Monday, February 28, 2011

Once Upon a Time…I Hated Hiking! My Hike Up Mount Washington, Aug. 25, 1998

I’ve hiked Mount Washington once. This was back in August of 1998, only a couple days before I started my freshman year at UNH. It was a tough experience for me and I can recall, for many years after hiking “The Rock Pile”, I never wanted to set foot in the White Mountains again! Let me fill you in on what I remember…try not to laugh at me too hard!

I guess it all started the night before we hiked. Let me give you a little background. It was our (my high school friends and I) last summer before we were all split up to attend the colleges of our choice. If I recall correctly, my buddy, Dave, wanted to do something memorable and epic before we left. He chose the task of climbing Mount Washington. He had recruited my other good friends Kevin and James to make the trek with him. In high school, all three of these guys were varsity track stars (and I was far from it…I was a wrench head, working on cars, rather than an athlete). The four of us were hanging out and Dave asked if I wanted to join them on a hike to the summit of Mount Washington. I recall asking where it was…yes, that’s right, I didn’t even know where it was. He told me a few hours up north and continued to explain that it was the “highest point east of the Mississippi, north of the Carolinas”, a phrase that has stuck in my head for the last 13 years, and one I still use to describe the mountain today. He also told me about the weather and that it was not a hike to be taken lightly. I, being ignorant all together about the White Mountains, simply responded “sure, what time are we heading out in the morning?” How hard could it be, right? I grew up in South Hampton and my Dad owned over forty acres of woods and trails (all flat trails), I figured I hiked those all the time. Boy was I in for the surprise of my life!

On the day of the hike, I dressed in what I thought was adequate attire. I wore a pair of Vietnam era jungle pants, Nike sneakers and a short sleeve cotton tee-shirt (fatal mistake number 1…cotton shirt). In the event it got a little chilly, I brought along a very thin Reebok windbreaker. If my choice of clothing didn’t clue you in that I had no idea what I was getting myself into, let me tell you what I brought along for nourishment. My small knapsack contained two small, 16oz. bottles of water, a tuna fish sandwich and a granola bar, and that’s it! (fatal mistake number 2…not enough food and water)

Dave picked us all up around 6 am. We hit Dunkin’ Donuts in Amesbury before making our way onto Route 95. As predicted, it took us about two hours to make our way up to the Conway area. I remember thinking the mountain landscape was quite impressive. I had only seen the White Mountains once before in the fourth grade for a field trip. I recall thinking, “wow, these things look pretty high”, but I don’t recall being nervous about hiking Mount Washington at all. I remember thinking that this will just be a walk in the woods.

As we pulled into the Pinkham Notch visitor’s center across from Wildcat, we wasted no time finding the trailhead for the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. Right way, the trail started climbing moderately and I remember saying, “is the trail going to be like this the whole way?” Dave just laughed and said something to the extent of, “Karl, it’s a mountain, of course it’s going to be uphill the whole way!” At that point, approximately ten minutes into our trek, I feared I had made a huge mistake.

The first couple miles below tree line seemed like ten. I was falling behind my friends constantly and as I tried to keep up with them (did I mention they were high school varsity track stars…just making sure I mentioned that), I was making myself nauseous and I was out of breath. With every step, the scenery looked the same to me, trees, trees and more trees! As groups of hikers passed, I wondered what the fascination was with climbing a hill, just to turn around and climb back down again. For heaven sake, there’s even a road that goes to the top of this one…why the hell am I hiking up it?

After a grueling couple miles, we came to an opening with a small building which I think was the Hermit Lake Shelter. It’s been so long, that I can only assume that’s what it was. Dave informed us that we were halfway to the summit (in mileage) and my jaw dropped. “How is that even possible?” I thought to myself. I definitely thought we were most of the way there at this point. I was worn out and beat. I didn’t want to keep going. My friends, however, encouraged me and said that I could do it. We stopped for a moment to have a snack and some water. I downed most of my water supply (probably 25 oz. of my 32 oz. I had brought along) at that stop and tried to force down a candy bar. I can recall that being nauseous, I didn’t want to eat anything but knew I had to, to build some energy. I also remember looking in at my tuna fish sandwich and thinking, “There’s no way in hell I’m eating that thing”. In hindsight, I think tuna was a bad choice for a hot day on Mount Washington!

After resting, we all got up and hit the trail again. We hung a right and headed up Lion Head Trail. This trail was different than the trail we had just completed before our break. I remember the trees got a bit small and the trail got a bit steeper. As we climbed up, nausea came back and I had again hit a mental wall. I had no desire to be there and I’m sure my attitude showed it. As we made it above tree line, I recall looking behind me and seeing the Wildcat Ridge. It was beautiful. However, I wouldn’t acknowledge it because I was convinced I was having a horrible time. To the left of us was Tuckerman Ravine and that was quite the impressive site as well. I’m not sure any good views could have got me out of the mental and physical funk I had fallen into.

As we continued on, I could see the top (or what I thought was the top). We had pushed above tree line and had emerged into a giant pile of rocks. Some larger than others and required us to do a bit of hand-over-hand climbing. Being able to see the top gave me the energy I needed to get there. We kept moving and the top got closer. Then, just when we were able to peak over what we thought was the top; there stood another huge pile of rocks. I remember that this defeated me mentally. I told my friends to leave me there so I could rest, and I would catch them on the way back down (fatal mistake number 3…don’t request to be left on the side of Mount Washington by yourself). I remember Dave looking at me and saying, “We’re not going to leave on the side of Mt. Washington, Karl, that’s how people die!” I didn’t care though, I just needed to stop. If I did make it to the top, how would I even have enough energy to make it back down?

We pressed on over the huge pile of rocks. Each time we made it over one, another appeared. This happened for what seemed like an hour or so. Also, the wind picked up…I couldn’t believe it, but I was cold. My sweat covered, cotton tee-shirt (see fatal mistake number 1) was giving me chills from the wind. I put my wind breaker on, but it wasn’t much of a layer and didn’t provide much warmth. Finally, we hit the top. Buildings and cars in the parking lot were insight. I was very happy we could stop hiking up, but I was still concerned about making it down. The long row of stairs at the summit was a killer at this point. I remember standing in line to touch the summit marker, and getting mad at families who had just driven up. I felt as though hikers should get the right of passage of the summit marker…of course, I was in a crappy state of mind at this point! :)

This is the one picture I have of me on Mount Washington in 1998. It was taken
with a crappy, disposable camera. I think it was taken just over Tuckerman
Ravine...but proves I was there...even though development came out horrible!

Once inside the building, I got some food, sat down and relaxed. My friends walked around and did exactly what folks should do when they summit…checked out the scenery, visited the gift shop, etc. Me, I sat in the cafeteria and tried to devise a plan to get down…either by car or maybe by train. After about an hour on the summit, Dave rounded us up and said it was time to move out. The clouds had rolled in making the summit look quite spooky and the temperature was dropping a bit.

The four of us exited the summit on the same trail we came in, however, decided to descend via the Tuckerman Ravine Trail the entire way. The food at the summit and the fact that we were descending rather than ascending gave me a new found energy. I recall Kevin and I practically running down the trail and left James and Dave in the dust (fatal mistake number 4…don’t run down Mt. Washington wearing Nikes, it’s a good way to break an ankle). At one point on the descent, I remember stopping at a fast moving brook or waterfall. Since I was out of water, I took a sip and remember thinking it must be the cleanest water around (fatal mistake number 5…don’t drink unfiltered or untreated water from a brook unless you want to risk getting a bad pathogen!).

We made it off Mount Washington that day. I had summitted and lived to tell about it. I was sore, beat and I had blisters on my feet. Surprisingly, I wasn't even a featured news story on WMUR for being one of those ill prepared hikers. I give my friends a ton of credit for putting up with my whining and complaining a good portion of the day. And I learned that hiking Mount Washington was not a stroll in the woods. I can honestly say from that day on, I never wanted to hike another mountain ever again. From that point on, I hated hiking…of course, that was then and this is now!

I love hiking now! So what’s changed? Who knows! Maybe I just eased into it with some easier peaks which allowed me the chance to enjoy the surroundings and didn’t shock my body to the degree Mount Washington did. In the last couple years, I can honestly say that hiking the Whites has grown to be one of my favorite pastimes and I can think of few hobbies I would rather be doing. As I mentioned in a previous post, I will be revisiting Mount Washington for Seek the Peak. I will be hiking it for the first time since the journey I just described to you. It’s been 13 years since I’ve set foot on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail and I’m very much looking forward to it. However, I must say, I’m still a bit nervous because of my last experience. I think time will tell that I am finally ready to hike this great mountain and enjoy what it has to offer rather than curse it, every step of the way!!!

Karl Searl's Seek the Peak Page, Please Sponsor Me: Click Here


Thursday, February 24, 2011

My First Seek The Peak Bid!

Wow, it seems like it has been so long since I’ve written in my blog. Coming up for air lately has been a struggle with school and work. But I figured it was time to dust off the keyboard and write about an event that I will be participating in this July.

This year marks the 11th year for Seek the Peak, a hike-a-thon fund raiser for the nonprofit Mount Washington Observatory. The Mount Washington Observatory is a very important scientific and educational organization that has been supported by members since 1932. As many people know, the summit of Mount Washington is the home of the world’s worst weather and holds the record for the highest wind speed ever observed by man. On April 12th, 1934, the crew observed a wind gust of 231 miles per hour. Today more than ever, the Observatory plays a large role in worldwide meteorological research. For hikers, it provides high summit forecasts (in New England) so that we can prepare ourselves for safe and successful treks.

Aside from the Observatory, the mountain itself is a lot of things to hikers. It’s the highest peak north of the Carolinas and east of the Mississippi, standing 6,288 feet above sea level. It is the home to the worst weather in the world. It’s known as “The Rock Pile”. It can be seen from most other peaks in New Hampshire and some from neighboring states. It is a stop along the northern part of the Appalachian Trail. But most of all, to all serious hikers, it is a mountain that must be respected. Throughout the years, many have lost their lives on this mountain due to misfortunes and extreme weather changes that people weren’t prepared for. A great book to read regarding these misfortunes is Not Without Peril. The book is a bit depressing to read, but does open your eyes to the dangers Mount Washington can throw at hikers, if not given the proper respect. Always be prepared!!!

I first learned about Seek the Peak last year while participating on the Mount Washington Observatory Forum. Many forum members were talking about it in the days before, excited to participate in the event. I recall looking into it and was surprised to see that the event lasted a couple days. They had gatherings for the participants (kick-off parties, etc.) and then on the big day, all the participants climbed the mountain in the route of their choice. Some chose to climb at night under headlamp, where most climbed during the day. Some chose to climb more challenging routes like Huntington Ravine where as some decided to climb more popular routes like Tuckerman. The pictures that followed the event were awesome. All these forum members got together, raised money for the nonprofit, Mount Washington Observatory and got to hike the mountain for a great cause. I was sold!

This year, I’m not missing out. I’ve registered for Seek the Peak and I am very excited to be a part of it! My goal for this fundraiser is $125 and I would appreciate your support if you have the means and desire to help this organization. I would also urge people to register if you feel like participating. If you don’t reside in the region and would not be able to attend, you can still register and raise funds as a “virtual hiker”, which I thought was a neat option. Again, please help support my hike…and keep our Observatory running strong for years to come!

Karl’s Seek the Peak Sponsor Page: Click Here