Things have truly been hectic at church. However, I am enjoying looking back at old hikes as I plan new ones for the future. Truthfully, the way things are going it may be a while before I head up north again. Of course, the mountains will be there...and I will bring snowshoes!
As with the previous hikes, some of these hikes have longer posts, which I have linked in the descriptions...
Mount Cabot #26
We combined this hike with a trip along the ridge to The Bulge and The Horn. The Horn resides on the 52 With-A-View (52WAV) list, but there was no view to be had. By that time the clouds had rolled in and the rest of the hike veered between misty and rainy. We did have this one good view heading up. The longer post tells the tale.
Monroe and Washington #27 & #28
This trip combined one of my favorite mountains--Monroe--with one of my least favorite...Washington. This has nothing to do with the relative ease of the climb. Honestly, while Washington is indeed the tallest. It isn't much taller than its neighbors. All the Presidents are big piles of slag. The longer post tells a bit about why I would climb Monroe again...and just look at Washington from there. This trip helped me refine what I like and don't like about hiking.
Carter Dome #29
This hike was tough! There isn't much more to say that isn't in the longer post. That said, I would do it again. I might decide to climb up the Rainbow Trail, however as it became one of my favorites. The longer post has the details.
Middle Carter and South Carter #29 & #30
We climbed this one on a day where it was fall at the bottom and winter at the top! What a great trip. If you are planning a hike on a three day weekend in the fall in NH, this may be the right one for you. All the tourists are heading to the Presidential and Franconia ranges. Do both yourself and the folks at Search and Rescue a favor and climb the Carters. They are plenty.
Madison and Adams #31 & #32
This was the hardest hike we did in the Whites. I have tried to write about it before but just haven't been able to grasp its weight. Adams is the second tallest mountain on the 48 list and Madison is the fifth tallest. For comparison, Washington is first, Jefferson is third, and Monroe is fourth. All of these are pretty much the same height if you are climbing them. They all hurt, too.
What I do remember is a massive amount of exertion. I had been climbing every day that week--mostly 52WAV mountains--so I was in good shape, but also a bit tired. That said it was beautiful and I enjoyed the time spent in nature with my brother Dan and my wife Allison. I would do this again, but only climb one peak per trip.
A few things happened on this hike that are worth mentioning. First, we were given stern warning at the base of the trail. This is an unreasonably difficult hike for its level of popularity. The rangers know this and want to make sure that the people going up know what they are doing. After that we encountered an entire dog-and-pony show of an influencer, her friends, and some poor guy who actually had to take the pictures. I think they thought we should know who they were...but we were too old. They were a bit much, so we got ahead of them as quickly as possible at one of their many stops.
Finally, on the way down the mountain we passed a number of people who should have listened more closely to the rangers. They were struggling mightily. It was a good reminder that sometimes we think more highly of our abilities than we should. Humility is a must in the White Mountains.
Lincoln and Lafayette #33 & #34
Mount Monadnock--on the 52 WAV list--may be the second most climbed mountain in the world (after Mt. Fuji) but I have to say that these two peaks have to be up there as well. They bookend a fabulous section of Franconia Ridge that features breathtaking views all around. As with Mount Washington, though, I found it too crowded for my taste. This may be why I did not write a longer post for this hike. I am glad I did it. However, there are mountains I would rather climb.
The climb up Lincoln was typical New England. There we very few switchbacks, just a steep incline that got steeper with time. The hike goes over Little Haystack--"little" is a misnomer--then up to Lincoln. The views were indeed spectacular and there were certainly plenty of folks to share them with. Then came the walk across the ridge to Lafayette, hitting a couple smaller peaks on the way. The way down was less direct than the way up, presenting a number of different views forward and back before finally dipping into the trees. I think if I could have found a day just as pleasant with fewer people I would have been more into it. However, I don't think such a day exists.
So right after putting down what is many people's favorite hike, I want to share my favorite with you. At least this was my favorite hike on the NH 48 list! I did run into some horrific weather and almost slid right off the peak. I would do it again, though. After Jackson I went over to Mount Webster (another 52WAV). I would love to replicate this whole day sometime. The longer post here covers it, I think.
HIKED ON 6/19/23 and 6/20/23
Really, in a perfect world this would be our final hike of the NH 48 4,000 Footer list. That isn't how it worked out. However, it was beautiful. It was also the last of my hiking videos before life got in the way. That and recording got in the way of hiking (sigh). So, I am mostly just embedding that video here. It should be noted that we crossed of Mount Zealand for the second time and experienced the revelation of beautiful Mount Guyot, which isn't on anybody's list. It may be my favorite mountain. It took quite a bit of effort to get there but the reward was great.
So here is the second group of hikes for my New Hampshire 48 4,000 footers. As I mentioned in the first installment, I started the project before I should have. These hikes, however, mark the transition from rehab to hobby. I was getting stronger. I also was climbing many other mountains when I could. I took every opportunity I could get to head out on the trail in Massachusetts. Also, I would run up to New Hampshire or Maine to climb smaller things when time would allow. Many of those hikes are documented here in Sabbath Walks. Perhaps this information will help explain the growing gaps between 48ers.
It also indicates something of my hiking style. Most of my other hikes were solo endeavors. On the 48 list, however, I usually had at least one companion. The mix worked out well, I think.
As with last time I have linked to longer posts on specific hikes when possible and wrote a bit longer where I don't have any other supporting material. I couldn't always find the time to write, after all. Life has a way of being lived...
Osceola and East Osceola #11 & #12
(October 4, 2021)
I really loved this hike. My brother Dan joined me, which gave the whole thing the feel of a family reunion in the wake of Covid. I also wiped out and broke a pole by landing on it. The long post has the deets.
Zealand #13 (October 7, 2021)
Video (ZBonds Traverse)
This has to be among my favorite hikes. I have hiked it once since--the video link tells the story--but I can see myself heading up to the cliffs in the future just to take in the view. It was one of the first climbs I enjoyed for itself. The process of rehab was far enough along to drift into the background a bit.
Flume #14 (November 11, 2021)
I have no real documentary evidence of this hike up Osseo trail. This is strange as I really loved it. The climb was relatively gentle. Allison and I spent time at the top eating snacks and watching the world go by. On the way down we encountered the honor guard with an enormous American flag. Flags on the 48 usually has events on September 11. That year someone was doing something on November 11, too. They looked tired but determined to get to the top in time!
Osseo Trail is the "easy" way up. There is also a slide. The thing about slides is that you get a fabulous and continuous view while raising the difficulty level a few notches. I was in no shape for Flume Slide and the hike was so pretty I would probably do it the same way again.
North Kinsman #15 (December 4, 2021)
The long post here actually records our second summit, which included South Kinsman. We failed to get to that mountain the first time. We started later than Al and I usually do and there wasn't really the time to make it out and back before dark. After hitting the peak of North, we decided to turn around. Hikers often remind ourselves that getting to the top is optional and getting back to the car is mandatory. Still...it was frustrating. The good news, though, is that the mountains don't go anywhere.
Liberty #16 (January 16, 2022)
It was dangerously cold that day. We got up early and I had trouble moderating my heat. That said, the hike was beautiful. There were some folks using the mountain as a massive sled run--buttsliding--which is controversial. However, after everything ices over it may be the only way down. This was my favorite hike of the winter. The long post explains it pretty well.
North and South Hancock #17 & #18
(February 11, 2022)
Here is another hike without any documentation. In this case I know why. I was so depressed about the steep climb and the deep snow. A quick butt-slide off South Hancock cheered me up but...still...
Also, we did this one morning during our annual church ski retreat. We probably weren't as well-rested as we could have been.
Now I enjoy winter hiking and did quite a bit of it this past winter (2023). However, I like to keep my hikes a bit more manageable so I can enjoy the views and the weather while also getting home and warm. Those hikes can be found in other sections--and in the Tecumseh video--as the shorter, more local hikes in the snow fit the bill for me. Allison reminds me that the Hancocks are supposed to be easier in winter because the trail conditions aren't so great the rest of the year. Whatever...
South Kinsman #19 (May 7, 2022)
This is the same long post as North Kinsman. I loved this second hike with South being one of my favorites. There was no sadness or defeat this time. We took the same route over North and then on from where we turned around before.
Moriah #20 (May 14, 2022)
Man were we tired during this hike. Also, there was snow in places and the tiny peak was packed! I still remember it very fondly even though we had forgotten our "means to treat" and ran out of water before reaching the car. We will never do that again. The long post only reflects some of the desperation.
Passaconaway #21 (June 18, 2022)
This hike was made during one of those strange mountain storms that exist above 3,000 feet. We had actually decided on Passaconaway as a back-up hike instead of something taller. I am glad we did. There was a fatality not far from us that day. The lesson--much as with our first attempt up South Kinsman--is to respect the mountain.
Whiteface #22 (July 10, 2022)
In some ways the Passaconaway hike was like the Kinsmans. At one point we had thought of doing both during the storm and even strolled out a short way toward Whiteface in the storm. Instead, we turned around and took it the next week, walking back to just below the peak of Passaconaway. It wasn't as depressing, however, because we were learning to be in touch with ourselves and with what was going on around us. Our reward was a fabulous day described in the long post.
North and South Twin #23 & #24 (July 16, 2022)
I loved this hike. It made up for the strain of some of the earlier ones and reminded me to take time looking at the nature around the trail instead of just the views. that said, there were plenty of views from both peaks with South Twin performing brilliantly. I would climb South again by a different route instead of an out-and-back over North. North Twin was fine, but not as brilliant. Also, the weird small rocks on the trail made footing a bit painful at the end of the day.
Jefferson #25 (July 23, 2022)
This was a big deal of a hike for us. It was the first we did in the Presidentials! It is still my favorite mountain on that ridge. The long post covers it well. This was our final hike before taking time to hike the Great Glen Way in Scotland. The Highlands had something to live up to...
I have been out and about lately, as some of you know. Church is hopping. There have been crises large and small to deal with. Life just gets ahead of me sometimes, as it does for everyone. That said, I have also been hiking! This week, in fact, I made my way up Pamola Peak, down the Chimney, over South Peak along the Knife Edge, and on to Baxter Peak all on Mount Katahdin. I hope to post about that at some point. Many things went wrong but...the Knife Edge was a bucket list item for me.
In my few spare moments, though, I have been filling out my application for the NH48 4,000 Footers Club. Yes, there is an application process to join. Obviously one can hike all the mountains, become a "48er" and never make it "official". That said, I think it would be fun. There is a dinner at some point...and a patch. Also, it is an accomplishment with a set beginning and a set ending. In a life and job where one thing just flows into another as Sundays and seasons roll right along, there is comfort that in this, at least, there is a piece of paper in a file somewhere that said I did a thing.
The application includes lists of names and dates. It also includes a narrative. It seems like low-hanging fruit to post the narrative here...with slight enhancements since the actual report is rather dry.
Narrative: Mount Carrigain
Hiked on 8/27/23 #48/48
I found this final mountain to be fairly straightforward when compared to the ones I had climbed most recently. Mount Isolation had been my 47th, for example and that turned into a bit of an adventure. That was fine, though, I was finally–after waiting about a month–able to find a reasonable day for an ascent. My companion on this hike was my wife, Allison Nelson-Eliot, who finished her 48 on that aforementioned Isolation hike. That was hard to schedule, too. The rain has been an epic reminder of the strain we have placed on this "dying" Earth.
It is probably worth noting that I hiked most of my mountains with Allison but her application will contain some different dates from mine as she repeated some mountains with me after she did them the first time. As we waited for at least some of the water to run off Isolation she climbed with me. That meant second summit for her on Pierce, Eisenhower, Hale and others. I also introduced her to some of the "52 With a View" mountains that I love.
We did this hike as an out-and-back via the Signal Ridge Trail. It took us about 8 hours including rests and a celebratory stop at the fire tower/viewing deck on the summit. The hike itself was a bit of a slog. An early commitment to flatness disappears to be replaced by a steady–sometimes steep–incline strewn with those awkward granite boulders so common in northern New England. We cursed the hike many times until we reached the actual Signal Ridge. As I noted, it had been a month since any serious climbing had occurred. Then–even though cloud cover obscured the view at times–our mood improved. There is something about seeing the end-point for so long that really gets you going!
I am a people-person and–as with many hikes I have taken–I fell into conversation with a few of the folks around me. This trip we climbed with a couple of ADK 46’ers up for vacation and met a couple still in their single digits on the NH48. It was an amiable crowd to spend time with at the top. The view–as I mentioned–came and went, but we got some glimpses into Both the Pemi Wilderness and the White Mountain National Forest.
For me it really is about the people you meet along the way. I am a talker. Most people, I think, hike for the silence. However, in any group there is usually somebody more interested in the story than the view. We make eye contact. We venture some quick comments and observations. Eventually we recognize a fellow-traveler and stay connected for as long as we leapfrog each other up and down. This was a good mountain for small-talk and hiker-chats.
The way down was unremarkable except for how happy I was to have finished the list! This started as a way to spend time with my wife while rehabbing from a mid-Covid back injury that resulted in surgery. We hope to keep on climbing. Early in my rehab I got pretty far on the 52 WAV and we have begun picking away at the NE67. Who knows what we will get up to next?
There are different kinds of walking pilgrimages. I certainly know many people who take them. The traditional Camino de Santiago--in all its variations--is popular among the Christians. Others--like the Muslim Haj--involve walking of another sort. That said there are other journeys that are less explicitly attached to a tradition but still carry a special meaning. For example, a year ago my son finished through-hiking the Appalachian Trail. The people who I know that have taken that journey describe it as spiritual and life-changing.
The key element is that the walk tells a story with both external and internal elements. To the extent that it does this, it can be considered a pilgrimage of sorts. I wrote about this elsewhere so I will cease traipsing down that road. All I want to say is that--among other things--climbing the 48 4,000 footers of New Hampshire over the last two years (from August 21, 2021 to August 27, 2023) constitutes a pilgrimage for me. Yes, this project was shoehorned in among other challenges of life. Also, it accounted for only about half the hiking I did during that time. Still, it counts as a pilgrimage. There was intention in the undertaking that included a desire to get out in order to take part in Creation.
I am listing the mountains in a series of posts in the order that I hiked them. In some cases there are specific articles or videos, which I will link to with minimal comment (the links are in "Longer Video" under the title of each section). Others I never got to writing about. They may get a paragraph or two more. Anyway, it is a record of a pilgrimage of sorts for people who might want to do the same or, at least, to know that it is done. At the very least I want to remember. This is the easiest way I can manage.
A Rough Beginning:
One thing that joins this first batch of hikes together is the simple fact that I shouldn't have done them. Right before the pandemic I injured my back. As the plague wore on, the pain became so bad that I could not walk more than a few feet before curling up in a ball on the floor. Many people never noticed, of course. All the world was separated by a disease. Technology--like zoom and video worship--meant that no one had to witness anything other than what I curated for the public. Still--just like everyone else--there was a lot going on. Also I was depressed...but who wasn't.
Anyway, eventually medical people could see me in person and it was decided that I should have surgery. I did this and it was a spectacular improvement! Having spent the previous year or so on my back watching YouTube hiking videos I was ready to go. However...rehab was slow. I was weak and there were stitches to worry about. I really should have taken my time. That said, Allison--my wife--had been climbing the 4,000 footers of New Hampshire and I wanted to spend time with her. FOMO is real, folks. So I began before I should have. All of these hikes were really difficult. Still...I made it didn't I?
Moosilauke #1 (August 21, 2021)
This was a mess of a hike. I made it to the top OK but felt miserable on the descent. There is a long post if you want more details. I am told it is a great mountain and I remember the views being spectacular. I think it may be a while before I climb it again, however.
Mount Cannon #2 (August 27, 2021)
This hike felt arduous at the time. Mostly I remember the first time involving falling down more than I would like. This was true for all of these. I really couldn't twist because of the risk of damaging the surgical area and the still-healing part of my back and spine. This meant just letting gravity take me and hoping for the best. The results were--thankfully--mostly comical. What a sketchy thing to do though...
The Tripyramids #3 & #4 (September 6, 2021)
All I have to say about this is that I weirdly had a good time. I must have looked pretty pathetic--I basically crawled up the mountain in the rain--because after we were done Allison suggested that perhaps mountain climbing wasn't for me. However, it was the first post-surgery hike I enjoyed at all.
Mount Tecumseh #5 (September 10, 2021)
Longer Post (including a later winter video)
This was my first solo hike of the 48! Most of these hikes were with people. However about a third of my hiking is by myself. I am also working on the "52 With a View" list. I do plenty of climbing in Massachusetts and some in Maine. Many of those are weekday trips when I duck out on my "clergy sabbath". I LOVE Mount Techumseh.
Mounts Tom, Field, Willey #6, #7, #8
(September 27, 2021)
This felt ambitious when we did it. It was a long loop with limited views. At the end we added Mount Avalon--a 52WAV mountain--which made the long hike beautiful. The hike still falls in the "shouldn't have done it" category, but I did feel like I was getting better.
Galehead and Garfield #9 & #10 (September 28, 2021)
The "longer post" is pretty thorough. The day after Tom, Field, Willey, and Avalon, we went up Galehead, thinking that was it for the day. Instead we kept on going for a singularly long haul that ended in the dark. Garfield was beautiful. Galehead was a slog. After this hike--while I wasn't really physically up to snuff--I stopped worrying about whether I could make it up or down. Future hikes indicated this may have been a mistake. Still, this is the end of the "first phase".
Hiked on May 28, 2023
We were dreading this one a bit. Owl's Head Mountain is on New Hampshire's "48 4,000 footers" list. To climb it you must walk nine miles into the forest and then turn back around. The views are scant. The footing is just OK. Also--since some of the trails are unmaintained--there is the possibility to get turned around or lost. It is an exercise in perseverance. It is a test of your physical endurance and your ability to move about in the forest. The reward is...well...you get to bag the peak.
For me, this hike came at a moment of transition. I know I talk about this elsewhere, but I have a great deal going on. Much of it is life-stage stuff. Our eldest is in the process of moving out. Middle Son--who was the subject of many unschooling posts in my previous weblog--graduated from college the day before Owl's Head. Our youngest was in Kentucky competing in high school debate nationals. Also, there are vocational concerns for me. My rapidly-ending sabbatical has been about transitions. What will happen to the church in general? What will happen to the church I serve? In spite of plenty of thought and study...I don't know.
Anyway, what a great time for a walk in the woods. Nature, too, is in flux. Even without the brutal destruction of ecosystems. Change is in its nature when left alone. Out in the "wilderness" we can look around and see that living things grow, live their assigned cycle, and die.
The natural world reminds us that we are a part of it. We are presented with the fact that the continuous transition we witness and experience comes from being part of a whole vast organism. Our failing is when we lose track of this organism and start believe that we--the constituent parts--are the beginning and the ending.
This hike was hard. When we got back, my legs--relieved at having to walk no more--cramped up for a solid 30 minutes. Sometimes you choose a high degree of difficulty because the the challenge reminds you that you can do hard things. By doing these things in isolation--away from the high stakes areas of love and regular life--we can get the practice we need. We can develop the confidence that perseverance and problem solving bring. We can look back and recognize that--while no true mountain is the hardest mountain we climbed--we did the deed. We realize we can keep going on with hope even when we do not know the way.
That was Owl's Head. It was a reminder that we are part of something much greater than ourselves. It was a reminder that--in this time or trail--I (we) can push on to whatever comes next. In the video we get lost and I lose track of time. However, I am glad we did it. I will be thinking about walking through that epic tree tunnel long after specific views on prettier, easier hikes are forgotten.
Hiked On May 21, 2023
I am an anxious hiker. Each big trip gets me worried about all the things that can go wrong. The list ranges from the practical and semi-preventable (like running out of water) to the possible (like an injury that requires immediate attention) to the statistically possible (bears). I worry about getting to the trailhead, getting actually lost (as opposed to just confused for a while), forgetting some item, or maybe a meeting back home.
Anyway, these concerns are compounded when the hike is long or complicated. They are also compounded when the people "in the know" are also worried. Enter the Wildcats. Wildcat "A" and "D" are both 4,000 footers. They are connected by an undulating ridge with two more "named" peaks and a number of unnamed prominences.
We worked our way up to this after the winter and...at least some worries were justified. Even though we took the smoother route up a ski trail, it was rough. There was a large, rapidly melting monorail of snow covering much of the ridge. There were patches of ice and water. Near the end--as we summitted "D" on our return--my surgically repaired back started to give out. I was not a happy camper.
That said, it was beautiful up there. The trees did their "tunnel effect" I have written about on Cube. The views--when we had them--were top notch. Stretches and food got me back from the brink in the end. It was a hike to remember...but not in detail.
If you watch the video you will note that I go on about the boring letter-based names and speculate as to why that might be. Later, it occurred to me that Wildcat Mountain isn't on Wildcat A, which is officially just named "Wildcat." Maybe that is why? Does the whole thing need to have the same name for marketing purposes? Anyway, just a final thought...
HIKED ON NOVEMBER 14, 2022
Yesterday was "Thanksgiving Sunday" which is the Sunday before Thanksgiving. It was lovely and peaceful and--at least for me--quite moving. Today, however, I am on screech. Thursday is actual Thanksgiving, then Sunday is the beginning of Advent. There is so much to do. All I see is a long string of tasks stretched out until December 26. This is not unusual for any of us, particularly for clergy, so I am putting my head down and getting on with it...
That said, I did hike Mount Jackson and Mount Webster a week ago in a freak snow situation. The weather--which was unseasonably warm--had turned on a dime. Al got sick. I had a reservation in New Hampshire. All this added up to a very beautiful, very cold, very slippery hike!
There are plenty of things that I would do differently. I would have perhaps not gone. I would have done better research (I was planning on a different I hike with Al). However, I did go. I do not love snow but I have done quite a few winter hikes at this point. I knew it would be gorgeous at the top and that the trails themselves would have a lot to offer. The only thing that gave me any pause was that I was by myself. With that in mind, I double checked my pack, put on my microspikes, and went on up.
It turned out that--while I passed two people heading down Webster--I was the only one hitting Jackson on this particular day. It is a popular mountain. It is rare to have it to oneself. The sound of the high wind in the trees and the rush of water under (and over) the ice created the background music to my solo climb as I negotiated some deadfalls and, of course, the icy stream crossings. I was careful and took lots of breaks, too.
Finally, I reached the tree line. What followed was a brief period of complete chaos! I was pushed around by the wind. I later learned that the wind chill put the temperature at -2 degrees Fahrenheit. My hat almost blew off. I got turned around and--most exciting--I fell and slid on the ice while trying to avoid the worst spot. It was dangerous but--thanks to the speed of falling and the need to figure out what to do so as not to freeze to death--I kept moving. In fairly short order I found my way to the peak and then started down toward Webster.
Those few moments of free-fall, though, became my reflection for Sunday. Every once in a while I have the experience of a sermon or prayer coming to me in its whole form. This was one of those times. Collecting myself before trying to stand, the first few ideas came to my head. We humans are always grateful for the peace--in this case an extremely dramatic and windy peace--after a fall. Time stopped while I sat there on the edge of the earth. All I experienced was the smallness of me and the vastness of what was around me. Nature doesn't really care about you. Sometimes that is properly frightening. Sometimes it is liberating.
There are a lot of different ways to fall. Each time we are saved we crave welcome and assurance. We are grateful for how we made it through the crisis or the climb. We give thanks and praise the acts of kindness and love--from ourselves and others--that we experienced in the darkness.
After taking that moment where I fell, the rest of the hike unfolded before me. What a blessing to be alive on this dynamic planet! I slowly brushed myself off and continued on to Mount Webster.
In a way there isn't much to say, except that the ridge between peaks was spectacular. So, too, was the view--from a much more secure perch--off Mount Webster. On the way down I passed a few more people sensibly just doing the smaller mountain. None of them were by themselves.
I also witnessed a beautiful waterfall on the way down. Snow really does its job on the landscape, making it feel other-worldly. This is our world, though. That is another thing to be grateful for.
Winter hiking, itself, is beautiful. Solo hiking is special and dramatic. However, I will keep my solo winter hikes to the 52 With a View list and look for companions on the big mountains going forward.
Hiked on October 9, 2022
Snow changes everything. Obviously there are actual physical changes. Climbing in the snow--even a little bit--can alter one's approach. The rocks get slippery, for instance. Footing gets weird. If it snows early in the season there can be personal thermostat challenges, with layers going on and off in rapid succession. However, there are also aesthetic and spiritual changes. The white flakes create sharp outlines where previously there were none. The fall of snow, itself, helps us remember previous snows for better or for worse. The sound is altered, too. Even a little snow has the ability to muffle the incidental noises of the forest. Also, many creatures--human and otherwise--become silent, hiding away until the squall passes on.
An early October snowfall starting somewhere above 3,000 feet changed this hike across South Carter, Middle Carter, and oft-forgotten Mount Lethe. We had climbed Carter Dome a couple weeks before. Two weeks--and the snow--made all the difference. When we were on the Carter-Moriah Trail (also part of the AT) in September the place was a seething mass of humanity. Thru-hikers were hustling along their way in hopes of making it to Baxter State Park before it closed for the season. Day hikers were everywhere. On the top of Carter Dome--as I mentioned before--a group had decided to have a picnic and blast their tunes for the rest of us to hear. On this trip it was all silence. It is too late for all that rushing about and too cold for picnics. From now until May there is a seriousness to this endeavor that doesn't empty the big mountains of people so much as put more space between them.
To get to the Carter-Moriah trail--the one that takes us over the peaks--we opted for a steep climb up 19 Mile Brook Trail. The pitch became steeper as went along. When we approached Carter Dome we were on the other side of the ridge. We stopped at Carter Notch and climbed to the peak from there. In this case--on the "front" side--the trail split, with 19-Mile Brook heading toward the hut. The other path--called the Carter Dome Trail though we departed it before the Dome--veers left and heads up toward South Carter. The plans of the few people we saw seemed to involve the hut. Once we turned we had the trail even more to ourselves.
Shortly after this was when the snow started. I am not fond of winter or winter hiking. Snow, however, I like if it is ridiculously early in the season. It reminds me of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Also, it doesn't get deep enough to be a problem--other than the slickness--for our footing. We had the micro spikes in our bag just in case, but we didn't need them. I stayed in a T-shirt for quite a while, waiting for the snow to pick up. I heat up quickly and was mindful of what the drop in temperature could do if I soaked through too many outer layers.
It was a strange feeling with the colored leaves still on the trees, but it wasn't an unpleasant one. The wind had died down, which helped a great deal as well. All the weather activity gave us something to think about as we moved higher and higher.
In a previous post I made reference to a phenomenon that occurs sometimes on mountain hikes where the trail begins to feel safe and secure, like a comfortable room in a house or a welcoming hallway connecting two points. At least that is how I experience it sometimes. This hike had a great deal of this sort of action, particularly after the climb up. When we emerged onto the relatively broad intersection of our trail with Carter-Moriah, the room effect was very much in force. Again, two weeks earlier this spot would have been insane with hikers. Now Al and I were alone in the quiet with the snow gently settling around us.
We may not have been in a true winter wonderland, but it was a wonderland nonetheless. That feeling stuck with us for the long walk along the ridge. We had selected this loop to get away from the crowds. Now on the main trail, we did see a few people enjoying the strangeness of the day. That said, the population was very manageable.
We weren't sure it would be that way. The weekend of Indigenous People's Day is one of the busiest in the Whites. The foliage is usually full throttle. You cannot find a place to stay. Many of the best-known trails and mountains are packed with muggles looking for a fabulous view. We were under the impression that there wasn't much in the view department on the Carters. This was why we picked it. We wanted to hike. The snow had made the forest even more beautiful so we didn't mind terribly anyway.
Funny thing, though. We were wrong about the views. After a long, long, time in the forest the snow started to abate. Through the trees and on various outlooks we were all able to cast our eyes on the fall landscape from our wintry perches. The juxtaposition of our landscape with the one far below was the sort of thing we hope for after putting in so much effort. It felt like a gift.
At this point the temperatures had dropped substantially. Bundled up in our winter jackets we took a moment for snacks and water before heading just below the peak of Mount Lethe. Then we turned on the North Carter Trail toward the Imp Trail for our descent.
The rest of the hike was less interesting. We had a few more brilliant views before dropping under the canopy of trees. We had been talking about heading over the Imp Face--one of the 52 WAV mountains--but we were really done. I was especially finished. I had decided to wear my "backup" hiking boots that I used on the Great Glen Way. This was a mistake. I was trying to save money by nursing along my favorite pair, saving them for other hikes. I paid for my cheapness with pain. I don't think I can do that much longer. It is worth it to use the right gear for the right job. The best boots one can get are the best boots to have, it turns out. Limping down to the bottom of the North Carter/Imp trails I welcomed the short road walk back to our car to complete the loop.
Sometimes there is no great theme to a walk. On days like this it is best not to look too hard for meaning. Instead we favor the day we have been given with our attention. The snow, the pretty trail, the surprise views, and even the sore feet contributed to the experience. We were open to the wonder and were rewarded for it.
Hiked On: September 24, 2022,
Normally we hit the "usual" route, whatever that is. We have books and there are recommended ways to do these things. This trip, however, we chose a different approach. That happens sometimes when off-hike schedules and other issues conspire to require something different. This time there was also a less-used trail we had heard good things about.
There was strange weather predicted for the weekend, too. Early fall in the Whites can mean some fairly eccentric moments. We had planned to hit Little Haystack, Lincoln, and Lafayette but there was a cold wind coming through. With that in mind, we didn't feel like contending with freezing temperatures and ice on the exposed ridge. Instead we climbed Carter Dome; heading up Bog Trail to Wildcat River Trail, to Carter-Moriah then down the little-used Rainbow Trail to the Wildcat River and Bog trails again to the car. It was an adventure that took us what felt like forever. There were sketchy river crossings, a visit to the Carter Notch hut, a hang out near the top with some old guys we met on the way, and a fabulous descent that made the first part worth it.
This was a hard hike. It required a certain amount of mental discipline as well as physical exertion to get to the top. We started late for us--around 8:30--the air was clear and cold but there was plenty of evidence of rain the day and night before. Also, all the trails were littered with fallen branches, leaves and sometimes whole trees thanks to the windstorm that still packed a depleted but potent punch. Al and I saw a few other people as we went along. Mostly they were the usual sorts of hikers moving at slightly faster clip than our own. We got out of the way for each group to pass.
One group coming down consisted of a father and a daughter. He had an overnight pack on. Presumably he stayed at the hut where we planned to take our first long rest. The daughter was probably four or five years old. He was carrying her as well as the pack but seemed very cheerful. They had spotted a moose earlier and wanted to know if we had seen it. Sadly, we had not.
The hut is located in Carter Notch. On one side of the notch is the back end of the Wildcat ridge that boasts a number of peaks and a ski resort. On the other is the Carter ridge. We took a break and thought about plans to perhaps stay at the hut when we hike the Wildcats. We also talked to some backpackers who had spent a hairy night camping on the ridge. The storm winds pelted them with ice. They were in good spirits but very tired and hungry. We left them to their recovery lunch and moved on up to the Dome.
Carter Dome is steep and rocky while also--for the most part--encased in trees. This is actually part of why we chose it. The trees broke the wind somewhat. All around us were shards and chunks of ice, some still falling from the branches above. We were all a little damp and cold, changing layers every few minutes. That is the thing with climbing the tall mountains. The weather is different in different layers. It is why it can be so hard to get a view sometimes. It is also why--if you choose to respect what nature is telling you--new approaches and plans are made.
The Carter-Moriah Trail is part of the Appalachian Trail, so it always feels a little like US Route 1. It functions like that, too. No matter what one has plotted, it is likely that there will be a part of it that hops on to the AT. This is where--on any given day--you will encounter the most hikers. We ended up leapfrogging with a couple of amiable groups on this section. The slightly faster ones kept taking long breaks at the few lookouts along the way.
The other group was made up of men in their 70's who called themselves the "Gluttons for Punishment." Their mission--by their own description--is to "go on stupid hiking trips." They kept the mood very light, which I think we all appreciated. Their behavior reminded me a bit of hiking trips I made in high school. They ran back and forth between each other with a certain manic glee. They also made many, many, loud and self-deprecating jokes that the rest of us only vaguely understood.
After a long break at a false peak our combined group finally hit the actual top. There was no view for us to linger over...just a busy intersection of various trails. There was also another largish group who had decided to listen to music through one of their cell phones, broadcasting it far and wide. The music thing is truly annoying and a bit of a mood breaker. We have encountered this phenomenon before like its a mid-'80's no-walkman situation and there isn't another option. Here we all went our separate ways. The other two groups started over to Mount Hight where there are better views. We decided to start down on the Rainbow Trail. We had heard there was plenty to look at there.
At some point I will make a list of my favorite trails. However, so many of them can only be reached by hiking another trail that the list seems impractical for planning purposes. Still, some are better than others, obviously, and this one was special. We had actually noticed as much in our research and it was part of the reason we took the less travelled route. Rainbow is relatively unknown for so popular an area. When I told the Gluttons about it, they thought I was teasing them. We had to pull out maps so I could prove it existed. Perhaps not surprisingly, it is not well-maintained and a bit overgrown, but we were never lost or even confused.
Three things stand out. First, some thirty seconds below the peak we hit a section with absolutely no sound. Some trick of the landscape protected it not only from the wind but also from the noise of the music at the top. It was unique and very welcome. That deafening silence continued for a while. Shortly after the wind sounds resumed, we emerged on a flat place with some of the best views of the day. We could see the Wildcats and get a peak of the Great Gulf and Mount Washington still peaked in clouds. We could also see the massive pile of Carter Dome and Mount Hight. All of this was framed by more distant peaks. The weird point of Chocorua helped us identify some of them, many of which which we (or I or she) had hiked before.
That view was the second thing. The third thing that stood out was that it added about two miles to our trip. The trail hooked way out and then drifted back toward Wildcat River Trail. Our patience was worn pretty thin by the end as we counted about 13 miles on the day. I have mentioned earlier that every hike feels a little too long. In this case it had taken us more time than we had thought. We started later than we wanted. We also had a three hour drive home.
Our car was there in the lot waiting for us, however. We were almost the last to leave.
I am a full-time pastor in a small, progressive church in Massachusetts. This blog is about the non-church things I do to find spiritual sustenance.