Friday, November 30, 2007
Thursday, November 29, 2007
I cannot stress this enough. So much depends upon the weather while up in these mountains, especially above treeline. On a previous post (Dying On Mt. Washington) you get to see the results of accidents, but more often than not bad choices being made. Typically, what happens when someone runs into bad weather up above treeline is that they set a date, circle it on their calendar and decide that's the day they're going to do a big hike. I can understand this course of thinking because most people have fixed schedules and can only hike on certain days due to their jobs, family or other commitments. However, there still needs to be a back up plan.
The first thing we check every morning when hiking is Mt. Washington's Higher Summit Forecast. It's even more important when hiking with a small dog whose breed is not typically made for winter hiking. Now mind you, it's not even winter yet and this is what this morning's forecast calls for:
In the clouds w/ snow developing. Wind chills 5 to 15 below zero.
Highs: around 20°F
Wind: S shifting W 60-80 mph w/ higher gusts
In the clouds w/ a chance of snow showers. Wind chills 25-35 below zero.
Lows: around 0°F
Wind: WNW 60-80 mph w/ higher gusts
In the clouds with a chance of snow showers. Wind chills 15-25 below zero.
Highs: upper single digits°F
Wind: WNW 60-80 mph decreasing 45-60 mph
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Today we hiked Mt. Tecumseh. (That's the summit above in the video.) It is the shortest of the 4,000-footers, sharing that distinction with Isolation, with a height of 4,003 feet. However, the hike to the summit of Tecumseh is only 2.2 miles while the hike to aptly named Isolation is more than 7 miles. For most, being the shortest in height and trip distance, Tecumseh can be an afterthought. But for me, well, I've always enjoyed this summit. There's something special about this mountain. Tecumseh was my first winter hike ever and I had an unforgettable summit experience on that day. And that is why these trees on the summit mean something to me. It goes to show you that each of these great mountains, no matter how "small" they are compared to the others, have the ability to touch us.
It’s a valid question.
On every hike, each decision along the way is made with Atticus’s safety, well being and enjoyment in mind. For instance, today the rivers are up a bit due to yesterday’s rain and while if hiking by myself I would consider some of those crossings, with Atticus, I’ll avoid them.
A couple of weeks ago we showed up in a very cold and windy Crawford Notch to hike the Willey Range. It felt very much like winter, that’s how cold it was. While standing around getting ready and chatting with a couple of other hikers I know Atticus let out a rare but excited howl. It was his way to say, “I’m so excited to get going!”
A couple of years ago he and I had to turn back on a rough trip in late winter to Mt. Isolation. The snow was deep and we were exhausted by breaking trail. We were behind the 8 ball in trying to reach the goals I had set for us so it was very important for us to get some peaks the next day. The next morning we showed up in Pinkham Notch with the goal of hiking Middle Carter, South Carter and Carter Dome. That was my goal. However, Atticus had other plans. It was clear he didn’t want to go. Typically, when I grab my backpack out of the car he’s ready to go and very excited about it. But on this particular cold winter day he decided he didn’t want to get out of the car. Decision made. I got back in the car and we drove home instead.
On a couple of other occasions we have shown up at trailheads and once we got out of the car it was clear Atticus didn’t want anything to do with the cold and the wind and so we just turned around and left.
But Atticus isn’t the only one who gets to cancel a hike. I also get the option. Each morning we get up in the winter I check the higher summits forecast from the Mt. Washington Observatory. If it doesn’t look good we go to Plan B (Plan A is to get above treeline) which is a more reasonable hike. Plan C holds if the weather is even worse and includes a few well-protected hikes. And Plan D, well, that means we cancel.
There are even times when we’ve started a hike where we turn back. This past winter we were fighting through deeper snow on a hike to Cabot and on another to the three Carters and two Wildcats. In each instance we had others with us and the trail breaking through the fresh snow was going slow but steady. However, when it goes this slow and we are moving slowly on a very cold day Atticus can’t keep his core temperature up, even with his body suit and boots on. In both instances it was difficult to tell the others we were with that we were turning back but it was the right decision to make.
Hiking with Atticus, especially in winter, means putting him first and foremost.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Yesterday was a Blue Sky day. We started late and took our time crossing the icy rocks on the stream crossings, then with the dangerously iced ledges near the waterfalls on the Falling Waters Trail. There was a point where I had to hoist myself up on a rock using a fallen log that is wedged securely in place. We almost turned back here. However, by that point I had my Stabilicers on and they did the trick.
Once beyond the waterfalls we fell into our regular routine, with Atticus 20 to 30 feet ahead. It’s a constant. He moves easily while I plod upward. Sometimes, like yesterday, when I’m tired and feel like I’m moving even more slowly than I normally do, I count footsteps. “Just make 100,” I tell myself, “then take a five second break.” The trail was broken but not packed out and I found the other supportive muscles that usually just play a silent and accessorizing role came into play. There was the ache in the side of my gluteus, the twinge in my lower hamstring, the dull throb in my low back. It is in these painful moments that I find myself wondering just what I’m doing up here.
There are times in the midst of the struggle where I become toxic. My thoughts are littered with doubts and distractions and I feel like giving up hiking altogether. Mired in similar thoughts on the ascent of Hale a week ago I found myself taking numerous short breaks. However, on one break I stopped longer than usual. Fatigue got me to stop; but it was the silence of the November woods that kept me there. It was incredible. Sweet silence. Not the rustle of the wind or a bird song to be heard. Nothing. How often in life do you get to hear nothing? I fell into a peaceful appreciation of the woods, the kind I often forget in my uphill struggles but am constantly reminded of at times like this.
The same thing happened yesterday. A particularly steep uphill, loose snow underneath, and labored breathing got me to stop. It was the silence, the lack of anything whatsoever in my ears other than my own breath, that kept me there.
It is in these uphill struggles that I lose the pettiness of life and become centered squarely within myself. As if there is a choice. My breathing, my heartbeat, how I’m feeling, they all take center stage. Everything else evaporates. This occurrence itself, in the darkest part of every hike, is reason enough to leave the comfort of home and get out into the woods.
As morning follows night, there is always hope after struggle. The trail grew steeper but the trees werre shorter, foretelling of what is to come. Atop one large rock I stopped to gasp for breath, turned around to look down at the steep section we had just climbed and I gasped again, this time at the view of Cannon Mountain which dominated the scene like some huge hibernating beast curled up under a layer of snow.
After the pain of the climb came the awe. We popped out of the short, bedraggled trees and come face-to-face with even more awesome views. In light of the struggle to get there, the view is starkly emotional. It’s that beautiful.
There’s not another person in sight (and leaving the parking lot at 11:00 there was not another car in sight either so I figured we’d have the ridge to ourselves). Is there a more exciting and at the same time frightening moment? Here the world, the world that most will never see, is revealed as mountain after mountain stretches out before my eyes and I’m standing up here nearly shaking with excitement. There’s beauty and awe and the thought of being alone on the ridge with no one around for miles.
Part of me wishes I had another person to share this with but if someone were here we would ruin it all with words. Instead it is just Atticus and me. Without words there is silence even up here on the ridge. Not much wind at all. No birdsong nor whine of an 18-wheeler on the highway below.
I’ve brought my winter pack but only put on my windbreaker, light hat and gloves. I don’t even bother with Atti’s body suit or his Muttluks. It’s that kind of day.
I revisit the wonderful and familiar feeling of having a mountain to myself. I’m like a child in a candy store, not wanting to miss anything or leave anything behind. My eyes search the views hungrily; I’m snapping away with my camera and hoping this is not some dream but that we are really here.
Centuries ago Milton wrote: “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” That’s exactly what I’m feeling…gratitude. This may well be another peak to check off a list, but it is so much more. It is, more than anything, a gift. Moments such as these help me get through the rest of my days when there are not such moments.
It was Emerson who pointed out that “Our faith comes in moments; our vice is habitual.” I need these moments of inspiration to help me overcome the rest of life, to make me remember the magic of life that often gets coated over and dulled by the grime of the mundane. For me that is what it is all about.
Struggles that existed on the climb up evaporate on the ridge. I looked at the time and realized we weren’t as slow as I thought and the climb to come up Little Haystack, Lincoln, Truman and Lafayette will be short-lived strife in comparison. I knew that even with all the “gasping for my breath” breaks I would have this incredible landscape to look out upon. No hurry. Just walk and enjoy.
Atticus and I set off towards Little Haystack. In front of us Owl’s Head slumbered, stretched out as if in a cocoon, and beyond are the Bonds, sunning themselves in the afternoon glow. Washington and the other Presidential’s are in the distance, shining brightly against the blue sky. To our left Moosilauke, the Kinsman’s and Cannon are dulled by the afternoon sun shining in our eyes but they are beautiful nonetheless.
This is one of the few places where Atticus gets ahead of me by more than 10 yards. He does especially well on the descent off of Lincoln (while I struggle), heading towards Lafayette. On this straight path I see him off in the distance, no need to call him back for he knows where he is going. He’s not running, just moving easily and freely. In the photos he appears as a black speck, his diminutive size made all the smaller by the contrast of Lafayette, glowing white with snow and afternoon glory, looming above him.
Recently, a trip report on the Views from the Top website talked about a steep climb up Mt. Washington. There was discussion on whether it was 4,000 feet of elevation gain (or something of the sort) when one hiker talked of the dog that was with them, “The dog did 8,000 feet” he deadpanned. I think that's the case with most dogs. But for some reason with Atticus is not an “out-and-backer”. He is a constant distance in front of me. I stop, he stops. If I sit or fall, he’ll come running back to check on me. But that’s it. Other than that he’s on his hike, I’m on mine. I get to a summit and he's waiting for me. He’s always within sight. It’s just up here on the ridge above treeline that he increases the distance between us, as if he is as intoxicated by the rare air and rare views as I am.
Our late start turned into a late afternoon treat. The glow of the sinking sun turned the snow to a soft golden white and while the temperature fell it appeared warmer because of the glow around us.
On Lafayette’s summit I sat down on the snow, my back against a large rock. Atticus climbed up on my lap and sat down and together we gazed for some 20 minutes out into the Pemi: no buildings, no roads, and no people to be seen. It was just us and the mountains. Atticus enjoyed some cheese while I had my second Stonyfield Smoothie of the day. Talk of a perfect way to end an afternoon: two friends enjoying the best that life has to offer.
After such an afternoon it was hard to say goodbye but begrudgingly we did. The descent from the summit cone came easily with enough snow to buffer the ice and rocks. We hopped into the western sun and were eventually greeted by an incredible corridor of conifers coated in thick white coats, made golden by the waning light: more gifts to take with us in our memories.
Our arrival back at the car came all too soon and so we lingered longer than normal. I picked up Atticus and together we looked up at Cannon and then back at the moon and the stars. A perfect afternoon had given way to a perfect night.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Sunday, November 18, 2007
I told a friend about Hailey's response to the "Why Angell?" slideshow (which can be found in the sidebar to the right) in which she wrote: "He is Buddha on the mountain, meditating for the world." His response: "He's Little Buddha."
"Little Buddha" is one of the more interesting things said about Atticus. Last winter, a hiker who goes by the moniker "7 Summits", referred to Atticus as the "Little Giant".
Through the last couple of years Atticus has been called a few interesting things. All of them positive. (I’ve also been called many interesting things, but most should not be printed in this forum.)
Yesterday we took a leisurely walk of a few miles (distance unknown) in Hemenway State Park over in the Tamworth area. Our friend Christine showed us around and up to a fire tower with great views of the Sandwich Range and especially Mt. Israel, Sandwich Dome, Whiteface, Passaconaway, and Chocurua. It was more of a walk than a hike but was still very pleasant and good to be out in the woods on a November day when the 4,000-footers were all draped in snow.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
We were only climbing these mountains for seven months before we started winter hiking. That was two winters ago. In that first winter we attempted to hike all 48 of the 4,000 foot peaks, nearly all of them by ourselves, leaving friends and family concerned and bewildered. This was new territory for us and no one expected us to finish them all and we didn’t, falling seven peaks shy. I could read it in their faces, seeing this 20 lb dog and this middle aged and overweight fellow, both novices, pitting ourselves against the bitter winter of the White Mountains.
Now here we are again, giving it another shot---two rounds.
Some would say we don’t fit the description of what they expect out of a couple of winter peakbaggers. That's okay. In 46 years of living I have come to realize it’s not my job to fit someone else’s opinion of me and as long as Atticus is healthy and safe I don’t really care all that much what people think he should and shouldn’t be allowed to do up in these mountains. If you ever hike with us you'll see that he loves this and appears to be made for it.
The quote at the top of the page says it all. Like most of you I've struggled my entire life with limitations both self-imposed and those put on me by others. And more often than not I've allowed my path to be directed by those nagging doubts and distractions. But occasionally something comes along and you feel compelled to follow that dream or forever pay the price for not chasing it.
I can't say for sure what compelled us to be up here hiking, to change our lives so much so that we now live up here. I just know it was a passion that called to me and put me on a more genuine and pure path and my life was changed because of it. These mountains, they call to me and it appears they have a song the little guy responds to also. We may not fit the bill for what some would consider winter adventurers, but that's okay. As far as the quote on the top of this post goes, I’ll let others worry about limiting us. I to do my best to ignore those limitations. Being a dog, Atticus was light years ahead of me on this. He has never really worried about what others think. I’m just a bit slower on the uptake but I've come around.
With that said, I’d like to share something with you. It comes from my friend, Manford. In his email it states: This is a story about a guy, a guy like most of us, common, questioning his existences, measuring himself to others, never believing in his abilities or his worth. Then one day, his passion outgrew his fears as he stepped onto a stage, a stage that took him to a place beyond his self imposed prison. Watch the faces of the judges as this guy walks out on the stage. You can almost see what they're thinking as they pre-judge this guy based on his looks and the fact that he's a cell phone salesman. Maybe this guy stopped believing in what people told him for so many years and ultimately started listening to his passion.
This is not hiking related and I’m sure some of you may have seen this, but I cannot get enough of it and thought you might like it too. It's a good lesson in ignoring the constraints we allow others to put on us. Get ready to be inspired by clicking here.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Today we were on North and South Kinsman and we never escaped the clouds. On days like this, when it is raw and a bit windy you have to hold onto yourself. It's not that it's dangerous, it can be desolate and it can play with your head. The gray skies, the ghostly mists, the cold wind, they can lead you to believe you are alone in the world and while in reality you may be miles away from the next closest person it can seem even farther away. Two years ago, when we first started hiking in the winter this was one of the biggest challenges for me. It didn't seem to bother Atticus at all, but it played with me and on occasion it still does. This is one of the challenges of hiking alone so much of the time. Winter hiking can be beautiful, but it can also be a little lonely and has the ability to challenge the spirit just as much as it challenges the body. This video was taken today on the summit of South Kinsman and it gives you an idea of what it was like.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Last year winter started at 7:21 pm on December 22nd. At about 7:25 a large group of us started our ascent of Cannon Mountain. This year winter starts at 1:08 am and we’ll let it pass without getting out of bed for a hike until later that morning.
What will we hike on that first day? Don’t know. In winter it’s all very different and it’s best if you don’t plan too far ahead. During the 90 days of winter, each day we get out of bed and have four options for a hike:
1) Above treeline on the best of days. These are rare in winter. We start the day by checking the Higher Summits Forecast at the Mountain Washington Observatory. If the temperatures are okay and the winds mild we’ll head for the higher peaks. This did not happen until the third weekend of February last winter.
2) Not above treeline, at least for most of the hike but still higher peaks such as the Twins or the Carters. On these hikes there may be some exposure, just not miles of it as there is on Franconia Ridge or the Presidential Range. Most of our hikes fall in this category.
3) Hike something shorter and protected from the elements on colder, stormier or windier days. This list includes hikes to mountains like Tecumseh, Hale, Waumbek or Cabot.
4) Sleep in if all is not good. This is an important option for Atticus and me. No peak is worth dying for.
In short the rule of thumb is easy: hike what the Mountain Gods invite you to hike.
Each winter hikers are rescued for a variety of reasons but one way to minimize the chance of having to be rescued it by paying attention to the weather. Mt. Washington may claim to have the worst weather in the world, but if you wait until the right day to hike this potentially dangerous peak it can be a wonderful and safe experience. The key to this is not being married to plans. They are subject to change each morning we set out. This is particularly true when hiking with Atticus. Why put a dog who weighs around 25 lbs at risk and in discomfort? Besides, keeping him safe also keeps me safe.
Between now and then the goal is to hike three to five days a week, lose some weight (me, not him), get in better shape and build up our endurance.
And, of course, there is the other goal. This winter we’re raising money for Angell Animal Medical Center. As you read along and follow our adventures this winter, please keep in mind that Atticus and I are raising money for this amazing non-profit animal hospital in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. There are various ways to pledge but one of the neatest is to dedicate one of the 48 peaks we’ll be climbing to a favorite pet in your life, or one you’ve lost. If you choose this way of contributing please send a photo of the pet we’re hiking for and as we do the peak we’ll post a trip report, photos of the hike and a photo of your pet on the website. It’s a great tribute to one you’ve lost but still love or one that is still romping along with you.
Every year Angell Animal Medical Center brings hope to thousands of animals and, more specifically, their human families and friends. They gave us hope when we had none earlier this year and this winter we’re using our Winter Quest to say thank you to Angell.
With winter approaching there will be more posts so please follow along with us as we gear up and get ready to go. Also, it would be appreciated if you would forward our blog address to all your friends and family. So read it and pass it on.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Sunday, November 04, 2007
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Thursday, November 01, 2007
"Oh, the wild joys of living!
The leaping from rock to rock..."
Robert Browning had it right. I've posted a little video above from our recent hike up Tecumseh. This is on the Sosman Trail that runs from just below the summit over to the ski area. It's nothing special, but it does give you and idea of how well Atticus maneuvers over and around the rockier trails. The second video is not ours but from MSPCA-Angell. "A Day in the Life of the MSPCA-Angell" appears on their website and gives you an idea of the organization Atticus and I are raising money for this winter (in case you don't know much about them). You can view their video by clicking here.