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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Colors of White

The White Mountains beckoned me seductively as I greedily drank in the view. Fall. Trees ablaze with every shade of green, yellow and red. I didn't think I could take in so much color. Dan parked the car at the bottom of Mt. Pierce and started to change his shoes as I shrugged on my camera backpack and hooked my water bottle into the chest strap.
"These are the easiest of the mountains in the Presidential range," was what Dan had to offer as we started to cross the surface road to reach the hiking trail. One more step into the hiking trail and the world behind us faded completely away. All I could hear were the trees talking to each other.
The early morning frost bit into our faces as we moved further into the trail losing civilization behind us and strode deeper into the sunlit forest. The canopy above us littered with reds and golds of Fall was the most beautiful that I've seen at all.
I felt at peace. Periodically, we would pass others along the trail, some resting from the climb others racing along to move past us and head for the summit. Why, I wondered, couldn't people move slower, take time to watch the grass grow instead of racing headlong to the summit which was just another destination. It had been 9 A.M. when we had started up the trail and now, at 9.30, I started to feel warm enough to take my hat off my head and allow my sweat stained hair to dry off, not that I had enough but it was enough to feel the coolness. Below us, the rocks were cold to the touch as we stumbled occasionally and reached out to steady ourselves.
Dan strode on, feeling neither the cold nor the heat. He'd done this in winter and we were doing it on the perfect day. Occasionally, we stopped to take a breather or a photograph and while we panted, Dan exclaimed over the light and the color, snapping picture after picture in his usual extremely professional way.
Periodically, we'd come across little streams of run off which we would be careful to step across fearing the slip that would send us down, not in a fatal way but fatal to our hike itself. I didn't want the day to end.
I was pleasantly surprised by a pair of Canadian Jays that fluttered up close to us and sat there expectantly surveying us. Dan later said they were probably fed by people who hiked these mountains and were, therefore, fearless. One of them sat in the branches just out of my reach and fixed me with a beady eye as if to say, "so? Where's my birdseed? Or have you some bread crumbs instead".
We didn't have any, so they flew heavily off, perhaps to ambush the next group of hikers.
The forest floor was littered with the hues from the trees above with a leaf falling every minute, shaken by the wind or perhaps even by a staggering body holding on to the tree for support. Here and there red berries hung adding to the color in a green, gold and red existence.
Late morning saw us at the top of Mt. Pierce from where the bald dome of Mt. Eisenhower was clearly visible and behind it, Mt. Washington with the tell tale sign of smoke exiting the chugging Cog Railway that takes the scenic route for lazy travelers who want to take in the Fall scenery without the effort of the climb. Perhaps I shouldn't say that since the Cog Railway is perhaps one good way of seeing all of the Presidential range quickly and without losing sight of the wonder that Nature really is.
We decided to give Eisenhower a miss and press on in a different direcion. A short rest, brunch and a few minutes of looking around at Nature's bounty and we were off.
We stepped down briskly enough and were soon standing at the Mizpah Hut, the log and stone cabin which houses at least 60 people if they want to stay the night in fairly rustic quarters. There're bunk beds and, for entertainment, an old organ along with a little library. Food is served for those who wish to stay overnight and there's all sorts of information about the White Mountains available to say nothing of the wonderful people who live and work at the hut.
I met this very beautiful lady whose accent I couldn't place but whose eyes lit up and her soft, lilting voice sang paens of praise to the almighty mountains. She was delighted to talk about the trails, about the places she'd been and not once did she press anyone to buy anything. I could have stood there and listened to her all day long.
The supplies to the Mizpah hut have to be brought by foot. There are no roads to drive up to the hut and the huts remain open as long as the mountains are open which means that come winter and the huts are closed. Winters are not a good time to be out there anyway. Though there are a few, like Dan, who feel the need to challenge themselves, put on their snow shoes or crampons and tramp on into the wilderness.
We had to leave or be left behind so, on her advice, we went South to Mt. Jackson. We descended some very steep sections of the trail and then ascended some very steep sections. The easiest, Dan had said, and we didn't find them easy at all. And all the while Dan strode on, for all the world seeming as though he was walking on airport tarmac.
This was the steepest I'd done and I hadn't done any hiking in a long, long time. Pulling along to the summit, it really seemed as though I had left all reason behind, but the forest still beckoned. Families of grandparents, parents, kids, and grandkids climbed easily and went up laughing and wondering at the grandeur of the sight before them and we took our time, trailing behind, enraptured by the little flowers, the tiny leaves and the ice slabs in the water which hadn't melted despite the strong sunlight.
Mt. Jackson was spectacular, offering a full 360 degree view of the range around us. We could still see the smoke on the top of Mt. Washington, like some crusty old man was puffing angrily at his pipe while, no doubt, he awaited news of the war. Mt Pierce was there to the left, benign and sobering considering our first climb there. There in the far distance was the Mizpah hut. Had we really climbed that far? I was astonished. My binoculars were out and I examined the surroundings with them, drinking in the view and the quiet.
But we weren't reckoning with our host of the moment - Mt. Jackson. The climb down, begining with the first steps was to provide a precursor to the whole experience, something that I neglected to think about at that time.
Steep drops littered our path and the punishment was beginning to tell on us already. We had to press on. It was 2.30 P.M. and we wanted to get as much of the sunlight as we could so Dan could take us to some of the sights he knew would thrill us.
To cut the, now long story, short we dragged ourselves down to the road where we collapsed while Dan sauntered away "about three-tenths of a mile to where his car was parked so he could drive it down to pick us up. Muscles protesting every move, we launched ourselves into the car from where only a strong crowbar and, perhaps, dynamite might have evicted us till we reached our beds.
PS: I know I keep promising to post pictures but I need a little more time before I can. Perhaps I'll do it this weekend.


couch potato said...

Before anyone else says it, THAT was the longest post. But I just felt I had to tell it all in one breath.
The White Mountains are beautiful, people. Just get out there if you can, right now. Winter brings with it a different serene beauty, I've been told but you don't want frost bite.

Dusty said...

Aaah, it was a refreshing post. Bill Bryson was inspired to write an entire book - Walk in the woods, read it, if you haven't already. It is a slow paced book, but I turn to it, whenever I need a break from the ratrace and am unable to take a break.

couch potato said...

Thanks Dusty. I did manage to get hold of a couple of Bryson's books. The one that I liked best was The Mother Tongue. Of course, someone borrowed it and conveniently failed to return it. I miss that one.

travel plaza said...

CP, I wasn't able to open your blog for some reason, these past couple of days. Great post. Glad you enjoyed your hiking trip. Your style of writing, as usual, is fantastic, transporting the reader on a journey through the woods with you.

couch potato said...

Thanks TP. Glad you liked it. I still have to find the time to upload the pictures. This weekend's definitely not it.

Dusty said...

Hi CP. I don't know whether you still come and visit your blog. In case you do, here is wishing you a great 2007, with some time to blog.