Trip to New Hampshire, Sept 5 - 12, 2003

Friday, Sept. 5 - I usually pride myself on the way I prepare for these trips, checking gear, buying stuff and packing it all up long before departure day. This year, however, I feel obliged to complete several work projects before I can think about my trip, so I stay up till after midnight on Thursday, trying to finish off my tasks. (Thank God Jorge cancelled our book group which had been scheduled for Thursday evening!) When I get up Friday morning, I finally start to pack, but it doesn't take too long and I am on the road by 10:15 a.m. The weather is good - warm enough for a/c in the middle of the day, pleasant, sunny, traffic OK. I munch a power bar while driving rather than stop for lunch and get to North Conway around 4. The old place looks good, familiar. The N/S road is built now, which allows traffic to zoom up and down without getting hopelessly clogged with the tourist traffic visiting the outlets. It interesects Artist Falls Road, but too far down to cause traffic noise at the Inn. (Other than occasional motorcycles that roar loud enough to be heard from the top of Mt Washington.)

I spend the evening shopping, unpacking and going over my stuff. I call home and say hi. I call Kurt - he has several days free for next week and so I arrange to go out climbing with him on Monday and Wednesday. Rick and I have miscommunicated - he was expecting to come up Wednesday to go hiking Thursday and Friday, after which he was planning to return to Gloucester to go sailing with Jey and family. I was expecting him on Thursday night to go hiking Friday through Sunday. He agrees to see if Jey will reschedule, otherwise his plan will work for me.

Saturday, Sept. 6 - after tossing and turning much of the night, I make a late start for a hike. My goal is Mt. Cardigan, which was one of the first real peaks Louise and I conquered when we started coming up here twenty-odd years ago, and so the trip has the feel of a pilgrimage to it. My main recollection of the original ascent was that we gained the summit rather late in the day, with the weather looking threatening. After a few minutes on the exposed top, we started down and ran into some hikers planning to camp out nearby and who were shocked that we had left it so awfully late to descend. I reassured Louise but secretly felt foolish that I had endangered us by leaving so late and without a flashlight to boot. But our fear gave us wings and we made it down by 7 - shortly before the last glow of dusk was completely extinguished. Following that experience, I always make sure I have a functioning flashlight with me on a hike.

It is quite a long drive to get to the trailhead - across the Kanc to Lincoln, down I-83 past Plymouth, right to Bristol, cut back north past a lovely lake (good place for family vacation?) to Alexandria, where I pick up signs for the AMC hut. The overall travel time is about 1 1/2 hours.

The day is one of those truly spectacular New England early fall days - temperature in the 50ies at first, then warming into the high 60ies. Everything looks so clear - almost unreal, like a cartoon.

At the hut, which is at the base of the mountain, I eat my lunch and chat with other hikers. I decide to go up via the Manning trail which goes up Firescrew, the northern peak. Although there are a lot of cars parked by the hut, I don't see many people on the trail until I reach the summit - in fact, the only people I meet on the way up are a group of jolly trail maintenance folk - mostly middle-aged, all jolly - carrying shovels. After 1 hour, the trail gets out onto spectacular ledges, affording great views to the North, where I can see Mt Washington and the rest of the White Mountains. From the top of the north peak, I can see the fire tower on the bald top of Cardigan. It is an easy scramble up to the top.

Cardigan firetower

Me on Cardigan summit

The top looks a lot more hospitable than I remember it. Of course, when Louise and I reached it all those years ago, the weather was a lot more threatening and the hospitality of nature can certainly change abruptly with the weather. I lie down on the rock to rest a bit and to get some rays, but it is too crowded for comfort. There are many routes to the summit, which sports totally awesome views, so it is Grand Central Station up there. I look for the path down - to my astonishment, I see blazes on the rocks heading for what appears to be the top of a cliff. Hey, good joke, guys! But like a lemming, I am drawn by the paint splotches and approach the edge of the cliff. As I get closer, I see that it really is incredibly steep, but the trail traverses the cliff face at a lesser grade and only plunges down the fall line further down, when the grade is no longer ridiculous but only slightly absurd. Down I go, complaining about the squeeze on my toes - down the Clark trail, then cut over to Holt for the last bit.

As I approach the hut, I see a sight that moves me. A father of two little girls has decided to take them camping for the weekend. They have a tent and assorted gear in a wheelbarrow that the father has been wheeling and they have progressed less that 100 yards from the parking area. The younger of the two girls - maybe 5 years old - refuses to advance. Dad is not happy and making things a lot worse by voicing the frustration he feels about the cruel evaporation of his tender fantasies about bonding with his girls in a wilderness environment. He offers a desperate inducement - you can ride in the wheelbarrow. As I pass, I joke that I'd love to ride in the wheelbarrow, but he is not amused. Behind me, the little girl is screaming "I want Mama!" My heart goes out to them all.

My feet are sore but not blistered. I am tired and happy to change out of my boots. My back and left knee ache. It feels good to be sitting in the car. As I pass though Alexandria, I see a wedding party outside a little church. What a day to get married! - or to do anything memorable, since the glory of the weather will lend a little extra unforgetablesness to it all.

I enter Conway around 6 and decide to grab a bite at the Cafe Noces and then take in The Swimming Pool at the little local theater. The food is good and the movie excellent, although I am still quite sweaty and stinky and hope that I am not too anti-social. Then back to the Inn for a well-earned hot bath and bed.

Sunday, Sept. 7 - time for rest and recuperation. My left knee is quite painful, so I limp around pathetically. The weather is still marvellous, however, so I am happy to sit by the pool, read a book and drowse in the sun. In the afternoon, I muster up enough energy to make it into town to buy some provisions - one thing I decide I need desperately is a new pair of climbing shoes after I examine my new ones and find the rubber cracking and peeling off one of them. I go to EMS and enjoy myself no end buying some new 5-10 Anasazi slippers as well as all kinds of necessary odds and ends, including pain-killers for my decrepit body. And so to bed.

Monday, Sept. 8 - my first climb with Kurt. After a pitifully non-restorative night of tossing and turning, I get up, pack up and go outside to meet Kurt. It is another totally gorgeous day. In fact, I am no longer going to comment on the weather, each day of which has been finer than the day before, unless the current trend should be reversed. After all, there are only so many superlatives in the language and I am already in danger of running out of them.

We head over for Whitehorse for some friction climbing to test out my new shoes. We do Dark Horse (5.8), tiptoeing up two pitches before rapelling down. My new shoes work great, although they are a tight fit and the red color of the leather comes off on my feet. Then over to Cathedral to do Bombardment (also 5.8), which Kurt and I did a few years ago. It requires some hand jamming, which I am less enthusiastic about. Real climbers celebrate the hand jam because it allows you to hang from a hold without having to exert muscle-power to stay there. All you do is jam your hand into a constriction and torque it hard enough so that friction with your skin, if any remains, keeps you in place. Professional climbers develop hide like a rhinoceros on the back of their hands, so it works great. Spending all your time pounding a computer keyboard, however, leaves you with skin as tough as a baby's, so I quiver at the thought of the lacerations that will ensue. However, I have set my sights on Moby Grape on Canon cliff on Wednesday. It is one of the great classic climbs, but involves a lot of strenuous crack climbing, so I am anxious to practice my technique.

I do a modest amount of jamming on Bombardment (cheating, wherever possible, by laybacking the crack.) Then we segue on to Black Lung, which entails more crack climbing with a strenuous crux where I flounder for a while before Kurt hauls me up like a sack of potatoes. Finally, we finish on the Prow. When I pop up at the very top, there is a chicken wire fence just past Kurt, behind which are some admiring tourists snapping our pics! We chat with a guy from Derbyshire who is here with his son and they kindly give us a ride down to the bottom. I try to sound wise in the ways of climbing while Kurt tries not to snicker at me.

At anchor on Bombardment

Me on Bombardment

Tuesday, Sept. 9 - more rest and recuperation. I don't recall that I used to need quite as much r&r in the old days as I seem to need now. In fact, I don't recall much at all, thanks to entropy having its way with my neurons. I buy fuel for my new camping stove and other odds and ends for camping. I do laundry and remember the last time I went down to the laundry room here - September 11, two years ago, when the TV was showing the World Trade Towers in flames. I drowse by the pool some more.

Wednesday, Sept. 10 - Well, Moby, but no Grape. That is to say, I make it to the top, but only with some serious assistance from Kurt.

Our start is delayed by Kurt's youngest getting sick, so he arrives at 7:30 instead of 6. On the drive out to Canon, we have to brake for about a dozen wild turkeys crossing the road. We pass the remains of the Old Man of the Mountains - nothing recognizable remains except the dog, who will have to wait a long time for his master to return. We leave the parking area by 10 and hike up to base of the climb by about 11. At the base is Reppy's crack, an alternate beginning up a long well-defined crack. It looks very attractive, but Kurt warns that Reppy's will leave my toes in agony, so I go for the standard route. Tough, tiring, long but doable. Some easier pitches. Then the first crux - a very strenuous, awkward climb up a triangular roof, supported by hand jams. While I flounder, Kurt keeps me on a tight rope and I am able to cheat my way up.

In the valley

Remains of the Old Man

Me headed up Moby Grape

Eating lunch on Moby Grape

Interesting how aches and pains become irrelevant while climbing. I start out worried that pain in my knee will affect my climbing. Once we get going, it is completely submerged in the surge of adrenaline.

After lunch, we discuss our options. We could rappel off and do something else, or we could keep going up, preserving the option to bail out. We decide to take it one pitch at a time. First, a 5.8 wall - interesting boulder problem followed by face climbing. I slip at the start but eventually make my way up. After a couple more pitches, we encounter the second crux, a fearsome chimney - if we struggle up that, we might as well go all the way.

The dreaded chimney

Looking happy

The fearsome crux #2. Layback up steep flake then sneak into a space below the roof. Grab edge, turn body around, drag left foot, put weight on fingers, move right, reach for small edge for right foot, keep moving right, slap high knob and haul yourself onto the roof. As soon as I weighted my fingers, they gave way and Kurt had to do some heroic hauling before I could reach the edge for the right foot. Good grief! A man could get killed!

Then a couple of realtively easy pitches to the top. Kurt has an eye on the clock, but I am totally trashed. We take some mandatory pictures to commemorate the event, then we walk over to remains of Old Man - the epoxy channels are still there - there are two big steel things sticking out into the void with cables attached - snapped off after a few feet.

On top of the world

We start down the trail just as it starts to get dark. The trail is steep, nasty and rough and I am down to my last calorie of energy. I slip, I sniff and snort as I totter down the cliff, with Kurt impatiently going on ahead and then waiting for me to catch up. At some point, our lights come out. My knee hurts, my thighs are tired, my back aches. But we finally arrive down at the bottom at 8 - pitch black. I never thought sitting in a car could feel so good! We stop at a gas station along the way and buy handfuls of cookies which we consume in vast numbers. Hey, life isn't so bad!

We make it back to Forest Glen by 10 - Rick has already arrived an hour ago and is snoring on the couch. I take a shower - oh, the pain in those raw fingertips! Rubbing shampoo into my hair has become torture because each hair appears to have been replaced by a strand of barbed wire. I consume more analgesics and fall into bed. My whole body is wired up in a way that it never has been before - I see strange eyelid movies when I close my eyes. I sleep poorly, although some of the movies are quite good.

Thursday, Sept. 11 - Rick takes mercy on my decrepit state and we decide on two dayhikes rather than an overnight, despite the fact that Will will razz him mercilessly for driving so far just for day hiking. (On the other hand, he hasn't been hiking for several years, and so he may welcome using my condition as justification for being unmanly - I'm glad to be of service!). We hike into Franconia Falls, which are off the Kanc, 3-4 miles along old rail line following a scenic river. When we reach the Falls, we lounge on some lovely rocks and eat our lunch, after which we drowse on the rocks or stare at a nearby beaver pond.

Franconia Falls

Friday, Sept. 12 - we pack up our stuff and check out of Forest Glen. We then drive up to Pinkham Notch, planning to hike up into Huntington Ravine. A little way along the Tuckerman Ravine trail, we run into an old guy hiking with two enormous poles. We stop a moment and ask how he is - he replies that he feels fine, although he could always use another dollar - we laugh. He then relates the story of how only last week he got into a discussion of religion with this fellow who, on leaving, stuffed something into his (the old guy's) pocket. When he checked it out, it turned out to be a much-needed $60! It was almost like the Lord knew his desperate condition and used the hiker as His agent. At this point, we realize that we are being panhandled and continue on up the trail.



After about an hour, we take the Huntington Ravine trail off to the right, which is smaller and rougher but a lot more scenic. We follow a stream that we cross several times and gradually ascend into the bowl of Huntington Ravine where the trees thin out and the views become spectacular. We sit up on some large rocks for lunch and admire the view of Pinnacle Buttress on the left and the trail up the headwall on the right. We only run into one other party - 2 older guys, the daughter of one, plus her fiance. They join us on a nearby rock for lunch. One of the guys is very anxious to proceed so they can make the top, which they have jeopardized by making a late start. They rush off after lunch, the anxious guy way out front, the other older guy a little way back, the fiance struggling on behind them and the daughter lagging way behind them all. As they cut across some bushes below Pinnacle Gully, she is unable to find the trail and ends up going way too high up the Gully to pick it up. Eventually, the word filters forward to the anxious guy and they all reluctantly leave the trail and climb up to the point in the Gully where they can all be finally reunited. Then they start bushwhacking across the headwall to get back to the trail. We watch the whole drama unfold from the safety of our lunch rock - it looks very dicey and ill-considered to us, despite all of the experience the older guys have on the mountain.

Lunchtime siesta


Pinnacle Buttress

Back at the car

Eventually, we leave our rock and head back to Pinkham Notch, then back to Forest Glen and we part at 5 p.m. - Rick to Gloucester and me back to Larchmont. I drive across the Kanc, continue on 112 to I-91 and down to the Merrit. The drive across New Hampshire and into Vermont is quite scenic, although it tacks another 45 minutes or so to the trip. I start out with a full tank of gas and decide to keep on driving, grabbing a power bar to snack on; when I arrive back in Larchmont about 11:15, I realize that I haven't even had to stop to pee all day, thanks to all of the sweating I have done on the trail.

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