Thursday, August 25, 2011
Parentus Interruptus: Back to the Whites
Brian goes back to teaching next week and the kids and I go back to the way-more-hectic-than-summer homeschool lifestyle. I'm not sure I'm ready. It really has been a great summer.
Brian's parents (his mom, mostly) offered to take the kids for a couple of nights earlier this week so Brian and I could take a few moments to catch out collective breath before plunging back into the fast shallow water of the Traditional American School Year. Thank you thank you thank you!
Where to go? Well, duh! Back to the White Mountains. An absolute no-brainer. Our only Big Question was weather to backpack or car camp. And given the difficulty of finding tent sites up high in the Whites (not to mention the fact that we haven't truly backpacked in more than ten years), we decided to camp in Crawford Notch and day hike.
It's always bittersweet leaving the kids. I do look forward to a couple of quiet, I-am-not-in-charge-of-anybody-else days, but when push comes to shove, I really hate leaving them behind. They are so much fun right now. I almost caved in at the last moment and packed their sleeping bodies into the car with the tent and the backpacks.
Brian and I, all by ourselves, hit the road at 5 a.m. and made it to the Falling Waters trailhead in Franconia Notch by 9. That first day we hiked up to Little Haystack and over the ridge to Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Lafayette. The ridge there is all above treeline, and the view that day was far and wide with Franconia Notch on one side and the Pemigewasset Wilderness on the other.
Next year (or, who knows, even this year) I'd like to do a Pemi Loop. Sitting just below the peak on the far side of Mt. Lafayette (well away from the obnoxious Vince Vaughn character singing bad Top 40 at the top of his lungs) we could clearly see the the perimeter of the 50K loop.
I don't have any pictures of this day. I tend not to take photos when the kids aren't around. But Brian shot some video up there on his phone. (I'm not sure if this even works. I've never downloaded/uploaded video before.)
We made it back down via Greenleaf Hut and the Bridal Path, drove to the campground at Crawford Notch General Store, and popped the tent up just before The Deluge. It poured all night. Thunder, lightening, wind. It could not have been raining harder. I was very happy to be down in the valley, though I imagine it was exciting for all the backpackers and hut-goers up high.
Nothing to do but listen to the rain and re-read Jonathan Franzen, which as you can see makes me bug-eyed.
Our Monday hike was somewhat less strenuous. We were trying to save ourselves for Mt. Washington on Tuesday, our last day. We took the Crawford Path from the Highland Center up past the Mitzpah Springs hut to Mt. Eisenhower. Woo, baby, the wind was blowing up a gale above treeline. There was no view, save for the isolated moments when the wind cleared the clouds sufficiently to catch a glimpse of the valley below. We might as well have been on the surface of the moon.
But it was beautiful nonetheless, and much conducive to talking and laughing as we picked our way across. There's no way we could have brought the kids up there in such weather. They would have been picked up and tossed like balloons.
The late afternoon sun was just starting to come out when we got back to the campground, so we hiked over to our old swimming hole and sat next to the water. It was too cold to swim and the water was running very high. But we sat and remembered this day two years ago when we first came here with the little darlings.
Tuesday promised the best weather, so we saved Mt. Washington for the last day. We woke up, broke camp, found coffee for Brian, got stuck behind a truck carrying the long (impossibly long) blade for a wind turbine up Route 16, and still made it to the Pinkham Notch Visitor's Center by 8:00.
I have never climbed Mt. Washington from that side. It's much more rugged and exposed than the Amonoosuc Trail, which we did with the kids a few weeks ago, up the other side. We started up the Tuckerman Ravine trail (and I use the word trail loosely -- it's more like a very rocky fire road) to the Lion's Head trail (steep scramble), then up the scree (or is it talus?) to the summit.
What is up with all the people hiking with ski poles? Did I miss something in the last ten years? We passed almost 50 people (Brian counted) poking up the rocks with ski poles. Those things can only slow you down in my opinion. I don't get the ski poles everywhere. Somebody somewhere is making a ski pole fortune.
The summit was socked-in and windy, 38 degrees. We stopped at the restaurant at the top (mayhem), descended from the summit along Crawford Path toward Lake of the Clouds Hut, then veered out toward a long bluff marked by a line of cairns.
These hours were the best of the trip. We saw very few people out there and the view was constant and breathtaking in every direction. No photograph can do it justice, but here are a few anyway.
By Tuesday evening, driving home, I was missing the kids terribly. We pulled up around 9 to a beaming Simon face in the window and little Ben running down the driveway and into my arms. Nell (being Nell) was more subdued in her welcome, but she was grinning. Everything went beautifully with Grandma. All good. Home again.