The Legend of Osceola

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The Legend of Osceola -it was a play I was in in the fifth grade. My mom actually wrote it. The epic tale of the Indian Chief who led his people back to their native homeland in Florida against the white man’s wishes. I climbed Mount Osceola in honor of that man. Sounds noble, doesn’t it? Truth is, I climbed the mountain because I like to climb things.

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The day started out damp and gray. We almost didn’t head out, but had hopes that the sun would come out and burn off the gloom as the day progressed. We weren’t to be disappointed. By the time we reached the White Mountain National Forest is was a beautiful day. After we finished bumping seven miles down a dirt road to reach the Mount Osceola trail head, we were ready to climb. We put the mandatory $3 parking fee in the honor system envelope, hung the pass on the mirror, and off we went.

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The sun was bright overhead, but there was a chill in the air heralding the first day of fall. Random swatches of tangerine and cherry wove their way among the green, a sampling of the leaf display soon to come. The trail was a work-out, heavy on the rocks. It was pretty difficult in some places, with numerous switchbacks, and one treacherous obstacle where the only way to pass over a huge boulder was to place your trust in an old, exposed tree root as a foot hold as you hugged the rock, trying to flatten yourself out so you wouldn’t hang too far over the drop below.

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We covered the 3.2 miles to the 4315 foot summit in only an hour and forty-five minutes, which was a huge ego boost. This was not a cake walk climb. We passed five groups on our way up, so we might be getting kind of good at this whole mountain thing. I had to stop every 20 minutes to take a sip of water, but I think that may be a female thing – guys just spit when their mouth gets dry. I don’t know how that helps, but it’s what they do. (And it will be a really bad day for one of them if I ever stick my hand in it while climbing and I know who’s mouth it came from.)

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As usual, I was freezing at the summit and had to wear both a sweatshirt and a windbreaker, but the view was amazing. We tried to find a place out of the wind for a quick lunch, but sometimes there’s very little shelter on the top of a mountain. By the time we finished eating and started our descent, my hands were ice hold. The good thing about hiking, though, is that after 20 minutes of making our way down the mountain they had warmed back up. The entire hike took less than 4 hours, and even with the 2 hour drive home it was still early enough to throw a quick dinner together and watch a movie, which was a first for a day spent climbing a 4000 footer.

It levels out….at the top

031“Don’t worry, it levels out….at the top.” I often wonder if we’re the only hikers who use that mantra. This weekend we hiked Pack Monadnock, which, while not very tall at just under 2300 feet, is quite steep in places. Which is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. I don’t expect a mountain to be flat, and I don’t expect climbing a mountain to be easy. My body, on the other hand, wouldn’t stop complaining.

We’d taken a weekend off after hiking the entire 9 miles of the Franconia Ridge Loop in the pouring rain. I expected to be a little rusty, but my knees and ankles were flat out screaming, “oil can!” Like the tin man, I found my joints reluctant to cooperate.

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The fee at Miller State Park is $4 per adult. You can either hike or drive up the mountain. Mountains with roadways are never my favorites – once you get up to the top the air is filled with the smoke of all the people who drove up the mountain to smoke a cigarette. Drives me absolutely insane.

We chose the Wapack Trail, which stretches for 21 miles, actually beginning in Massachusetts. The ranger at the bottom told us it was a 45 minute hike. Going full speed ahead with no breaks, we made it in 45 minutes exactly. We passed several groups on the way up, all a bit irritated that they’d been hiking for so long without reaching the top yet. I prefer the rangers who give an over-estimate on the time it takes to get to the top. Hiking up the side of a mountain isn’t easy – why not try to build confidence instead of fuel discouragement? We did our best to impart a few words of encouragement, let them know that we do this every weekend, and that during the first few climbs of the year we have to stop every 50 feet for breaks.

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There are a couple of good vistas on the way up, and the view from the summit is worth the hike. It was a beautiful day, so a lot of people had driven up and it was a bit crowded at the top. It was a good hike, challenging but not long, a good work out for a late Sunday afternoon.

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We learned that you could hike from the top of Pack Monadnock to Pack Monadnock North. Unfortunately, we had started too late to hike the 5 mile loop over to Pack Monadnock North. Since I don’t enjoy descending mountains in the dark, we decided to save that hike for another trip. We did start down the trail for a bit to see what it was like – sometimes it’s just a straight shot over to another peak, but this one appeared to entail climbing down one mountain and up another. That adventure will have to wait for another day.


Queen of the Mountain

Mount Haystack Top of Monadnock

I’m not concerned with looking good when I’m climbing a mountain. I’m not one of those women who climb showing off their sports bra. You won’t catch me wearing spandex, or short shorts, or even make-up for that matter. When I’m on a mountain, I’m there to work. Dirty, sweaty, work.

Sun on Mount Sunapee

I wear what’s comfortable. I’ve learned to keep my knees covered. There’s no comb, mirror, or beauty product in my pack, except for chapstick and sunscreen. I’ve watched as some other women approach each other on a path. There’s a moment of wariness, a posturing as they size each other up, determine who’s wearing make-up, who’s sweating less, whose hair is under control – I don’t have the time or patience for any of that.

Side of the Mountain

I’m not there to impress anyone. I’m not there for show. I don’t consider what I’m going to look like in the obligatory picture at the top when I get dressed that morning. I’m simply there to do what I’m there to do. And it’s freeing. It’s liberating  to be rid of the constraints, the expectations, the concerns on which general society places so much importance.

View from Shining RockI am who I am. I’m happy with that. It’s enough for me. I’m strong, I’m independent, and I don’t feel the need to always look my best. I notice the strange looks I get when I go, disheveled and grimy,  into a gas station for a drink after a hike. I wear the dirt streaked with sweat on my face proudly. It’s a badge of honor.

I’m Queen of the Mountain.

ridge  This past Saturday found me back at the beginning – at the foot of Little Haystack in the New Hampshire White Mountains, the first mountain I ever tried (and failed) to climb. It was a couple of months after I had moved to Massachusetts last year, and one weekend we had the idea – let’s climb a mountain. Just two kids from Florida foolish enough to think that the 9 mile Franconia Ridge hike would only take them 3-4 hours. Start in the early afternoon and be done in time to make the 2.5 hour drive home to make dinner. Only it’s different when the hike isn’t flat. It takes longer when you’re climbing straight up. Three hours later we had made it to Shining Rock, and were forced to descend in defeat in order to make it back to the car before dark.

But not this time. This time, failure was not an option. This time, we’d make it to the top.

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We started on the Falling Waters Trail, a scenic route where you eventually cross back and forth over the waterfall six times, only once on an actual bridge. It’s an enjoyable way to start a long hike; the air around the falls stays cooler, the view is great, and the slick rocks help prepare you for the rest of the hike. About an hour into the hike you leave the splendor of the falls and enter the woods, where a couple of switchbacks lead you up. And up. And up. There’s very little level ground on this trail. It’s also fairly narrow and busy, so you find yourself squishing to the side quite often to let descending hikers by.

ridge1About two hours in, we reached the branch off for Shining Rock. It had taken us three hours to reach this point last time. We were making good time and ready to confront the part of the trail we had never seen before. When it started to rain. We would not be denied. Rain or not, we continued forward, onward, upward, (lots and lots of upward), until at last, we saw the summit rise above us.

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This peak was an entirely different experience than any of the other mountains we’ve climbed. At almost 5,000 feet, the wind is rough and cold. You’re literally up among the clouds. After taking a few pictures I found myself sheltering on the leeward side of a rock ledge, trying to stay warm during a quick snack before descent.

Once you reach the top of Little Haystack, you’ve officially entered the Franconia Ridge, which will lead you across Mount Lincoln and Mount Lafayette, where you can descend using the Bridle Trail which will bring you full circle back to the parking area. Completing the entire ridge is our next goal. It’s an entire day’s hike, which will involve some extra planning on behalf of the dogs. Not that they wouldn’t love to hike with us, but they’re too short for such a long hike.

ridge4I also need time for my muscles to recover. Do a few more 5,000 footers. I believe in setting yourself up for success. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia 14 years ago, and while I don’t let it stop me from doing anything I want to do, I have learned that sometimes you have to be more careful, take more time, and ease your way up to the level you want to be at. This is a challenge that normal muscles complain from; I want climbing mountains to continue to be something I enjoy, not a painful punishment I inflict upon myself. But I feel successful. I met my goal, and I have confidence that when I set out to conquer the entire ridge, I’ll meet that goal as well.

Endings and Beginnings

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What can I say about Crotched Mountain? My initial research a few weeks in advance had told me it wasn’t too far of a drive, and that the Shannon trail was the most difficult path. That was all I needed to know. A trail with the same name as me that was known as being difficult? I was sold.

(All of the directions to the trailhead were horrible. To make it simple – navigate to the Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center, but don’t pull down that road. Stay on 31, also known as Crotched Mountain Road. The rehab center sign in on the right. The parking for the trailhead is on the left, not far past the sign to the rehab center. You will see a sandy lot to park in.)

Renovations have been performed on this trail since most of the trail descriptions were posted. The Greg Trail now leads from the little fenced in area behind the mail box (you can pick up the Shannon trail later). The first 8th mile has been made wheelchair accessible. A series of graded switchbacks leads up to a platform with a nice panorama view of Monadnock and Gap Mountains, among others. On the way to the platform, a tiny trail snakes off to the right. Welcome to the Shannon trail. This very narrow path leads across a couple of wide open plains through wild blueberry and blackberry brambles. You have to place close attention, as the trail isn’t marked until you enter the tree line.

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Most of the hike is flat, which means you get to make up for the lack of incline in one long stretch leading to the top of the first peak. Once you make it, though, you’re rewarded with a picnic bench to rest on while you catch your breath and enjoy your well deserved view.

The map shows that you can take an upper link trail along the top to reach other peaks, eventually leading to the summit trail which you can take back down, using the lower link to cross back over to the Shannon trail in one big loop. We couldn’t, however, find this upper link trail, unless it was the trail which bore the warning that it would not lead back to the parking area.

Our courageous attempt to discover the hidden pass resulted in circle after circle across the top of the mountain, with us lost and just relying on sense of direction to get us back to the picnic bench, which, being the last place where we knew where we were, was the spot we sought time and time again. When the phrase “Blair Witch” popped up in the discussion, we decided that we better settle with the one peak we did conquer in order to get back to the car before dark.

Which led to us once again circling across the top of the mountain, again (luckily) finding our way back to the picnic bench, where we discovered that we had mistakenly chosen a side path that conveniently began next to the picnic bench; however, we had reached the picnic bench from below. A memory of the picnic bench appearing from above, a harbinger of a journey’s end like a light tower through the fog of a misty sea made us realize our error and set us on the right path back home.

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On the way back, trying to stretch the journey out a little longer in hopes of glimpsing the sunset, I tried my first wild blueberry, and decided to pick some to make blueberry pancakes the next morning in honor of my dad, who was sick. Blueberry pancakes were one of his favorites, and I couldn’t remember ever trying any myself. The idea struck me out of the blue, so I went with it.

I received the call that he had passed at 10 that night. To be honest, I knew he was dying. I knew the last time I told him good bye that it would be the last chance I got. That’s why I made the climb that day. I woke up feeling horrible. By the time I made my way back to the car, I had a full on head cold. I did it for him. Because he couldn’t. His passing was not a sad thing, but a blessing that his suffering, so sudden, had ended.

I take comfort in knowing that he’ll be with me every mountain I climb and adventure I have. Although Crotched Mountain wasn’t the most challenging climb, the most fun or the most boast worthy, it will always be a special memory. And the pancakes were delicious.

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