The Lollipop Loop

hale3This past weekend found us hiking the Lollipop Loop that would lead us over the summits of North and South Hancock in the New Hampshire White Mountains. The hike itself was enjoyable, the trail rambling through the woods with leaves just beginning to gain their fall colors and over shallow river crossings. This trail was much easier than the hikes of the past few weeks. Until we got to the top, that is – but that’s often the case.


The trail is called a Lollipop Loop because it resembles a lollipop. A single path leads to a divergence – you can go left and ascend North Hancock or right to South Hancock. Whichever you choose, you can hike to the other once you reach the summit, creating a loop at the top of the trail you have to take back down. Thus the lollipop.

hale1The last .7-.5 miles, depending on the direction you chose, is a steep hike. I would suggest hiking up North Hancock, and down South. The north side had a large stretch of loose rock – I’d rather climb up a sliding trail than surf down it. There are ledges at each summit that provide nice, if limited, views.

hale5The trail is located on the hairpin curve of the Kancamagus Highway. The parking lot is a few hundred feet after the road straightens out. A sign at the far end of the lot will point you in the direction of the trail-head. Even if you don’t hike, if you’re ever in the area, you should take a cruise down this road. There are plenty of places to stop for amazing views, like the vista from this lot, shown right.


Defeating Mount Whiteface

whiteface   whiteface8

I’ve finally conquered my foe and marched across the summit of Mount Whiteface. It took plenty of planning (making it to the right Whiteface is half the battle) and lots of hard work (no one said it would be easy) but this mountain has been slayed and my vendetta settled. It only took four attempts, but who’s counting?


whiteface10The steep climb led to some ridiculous scrambles over bald rock. Large stretches of stone with limited holds that left you dangling a few thousand feet over open air. Not the most comfortable moments I’ve spent on a mountain, but the views from the ledges were spectacular, as was the view from the false summit. The true summit of Mount Whitehead is a small stone cairn nestled in the woods.


After conquering Mount Whiteface, we hiked over to his neighbor, Mount Passaconway. The trail between the two was long and full of PUDs (Pointless Ups and Downs). After hiking halfway down over a three mile stretch, we had to gain all of our lost altitude in a one mile hike straight up. Like Whiteface, the true summit of Mount Passaconway was in the woods, but a small ledge nearby offered a nice vista.

passaconway   whiteface9

This was a long, arduous hike – a little more than twelve miles done in eight hours, and we were dragging our feet by the end. The journey was a struggle, but well worth the effort, and we’ve bagged two more of the White Mountain 4000 footers!

whiteface1   whiteface5

Hiking Mount Hale

haleThis past  weekend we hiked Mount Hale. At 4055 feet, we got to cross another name off the White Mountain 4000 footer list. That’s about it. One of the quicker 4000 footer hikes, it was much like climbing a flight of stairs for almost 2 hours.

The summit was a ring a trees encircling a clearing with a stone cairn and the rusted remnants of an old fire tower. We covered the 4.6 miles hike in under 4 hours, including our lunch break at the top. Although the hike was boring and unremarkable, it was a necessary evil to achieve our goal. Like a band-aid, we removed it as quickly and painlessly as possible from our path to victory, leaving the way clear for future triumphs. Now off to better climbs!

Because I Can


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!


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.

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