DECEMBER 4, 2021 and May 7, 2022
I will not lose, for even in defeat, there’s a valuable lesson learned, so it evens up for me. --Jay-Z
So this is a story of failure and learning and later...success. I figured I would tell you that right up front. It took us two hikes to cover both of the Mount Kinsmans. They are almost always done together but...well... let's talk...
On December 3, 2021, we went to party. At said party we decided to hike the Kinsmans (North and South) in New Hampshire the next day. It would be--for me and Al--our first "winter hike" and we were eager to try it out. Our friend Howard hiked with us as did Carly Simon (his lovely dog). I should say, for a first attempt at this level of complexity we did pretty well. These mountains are pretty tall, with North coming in at 4,293 feet and South at a slightly taller 4,358 feet. We chose the Mount Kinsman Trail instead of the more popular--and shorter--trails on the other side of the ridge. We usually favor lower inclines and accept the extra miles they bring. The trip was beautiful and the views were fabulous, including a spur to Bald Peak early in our climb. However, it was also pretty darned difficult and when we hit North K we were tired.
OK...they were tired and I was super-tired. Also, we had gotten a late start and I don't think any of us were fancying the hours-long climb down in the dark. After a few moments of discussion on the approach to South we turned back. It was a depressing moment. In the end we hiked about 8 miles in the snow, bagged a peak, and congratulated ourselves on our accomplishment but...it still didn't feel quite right. It was not what we planned.
Fast forward to this past Saturday. We decided to attempt it once again. It was just me and Al this time and was our "Mother's Day Observed" celebration. Here is where I want to digress a bit. If this was some sort of morality tale or life lesson the easiest thing would be to hit the "try try again" button, take our bows, and move on. Yet that doesn't seem right, because that first hike was an important one. We learned--or I learned--a ton that made hiking in general (and therefore experiencing nature) easier and more enjoyable.
After that December hike we did a few things. First, we made a rule to get plenty of sleep. No more parties the night before! Second, we took some shorter--but still quite challenging--winter hikes off the 52WAV list. Willard and Pemigewasset remain two of my favorites. This enabled us to figure out our gear and our winter pace. They also enabled me to appreciate the winter journey more than I did puffing up North K. Third, we made a decision to always start early. This is important. At our pace we really didn't have the time to get back before dark the first time. We could have hiked back in the dark. We weren't concerned about our abilities. We had hiked in the dark before. Still it would not have been pleasant and we do this because we enjoy it.
Fourth and finally, I hit the gym and changed my diet a bit. Many hikers think of hiking as the way they exercise and it certainly is that for me. That said, There is a lot going on in my 51 year old vessel and if hiking is going to be more than exercise, I need to be caring for myself regularly. The Kinsmans taught me that too.
At some point I will write about Willard and Pemigewasset, as well as three 4,000 footers we hiked in winter; Liberty, North Hancock, and South Hancock. There were other hikes as well where the snow wasn't as much of a factor. That is enough description of them for now. It's just a teaser for future posts. What is important to know is that first attempt made me--and us--change some things for the better.
Anyway, that was the context for our return to the Kinsmans. We returned in better shape with a better understanding of what we were doing. The climb was mostly straightforward. We skipped Bald Peak, having already seen it and with a particular goal in mind. Then, as we headed up, we encountered...winter again. If you are hiking this in April or May, it is worth noting that, while you may not need your snowshoes, you still need your microspikes. Our pictures don't show it but after a while the trail was covered in a hard later of ice, which was more of a challenge than the snow. This slowed us down and created a different set of challenges. Al likes the snow. I like no snow ever. We both agreed that the ice below the tree line was worse.
That said, we continued on over North Kinsman once again, then out to South Kinsman along the ridge and ultimately victory! I was glad we returned. Sure, existentially it was nice to get it done, but that ridge was lovely and worth experiencing on its own. the view from South--while not as breathtaking as the one from North--was pretty nice too. Of course we stopped at North on our way back to check it out one more time.
There is something I will miss from the winter, though. Bad weather creates community. There are people I only see on the top of mountains as there is a loose group of hikers who do this regularly for fun. When we see fellow hiker we stop and talk even if we haven't met. We compare weather conditions and gear and where we are on the list. On Pemigewasset, for example, we had a lovely chat with a couple of young people about hiking and nature in general. If you were out that day you were pretty committed, after all, so there were plenty of overlapping interests. Over the winter and early spring this group has the mountains to ourselves and we know that the people we see are trail-nerds like us. We are likely in the same Facebook groups! However on this trip there were a bunch of normal people out. The regular hiker-sorts passed the time of day as usual and we took pictures of each other--I always hope my taking-portraits-of-strangers-on-mountains skills are up to snuff--but it was different. The muggles who were hiking were confused by the strangers trying to communicate. It was good they were getting out but the "list hikers" became "odd" people again. Next winter I will probably do more hiking even though I despise snow...I miss the people already.
The whole trip was about 10.5 miles. The weather will only improve for a while. Neither hike was my favorite but it was worth doing and I am grateful for what it taught me.. Now on to the next one...whenever that will be.
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.