The sun had just broken the edge of darkness when my alarm sounded off, like a cockerel proudly proclaiming the arrival of dawn from the roof of his coop kingdom.
I stumbled downstairs and fumbled about with the coffee maker cursing myself for being too lazy to prepare it the night before. I wanted and badly needed that injection of hot liquid caffeine to speed up the process of departing the house and heading to the hills.
The dawn arrived with a light breeze and a morning chill to the air. I slung my backpack in the car and fired it up. The roar of the engine startled some nearby blue jays out catching their early worm.
My drive north was quiet as I snaked my way through the suburbs and out into the countryside joining the interstate and the other early morning commuters. Looking at them aggressively driving toward their mind numbing corporate meetings, I was feeling lucky to be on my way to the rivers, the mountains and the thin blue skies. I had that sense of freedom and adventure that can only be obtained in the wilderness.
After a couple of hours of tarmac gazing, radio channel surfing and one coffee stop, I pulled into the Trailhead car park to be greeted by my hiking chum for the day, Les.
It had been 5 months since we had hiked together so there was a lot of catching up to be done. But that would have to wait for now, the trusty old boots needed to be strapped on so we could get cracking. We had a long but rewarding day ahead of us in the beautiful white mountains.
Both of us started off at a fast pace, both eager to gain some height and get a good sweat on. You see for me an attraction to climbing any mountain is the work out it gives your body,legs,lungs and mind. You can get a good going over while being surrounded by nature and not the mundane machines that fill up the floor space of your local gym.
Frank viewWe hiked upwards through the vast woodlands that carpet this mountain range. The notable differences in landscape since my last trip up were almost too many to inventory. Thick fern farms stretching as far as the eye could see. The trees sporting their winter look had gone from bare and lonely to thick and full with every possible shade of green represented. From the light lime sunshine tints of the crowns to the deep dark greens of the forest floors we were immersed in brilliant color.
The air smelled alive with the scent of pine, fiddleheads, decaying bark, boulder moss and the spray from the fast flowing rivers. I breathed in the earthy fragrances of mother nature’s perfume. I stopped periodically, breathing deep and hard to fill my lungs with the crisp clean air, exhaling a happy sigh of contentment.river crossing
The trail up to Galehead AMC hut was steep and hard, joined together in most places by huge rocks and boulders making for good hand holds for pulling yourself up. I couldn’t help but wonder, who had put these rocks here? Who had positioned them? How did they get them up to these heights? What tools did they use? Images of the bearded giant Paul Bunyan and his ox Blue filled my mind. These trail crews must be a hardy bunch I thought.
We arrived at the hut in good time and decided to have a brew break. The hut had just opened the day before from its winter shut down so we ventured inside to fill up our water bottles. I love these AMC huts.
Their pine floor boards have seen a million boots, their benches and tables worn from dings of countless tin mugs and diner plates. Their walls adorned with maps, photos and the occasional piece of vintage hill walking gear. No matter what hut you visit they all have character ingrained into them.
While filling my bottle I was tempted by the freshly baked banana bread that was strategically on offer right next to the water tap. It’s like they knew I was coming. For the measly sum of two dollars I could have tasted this mountain hut delight but to my dismay my pockets resembled that of old Mrs. Hubbard’s cupboards. Empty. Note to self, never hike without money. You never know when you’ll have to make an offering to the God’s of mountain baking!
Water bottles filled and legs rested we dropped our packs and headed off up Mt. Galehead, our first peak of the day. This was an easy climb that didn’t take us too far off our planned route up South Twin mountain. There was not much of a view to be had from the top of the peak but looking back we could see how much higher and by the looks of it a lot steeper South Twin was going to be. We bounced off back down the trail returning to the hut and grabbed our packs to start the trek up South Twin. Sure enough, the path was steep and heavy with boulders. I made a mental note of the trail sign just past the AMC hut which said 0.8 miles to the peak. I felt good inside.
Soon I would be sitting atop of the mountain with the whole of New Hampshire laid before me! The thought of it was enough to spurn me on, filling my legs with the new fuel they needed to reach the top.
We quickly crested the top of South Twin mountain with the sun blazing in the sky. The cottony clouds that dotted the blue abyss hung stationary and motionless, as if waiting to catch a lift on the wind so they could go about their business of watering the gardens below.
Just enough of a gentle breeze blew to cool the sweat that penetrated my shirt. I took off my pack and sat on the bare rock starring in disbelief at the sheer beauty Ethiopiaof my surroundings. My legs still pulsating from the hike up while my brain struggled to comprehend where I was. Sharp rising mountain ranges and lush green valleys spread out before me looked like the photos I had seen of the Ethiopian highlands, straight out of a National Geographic magazine. The warm, misty, deep velvety landscape almost appeared like the tropics of a foreign land. My senses were on over load. For a moment I forgot I was in New Hampshire.
I fished around in my pack for my flask and the cheese sandwich I had packed for my lunch. There’s something to be said for finding a resting spot on top of a mountain and cracking open your flask. Some days you don’t get to afford yourself this luxury. Wind, rain, snow, ice or bugs can steal the joy of picnicking under the skies but today I was going to get the chance to sit back, rest my feet and savor it.
I watched as Les stood starring into the vast emptiness of the Pemigewasset wilderness. I felt the smile span my face. I know that feeling, that sense of awe and the satisfaction she was experiencing. Sheer bliss from reaching her goal despite the fatigue of her burning muscles and discomfort of her sweaty clothing. Finally, she too sat down and pulled out her mountain munchies and we began the task of map reading to identify all the peaks near and far while sipping our tea and indulging on chocolate bars – pure bliss!moutain veiw
Our moment of mountain peace didn’t last too long as the breeze heralded the arrival of a group of noisy hikers. Their excited voices being carried before them like a flock of seagulls welcoming a fishing trawler back to the harbor. Each voice trying to be heard over the others clamor.
I transfixed my gaze in the direction of the rabble to see six, gangly unkempt looking youths all carrying tools of different types crest the rocks. I watched intently as they dropped their packs, well worn axes and shovels clattered to the ground as they set about the task of attacking their provisions like a pack of hungry wolves.
It was then that it dawned on me that THIS was the trail crew. No big bearded giant with a massive Ox as his friend. Just six scrawny youths buzzing with the pride of a hard days graft. I listened to their stories of the days adventure and what still lay ahead of them. I watched as they offered each other whatever they had to eat, as they cracked jokes and ranked on each other all the while noting the look of exhaustion etched on their faces.
I must say for a moment that gig seemed appealing to me. Endless days out in the wilderness earning your crust the hard way. The opportunity to enjoy nature while working with a team scampering about, repairing the old path ways and helping to keep them clear for others to enjoy. Yes, indeed I must admit, it seemed very attractive.
We left the South Twin peak and its trail crew behind and started off north west along an easy trail to the summit of our last peak of the day, North Twin.
On reaching it, I was glad we had agreed to leave this till last on our loop. The best of the day was behind us now and this summit didn’t grant you the same glorious views as its southern neighbor . We stopped briefly at a clearing to marvel at the view behind us. Standing proud against the cloud dappled blue sky, South Twin looked beautiful! We could still see the tiny ant like figures of the trail crew sitting up top. Even though they were still in site, luckily their youthful voices and opinions were devoured by the still air of the silent wilderness.
It didn’t take us long to hike back down through the forests to the trail head where we had left the cars. Our post hike tradition has become, to kick off our boots permitting our tired feet some much needed cooling and fresh air, while we chat about our day’s adventure over cold beverages. Les enjoys her ice cold beer while I savor a cold ginger ale before parting ways.
The day had come to an end. The drive home was long but peaceful. I was content and felt as though my balance had returned. I was back in touch with God and nature. I had been to church all day, covered many miles on those rocky trails, gazed into the heavens. I had been to the church of my mountains and I had found salvation in the wild places. The salvation I needed for my soul.