Thursday, February 28, 2008
Atticus and I spent the night at Paul Abruzzi's place and got up early to have coffee with Tom Jones and Gary Roberts at Plum Island Coffee Roasters. These are the two gents we hiked Moriah with last Friday. Turns out Gary did it with walking pneumonia; he learned that earlier this week. (No wonder I could keep up with him.) As they left Peter and Julie McClelland came in and visited for a spell. That's when Atticus noticed that Peter had stolen his seat and did his best to get it back. After they left, Samantha Stephen, who owns PICR with her mother Joyce Coady, came over for a visit, which Atticus didn't seem to mind at all.
We had a quick 24 hour visit to Newburyport where upon arriving yesterday at 1:00 p.m. I received a wonderful 90 minute massage from Sarah George and Atticus received all kinds of treats and love from friends around town. (A note about Sarah, when she learned our major sponsor had some problems and pulled out leaving us $3,000 in the hole for our Winter Quest she sent me a gift certificate for a free massage, just her way of doing something to help the cause of animals in need. It was truly appreciated. If you are looking for one of the best massages you will ever have, you can email her here. But beware, she didn't do this for the publicity, she did it because she has a good soul.) After we left Sarah's office, we stopped by Bottega Toscana where Atticus received his customary meatballs and then hit Licorice & Sloe Tea Company where Atticus got together with one of his biggest fans, Annie Silliker, the daughter of owners Bil and Meg. The photos above are not of Sarah, but Annie. (It's hard to take a photo of your massage therapist when your belly down on the table.)
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
I still have so much to catch up with on the website. Thank you for your patience. I’ll be writing plenty from Plum Island Coffee Roasters tomorrow morning and from Paul Abruzzi’s tonight.
This afternoon Sarah George is gifting me a 90 minute massage. Sarah is an incredible talent with an intuitive touch. She and Susan Atwood (her step mother-in-law) are the two best in Newburyport. When Sarah discovered our corporate sponsorship fell through, she sent in a gift certificate I will take advantage of. If you are in the Newburyport area and looking for a great massage therapist, give her a call: (978)518-1100; or email her: email@example.com.
I’ll check in later this afternoon.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
The calendar winter is waning and we’re behind where I would like to be in our current Winter Quest. We had hiked four days in a row and six of the previous seven but I was hoping to take advantage of the good weather. However, the day before we hiked Moriah with two friends and one of them had some troubles with cramping. The result being we were out in the wind and snow two to three hours more than I had anticipated and Atticus was tired.
Every winter I think I’m coming up here to bag peaks and yet it seems what we actually achieve is a stronger bond between us; Atticus and me, that is.
Considering how soundly he was sleeping when I woke up, how he drowsily lifted his head to watch me move around the room, I decided he could use the day off, much to the dismay of some friends and acquaintances.(“Why aren’t you our there on such a beautiful day?”)
Sunday came and brought a beautiful blue sky with her, too, but more wind, so we were off to Whiteface & Passaconaway. When Monday came I was happy to have waited for our pitch. The wind on Washington was going to be a bit much yet again but it was perfect for a hike over the Franconia Four.
What a pleasure it was to see Atticus in his element, happy, gamboling along, as if on a jaunt to the corner store. The day of rest was perfect. He did extremely well on Whiteface & Passaconaway and he was just as happy-go-lucky on our climb over the Three Agonies.
We were joined by Jeff Veino for the day and had the pleasure of running into Hillwalker and chatting for a bit on one of the Agonies, then at the hut, then again on the summit of Lafayette. (He’s an interesting man and offers good company.)
There was not a lick of wind as we climbed over the exposed rock and hard packed snow and small patches of ice. The sky above Lafayette was nearly as blue as it was on Sunday, a cerulean blue almost too perfect for my eyes and had it none been for the blemish of the thin wisps of feathery clouds the sky would have been maddening. The Romans linked the word cerulean to a heavenly sky. That’s what we were walking towards over the bony rocks.
With no wind, not even a breeze, we climbed under the bright sun and it climbed with us and brought a late spring warmth with it. There were times when it seemed almost too warm and I thought of how nice it would be to be in shorts instead of a Gore-Tex bib.
Often when I climb higher I drink in the views of mountains, but on Monday the sky was equally beautiful and noteworthy. I marveled at its lush depth, dreamed of diving into it to cool off, as if it were the Mediterranean, and oohed and ahhed at the occasional passing of whimsical clouds.
Upon reaching the top of Lafayette it was so pleasant we stayed longer than we should have for we had many more miles to go. The views were outstanding. The temperature so perfect that Atticus lay Sphinx-like on a cool rock and enjoyed the views from his belly, something he doesn’t normally do in winter.
It took a while to convince myself to go on, not because I was tired but because these are the kind of days up here you daydream of. Atticus and I had one such day this past fall on Cannon in the beginning of November. We took a long nap on the top of the tower and were never disturbed by another visitor. Two summers ago I parked my car at the Oliverian Brook parking lot, put Atticus in the basket on the handlebars and pedaled down to the Pine Bend Brook Trail. (The truckers going by in the early morning blew their horns at the little dog sitting ET-like in the basket.) We then hiked back to our car by way of the Tripyramids and Sleepers and Whiteface and Passaconaway. It was a perfect day but my favorite part was the casual nap we took under another blue sky, this one speckled with friendly white clouds. As Atticus slept, a chipmunk stole close to investigate him and to search for food. I fed him and we nurtured a temporary friendship in that hour and a half on the ledges of Whiteface.
That’s how tempting the day was on top of Lafayette. It would have been easy to stretch out right there and fall asleep; but to paraphrase Robert Frost, we had miles to go before we slept. We moved on over crispy patches of ice, some hard-packed snow and many an exposed rock. We made okay time in our climb over Truman and then Lincoln. Once on Lincoln there was another break, this one much shorter than the one we took on Lafayette. The sky was nowhere near as blue but the sun was still warm and the winds were out of town (I’m told they were still somewhat apparent on Washington).
On the southern side of Little Haystack and near the trail junction with the Falling Waters Trail we stopped and found ourselves chilled. The weather hadn’t changed our outlook had. We realized this was near where the two hikers were found, one dead, one now amazingly alive. How could this not chill us even on the warmest and stillest of winter days as we pictured ourselves in their shoes?
We donned snowshoes for the 2.2 miles over to Liberty. The walk through the woods was not the speediest but we avoided all spruce traps other than the one I fell into up to my chest just before entering into the woods. There I was, trapped in the snow, deep and helpless. When I fall in the winter, which happens from time to time, Atticus comes back from his lead position to check up on me and he did the same yesterday, stopping to lick me…his cure all for whatever ails me. He’s not a big licker, but when I’m down (physically or otherwise) he’ll approach and flick his tongue out and kiss my hand.
When we emerged from the woods after dodging eye level branches and weaving our way through tightly packed trees to see the edifice of Liberty we were buoyed by the return of the deep blue sky that had turned milky on our trip south along the spine from Lafayette to Little Haystack. We dropped off the summit, dropped our packs and made our way over to Flume, marveling again at the sky and now at the late afternoon sun’s glow on the vistas as seen through the trees. This section of trail, only 1.2 miles long, is particularly painful to me, because when I’m on it I’m typically going to have to return to Liberty the way I came, and the return visit brings with it 500 feet of elevation gain.
On the summit of Flume winter had returned. The sun had run out of steam about the same time I did. We were both tired and she was sinking to the west. But the colors and the views were magnificent all over again, the shadows, the peach and golden glow on clouds and white-caked mountains warmed us as much as our gloves and hats did.
One of the things I have come to understand about Atticus is that he appreciates these views as much as I do, if not more. If it is warm he takes a great vantage point and looks around. If it is cold, I pick him up and while I look out at the scenery he does too. He could do this for hours.
The hike back to Liberty was slow going, at least for me. Atticus likes to lead and he was followed by Jeff, but often the little dog would stop and come back looking for me even though I was only 20 yards behind. He seems to believe it is his job to look after me as much as I believe it’s mine to look after him. Each time, upon seeing I was okay, he would return to the front again, a little general leading us through the post-holed and pock-marked trail, through the trees and up the steep climb to Liberty.
On Liberty we said goodbye to the sun which lay so close to the horizon, said goodbye to any remaining warmth, said goodbye to mountaintops, to the incredible sky, to the clouds and this wondrous day and soon we were swallowed by the trees and then some time later, the night.
I had left my car at the Flume parking lot and I found the nearly mile long walk back to it along the bike path to be mentally torturous. To pass the time I let my mind wander all the way back to my childhood visits up to the White Mountains with my family. We had a tent trailer and would often set it up at Lafayette Campground or in a place called Campers World, the overgrown remains of which lie right outside the window on the far side of my desk if you look across the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
Our entertainment was mainly sitting around the fireplace, telling stories, recanting our day’s adventures or leafing through booklets of White Mountain legends, both factual and tall tales. Those great stories would surround us as the mystery and magic of the cool summer nights fell down all around us and followed us into our dreams when we finally succumbed to sleep.
Walking on the bike path I thought back to those days, about the stories I read and the mountains we looked up at and wondered about and the woods that were everywhere, especially from that patch of lawn in front of Lafayette Place.
We grow up, grow older, life losses its luster, our heroes aren’t as heroic as they once appeared to be, if at all, and we are left longing for the innocence of so long ago. But on this day, on all the days we are up here in the woods, sitting by streams, sweating and swearing my way up to the top of a mountain, or meandering along a flat wooded trail, I am reminded that up here I have encountered something in my life that has not faded with familiarity. These mountains are still magical, even after a long and challenging day. The more time I spend with them, the more I feel that way, the more I am reminded to appreciate the daily miracles of nature.
Looking into the darkness through the tunnel-beam of my headlamp at the happy trot of the little dog in front of me, I can also say the same for him. He continues to impress me, continues to seem to get as much out of this place as I do. Nearly a year ago he was going blind and we feared that thyroid cancer would take him away, and now I watch with stars in my eyes as he wends his way through life with the same innocence I used to have, with an innocence I can often see through his eyes and actions. I’ve come to understand that as much as he needs me, I need him, too. We’re two unlikely travelers matched up together for wherever this journey is taking us.
It’s good to live with such a dog, good to live in the mountains, and good to wait for the perfect days above treeline.
Monday, February 25, 2008
There are few days any better than this glorious day on Franconia Ridge. We had not a lick of wind and comfortably warm temperatures on Lafayette, Lincoln and Liberty. It wasn't until we reached the summit of Flume, and then backtracked to Liberty, that we felt winter in the slight wind and dropping temperatures. Photos will be up in a little while.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Yesterday we had the good company of Newburyporters Gary Roberts and Tom Jones, and the rather pesky company of some wind and snow that arrived just as we reached the ledges of Moriah. It made for an interesting trip, both the company and the storm. However, I would say the company of Gary and Tom was much more of a pleasant experience. In this video, taken with my digital camera, we're on the way down the mountain and Tom Jones and Atticus are just ahead of me on one of the ledges.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Between now and the end of winter we have 19 hikes left, 18 if we are close and I decide to combine Madison, Adams, and Jefferson with Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower and Pierce for a Presidential Traverse.
I’ve listed the remaining hikes below, ranking them from the hardest to the easiest and the hikes with the more asterisks are the more difficult.
***Hale, Zealand, West Bond, Bond, Bondcliff (5)
***Middle Carter, South Carter, Carter Dome, Wildcat A, Wildcat D (5)
***Middle Carter, South Carter, Carter Dome, Wildcat A, Wildcat D (5)
***Madison, Adams, Jefferson (3)
***Madison, Adams, Jefferson (3)
***Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce, Jackson (5)
***Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce (4)
**North Twin, South Twin, Galehead (3)
**North Twin, South Twin, Galehead (3)
**Owl’s Head (1)
*Whiteface, Passaconaway (2) DONE
*Whiteface, Passaconaway (2)
*North Tripyramid, Middle Tripyramid (2) DONE
*Moriah (1) DONE
Atticus and I started our hike under pleasant blue skies, crossed the bridge at the trailhead and just like that the sun was gone. The day became gray and somber, and the higher we climbed the more the clouds seemed to sink down upon us until we reached the junction of the Stony Brook Trail and the Carter-Moriah Trail. That’s the 3.5 mile mark. From there it is a pleasant and often breathtaking ledge walk to the summit of Moriah. But not today.
The footing was fine. Others had hiked the trail this weekend and broke it out. Yesterday’s rain and warm temperatures softened the snow and it sank upon itself somewhat, only to harden up overnight. So long as the little bug and I stayed on the trail we were fine. If we stepped off the trail I postholed. So did little Atticus. He’s not used to sinking in that deep. Typically he scurries along on top of the snow if he walks off the trail. But not today.
The ledges leading up to the summit of Moriah are quite beautiful and it is one of my favorite sections in the Whites to hike. But while trekking through the belly of a cloud there was nothing to see. And this particular cloud seemed cold and damp and I could feel its tendrils seeping into my joints and eventually my spirits.
It is such a different experience to hike under the bluest of skies as we had on the most recent Hancock hike. Today’s experience was in stark contrast to that one. No views, everything looked gray, and when the snow flurries started so did the wind and no matter which direction we walked it seemed to be blowing right at us.
Today was a fine example of what is negative about peak-bagging. Normally I wouldn’t have hiked Moriah today. No, not because of safety issues, for we were safe as can be, but because I’d prefer to hike the ledges on a day with better views. As of today there are only 30 days left of winter and we went into it needing 20 hikes to complete our goal. Nothing else really fit with what I wanted to do today so I chose Moriah. Don’t get me wrong, nearly any day I get out in the woods with Atticus is a fine day, but some are better than others.
It was somewhere along the descent, soon after we jumped off the Carter-Moriah Trail and were back on the Stony Brook Trail while we were moving along at a pretty good clip that something happened to change my attitude.
We were clip-clopping along, dog and man, my snowshoes slapping the hard track, and I was in a hurry to descend from the grayness and shake off the cloud’s gray fingers that had been reaching out to me for the better part of the hike. Out of nowhere a thought arose and a smile was born and the two may have even copulated to form a laugh, or maybe I just thought I heard myself laughing.
The thought that brought the smile that joined with the thought to create the laugh was that on this very gray day two unlikely hikers were making our way down our 44th mountain this winter. Unlikely? Sure we are. He’s too small, I’m too big. I’m middle aged, still somewhat new to hiking, never mind winter hiking, and not in the best of shape. He is not a thick-coated dog, and has hair instead of fur; and last April he was going blind and we feared the worst when the idea of thyroid cancer surfaced. For eleven years I sat behind my desk and wrote about the provincial politics of Yankee City, taking on those who were ethically challenged and praising those who were above the curve in that category. Never would I have thought that the two of us would end up moving north, giving up that life I knew so well, and decide to do something as preposterous as this quest for 96 peaks.
And it got better. Today we hiked Moriah and it was dedicated to Koa, our friend Joyce’s dog. Koa is not doing all that well as of late and Joyce and I have been writing back and forth concerning Koa’s old age and his ailments. I fear for Koa and I fear for Joyce and her husband when the day of his departure eventually come.
But here we were, these two unlikely hikers, having the honor of climbing to the top of one of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot peaks in honor of a well-loved dog. How special is that? And I have to tell you, I do believe it is an honor. And it’s not just that we can climb Moriah in the first place, but that we carried Koa and Joyce and her husband with us today. And to be able to do it in such a way that benefits an organization like Angell Animal Medical Center makes it even better.
During this quest it is easy to forget we are up here because we love it up here, especially during a week when three different rescues have taken place, and if I’m not careful I would also forget why we are doing this, who we are dedicating it all too, and the place it benefits.
In the middle of that cloud, even as a fierce flurry of snow unleashed upon us while we moved down the trail, I couldn’t help but feel better, brighter, and even a bit joyous about this grand adventure we are on this winter.
So here’s to Koa, and Joyce, and Jack and all the other wonderful animals we are hiking in honor of and in memory of; and here’s to those people who love or loved their dogs, cats, horses or birds enough to remember them in this way; and here’s to the 90 day journey, may we never forget it or those we are walking for so long as we live.
Thanks for coming along for the journey.
The parking lot outside might as well be an ice rink but the roads are in better shape, I believe. Today’s plan is to drive the hour over to Gorham and hop down towards Pinkham Notch to hike Moriah by way of the Stony Brook Trail, one of my favorite hikes. However, there are stream crossings to contend with so we’ll see how well the snow bridges held up or if they are gone or unstable.
As of today there are 30 full days left of winter. That’s it. And we still have so much to do. I figure there are 20 hikes left and we need the weather to cooperate if we stand a chance to reach our goal. That is something the weather hasn’t done since winter started. But who knows, perhaps we shall get lucky during the last month of winter.
In these last 20 hikes, there are many longer hikes on our list that will give us multiple peaks. There are fewer simple and protected hikes where we don’t have to worry about exposure. Moriah is one where I’m not worried about exposure. And so is tomorrow’s planned hike up the Tripyramids by way of the Pine Bend Brook Trail. Both hikes are 10 miles.
Because of the weather roller coaster this winter Atticus and I have been able to hike three days in a row only once as compared to several times last winter. We may have that opportunity this week if the forecast holds out. Now we just have to worry about our bodies holding up. Ironic, isn’t it? We have stayed fresh by not hiking as much as I would have liked throughout the constant nagging storms this winter but at the same time have been unable to build up much strength by doing three or four hikes in a row.
In the coming weeks we’ll need to stitch together three hikes in a row on several occasions in the coming weeks if the weather allows.
Tomorrow we get a visit from Jeff Veino, who hiked with us several times last year and with us on Waumbek earlier this year. I also expect Jeff to be up here several more times this winter. He’s good company and understands the focus of hikes centering on Atticus.
On Friday, Tom Jones and Gary Roberts are coming up from Newburyport. We’ll know more what we are hiking when the weather forecast firms up but at this time it appears we’ll be heading east where we have not hiked at all yet. Today’s hike of Moriah will be our first hike in the eastern section of the White Mountains. Perhaps we’ll do the three Carters and I’ll give them the option of heading back after that or joining me for the two Wildcats, too. Again, the forecast and conditions will dictate what we do.
It will be good to have some friendly faces up here. I’ll admit to feeling a little bit isolated up here. This is so different than our existence back in Newburyport. I’m not unhappy with our move up here; I just need some good interaction with friendly faces as winter stretches on.
Okay, we’d better get going. Here’s hoping that the two missing hikers on the Presidential Range are rescued today. At least the Search and Rescue people have better conditions to work with today.
Monday, February 18, 2008
These mountains are stunning, their God-given beauty can be breathtaking, but it is important to remember they are as wild as the beasts that roam them, as is the weather that exists up high. The relationship between man and mountain works, but only if you respect the mountains, the weather and the conditions.
When it comes to winter hiking my most valuable pieces of equipment are not my snowshoes or crampons but my conservative approach and my relationship with Atticus. Yes, we do many hikes lasting between 15-25 miles and nearly always hike alone, but there are safeguards in place. Were it just me I would most likely take chances I don’t take now. The reason I don’t is because I’m in charge of making decisions for the two of us. Oh, there are days Atticus lets me know he doesn’t feel comfortable in the wind or cold and I listen to him.
On the sunny day the helicopters were buzzing above our apartment in search of two lost hikers on Franconia Ridge we awoke to bright blue skies and a stiff wind. We went outside and it was clear that Atticus wanted to have little to do with the elements of the day. We could have hiked something less exposed but I trust his judgment and wish to give him a say. Instead of hiking we stayed in; while I wrote, he tufted up his Woolrich blanket and settled in for a nice nap.
We have set out this winter to hike the 48 4,000-footers twice in the 90 days of winter as a fundraiser for Angell Animal Medical Center. Tuesday marked the two month mark and we are only at 43 peaks. There is still a chance we will make our goal, but not at the risk of little Atticus or myself. In keeping him safe, I keep myself safe. There is a reason we have only topped 43 peaks thus far, other than the snow conditions, I haven’t felt comfortable taking this little dog above treeline other than a couple of times.
Winter hiking comes with many dangers but I believe we are well served by the basic rule of thumb: only take what the mountain gods offer you.
We will soon hike from Mt. Washington, over Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce and Jackson on a single day. But it will be a day with low winds, great visibility and reasonable temperatures where we both will be safe.
As for hiking alone, I check in with people when I leave and when I return and they know what time I’m expected back by. They know where I’m going and by what route we will be hiking. In my pack there is enough to get us through the night if something were to happen to me where we were stuck in the woods.
In losing one hiker to hypothermia recently, the entire hiking community felt the loss… “there but for the grace of God goes I”. I am not a religious man but consider myself spiritual and on the day the helicopters were circling the mountains virtually right outside my bathroom window I prayed for the rescue of two men and when one died I prayed for his family and the friends who knew and loved him.
The White Mountains are a valuable resource and they are here for our enjoyment but we have to respect them. In each of the three instances where hikers have been lost and needed rescuing the weather was questionable at best. I was not in any of their boots so I cannot say what made them feel it was a good day to hike the high peaks, but I prefer to choose only the best weather days to be up there above the trees and exposed to all the grandeur an above treeline trek offers.
While I’m at it, I must also thank the many Search and Rescue individuals who put themselves at risk in setting out to find those who have been lost. I appreciate their efforts and can only hope that in the future hikers will use wise decisions on when and where to hike, not only to keep themselves safe, but also to keep the people from Search and Rescue safe as well.
In my case, I am lucky, I have a little dog whose love and companionship leaves me no doubt as to where my priorities lie. Last spring it looked as if I might lose him to cancer. Now that he’s healthy again I am reminded of this gift with every hike we take and it is a pleasure to see him happy and healthy bouncing along the trails. He trusts me, and the least I can do for him is to see to it that his trust is well-placed.
Over the next month we will shoot to finish our goal and will take on the higher peaks, but only on those days we are supposed to be up there. If you wish to follow along on our journey over the coming month, please do at www.tomandatticus.blogspot.com.
I'm not sure why he does this and he only does it in winter and only when branches are sticking out over the trail. I never see him do it on any other occasion. He doesn't appear to be angry or agitated or frustrated. He just sits there and chomps away. I suppose this is a question for Patricia McConnell. Perhaps we will hear back from her.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Happy the man whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air
In his own ground.
Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire;
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.
Blest who can unconcern'dly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away
We started out for the Tripyramids but ended up with Moosilauke. And what a wild sky we had just before reaching the summit by the Gorge Brook Trail! It grew very windy and cold today and the summit was socked in, making for an incredibly brief visit to the top of Moosilauke. We chose the GBT because of the limited exposure to the elements as compared to the shorter but more exposed approach from Glencliff. The strategy was to reach the treeline and stick our heads out to see what the weather held. The winds were strong but not impossible and we moved as quickly as possible through the clouds, touched the summit sign and then retreated to the trees with the wind nipping at our heels the entire way. Now we await the rain and see how bad it will get in the next 18 hours. Hopefully not too much of this snow will wash away and hopefully the ice that will be left behind after the freeze comes again won't be impossible to deal with.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Funny little dog I live with. After the hike, when he is home and has eaten his fill, he gets the good treatment, wrapped in his Woolrich blanket so he can fade off towards the dreams little dogs dream after spending a winter day hiking mountains. When I see him like this, he is like any other dog I know. But this is about the only time I see him in the same light as any other dog I have ever known.
Sleep, little Baby, sleep,
It was a cold but brilliant day on the Hancocks today. Deep, deep snow on top of the ridge on both North & South Hancock made for spectacular views and for getting whacked in the head by many branches. The trail was broken out earlier in the day by a large group so Atti and I started at 12:30, stopped to chat with others on several occasions and made it out before needing a headlamp. This was my favorite hike of the year so far. You'll be able to see why from the photos. A stunning day. Now for those of you who have made a donation to Angell Animal Medical Center through our Winter Quest, get your ears ready for the next song in the slide show/music contest. This is song No. 7. And for a twist on this one, you don't have to give the title or the composer, just where it is from. Have fun. The slide show is here.