Friday, October 16, 2009

Ma and Pa's Mountain Adventure

I'm not saying I'm thrilled that Christopher Columbus mistakenly steered his boat into the black shoals off the Bahamas and embarked on a murderous spree spanning decades, but I sure am glad we had last Monday off. Brian and I had a lovely long weekend in the White Mountains. And the kids and Eddie had a great time with Grandma and Grandpa, to whom we are massively and eternally grateful.

The leaves in New Hampshire, unfortunately, were at their peak. This meant that hordes of other people, all the freaking Leaf Peepers, were also on the narrow roads to New Hampshire Friday night. We hit traffic jam after traffic jam on our way up. There is nothing on this earth that I find less appealing than a traffic jam. There should have been a magical express lane for people who don't really care about peeping at leaves. For people who want a mountain adventure way up above treeline, past all the leaves and all the peepers, way past all of that and into the great lunar landscape of the Presidential Range.

Alas, not so. It took us more than six hours to make the four hour trip. But enough said about all of that. We got there. Eventually.

And, man was it cold. Here I am in my campsite attire: two down jackets (one of which Brian had on his climb up Denali in the late 80's and hardly ever wore because it was TOO WARM), fleece jacket, fleece sweater, base layer, two pairs of pants, hat, hood, thick socks and woolly clogs. And I was still cold.

I'm always cold. Brian (who took almost all of the pictures on this trip) had on a pair of jeans and one measly fleece jacket. And he was fine. I have the metabolism of a giant tortoise. He has the metabolism of a goat.

Our idea was to take it relatively easy on Saturday and save our big Presidential hike for Sunday, which promised better weather. So Saturday morning we set off for Mt. Carragain, just a few miles from our campsite in Crawford Notch (same campsite we took the kids to back in August).

Carrigain turned out to be a bit more than we bargained for: Five miles of steep up followed by a mile or two of even steeper down and then a long six or seven mile loop back to the trailhead. It was great! There were lots of people on the trail with dogs. Turns out a special dog hiking club was climbing Carrigain that day, so we passed pooch after pooch along the rocky trail. The dogs and owners were all lovely. This hike marked the 48th peak over 4000 feet for a little black terrier. Sadly, she was one of the slower moving dogs, so we didn't stick around at the top for the celebration.

There was a cool fire tower at the top. I stood up there for a long time watching the fog and rain blow up the mountain. There was no view. I may as well have been on a ship in a gale in the middle of the ocean.

The descent, as I mentioned was scarily steep. The rocks were wet and slippery. Brian, of course, bolted down (he is, after all, The Great Descender: if he ever entered a trail race he could walk it and still win as long as there were lots of nasty descents). I was terrified of straining my newly healed tibia tendon so I minced and mealymouthed my way down like a spider spinning a web.

I stopped at every river crossing to soak my foot. The water was screamingly cold. I couldn't keep my foot in there for more than 20 seconds at a time. Yowza! But it worked. No problem with the foot after this hike.

We had lovely spaghetti back at the tent in the cold darkness and were in bed by 7:30. What else are you going to do when it's 30 degrees and dark at a tent site, I ask you? We slept something like 10 hours, which was much needed by both of us.

Our hike the next day up Crawford Path to Lake of the Clouds hut on the side of Mt. Washington was epic. The first three miles up to Mitzpah Springs Hut are relatively easy, if all uphill. The whole hike is actually pretty easy, just long and weather-beaten and cold. Here I am scarfing down a peanut-butter bagel at the hut. Lovely, I know....

Up from the hut we ran into snow and occasional views. The weather was not fine. The report said partly cloudy. The reality was all cloudy with snow and hail. AWESOME!

Brian took about 100 pictures. Here are a few.

You see the blanket of reds and yellows there? Picture thousands of people driving around in their cars, getting out at the pullouts on the roads, looking at the views (which were admittedly quite pretty), getting back in and driving to the next pullout. Every campsite, motel, hotel, hut, hostel and inn was full to capacity that weekend. I think we saw six people above treeline. And they were all wonderful.

The wind was fierce. I did have moments of real fear that I was going to be blown off the side on the mountain. You can see me leaning into it here. When the gusts hit me sideways I stumbled and almost fell. It was like being hit by a big wave in the ocean.

We walked like this for a couple of hours. I loved every minute of it.

Our destination was Lake of the Clouds Hut. Brian was wild for some hot soup. I kept telling him we were turning around at 1:00 no matter where we were, because I did not relish the idea of hiking up there after dark. I had a few What Would Bear Grylls Do moments, always keeping an eye out for places to make emergency shelter for the night.

By 12:30 we knew we were getting close to the hut, but where the hell was it? On and on we trolled across the surface of the moon with the lunar winds fighting our every step. Hailstones pelted us from all angles. We literally did not see the hut until we were 10 feet from it. We almost walked right into it. Brian ran up to the door and pulled. Nothing. Closed for the season! No soup!

We went around back to The Dungeon, which is an emergency shelter that is always open.

The Dungeon is a cold, stone room with six bunks bolted to the wall. Brian and I spent a night there once about ten years ago when we got caught up high with no place to pitch our tent. It smells awful and some guy snored all night, but we woke to amazing views, which made it all well worth it.

After we got inside and our eyes adjusted to the darkness we saw that there were two cousins in there wrapped in sleeping bags waiting for a third cousin to meet them (he had evidently taken the Cog Railway up). These guys were hilarious. They regaled up with family tales for the fifteen minutes we sat there getting cold and eating more bagels. They were planning to spend the night in The Dungeon and hike around the next day in the sunshine. The next day was indeed bright and sunny, so I hope they got their wish.

True to our plan, we bundled up and met the wind at the stroke of 1:00. And we would have made it back to the car well before dark had we not taken the wrong trial down from Mitzpah Springs Hut. But we did. So our long hike was made longer by about 3 miles. All good. We hit the car just as the sun was disappearing behind Mt. Crawford and calling it a day.

We did a quick 5-miler on Monday morning up andaround Hedgehog Mountain off the Kangamangus highway. Here are some of those leaves that everyone is so wild about.

And then we fought the throngs of Leaf Freaking Peepers back through Woodstock and Lincoln, pulling off, getting out, getting back in. How can that be fun?

Finally, finally we made it back to our lovely kiddies. And such a grand reunion it was.


  1. Nice adventure and beautiful pics!!

  2. Pam, I can imagine myself there with you in the hail on the way to the Lakes of the Clouds hut. That was the same weather a few years ago when I was there. So glad you had a great trip!!

  3. They are not "Jeans". They are canvass pants made by Columbia, and the only pants I will ever wear. Don't you know me?


Please feel free to leave thoughts, suggestions, advice or queries. I love comments!