The last weekend in May, we set out to bag three more 4000 footers. The plan was to hike Mount Willey, Field and Tom, all part of the Crawford Notch section of the White Mountains. It may have been overly ambitious so soon into the hiking season, but we felt confident going in.
The GPS took us to the Willey House Site, which wasn’t exactly where we wanted to go, but which was home to one of the trailheads that would lead us to Mount Willey. The most strenuous, direct way up. In fact, it’s suggested that if you take this way up, that you get dropped off at the trailhead after parking at the other end, as there was no loop to this hike. After hiking over the mountains one way, you’d have to hike them all again the other way to get back to your car without a drop. Whoops.
So we took the Kedron Flume Trail, which wasn’t too horrible. The flume itself was neat, a stream of water that disappeared over the side of the mountain. We then hiked the Ethan Brook Trail the rest of the way up Mount Willey, which I thought was brutal. Most trails get steep the last half mile or so to the top. This one was crazy steep for an entire mile. There was a series of ten or so ladders on one area of the trail that you had to take to ascend the trail, sometimes over bald, smooth, vertical rock face. I couldn’t see exactly how many ladders were in the series from the bottom, and it was much too perilous to stop in the middle for a picture, but by the end I felt like I had climbed up a twenty story building. And the trail just kept going up. After pretending to be in a movie (visions of the Chinese temple from the last Karate Kid came to mind), after pretending to be in an episode of Night Gallery or the Twilight Zone where I was caught on a trail that would never end, after telling myself that I was a machine and I had this, I was still climbing up with no end in sight. My patience, my temper, and my sanity were in short supply.
And then we reached the tiny outlook that would provide the only view to reward us for our efforts. Next we reached the stone cairn that marked the wooded summit of Mount Willey. We grabbed a quick bite and then continued on towards Mount Field, as the day was growing old and there was no time to waste.
It took almost an entire hour to reach Mount Field. At a slightly shorter distance than that to Mount Tom, I was worried. At the rate we were going, we wouldn’t be done and off the mountain until after dark. And due to the strenuous nature of the hike, I knew I couldn’t maintain our current speed.
I fed the birds on top of Mount Field as I pondered the situation, their creepy strong talons twisting around my fingers with indian burn force as they ripped the food from my hands. For some strange reason, maybe the novelty of it, I kept subjecting myself to the experience. And then I heard the most beautiful thing ever – my husband’s voice suggesting that, due to the time, the weather, and the two pups who would be waiting at home for their dinner, that we climb Tom another day. The only thing that could have made me happier was already being down the mountain.
It was an arduous (for me) trek back to Mount Willey. Somehow, with ankles wobbling and knees knocking, I got safely down the mountain with only one mishap – I paused for a moment, and the lack of momentum caused me to tip straight over to the side. I caught myself before falling and remained in a weird yoga stretch for a minute while I gathered the strength to right myself. I’m known for doing all my own stunts. I’m working on knowing exactly what stunt I’m going to do before it’s actually done. It’s a skill in progress.
Adopting an, “I’m NOT a little teapot,” matra, I continued to stumble down the mountain, listening to the cars pass on the road far below while knowing – KNOWING – that there was a pizza traveling in one of them. Several (seemingly endless) hours later, we were once again at the trailhead where our journey began. So while we ended the hike without conquering the three peaks we had set out to climb, we did bag two, which should have earned me a pizza, but it didn’t. I got to go home and cook dinner instead. (Maybe I should have toughed it out to the third summit after all.)