I doubt myself. Even better I have done a lot of this year with just Isis and that has to say something in this largely mental game. Isis of course has hiked 68 New Hampshire 4000 footers and 487.4 miles for the 2014 year. What will 2015 hold? Beyond the last 6 winter peaks (Go Winter 6!), you'll have to keep following along to find out. I can promise you that the journey will continue and I have no place to go except up!

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