New Hampshire, 1998

Friday, Sept. 4

My exit is delayed a little, as always, by work, but I sneak out the door by 11:30 on the pretext of going out for lunch and head immediately for Grand Central. On getting to Larchmont, I say hi to the cleaning lady, toss the clothes and such that I had picked out the night before into a suitcase, cram it into the car, kiss the wife and off I go.When I get to the end of the driveway, I have an uncomfortable feeling that all is not well. I realize that I have not packed my hiking boots, so back I go, grab my boots from the closet and leave for the second time. I get on to the Hutch, headed for New Haven, and off I go once more.

Somewhat later, I ask myself why the hiking boots were in the closet, since I clearly remember putting them in the untidy pile of stuff on the bedroom floor that I had earmarked for the trip. There seems to be only one possibility - that the cleaning lady asked herself “Why can’t these grown men ever put their clothes away?” and put them away for me. The next question for me is: what other things might she have put away, too? I resolve not to think about this until I unpack in North Conway.

The traffic moves smartly and I make good time up to New Haven - I91 to Hartford - I84 to the Mass Pike - I495 around Boston (a bit slow here) - I95 to Portsmouth - Rt. 16 to North Conway. I walk into Forest Glen Inn around 7:30 - Ruth is on the desk and kindly claims to remember me from last year. I unpack and find that the cleaning lady had managed to find a better home for all my socks except hiking socks and all of my underwear except hiking underwear. (At least my hiking stuff was sufficiently unfamiliar to her that I was permitted to keep it.) Bobby calls after a while and it looks like he won’t be in till late. I go out to the supermarket for supplies, then pore over some trail maps and watch some TV until I can’t keep my eyes open any more. As soon as I am profoundly asleep, the door opens and Bobby walks in - right around 2 a.m. But he doesn’t make much noise and I am soon asleep again.

Saturday, Sept. 5

The day starts will an energetic rat-tat on the door a little before 8 o’clock - it is Rick, and he is disappointed to find us still snoring, especially since he has been up since 4:30. We struggle out of bed and Rick feeds us coffee and crumb cake from the Blueberry Muffin restaurant which contains enough calories to power us up Mount Washington and back. We hurriedly coordinate our packs, pick a route and are out by 10, with Rick clucking that we won’t make it to the trailhead until the afternoon, which in fact we don’t. We drive up to Franconia Notch, stopping only to buy some steaks and two pounds of cheese. There we leave Rick’s car and drive back to the Kancamagus highway, to the ranger station by the Pemi river. By the time we leave, it is after 1 o’clock. Our planned route is to ascend first moderately and then more steeply towards Mount Flume, stopping to camp about 500 vertical feet below the summit. On Sunday, we plan to head up the ridge, conquering Flume and as many additional peaks as we feel like before dropping down to camp. On Monday, we hope to be out by noon so that Rick can proceed down to Dartmouth to pick up Will who has been hiking these very same woods on his Dartmouth freshman outing. The weather is OK - partly cloudy and somewhat humid, but no sign of rain. We reach a suitable campsite around 5 and Rick takes out his 3-person tent which has shrunk down to fit only 2 people in any comfort, so I volunteer to sleep outside. Bobby cooks our steaks over an excellent fire which Rick has built in a sheltered dip where a tree has been uprooted, so it is not disturbed by the sometimes violent wind squalls that blow through.As we bed down, the full moon comes up. Life is good.

Sunday, Sept. 6

After everyone has slept long and soundly - even me, a rare event - we stumble out of bed at 7 o’clock. More steak for breakfast, a noble meal. We pack up and are soon on our way. The weather is perfect - sunny and warm, with a refreshing gale-force wind to cool us down whenever we venture out of the woods. The climb up Flume is quite steep and there are sections that you ascend by climbing wooden ladders. Still, it is not far and we are soon on top. Since this is the Labor Day weekend, we expect company and pretty soon it begins to arrive. The next peak along the ridge is Mount Liberty, which we bag quite quickly. Here, Rick and Bobby descend to Liberty springs to replenish our water supply while I guard the packs and admire the view. The next peak is Haystack. This is a bit further, and the last hour is quite grueling, scrambling up some very steep rock. When we relax on top, we take account of our bodies. Rick takes his boots off to reveal a large blister on one of his toes. I put on more moleskin on both of my feet which are starting to feel heavily battered. Bobby looses consciousness and begins to snore.

After a while, we review our options. Ahead lie Mounts Lincoln and Lafayette, with about 800 feet (net) of additional ascent before we are through. If we continue over them, we would then have to descend far enough to camp legally, although none of us is sure how far we would really have to go. The ridge is crawling with hikers, many of whom are speaking French and propelling themselves with the aid of trekking poles. The rocks all show numerous scratches from the poles - I wonder how long it will be before the eco-purists decide that they are desecrating our priceless national rocks and seek to ban them, while the neo-classical economists explain that a far better solution would be to sell scratching permits at exorbitant fees, thus both reducing the scratching and helping to balance the budget. Anyway, in short, we decide that we will take the Falling Waters trail down from Haystack to the falls area and look for a campsite there. The trail down is very steep and rough, and it is hard for us to conceive that this option represents any kind of wimping out. By the time we find a site, it is after 6 o’clock and we are all pretty well pooped. I cook up some freeze-dried chili on the stove and we all tumble into the tent. The sky is cloudy and in any case there is not much flat space around, otherwise I should have slept outside again. It is absurdly crowded - we lie like sardines, with me in the middle with my feet wedged tightly between Rick and Bobby’s shoulders. However, this turns out to be one of my more fortunate decisions, since a huge thunderstorm breaks during the night. We anxiously consider our proximity to the river, but the tent does its duty and we remain dry.

Monday, Sept. 7

After a pitifully unrestorative night, we emerge from the tent. Everything is soaking wet, but our packs were properly protected, so we got through the storm OK. Our bodies ache. I make a feeble attempt to light the stove to prepare some oatmeal, but the line seems to be clogged, and I don’t feel like fiddling with it, so we eat pepperoni and cheese for breakfast. The sky actually clears up a bit, and the falls area is pretty, but the rocks are wet and treacherous and I slip on one and fall on my butt. The sound of the aluminum packframe hitting the rock sounds like breaking bone, but the only injury is a whack to the funny bone by another part of my packframe which leaves my hand and forearm numb. My muscles and feet are still feeling pretty sore, but the trail levels out and the final hour or so is a pleasant stroll down by the stream into Franconia Notch. We verify that Rick’s car is still where we left it and dig three cold beers out of the cooler in the trunk. Victory is declared!

When we arrive at the ranger station on the Kancamagus highway where Bobby’s truck is, we find a group of young kids from Dartmouth, just in from their freshman outing. Will is not among them but Rick determines that Will may be in another group that should arrive shortly. He is in a terrible agony of indecision - should he wait around for Will to arrive? Would that be seen as parental overprotection, like Will’s mom showing up to publicly remind him to change his underwear? Or would the other kids think it was pretty cool to have a father who was hiking in the same area as the toughest outing groups? If he left a cold beer with another student to give to Will when he shows up, would that provide Will with a refreshing beverage without intruding excessively into his social life? Or would this violate the University’s strict rules on booze and result in Will being expelled? Or maybe cold beer isn’t cool any more?

While he is wrestling with all these options, Bobby and I decide we should let him face them alone, so we say good-bye and head back to North Conway. We stop off at Cafe Noces in Conway for a nice Mexican lunch, then back to Forest Glen. As soon as we reach the room, we plop down on couch and bed and nap for a couple of hours. Finally, we rise, make coffee, and then Bobby takes his leave about 4 p.m., planning to stay over in Larchmont before going on to D.C. in the morning.

I am left alone.

Tuesday, Sept. 8

I have made a date with Kurt Winkler to go climbing today, but Kurt is having car troubles and there is a likelihood of showers. I wake at 6:30 to check out the forecast - still the same - and then I check out the body - still aching, with a sore wrist that I seem to have sprained when I slipped on the rock yesterday. In my heart of hearts, I really don’t feel much like climbing, so I call Kurt and bag it for the day. Instead, I lounge around a bit, wash some clothes, type my memoirs, and do a little shopping. Later, in the afternoon, I feel a little bad that I didn’t go with Kurt, especially since the day, which started cloudy, has now cleared up. I decide on a little hike, starting right out of the Inn, walking east out of the parking lot, up to the power lines and then going left until I hit a dirt road that goes to the top of Mount Cranmore. It is now hot and somewhat humid and I hike without a shirt. The road is not particularly scenic, but it is fun to see all the ski stuff at the top of the mountain, looking out of place in the green grass. I put two quarters in a telescope at the summit building - there are fine views across the valley to Cathedral and White Horse ledges, but it is too late in the day for me to be able to see any climbers. There is a truck up at the summit with three men fiddling around whom I assumed initially to be workmen, but they looked furtive and left shortly after I arrived, so I think maybe they had been planning to steal something.

After returning, I decide on a hot bath and a movie. The hot bath is a hit but the movie - a Van Damme flick called Knock Off - is pretty terrible.

Wednesday, Sept. 9

The forecast is still for showers, but I determine not to be deterred, so I prepare to hike up to the Moat Mountains across the valley. I have some trouble finding the trailhead - you go into Conway, turn right up West Side Road, and then make a left on to Passaconaway Road, about a half mile past the bridge. This turns into Dugway Road, and the trailhead is on the right in a few miles - if you see the Covered Bridge Campground, you have overshot by about 3 1/2 miles.

The trail is very pleasant, rising through forest, then more steeply with good views to the south. The trail becomes flanked with blueberry bushes - the berries are terrific, the sweetest and most flavorful I have had - and I finally scramble to the top of South Moat. I arrive in a misty rain that is not unpleasant, but more rain seems to be on the way, so I check out the views, which are excellent to east, south and west, and start back down. The rain gets harder, but I am pretty well protected by the trees.

Thursday, Sept. 10

Finally, I get to climb. At 8:30, Kurt Winkler picks me up in his truck and we go off to Whitehorse Ledge. I figure to start with some friction work to spare my wrist which is still a little dicey. We go to Sea of Holes, which is a long friction climb rated 5.7. The weather is delightful - a few puffy white clouds, but nothing menacing. The first couple of pitches are easy - Kurt basically walks them, although I am on all fours to get better balance. There is then a tricky bulge, followed by more easy stuff going up to a ledge for lunch. We end up by going up the left side of Last Wave, which is a “gentleman’s 5.9”, according to Kurt. We put on our shoes and hike back down to the truck and then go over to Cathedral to do Bombardment, a 5.8 crack climb. Supposedly, the climb is named after the squirrel that attacked the original climbers of the route by hurling acorns at them. Fortunately, the squirrel is nowhere to be seen. In addition, no heroic hand jams are called for, and we complete the two pitches in fine style before getting our breath back to rappel down. Kurt trailed a 5.8mm. rope behind him so that we could rappel down in one go, instead of having to stop half-way down and set up the rappel all over again. We are down about 4, after a pleasant day and a couple of nice though not memorable climbs, and I feel that I am ready to take on Cannon tomorrow.

Friday, Sept. 11

I get up early to pack up everything in my room and load the car. At 8, Kurt arrives and we drive in convoy over to Cannon – I leave the car at Lafayette campground, on the theory that it will be too conspicuous to break into. We go south, then north, then south again to the lakeside parking where we leave Kurt’s truck. There is an Isuzu Raider in the lot with teen music blaring and two young guys preparing to climb – we exchange pleasantries. They incautiously remark that they like having the bolts to anchor into which launches Kurt into a diatribe about how American climbers need to learn how to place protection or they will be overwhelmed by the Europeans in international competition. The two young guys still think it’s nice to have the bolts and are unmoved by the possible international repercussions. By 10, we leave to scramble up to the cliff face, which takes about 40 minutes, and then we start our ascent of Consolation Prize, 5.8. It is a good hard climb – it doesn’t quite have the white-knuckle appeal of Whitney-Gilman which I did two years ago, but it has a couple of hard crux moves and is exposed enough to give my stomach a lurch a few times. When we get to the top of the climb, we can rappel down or scramble up a bit more until we are on Wiessner’s route – one of the pioneers of the area in the 30ies. We elect to go on – the scramble is untidy, but it puts us up near the bottom of the Old Man Of The Mountain. After the first pitch, we can’t see the base of the cliff any more, so the feeling of exposure is diminished. The climbing, however, gets wicked. The final pitch starts with a weird scramble up a flake by locking one foot behind it, inching up on that leg, and repeating. Then we go up right alongside the Old Man in a steep crack with tough hand jams. I struggle and flounder my way up it and arrive cursing the very name of Wiessner. Then I see that we are perched right by the Old Man’s forehead, and can see all the cabling and stuff that has been installed to stop it from crumbling like the rest of the mountain. I think, wow! This is pretty neat!

Now the hard part – the descent. We leave the summit around 4:30 to scramble down a little trail back to the truck. I am so tired that each step is a struggle – at one point, I slip on a wet rock and put my right hand out to cushion my fall, tweaking my wrist once more. Ouch! But we finally make it down. The young guys appear shortly after we do, looking totally trashed, much the way I feel. Kurt takes me round to my car. I thank him and he warns me not to fall asleep at the wheel – which one of his other students did – and I start the long trek home.

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