24 September 2016


Once you start, it’s an ear worm you can’t get out of your head. It’s summittime, summittime, sum- sum-summittime… except that it’s already over. Summertime passed rapidly, so long as that ‘rapidly’ adjective isn’t applied to my pace on the roads. Summittime too has passed, with a satisfying goal achieved.

For one accustomed to racking up over two hundred miles a month, logging four, yes four (well, technically four and a half) in July and barely ninety in August has been downright agonizing, and this month is likewise lacking in linear legwork. The pizza-to-miles ratio is out of kilter and the body knows it, but worse than the few extra accumulated pounds is the passage of the six week mark when my body typically responds to changes in training levels and the bottom falls out of any attempts at rapidity. It’s all uphill from here to get back, though hope springs eternal; and based on yesterday’s better-than-usual-of-late outing, there may be another life ahead. I’m not dead yet.

Ah, but that uphill, now there’s an idea! While the mileage was down on behalf of the crackling (both) and painful (left) knees, along came the opportunity to clock in an alternate form of workout. In the last post, we left a little cliffhanger (pun intended) on Dearest Daughter’s Determined Deathwish to finish off her New Hampshire (White Mountains) Four-Thousand-Footers before heading off to places collegiate. As the last minute inserted note in that last posting said, yes, we made it in time, with less than forty-eight hours to spare before her departure, completing an ambitious odyssey. Such is the way that summertime this year became redefined as summittime.

Now, stomping over mountains on rough trails isn’t necessarily the kindest thing one could do to injured knees. But the climbing was, I figured, good for strengthening that atrophied quad, and the descending was, let’s just say, done as gingerly as possible. My current Physical Terrorist didn’t entirely agree, but she settled for the lesser of two evils while doing her best to calm the inflammation that she’s convinced is the source of much of my woe.

Thus began the adventure that led DD and me over thirty-three summits in a dozen outings over a span of only forty-four days, culminating at one of the most spectacular spots in the Whites. For her, it was a major life goal realized. For me, it was a trip down (or, more accurately, up) memory lane, relived and relished. Though by cutting back on my running I felt as though I lost track of many big doin’s around town, I traded my knowledge of the latest local road construction for the delightful familiarity with the northern landscape that only comes with the exertion of many miles. It’s a comforting, satisfying mastery that grows exponentially as the trails and summits add up, culminating in the ability to stand atop a mountain, look around, and not need the map to get your bearings. There’s no substitute for accumulating the experience.

So while I typically avoid chronological journaling, I break my rule here and provide a brief tour of those forty-four days that took DD from twenty-six to forty-eight qualifying summits. Come along on an adventure…because next time, it’ll just be about the run once again.

Excursion One, Whiteface & Passaconaway: It’s July but it’s cold, damp, drizzly, and foggy, on these forested, viewless summits, nothing to see here, move along, just whiteness from the overlooks. The steep climbs up Whiteface make me wonder how I got a troop of boy scouts up this one in back in eighty-nine. (Answer: There were steps bolted into the rock then; they’re gone now – note the holes in the rock behind my pack.) Summits twenty-seven and twenty eight.

Excursion Two, Willey & Field: Mt. Tom is usually included when the Willey Range is taken down, but DD bagged that one years ago on a day when the family tired after just one of the three planned peaks. This time we assaulted from the south so as to traverse the stairs DD had built last summer on her month of trail work, then it was up ten impressive trail ladders and a long (long!) loop back through Zealand Notch, because, well, why not turn a few miles into sixteen? Summits twenty-nine and thirty.

Excursion Three, Moriah: Because we just didn’t want to come home… An impromptu overnight, complete with a Wal-Mart run for basics like toothbrushes, so we could knock off a simple one the next day. Met a number of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers who we’d see again and again in coming days. Summit thirty-one.

Excursion Four, the Wildcats: To start a planned five-day stretch, it was up the steep and rocky ridge of Wildcat in a foggy drizzle. Five summits, two count as Four-Thousand-Footers, but unlike my last trip over them twenty-three years ago, they’re no longer labelled. With multitudes of ups and downs, we’re never quite sure if we’ve hit the high points till reaching the final A summit overlooking Carter Notch as the clouds gave way to glorious mountain sunshine. Summits thirty-two and thirty-three.

Excursion Five, Jefferson, Monroe, and, oh yeah, that one: DD is missing two Presidential summits, one north, the other south of Washington (which she’s already tagged), so the plan is to knock them both off, skirting the ‘Rockpile’ on the way. After a phenomenal cliff climb up Caps Ridge, the delightful morning turns Presidential Fierce, and a happenstance link-up with another hiker leads us to summit Washington anyway, since he’s never done it. Sixty-mile gusts reclassify the adventure into the Epic Zone and we’re feeling cold in our cores as we reach Lakes of the Clouds to recover. Toss in Clay and Franklin for a five-summit day and we’re glad to have snagged a lift back to our trailhead parking. Summits thirty-four and thirty-five.

Excursion Six, The Twins and Galehead: It’s been twenty-four years since I last stayed in an AMC hut and it happened to be Galehead. Since then the hut was entirely rebuilt so it’s sort of inaccurate to say I finally returned, but the logs are still there and I managed to find my entry from May of ninety-two. We return to visit neighbor Greg who’s working croo, and take an easy day of three summits on a brilliantly perfect summer day. Summits thirty-six, thirty-seven, and thirty-eight.

Excursion Seven, Garfield: My fourth time on this one and our intent is to continue up the ridge, top Lafayette, and sidle down past Greenleaf to our car parked at Canon. But threats of severe weather and a surprisingly and suddenly strong wind coupled with an evil looking sky turn us around at Garfield’s summit. We bail, hot-foot it down the Death-By-Boredom Garfield trail, and find a serious dearth of ride opportunities. The sketchy guy who kindly shuttles us back in his decades-old pickup truck has to move something off the seat that seemed to have been alive quite recently, but a ride’s a ride. Summit thirty-nine.

Excursion Eight, Cabot: One of Mother Nature’s bad jokes, Cabot, so far from anything that we ended up crossing a covered bridge into Vermont to get there, offers little excitement on a clear day, and even less on a cloudy one. A challenging climb to The Horn makes it interesting, though the out-and-back traversals of The Bulge add nothing but meaningless work. We’re only fifteen minutes from the car when the skies open with such ferocity that we’d have been drenched had we been only a minute away, but it makes for good chit-chat when we meet up later at a store in Berlin with hikers we’d chatted with who’d gone out the opposite direction and just beat the rain – and who turn out to be USATF Grand-Prix racing types. Summit forty.

Excursion Nine, Isolation: After five days at sea, we’re pretty tired, but after yesterday’s deluge, today’s forecast of perfection can’t be missed, so we book another night and hit the trail from Pinkham at the crack of dawn to tackle Isolation, as far from anything as its name suggests. Eschewing the usual Rocky Branch route that I’d slogged through back in eighty-eight (and which we’d learn was an intolerable mud pit after yesterday’s rain), we opt for Glen Boulder over Slide Peak, returning over Boott Spur. It adds thousands of feet of climb on both ends, but it’s spectacularly beautiful on a spectacularly amazing day and we’re spectacularly whipped by the end, but the sight of clouds pouring over the Presidential ridge was astounding. Summit forty-one.

Excursion Ten, Carrigain: It seems everyone leaves this for last, because although it’s five miles up Signal Ridge, it’s an easy five miles, so they can bring their friends, and besides, the last mile is magnificent. The four leading up to that spot, though, are rather interminable. We instead take the long way in, circling around the mountain through Carrigain Notch and ascend via the steep, challenging, and much more fun Desolation Trail. The summit is busy and beautiful, with views to what we’ve decided will be our finish line on the Bonds. Summit forty-two.

Excursion Eleven, The Kinsmans: Being easy to get to, right off the highway on the close side of the hills, we knock these off in a few hours, not hitting the trail till near mid-day. The South peak amuses with a unique summit cairn throne of stones. On our second trip over the North peak, returning from the out & back, I convince DD that a particular boulder looks like the true summit. She’s tired and reluctant but I goad her to scramble to the top. Back in the car, she sheepishly reads me the trail guide which we hadn’t carried which, sure enough, advises the peak bagger to be sure to climb that particular boulder to touch the true summit. Summits forty-three and forty-four.

Excursion Twelve, Zealand and The Bonds: Dearest Spouse, ever sporting, rises in the middle of the night so she can drop us at the Zealand trailhead before seven as this will be a one-way traverse. We’re enjoying the expansive views on the ridge above Zealand Notch before nine and the viewless summit is check-marked soon after. From there it’s off to one of the most amazing stretches of trail in the Whites, over the open alpine ridge of Guyot, West Bond, Bond, and onto the truly sublime flat-topped but vertical sided summit of Bondcliff. It’d been over twenty-nine years since I last stood here, a place with a cliff so iconic that it graced the cover of the AMC guide many years back. I looked about as terrified standing on that cliff this time as I did last time, but DD strode confidently onto the ledge for her victory shot, having completed her quest from the first to the last summit in a little under ten years. Summits forty-five, forty-six, forty-seven, and yes, forty-eight. Huzzah, I think they say. And then the long walk out the other end, to find that Dearest Spouse, not wanting to join us for our twenty-mile traverse, had herself covered fifteen miles that day on her own. Huzzah, I think they say, indeed.

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