Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I Came Back! Mount Washington for Seek the Peak!

Seek the Peak was this last weekend and as many others did, I headed up to the White Mountains to try my hand at Mount Washington, 6,288 feet above sea level. I had climbed Mount Washington before, and if you’ve read my trip report from 1998, you know it was a very unpleasant experience for me. This time, I decided to take the same route up again, hoping that the 13 years in between trips and a much better state of mind, would yield a much better trip. With encouragement from my wife and friends, I believed I could do it!

At the Tuckerman Ravine Trailhead...I took Lion Head halfway up.

With a newborn at home, I didn’t want to spend too much of the weekend away so I decided to skip the STP kickoff party on Friday night and headed up to the trailhead Saturday morning instead. I hit the road at 3:30am hoping to get to the trailhead by 6am or so. Due to a little rain on the way and some slower drivers on Route 16, I made it to Pinkham Notch at about 6:30am. I was surprised to see the parking lot was already pretty full and I got one of the last parking spaces left. I signed in at the STP registration desk and was on my way.

Crystal Cascade - A beautiful waterfall!

The route that I decided upon was Lion Head via Tuckerman Ravine Trail up and backtrack the same trail down. I was hiking it solo since Jill wasn’t able to leave the baby, but my buddy, Matt, said he may head up later in the day to meet me on the summit for the hike down. He’s a much faster hiker than me, so I figured this plan would work out well.

The lower portion of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, pretty consistent for the most part.

Tuckerman Ravine trail is nothing like I remember it when I first hiked it back in 1998. I found the first portion to be pretty easy with a moderate, but consistent incline. As always, I determined all my milestones for the trip (trail junctions, brook crossing, etc.) in order to gauge where I was and help set little goals to get to the top. My first milestone was Crystal Cascade, which is a pretty high waterfall and was reached from a small spur path 0.3 miles from the trailhead. The water flow was perfect over the falls that morning and really gave the cascading affect that most likely gives it its name.

 The Doubleheads in the morning haze. I hope to hike these one day soon!

 After checking out the Crystal Cascade, I continued up the trail, past the Boot Spur Trail junction up a few switchbacks. The temperature was hovering around 70 degrees with a decent amount of humidity. The overcast skies looked like rain and it wasn’t long before it was doing just that…raining. Every now and then, a small breeze would push down the trail giving you some relief from the warm weather, as well as sweep away the annoying bugs with it. As time passed, more and more people popped up on the trail. It wasn’t uncommon to see a huge pack of fifty people heading up behind you. Rather than get mixed up in the high traffic, I would stand aside and let them all pass. With my slow pace, I’m sure I would have been in their way.

The sun trying to show itself over the Wildcat Ridge!

Somewhere after the junction with the Huntington Ravine Trail, I met a lady on the trail named Donna that would be my hiking partner for the rest of the ascent to the summit. She explained to me that she had done many Mount Washington EduTrips and this was her fourth Seek the Peak event. She was good company and kept great conversation which helped us pass the time on the trail. Most of all, she hiked at my pace, which was key!

The view of Lion Head pretty far up the trail!

Just below the Hermit Lake Shelter, we took a right onto Lion Head Trail. The trail narrowed quite a bit from the Tuckerman Ravine Trail we had just traveled on, and got steep pretty quick. Rocks continually got larger and your strides had to grow considerably. It wasn’t long until we started to get views of the southeast portion of Tuckerman Ravine, the Wildcats and the Doubleheads. 0.4 miles after Lion Head Trail started, we were above timber line and the sun came out to greet us.

From Lion Head, a view down into Tuckerman Ravine

The Lion Head Trail was relentless and the steepness was just not giving way to flatter terrain. Up ahead, we could see a massive, portion of the northern wall of the ravine where people were gathering for views and to rest. We assumed this must be the “Lion Head” which is apparently visible as a Lion Head when viewed from the north on Route 16. We finally made our way to the top of this massive rock, and found wonderful views into Tuckerman Ravine. You could see the head wall, Hermit Lake and even tiny little hikers over on the Boott Spur Trail on the southern wall of the ravine. At this time, we decided to stop for a rest, some food and water.

The head wall of Tuckerman Ravine from Lion Head

 If one is going to hit a mental wall about this hike, this is the place they will do it. You work very hard to get to this point. I’ve hiked much farther distances in the past and don’t recall a trail that is so demanding. Maybe I’m thinking this because I’m out of shape compared to last year, but really, this was a tough hike up to this point. Now, when you’re sitting up there on the Lion Head and you look up at the summit, it seems SO FAR AWAY! It really takes a lot to strap on the pack and continue on…which is exactly what we did!

View of the summit from Lion Head...so much further to go...mentally exhausting!

Right after the Lion Head, the trail did level off quite a bit for a few tenths of a mile. It traversed the northern wall of Tuckerman Ravine and gave fantastic views the whole way. However, as you’re hiking this portion, the view of the summit is just taunting you…reminding you that you still have quite a few vertical feet to climb. The trail passes the Alpine Garden and then quickly discards you into a boulder field.

The boulder field was tough. Lots of hand-over-hand climbing over large rocks and at times, the trekking poles make ascending more difficult. I’m assuming this part of the mountain is where the term “The Rock Pile” came from. Every time you made your way over the upper most ridgeline in view, another pile of rocks emerged giving you less hope of making it to the top. However, it wasn’t long until one of the towers made itself visible and then a few headlights from some parked cars could be seen too. 

 We finally made it to the top of Tuckerman Ravine Trail, which meant only 0.4 more, grueling miles!

We made it into the lower parking lot on the summit and found the worst part of the hike still ahead. We had to climb the stairs. I’m not kidding! There’s a set of deck stairs at the top that you have to climb to get the summit area and I feel this was probably the toughest part of the hike. I recall being so exhausted. My legs felt like jelly. This made those stairs near impossible! We finally made it to the top and found our way to the end portion of the Crawford Path to get our picture taken with the summit marker. We stood in line, as most people do on Mount Washington, waiting for cog passengers, mini-van visitors and other fellow hikers get a picture of their moment of triumph. After standing and waiting for 20 minutes in 50mph westerly winds, we got our chance too. I stood proudly at 6,288 feet!

 Mount Monroe, Franklin and Eisenhower looking over Lakes of the Clouds Hut!

Donna and I parted ways and my next business to tend to was to find my buddy Matt. He left the trailhead 2.5 hours after me and I was sure he probably made his way onto the summit while I was waiting to get a picture. I went into the cafeteria area and found him sitting, waiting for me. He made it to the summit in only 2.5 hours. He’s a mad man!!! It took me 5 hours and I was proud of myself for that time since book time is 4.5 hours. I can’t imagine someone getting up that trail that fast. I was happy to have him there and knew the descent would be a lot more fun and tolerable with him hiking with me.

Very cool clouds forming over Wildcat!

After eating some food and checking out the gift shop (I bought Lylah a Mt. Washington shirt), we headed outside and made our way around the summit, checking out the beautiful views. The views to the north are my favorite. Jefferson, Adams and Madison stand so prominently and are so magnificent. I can’t wait to stand on their summits one day too! We decided we had spent enough time up on the Rock Pile and started heading back down the way we had hiked up earlier. I thought the Lion Head Trail was tough coming up, but I think it was even tougher going down.

Me, proudly standing at 6,288 feet!!!

Matt and I worked our way through the now crowded decent. I believe we were pretty courteous for the most part, but a few hikers really stood out as being obnoxious and rude while they pushed through people and trampled fragile vegetation to get by others. This kills me, because you have to expect crowds for a hike like this. It was a beautiful, sunny day, on a Saturday during Seek the Peak for Mount Washington. It’s obviously going to be very crowded. Why even hike it if you’re going to get aggravated at the crowds!

The Cog!

Matt, eating pizza and drinking soda after his 2.5 hour hike up a tough hike...He's a MAD MAN!

We made pretty good time down to Lion Head from the summit, but at that point, I think most of the damage to my body had been done. My two large toes were on fire from jumping down on rocks, my legs were toast and my thumb had been smashed on a rock. It was hard to believe that we had only gone a quarter of the way down at this point. Matt and I took a quick break here and had another hiker take our picture on Lion Head with the summit and head wall in the background and continued on. The rest of Lion Head was grueling and painful for me. We dropped below tree line and the temperature rose a good 10 degrees and the breeze disappeared. We finally reached the lower portion of Tuckerman Ravine Trail and knew the worst was behind us…however, we still had 2.2 miles to go.

Mount Jefferson, Adams and Madison over the Cog rails and Auto Road. I love the Northern Prezis

The Baldfaces, over the Wildcats. I'd love to hike the Baldfaces one day too!

Even though this portion of the trail was easier than what we had already descended, my legs, feet and toes were in tough shape for it, so it was still difficult. Matt and I kept a pretty decent pace heading out only stopping to rest twice. Each time we stopped, getting back up took a ton of effort. Thank God for Matt, because without having someone to talk to, to get my mind off the pain in my feet, making it down would have been damn near impossible. We reached the Pinkham Notch visitor’s Center in three hours, which was longer than we had expected, but we were safe with no real bad injuries…that’s all that matters. We parted ways in the parking area and I headed down Route 16 for my 2.5 hour ride home.

Matt and I on our descent. This was taken on Lion Head, against the head wall of Tuckerman Ravine

It was great to climb Mount Washington a second time. I was able to hike it this time, enjoyably and without hitting a mental wall, unlike back in 1998. I appreciate and respect the White Mountains a lot more now than I did then. It was really great day even though my legs and feet are still paying the price…even as I write this trip report they hurt. And I was able to raise $185 for the Mount Washington Observatory, which I was happy to do. Thanks to everyone who supported my trek to the summit by donating to my hike. Big thanks to both Matt and Donna for hiking with me. Without them, the day would have been ten times longer and a little less enjoyable.

One thing I can honestly say after hiking this mountain is that Teddy Roosevelt was right when he said, “Believe you can, and you’re halfway there…” This quote held very true to me throughout the day when I made my way up to the highest peak east of the Mississippi and north of the Carolinas!


Friday, July 15, 2011

Our Hiking Book: 2010

Have you ever thought about the fact that we don’t really make picture albums anymore? Well, I’m sure some people do, but back when I was a kid, you had to have film developed and then it easily went into an album of some sort (typically a book) to be pulled out for viewing. Now, in this digital age, we typically use pictures in a different fashion. I know ours stay on a hard drive and are uploaded to Facebook if we feel like it or used in a blog post. Occasionally, Jill will have one ordered on a print to be displayed in a picture frame or office…but we wouldn’t dream of having them printed to be placed in an album! Well, this posed a problem for us because we wanted to make albums of all of our hikes to show our kids and grandkids one day, so Jill came up with a great idea.

 Our Live Free and Hike Book, 2009

 A little over a year ago, about the same time I started this blog, she began making photo albums of all of our hikes on Shutterfly. Now, these aren’t traditional photo albums, but instead are bound books with the pictures and a layout of our choosing. She decided to make this volume 1 of many, and highlighted all of our 2009 hikes. We keep it on our end table and I look through it often as it brings back so many wonderful memories of hiking that year. She tactfully named the book, “Live Free and Hike” after my new blog!

Well, we’re back at it again. I’m helping out with the layout this time too. Our volume 2 book will be of all of our hikes from 2010 and after reviewing the 1000 plus pictures, it’s amazing to see the places we were able to travel to. I’m excited for it to be done and will share it with you here when we receive it. Until then, I will be anxiously awaiting Live Free and Hike, Volume 2, 2010!

Our 2010 Live Free and Hike book in process


New Badge Featuring Our Newest Hiker!


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Book Review: Spencer's Mountain

I just got done with a great book called Spencer’s Mountain written by Earl Hamner, Jr. Now, I know this is a blog about hiking and New Hampshire…and anything related. However, this book was not about either of those things. Instead, it was about a family trying to make ends meet during the Great Depression and finding more value in their family’s love than any money could hold. It also has the word “mountain” in the title, so it is somewhat relevant, right? I know…it’s a stretch. 

It takes place in the small town of New Dominion, Virginia at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Hamner introduces the reader to a large family that is struggling through the Great Depression back in the 1930’s. The father, Clay Spencer, who the book is mainly about, is a good hearted man that most everyone in the community enjoys the company of. He’s painted to be a fair man who loves his wife and children dearly and will do anything to ensure that they get the best opportunities that life has to offer, even in these tough times. 

The book starts off with a family gathering and does a great job of outlining all the characters and explaining their way of life. One of the major focuses of the book is how Clay had always dreamed of building a beautiful house using his own two hands, for his wife and kids on the top of Spencer’s Mountain. It seems there is always an event or hindrance as to why this goal always gets pushed out of reach.

Hamner also spends a lot of time on the eldest son’s character, Clay-Boy. In the book, he’s just graduated from high school and his teacher and minister have recognized him to be extremely smart for growing up in this mill town. They explain to his parents how great it would be for him to go to college and Clay does everything he can to ensure that this happens. By the end, Clay’s dream of building his house on the beautiful mountain and ensuring his son gets his chance at a college education collide.

This book was written in 1961 and was loosely based on Earl Hamner’s own experiences growing up. This novel was later made into a movie starring Henry Fonda, but they changed a lot of the great elements of the book such as the time period and setting. A sequel to this book, The Homecoming, was later written about the Spencers and adapted into a TV movie. This TV movie then spun-off to the hit TV show, The Waltons. Of course, many of the names and the number of kids were changed for the TV show. I would absolutely say, if you enjoyed The Waltons, you would love the book Spencer’s Mountain. There is a limited quantity still left on Amazon…get it now while you can!

Also, check out Earl Hamner, Jr.’s blog, You, Me and the Lamp Post, which he updates about once a month. He typically writes about stories of his childhood, which are fun to read.

Overall, I give this book two thumbs up. I read a lot of non-fiction type books on the mountains, expeditions, and even World War II. This is the first novel I have read in many years. It was pretty easy reading (has to be for me). I enjoyed it and I believe you will too.


Friday, July 8, 2011

Some Gifts From Good Friends!

Lylah and her little hiking boots...she'll grow into them!

I want to take some time out and thank a few great friends in the blogging community for their kindness and generosity. Tim and Robin Bird, who create and author the blog Appalachia and Beyond, sent our new daughter, Lylah, some great gifts. They found her some great little pink Timberland hiking boots. I have been looking around for hiking boots for Lylah for some time now and have come up empty handed. The Birds hit the nail square on the head and got her the perfect ones!

Lylah's new Timberlands that the Bird's got her!

They also sent her a great little hiking outfit, complete with a woodsy overall skirt. A rattle also accompanied the other gifts. Probably, the greatest thing they sent her was a card with a beautiful message addressed to Lylah. We will hold on to it and place it in her baby book until she is old enough to read it for herself.

Lylah's new outfit and rattle that the Bird's got her!

It’s amazing to me how thoughtful and generous people can be. The Bird’s and Searl’s have never met in person. We became friends because of our blogs which share common obsessions. They revolve around hiking and enjoying what nature has to offer. I’m always humbled by this hiking network and how it impacts my life in such a positive way. Now, the Bird’s have impacted Lylah’s life in a positive way. For this, I can’t thank them enough!