Trekking the Tripyramids

tripyramid1Once upon a time, many years ago, I was an archaeology major. I was (and still am) enthralled by mysteries like Stonehenge, the Nazca Lines, and the Egyptian Pyramids. While this line of academic pursuit was abandoned for a degree that promised a more lucrative future, I still get a thrill from reading about ancient ruins and cultures.

tripyramid9I have to admit I was excited when we decided to hike the Tripyramids last weekend. The name is so much cooler than Lafayette, Whiteface or Liberty, even if imagination fell a little short on dubbing the three peaks North, South, and Middle Tripyramid. The mountains are so named because of their three distinctive peaks. As only two of the three are officially on the New England’s 4000 footer list, we decided to hike only those two – North and Middle Tripyramid. This would allow us to take the path less traveled, a trail that would avoid the infamous ‘slide’ on North Tripyramid, and which would bring us down along the Sabbaday Brook and waterfall in an eleven mile loop.

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Although the day wasn’t particularly hot, the air was thick and humid. As we hiked along the Pine Bend Brook, the mosquitoes swarmed in droves, sticking to our sweaty faces, and on several occasions, flying directly into my eyes. Not my favorite part of the hike. I do have to say, however, that this was one of the more visually interesting hikes I’ve been on. Moss covered rocks, a wide range of foliage, and over a dozen different types of mushrooms made for a nice view – at first.

tripyramid11This was the first hike where we used our new Camelbak packs and the trekking poles we received for Christmas. The packs were great. We didn’t have to stop to drink, and their streamlined design resulted in much less gravity drag while scrambling across large rock slabs. The sticks were also a huge help. I hadn’t realized how much strain they reduce on your legs, and they’re awesome for river crossings.

tripyramid4We made it to the summit of North Tripyramid (4,160 feet) soaked, but in good spirits. I climbed down to the little ledge that provided the only view, took a few pictures, we ate lunch, and then we were off. Middle Tripyramid (4,120 feet) was conquered soon enough, and after a  few pictures shrouded by a nasty looking storm cloud, we began the five mile descent. That’s where things got a little dicey.

tripyramid5It seems that very few people take this way down. The trail is narrow, claustrophobic in places, and covered in hurdles. We played a game of over – under – over as we negotiated through the maze of trees that had fallen across the trail, in some places using branches overhead to swing over gaps or to balance while walking down trunks. Blazes on the trail were few and far between. Then came the river crossings. No stepping stones across, no fallen trunks, no option other than wading in knee deep, digging into the river bed with our trekking sticks to keep balance against the rushing current. Over and over and over again.

tripyramid6At one point we were on the trail, which continued ahead of us, when we saw a blaze on a tree growing on a strip of land down the middle of the river. So we crossed, walked down the middle of the river for a bit, until we were led back to the trail we had been on. I became convinced that some individual(s) had brought their own paint to blaze a trail of madness for their own personal amusement.

sabbaday1By this time, my mood was not the best it could be. I was tired of wading across the river, tired of the trail, tired of feeling like someone’s fool. Then we hit the falls. Reaching the falls meant that we were only a half mile from the parking lot, and a flat half mile at that. After eleven miles, we could still cover the distance and be back at the car in ten minutes. But the Sabbaday Falls were beautiful. They could not be ignore.

sabbadayLike an ancient ruin that had stood the test of time,  it was a magnificent wonder, cutting a deep gash through the rock with its liquid tongue. Bad moods were abandoned as we happily sloshed out into the water, this time by choice, to take pictures. I can’t say that I suggest taking the Sabbaday Falls Trail as a descent from Middle Tripyramid, but I definitely recommend the half mile hike from the parking lot to see the falls.

Farewell Old Friend

002The time has come for me to retire my faithful old friend, the Goonies backpack. It’s so old that it carried my books across several campuses back when I was a student – both college and high school. It was strapped to my back the first time I tried to climb a mountain.
It helped me conquer the Mount Flume/Liberty loop, the most challenging hike I’ve experienced to date.
But there’s no denying that the time has come.
You really shouldn’t be able to read a newspaper through 007the thread-worn bottom of your pack. And I don’t think a corduroy Jansport backpack with a few modifications was ever really intended to be used for mountain climbing. Or for multiple decades.

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It wasn’t an easy decision, but my trusty old buddy has been replaced by a three liter camelbak pack with padded shoulder straps, as well as waist and chest straps to help distribute the weight of the load. The sleek, narrow design is less of a hindrance when climbing, and the water tube leading from the bladder enables a drink without stopping for a break, which is a bonus, but I’ll miss hearing other hikers shout, “Goonies never say die!” in passing. It was almost like having a mascot with you on the hike. Now with my new big girl pack, it’s like I’ve grown up a little more. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll get a patch. Or a sticker 😉

Because I Can

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flume.liberty5There’s only one word I can use to describe this weekend’s hike, and that’s brutal. By the end of the day we had hiked over ten miles during the course of eight hours, made it to the summit of two of the New Hampshire 4000 footers, and spent five hours in the car. Definitely a challenge!

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043We began the hike at the parking lot for the Flume Gorge Visitor Center. Instead of entering the exhibit and going down into the gorge to spend a day in the cool shade of a mountain, our destination lay in the other direction – up. At the northernmost edge of the parking lot, we started on a paved bike path, which is the unmarked Whitehouse Trail. Almost a mile up the road, we entered the woods and took the Liberty Spring Trail until the path forked. From there we went right, opting to take the Flume Slide Trail to the 4328 foot summit of Mount Flume. If you do a bit of research, there are numerous warnings against descending via this trail due to its steepness, and boy, am I glad we listened. They weren’t kidding – parts of this trail are ridiculously steep!

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The first two hours were relatively easy. The next two hours were seriously difficult, spent scrambling up loose rock slides and using tree roots to pull yourself up vertical ledges. Breaks, which we had to take often, involved stopping anywhere you could get your feet level for a moment to take the constant strain of the incline off your calves.

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After four hours, we finally found ourselves at the top of Mount Flume. We took a break for lunch on top of the mountain surrounded by a gorgeous vista. Usually I lose myself in the scenery.

flume.liberty4Usually, by this point of the hike I’ve reached an adrenaline induced euphoria where I don’t register much pain, but not this time. I woke up feeling horrible. I still wasn’t feeling great, and I was only halfway through the hike with another 4000 foot peak and a descent to go.

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Had I given myself the choice to back out, I wouldn’t have been on a mountain that day. But I didn’t give myself a choice. I was doing this climb for my dad, in honor of the one year anniversary of his passing. There was no room for weakness, which became my mantra as I continued to put one foot in front of the other.

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Another 1.2 miles and we had conquered the 4459 foot peak of Mount Liberty. We took another long break, surrounded by a magnificent 360 degree view. By this time my voice was cracking from a day of severe acid reflux, but I was finally feeling better. I never reached the ‘zone’ this time where the hike becomes natural, easy even. Every step of this hike was a struggle, and it was the hardest hike we’d ever done. But I still got through it.

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So, why do we do it? Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? Nope. The pain let’s you know you’re a live? Uhuh. There’s something very spiritual about the experience. Something about the journey, as your mind and body breakdown and then become stronger, as your resolve evolves to a more determined level. There’s a type of bonding that takes place between hikers on a mountain, even with strangers you’ve just met, and I think it’s amazing that my husband and I get to share that with each other. It definitely beats couch time together.

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So why, after all the pain and suffering, do we continue to do it again and again? I think climbing mountains produces the same type of partial amnesia that mothers experience. You remember the difficulty and the struggle, but after a little time passes, the benefits, the pleasurable parts overshadow the grueling, tortuous parts, and you do it again.

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For me, though, it’s more than that. After finishing an eight hour hike, I’m sore. And that’s normal. It’s not like waking up after an average day’s activity and being in extreme pain for no reason. Or spending a rainy day watching movies on the couch to be rewarded by an intense neck and head ache.

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You only have a certain amount of pain receptors in your body, and I function better when mine are receiving earned pain – muscle aches and soreness due to strenuous physical activity that I put my body through, instead of fibromyalgia pain – pain that’s constant and there for no understandable reason and that gets aggravated by feelings of anger and frustration.

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For me, the pain isn’t as bad when I’ve done something to deserve it. I can’t speak for others with fibromyalgia; my experience with them is limited to individuals who claim disability and rely on morphine lollipops. On the rare occasion that I out myself in a conversation I find that I receive doubtful looks while I’m told about how the people they know with fibromyalgia have a really hard time and are in such constant pain that they can’t do much of anything.

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I’ve learned to just smile in nod instead of pointing out that constant pain is the definition of the diagnosis, to commiserate instead of suggesting that they tell their friends and loved ones to try pushing through the pain to live a physically active life. But I know I’m on to something. Besides the muscle pain I have bone and joint issues. Most mornings I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus, but you just have to keep going.

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Some days it gets easier, others it doesn’t. It is what it is, you just have to keep going, accomplish what you need to do and make the best of it. I think one of the main benefits of hiking mountains is that it trains you to think positively. You can’t think negatively. Once you’ve gotten yourself up there in that situation, only you can get you out. There’s no easy way down the mountain.

flumeEvery day I remember the doctors who told me that I was disabled and that I’d never live a normal life. You make your own decisions, set your own limitations, and chose your own destiny. My drive and determination – this is the legacy that my dad left me, that I chose to honor him by. I climb because I can.

 

 

 

 

Adventures in Peakbagging

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We recently decided to practice our peak-bagging skills in the New Hampshire White Mountains. Our course for the day would take us over Noon, Jennings, and Sandwich Dome peaks. We had done our research, had our directions to the trail head, and had read about the hike.

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So we were understandably surprised when the start of the hike involved crossing Drakes Brook with no dry crossing provided. Strangely, when you research the Jennings Peak Loop, the crossing is barely mentioned. Later, (oh hindsight) I discovered that if you research Jennings Peak by itself, there’s a warning about a potentially dangerous crossing. A gorgeous, windy day in the wake of Tropical Storm Andrew found us wading through the brook, starting our 9 mile hike with waterlogged boots.

jennings3The thing about peak-bagging is that after you climb up a peak, you descend a bit before climbing up again. Then down again before up again, like some bad joke. By the time we were nearing our third summit, I was having serious second thoughts about the whole multiple peaks in one day thing, but the views were amazing. Now that it’s over with, it was definitely worth it 😉

jennings10As a little icing on the cake, you have to cross the brook again to complete the loop and get back to the parking lot. All in all, it was a beautiful day, a great hike, and on the way home we got to see some great New Hampshire fireworks.

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On a side note, should you see me on my way down the mountain, rest assured, I’m not trying to impress you with my awesome parkour skills. That’s just the way I look going downhill. A stumble turns into a run, and my monkey-handing from tree trunk to tree trunk is simply my way of keeping my face out of the dirt.

Lessons Learned . . . Again

gunstock4Sometimes the third time isn’t the charm. Sometimes it might just be better to leave well enough alone. Am I wise enough to take my own advice? Unfortunately, no.

The first time we tried to hike Mount Whiteface, the GPS took us on a wild goose chase, and we ended up hiking Mount Gunstock on the way home just to get out of the car for a while. The second time, thanks to careful charting and planning, we made it to Whiteface. Then someone, who shall remain nameless, locked the keys in the car. In nameless’s defense, they were a member of Triple A and were able to get a locksmith out to retrieve the keys. Unfortunately, it was after several hours, making it much too late to begin a very long hike.

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But, you live, you learn . . . and then you forget what you learned and end up hiking the back way up Gunstock again because, on your third attempt to hike Mount Whiteface, the GPS again takes you to the wrong place. Thus, the implementation of a new plan. Enter the dawn of the specific directions to the trail head on paper plan. So much for the age of technology, sometimes old school is better.

belknapWe did take a different and much more enjoyable trail up Gunstock this time. After a quick lunch at the summit – different from most mountains because there are tables, bathrooms, and a steady stream of zipliners – we peak bagged over to the Belknap summit for a view of an old fire tower before hiking back. Happily, we had the keys in the pack, not locked in the car, so at least one lesson stuck.

And a word of warning to Mount Whiteface . . . next time, we will find you, and it’s on!

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My Top 5 Favorite New Hampshire Mountain Hikes of 2013

Alas, it’s cold outside in New England and the ground is covered in snow. As I’m not the most sure-footed goat on the mountain, my climbing adventures will have to wait until the snow clears. I yearn to climb, I yearn for the mountains . . . but, for now, all I can do it relive past adventures. The following are my top 5 favorite hikes of 2013.

1)      Franconia Ridge Loop ridge

The Franconia Ridge Loop was the most challenging, and most rewarding hike I did in 2013. After finishing this 8.9 mile trail, you’ll have a great sense of accomplishment – as well as a great ache in your muscles for the next few days! The good news is that after the soreness fades, you probably won’t get sore from any subsequent hikes you do.  If the weather permits it, the 360 degree views are absolutely fantastic!  I ascended via the Falling Waters Trail, which leads you along, and sometimes across, a beautiful series of waterfalls. A nice side trail leads to Shining Rock, which has an incredible view of its own.

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At the top you reach Little Haystack (4,760 feet), which isn’t officially one of the NH 4,000 footers. From there you can peak bag across Mount Lincoln (5,089 feet – 7th highest of the 4,000 footers) and Mount Lafayette (5,260 feet – 6th highest, and # 4 on New England’s 50 Finest list), using part of the Appalachian Trail. After Lafayette, you can take the Old Bridle Path back down to the parking area. You will pass the Greenleaf Hut on the way down if you need to stop to use the amenities, get a snack or drink, or even a dry T-shirt. Located in the White Mountain National Forest, you’ll experience an elevation gain of around 3,900 feet, making the Franconia Range the second highest series in the White Mountains, second to only the Presidential Range.

2)   Mount Osceola003002

At 4,340 feet, Mount Osceola is # 24 of the NH 4,000 footers, and # 41 of the New England’s Fifty Finest. Part of the White Mountain National Forest, Osceola, named after a Seminole Indian Chief, is one of seven mountains in the Sandwich Range.

I took the 3.2 mile trail-head from Tripoli Road, (which is closed in the winter) for a short, vigorous hike with a 2,060 foot elevation gain. The view at the top is only 220 degrees, but is excellent (again, if the weather is agreeable). From the summit, you can see many of the other White Mountains in the distance, including Mount Washington.

 

3)      Mount Moosilauke 048

At 4,802 feet Mount Moosilauke is the 10th highest of the NH 4,000 footers, # 9 on the New England’s Finest Peaks list, and, as the westernmost of the 4,000 footers, offers hikers an incredible view, weather permitting. I ascended using the Beaver Brook Trail, which takes you along a lovely set of cascades. The first half of the hike is very steep. Around the time you leave the falls and reach the Beaver Brook Shelter, though, the grade lessens.

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The path aligns with the Appalachian Trail for a while, which will bring you to the summit for a 3,100 foot elevation gain. Admittedly, I failed to notice a branching of the trail on the way down, which turned the 7.6 mile trip into a 20 mile journey in the dark of night along washed out roads, noise filled woods and a lonely stretch of highway, lifeless except for some nearby gun shots, but it made me feel like I was a character in The Goonies, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I enjoyed the entire adventure. (It also gave me a chance to use some of the supplies I lug in my pack on each trek but never before had the chance to need.)

4)  Crotched Mountain IMAG2359

Part of the Monadnock region, Crotched Mountain is only 2,063 feet, with an elevation gain of about 760 feet, but I found this a very enjoyable hike nonetheless. From the hard to find parking lot, you can take the Gregg Trail, which is smooth, graded, and handicap accessible. This leads to a viewing platform where you can see other mountains in the Monadnock region, including Mount Monadnock itself. It’s a very pretty view, especially at sunset.  A narrow path to the side is the Shannon trail, which you can take to the summit. This trail will also take you across an open field filled with wild blueberries and black berries. There is a ledge near the summit with a great view.

5)   Mount Sunapee mountain

Mount Sunapee is only 2,726 feet high, but offers a nice wooded hike, great for when the summer sun is at its strongest. I took the two mile ‘Summit Trail’ up, which meanders through the woods until you reach the top, where the path opens onto a field of sunshine and wildflowers, making this one of my favorite hikes. After a couple of hours trekking through the woods, being greeted by purple wildflowers was a delightful experience I’ve not had on any other mountain. After a 1,650 foot elevation gain, the summit offers a great view of Lake Sunapee and other mountains in the distance.

A Short Hike Up – Mount Watatic, MA

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It’s November in New England, and since it’s not going to get any warmer, this weekend I forced myself out of hibernation and climbed Mount Watatic. Mount Watatic is only 1,832 feet, and is on the border of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, so it wasn’t as far a drive as it usually is for me to reach a mountain.

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There are several trails to the top – we chose the most direct, and steepest, which starts at an unmarked lot off 119. It was freezing (literally) cold out, and it burned just to breathe the air. The trail was littered with fallen leaves, hiding would be assassin rocks from sight. You had to test each step to make sure there weren’t small rocks that were going to slip out from under you before putting any weight on your foot.

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It took an hour to reach the mountain – but only 30 minutes to climb it. Even though it was a smaller mountain, it was still icy cold and windy at the top. We visited the monument at the peak, and then hiked a short distance to a false summit, which provided a better view. A short while later we were back at the car, happy to be in the heat for the drive home.

The Forgotten – Mount Tecumseh

007We had the mountain entirely to ourselves. While we passed cars at other trail heads, our lot was empty. The White Mountain National Forest didn’t even bother to mark the trail head with a sign. As the smallest of New Hampshire’s 4000 footers, poor Mount Tecumseh is neglected and forgotten.

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There are two trails to the summit. One starts at a ski resort. The one we chose begins at an unsigned lot off of Tripoli Road. To find it, it’s on the south side of the road, between the lots for Mount Osceola and Eastman Brook, which are both on the north side of the road. It’s 5.7 miles from I-93.

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The hike begins by leading you across two shallow rivers, after which you come upon a nice, leaf strewn path with  surprisingly few rocks that leads you up at a 45 degree angle. It was a different type of trail than the other 4000 footers we’ve done. A nice change of pace, but we were sure there’d be some climbing to come later.

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At the top of this trail there’s a small cairn, an indicator of change in terrain. From here the trail changes to more of a path winding through the woods leading to the occasional scramble over rocks. Then you reach the top, which is a false summit of sorts. There’s a barely noticeable, fallen cairn marking the leveling off of this trail at the top. A path to your right leads to what is probably the best view on this mountain, and what most who take this trail believe to be the summit. To reach the actual summit, continue on the trail. It will take you through a series of dips and rises until you come to the actual summit, about a mile farther and only 250 feet higher than the false summit.

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I can understand why so few people hike Tecumseh – there’s almost no view, and Mount Osceola, which has an amazing view, is right across the street. However, it’s still a nice hike. What it lacks in view in makes up for in peace and quiet. There’s no overcrowded trails, no hikers screaming to each other, no one smoking a cigarette at the top. There’s just you, your thoughts, and nature.

Surviving Mount Moosilauke

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We chose Mount Moosilauke for our next hike because it promised a spectacular view and a challenging climb. Number 10 on New Hampshire’s 4000 footers list, the peak reaches its zenith at 4802 feet. There are four main trails and several smaller paths you can use to reach the summit. The Beaver Brook Trail boasted the most scenic and most difficult route, so that’s the one we chose.

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I was a little iffy about climbing such a high mountain this weekend. I’d been nursing a booboo knee for two weeks -it got nicely bruised on a mountain, but the real damage was done on home turf. A couple of Mondays ago, before work, I was walking  the pups in the dark when they caught scent of something that turned them into snarling, savage beasts lunging at the leads for the freedom to hunt down their unfortunate prey. Whatever it was (I suspect a Bobcat) got them worked up into such a frenzy that they started tussling with each other. I ended up wrapped in their leashes, at which point I knew I was going down, the only question was where. In an effort to not squash a dog, I chose a direction.

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Unfortunately, something sharp stabbed me, resulting in a bone bruise that juts out past my knee and a knot in my shoulder the size of my fist that keeps going into severe spasms. The night before the hike, I put icy hot on my shoulder in an attempt to prepare it for carrying my pack. I’ve used plenty of different topical rubs, including icy hot, many times before. This time was different. I’ve had it result in muscles of fire before, but this time it was a full on napalm assault that brought me to my knees. I swear my skin was smoking, and whether it was a sudden allergic reaction or just luck of the draw, it appears to have caused a mild chemical burn.

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So needless to say, I was not at my best going into this hike. But I was immediately enthralled, captivated by the beauty of the color of the leaves and the cascading water falls. I was positive this was going to be my favorite hike to date. Shortly in, we passed a warning sign. Most of the higher mountain trails have them. We didn’t think much of it and continued on our way, passing several families with small children and a group of women in traditional hijab garb. Then a little further up we started passing a few stony faced hikers with bloody knees. Also commonly seen on the higher mountain trails. When you’re hiking across wet slick rocks, gnarled tree roots and huge rocks, it happens. You slip, you trip, your foot gets stuck, a loose rock catapults you into space and time…..

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Like any good assassin, Mount Moosilauke distracts you with her beauty. This trail had metal hand rails installed into rocks, wooden steps put in places, and many scored rocks for grip. Plenty of other trails don’t. Yes, it was steep. Yes, it was slippery. But it was also very doable, so we continued doing it.

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Then we ran into a fast talking Brit with bloody legs, who told us about his friend higher up on the trail who had hit his head and was not doing well. He was on his way to the parking lot to get help. He told us there was a hut about the same distance up, but thought that getting to the parking lot would be quicker. In a few minutes we came upon his hiking companions. The one indeed had taken a good whack to the head and was too unsteady to stand at the time. However, he wasn’t bleeding, his pupils seemed normal and reactive, and he was eating a snack bar, all fairly good signs. We left him with his group, with the promise to get to the hut and let them know, so help efforts could come from both directions. Only, as we discovered another mile up, the hut was simply a lean-to for camping and an out house. Maybe rangers usually hang out there, but due to the government shut down, no one was on duty. We hadn’t even had to pay the $3 parking fee that day.

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We continued up the trail because there was really nothing we could do at that point. Too many people would just hamper the rescue efforts on such a narrow trail. Also, we had passed a man who we told about  the incident who informed us that he used to be a boy scout and that he intended to make a stretcher from branches to get the guy down. He seemed very excited to take charge of the situation.

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We continued up the trail until we reached the top of the north face. We then had to hike across the mountain to the summit. We arrived, exhausted and slightly disappointed because the view was socked in. But, charming seductress that Moosilauke is, it burned off a little, just for us. We reveled in the amazing views until we were frozen, at which time we started are descent.

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We found the trail we had arrived on and started down. It wasn’t until we reached a tree that had been recently sawn in half to allow passage that we realized something was wrong. We hadn’t passed that tree on the way up. An hour had passed since we had left the summit. Only, this trail had been so easy, we had no idea so much time had passed. The funny thing about climbing is that unless you look behind you, you have no idea if another trail joins with yours. So on your way down, you don’t realize that the tiny little side trail to your right is the one you came up on, not the trail right in front of you, and to be honest, sometimes it all looks the same.

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We were a good way down the mountain already. Going back to find the branch off would add at least an hour to the trip. Had it been earlier, I would have agreed. But dusk was rapidly approaching, and I had no desire to descend that slippery, rocky, dangerous slope in the pitch dark. We would be getting off the mountain at 9:30 pm if we did that. I felt that it would be best to simply get off the mountain, then sort things out from there, once we were safely on flat ground. So we kept going.  Until we reached a river and lost the trail. We headed back up to where the trail was well-defined, discussing our options, which weren’t good. Insisting that there wouldn’t be a side trail down the mountain that just ended at the river, I found a map on my phone. We walked back down to the river, the sun setting and darkness falling quickly. We no longer had much of a choice.

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My hiking companion caught sight of the rest of the trail – on the other side of the river. The fast-moving river full of jagged rocks. There were exposed rocks to hop across – if you are a giant. So I made the giant cross, while I climbed up river until I found a spot with exposed rocks closer together and started crossing. Hand and foot across the slick, slimy, sharp rocks. After dunking only one boot in the water, I made it to the other side where I was pulled to safety. We went back down river to find the trail again by the light of a glow stick.

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We quickly found ourselves at a check-in booth stating that the trail needed to be adopted and was currently un-cared for. But as the navigator on my phone promised, the road was right around the corner. Upon reaching Tunnel Stream Road we were a little over 8 miles from the car, but figured once we reached civilization, we could get a lift the rest of the way. If only we knew.

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We hiked down the dirt and gravel road, relieved to be on our way back to the car and safety and food. But there was something strange about this road. When we came upon a series of fallen trees we realized the road was unkempt and undrivable. This was confirmed when, by the dim light of the glow stick, I noticed that something looked odd and insisted on stopping. We grabbed the flashlight from the pack and discovered that we had reached a section where the entire road was washed away except for the narrow strip where we were standing. Complete disaster movie conditions. So our flat road to safety became a hazard that required careful navigation up, down and around, climbing down and across  gorges, carefully skirting along a narrow rims, tripping across a loose rock moonscape, until at last we reached the end of Tunnel Stream Road, which was blockaded off with a metal barrier and a sign explaining the damage beyond as the result of Hurricane Irene.

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From there we took a right onto Tunnel Brook Road, which started out as Tunnel Stream had – a flat graded dirt road. We had already traversed 1. 9 miles, and had another 1.8 to reach the highway. Hopes were high. Dork that I am, I started making the “Checheche aahaahaah” sound from the Friday the 13th movies. Like some beastly cue, the woods came alive around us. Constant snapping twigs and rustling noises. We walked through a fresh cloud of skunk, wondering what predator had elicited the reaction. Several times some type of animal followed – or stalked – us from along the wood line. There were times when the hair on my arms stood on end and my heart thumped in my chest as my adrenal gland spewed like an uncapped fire-hydrant. At one point we came upon the strong stench of pig. Growing up in Florida, I had a half domesticate/half razor back boar named Mowhawk as a pet. It’s not a smell you forget. Mohawk really was a very sweet animal, but some types of boar can be highly aggressive and territorial.

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We walked as quickly as possible, the battery on my phone now dead from getting maps and navigating. My hiking partner’s phone not getting any reception because he has AT&T instead of Verizon. (To make a long story short on that end, there have been numerous situations in which my phone has been the soul beacon of hope because I had service and he didn’t). Eventually we saw some lights in the distance. There were two houses, both situated far back from the road. We could see cars passing sporadically on the highway in front of us. What to do? Approach a house and bother people who obviously want seclusion, or continue to the highway where help and cell reception should soon follow?

moosilauke9We soldiered onward to the highway. Which ended up being a barren stretch of pavement without a light in sight. Gone were the ideas of stopping at a gas station or restaurant, calling a cab or asking for a lift. And there still was no AT&T reception, so calling the non-emergency police line was out, too.

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What takes mere moments to pass while driving in a car takes 10 minutes on foot. And nothing looks familiar in the inky dark we were surrounded by. The good news was that the curious critter noises in the woods were being made by much smaller animals. The bad news was having to run past the bridges to jump over the guard rail before the random vehicles came speeding through. The first to pass up was an over sized pick-up that honked its horn at us. Us, standing 10 feet from the road, exhausted and obviously in distress, This was not the kind of road you choose to walk down – there was nothing around for miles.

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We continued on our way, hoping someone would call the cops for us (or on us) when the gun shots started. First just one shot. Then another. Then someone decided to empty their chamber. Silence as they reloaded, then it started again – until we turned the light off. Strange coincidence, or direct correlation we’ll never know, but we walked by moonlight for a good half mile before turning the light back on.

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We passed a house here and there, but quite honestly I’ve watched too many horror movies and I just wasn’t in the mood to be hunted. Before my phone died, my navigator had predicted that we’d reach Lost River Gorge, which was my land mark and only a 1/2 mile from where we parked, by 9:30 – the same time we would have gotten off the mountain had we climbed back up and down. So we knew around what time we’d know how much trouble we were in.

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After hours of hiking in the dark (after hours of hiking in the light), we reached the parking lot, which was 1/2 mile before lost gorge, as we approached from the west this time instead of the east. We know how lucky we were to get out of this one unscathed. We’d gotten into some pretty bad situations lost in the woods in Florida before (including a close run in with HUGE gators), but this was worse. But, quite honestly, I’m sure we had a better day than the kid who hit his head. I believe everything happens for a reason. Perhaps, had we gone down the way we climbed up, one of us would have been severely hurt.

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We’ve hiked dozens of time without using 3/4 of the supplies we carry in our packs each time. We tend to forget half the stuff we even have. But when an occasion arose when we needed those forgotten items, they were there. My dad passed away in July – very sudden and unexpected, very much before his time – but he left something very important behind. My dad was huge on outdoor preparedness. When I moved up to Massachusetts he sent me with tons of supplies – every nonperishable item in our packs, from the quick clot, first aid and bite & sting kits to the light weight LED flashlights, fire starter and space blankets, are items my dad felt we needed to have in our packs at all times.

We made it to the nearest open gas station at 5 of 10, bought two lonely slices of pizza that they assured us had been sitting for quite some time, and started on the journey home where the real nightmare would begin – facing two very angry, very hungry pups!

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