Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hiking the NH 4ks

This is the first post of my Summit Hiking in New England Blog. 

I'd hiked Mt. Monadnock in southwestern New Hampshire several times as a teenager; it was close by.  In 1993 I bagged my first New Hampshire four thousand footer (4K) with my family: Mt. Lafayette.  We were sweaty and cranky on the ascent but made it. I didn't care if I ever hiked again.

It wasn't until summitting Mt. Katahdin in 2006 via the Hunt trail that I appreciated the effort the task commanded, the challenge and commitment, and the afterglow of accomplishing what I still believe is the hardest thing I've ever done. 

I was lost in life and looking for inspiration, something to "grab" me. After Katahdin, I hiked a summit here and there: the Osceolas, Mt. Whiteface, Mts. Eisenhower and Pierce. It wasn't until I climbed Mt. Washington (much easier than Katahdin) that I thought, " this is my thing."


In February 2009 I quit my full time job.  This was the first time in my life I drew unemployment and after several weeks of State checks, I  landed a part-time job at UNH.   The position was temporary but it held me until I found my current job.  And, since it was part-time I could arrange my schedule to hike on weekdays.

Work before unemployment had been stressful but on weekends I found pleasure planning the year's hikes.  At the time, I had just 11 NH 4ks under my belt, with 37 to go to complete the New Hampshire Four Thousand Footer list.  I designed a calendar and had a newsletter of sorts going to various hiking groups, my cherished hiking buds, and a few new acquaintances. 

At one point my husband, an avid cyclist, looked at the hiking calendar and declared the schedule to be a "relationship breaker."  No way was he going to tie up each weekend to pound the car up to the Whites to be rained on, bitten by bugs and hypothermic. 

So we started slowly (Not. I just put that in - really I was so obsessed I would have gone without him!).

Spring brought training hikes.  In May I met Sandy while I was hiking on Mt. Major (a popular peak near Lake Winnipesauke). Ironically, Sandy lived about two miles from my house in Stratham. We immediately became friends. 

It became clear that she was as determined as I to finish the NH 4Ks; she was on 22.  We felt a need to knock these peaks off our lists!


Spring 2009.  So, my hiking calendar scheduled Mts. Field and Willey for mid-May.  Sandy joined me, along with Rich, Charlotte, Susan and Pam. We were so pumped to get out there and start checking those NH 4ks off our lists! 

We took the Avalon trail up, thinking it was shorter so it must be easier. Given the 6 or so inches of snow still left on the ground, it proved to be steep and slippery. Mt. Field's summit, a little field in the woods (aptly named) was our lunch spot and we soon headed out to the summit of Mt. Willey.  When we got to a high point on the trail, Rich's GPS beeped and we started high-fiving and taking photos. 

Hey. Wait. 

Shouldn't there be a cairn or USGS marker or something?  We looked all around and found nothing. head of us the path descended and turned, no view of anything to indicate a summit.  In the meantime, Charlotte, Sue and Pam who had fallen back a bit were not coming up behind us. 

My hike - I planned it.  I am responsible for my group.  We turned around and headed back toward Mt. Field's summit.  No Charlotte, no Sue, no Pam.  We got down to the trailhead to find them waiting. They decided to turn back shortly after Mt. Field's summit, but since we did not have a contingency plan, I did not know that.

Until I "resummitted" Mt. Willey in 2010, I wondered (sometimes obsessively) if I had actually found the summit that day in May, or if the GPS was off.  My second hike up Mt. Willey was up the ladders (stairs, really) on the Willey Range trail (via Ethan Pond trail), whose highpoint is a magnificent lookout on the top of Willey. The true highpoint is in the woods behind the cairn and after some exploring, I found our initial summit spot, just yards from the true summit.  

Lessons learned on that day: shorter trails don't necessarily mean easier trails, don't trust the GPS (know what the summit looks like), and most of all, have a Plan B with your group should you split up.

Sandy now has 24 peaks and I now have 14 (I hiked Mt. Tom a few days before Field and Willey).  Rich has started to notice a spike in his fitness level and decides that hiking is not such a bad thing after all.