I had a feeling that this would be a long day. I was being ambitious again and since I was finally able to pick up a pack for my Long Trail trip, I figured I would do a little "Packlimating" or getting acclimated to the load that I would be carrying. Forty pounds on my back and I decide to head up Mount Washington and since I wanted to see the Alpine Garden, I decided to take Nelson Crag to the Alpine Garden trail and then head up Lion Head to the summit. An ambitious day to say the least and I did not know all the details of what I was in for. I rose early at about 3:30/4am and we hit the road to a brilliant sunrise. I arrived at Pinckham Notch visitors center by about 7:30a and we hit the trail but quarter to 8. The pack was already sitting well and I was able to move rather quickly. Old Jackson Road is rather flat and easy to walk. I enjoyed a little company of people both heading up the trail and down and some great advice from a section hiker, who told me to never be discouraged and to push on through. It gets better, he said and he is right. I was happy and for the first time in two weeks, my thoughts remained on the trail instead of feeling the stress of my week day. I had no clue what I was in for next.
Old Jackson Road began climbing after a while and I think got me ready for Nelson Crag Trail. I know that this would be a challenge but I had no clue that it would be that much of a challenge. On top of the constant climbing, there were quite a few scramble sections which reminded me of Wildcat Ridge and other hand over hand sections of climbing. Now picture me doing this with Isis on leash and a 40 pound pack. I was feeling very accomplished now because of this and I was a little shocked to say the least but I was too far in. Not really though but going down would have been a little dangerous with Isis. So, we kept going with the noise from the auto road to accompany us and confuse us. I knew that we'd be crossing paths with the road soon as we continued to climb and hearing the cars just made me keep anticipating. We ran into a few souls on the trail and gladly let them pass. A couple with a dog who seemed overly concerned with me and Isis until I finally told them that I was not in the least bit of a hurry and I was not in the least bit bothered by the dogs barking. The gentleman however was and seemed very nervous and told me that he didn't feel like managing the situation. I just kept minding my own business. We continued to climb above tree line and noticed a group of three coming up behind us. We looked at the views and felt the breezes as we hiked. Isis was getting hot and I was conscious of her water intake, to the point that I was taking water to her in my hand from my bladder, but we kept going. Now, we were past the point of no return.
On our way the the Alpine Garden, we were already seeing plenty of flowers. Flowers so tiny, you really needed to look out for them and I was careful where I stepped. The sun was strong and the sunscreen came out. I was lucky that the pack allowed me access to my side pockets to both remove and return items so, I did not have to stop and take it off to get my sunscreen. The group of three caught up to us and we were recognized by Lisa who also introduced us to Ken and Section Hiker. We had a nice chat and then followed them with some distance. We caught up to them again close to the Alpine Garden at a food break and decided to join them. This was a good move considering what lay ahead for us. We compared notes on Nelson Crag and it was a unanimous "We're not going back down that trail" vote. It's too steep for tired feet. But, Lion Head would prove be a challenge too. I had not hiked with anyone for well over a year now and I have to say that it felt good to hike with company. Nice to laugh and to share stories. We all seem to run in similar circles even though I have been solo for a long time. Each of us just enjoyed the views above tree line. They were amazing today.
And we enjoyed the flowers in the garden.
The group of us came to the junction of the Alpine Garden trail (which is a nice flat 1 mile walk), and debated the summit. I was good either way to tell the truth but Lisa wanted to go up and see the crazy that is the summit in the busy season. So, we started up the 1 mile section of the Lion Head trail. This is a TOUGH section of a lot of rock hopping and navigating. I was feeling sluggish but I kept pushing. Thankfully, there was plenty of water for Isis who was being a good sport in the heat. We were all laughing and of course running into plenty of people. I lost track of how many times I had to explain that Isis was a 2.5 year old Shiba Inu who loves people but is not too crazy about other dogs and loves to hike. It seems to take a long time to get close to the summit and I got excited as I started to see towers. We navigated Split rock with a lot of help from Ken and continued up the rocks to the summit with hand over hand work. I was getting hot but the pack itself was barely noticeable for the weight I had been carrying. As Lisa had said "You are bad ass for carrying that around". I kept assuring her that I was just crazy and not actually bad ass. We would pause and look out at the view and drop a few choice expletives in a happy "I can believe the day" way. There was talk of a snack bar visit when we got to the top. We finally hit the Tuckerman's stairs and groaned to take them up because we are so use to uneven steps over the uniform stairs. The summit is BUSY and while Lisa and I got to the summit sign, we turn back at the line for it. We are covered in scratches, dirt, sweat, and that means one thing, we EARNED our summit. Driving up does not cut it with us. So, we opt for the snack bar. Section Hiker bought me a sprite and I was so thankful. I swear, I didn't even taste it as I drank it. We navigated the crowds for some shade and watch the people come and go. I didn't really sit and it took a lot to take off the pack... Mostly because I was unsure of my energy to get it back on. It's been a Looooooong day and we still have to get back down.
After a good rest and a lot of laughs, we began our slow decent of the mountain. Lion Head back down was tedious and a lot of tired steps over rocks that we all wished were covered in snow. We stopped at Lion Head and took in the view of Tuckerman's. Two hikers had not heeded the warnings of closure and were hiking down. Thankfully, they made it past the snow field that remained but what risky and DUMB move on their part. We began to head back into the trees and I got that mixed emotional feeling. I wanted to stay up there BUT I also knew that responsibility awaited and I was also getting tired. Still, the pack on my back was barely a factor. I was just drained from the sun. Isis was keeping good pace and not really pulling me... Yet. We kind of separated between the guys and the girls and Lisa and I had a nice chat on the way down. I had missed this for a while and for as much as I LOVE my solo hikes, today called for moral support. There as a particularly tough section that I froze on prior to the Lion Head Ladder. The rocks were tricky and the pack was just so big. I was terrified and off balance. If it were not for Ken, I might have met disaster but we all got through it. I was only slightly embarrassed but still retained my "Bad Ass" title. I was now looking forward to going home and having my coffee. The trail became quiet as we all concentrated on our footings. Heading out on Tuckerman's was also tedious considering it was flatter and just filled with rocks. Tired feet trip but I also noticed that my arches were extra tired from gripping in my trail runners. I had also stubbed my toes a few times. Isis was getting antsy too as she was pulling me along. We stopped at the bridges on the way out and I had forgotten how many there were. All total, I believe there were 4 to cross and each on put me closer to my car. I walked with Section Hiker out and we both agreed that having done this hike with this pack, I was more than ready for the Long Trail. What fantastic day playing in the flora of Mount Washington. I landed at my car close to 7pm. A full day on the trails.
Today, the one thing that kept going through my mind was STRENGTH. It was apparent when I was on Nelson Crag and managing the hand over hand sections with my extra heavy load. I know I am in good shape and I am in awe of myself going over those scrambles and not even thinking twice with 40 pounds on my back and a dog attached to me by leash. I always remember at these times that it was not long ago that I was not this strong and really struggling with everything physically and emotionally. Today, I believe that I have over come a lot of set backs and proven to myself that I am a capable hiker in many ways. Today, I am stronger for my weaknesses and happy to have over come them. Two weeks of not feeling weighted down by stress and anxiety and walking tall. I cannot wait to see what happens over the next two months leading up to my Long Trail trip. I... Am... Ready.