The Hike that Kicked My Ass
It’s true that mountains in New England aren’t particularly tall (the tallest being barely over 6000 feet). It’s true that they aren’t particularly awe-inspiring as say the Rockies, Alps, Himalayas or Andes. No one would call them the roof of the world. They don’t have hidden enclaves of ancient civilization or host Olympic games. They do however make you work your ass off.
Hiking in New England is destination hiking, meaning you will have to toil long and hard for a view. In Utah and Arizona there’s always a view and it makes whatever work is involved that much easier. Ditto for parts of Washington, California, Colorado and Oregon. Lots of terrain in those locations provide for views and places to hang out and catch your breath. Not so in the White Mountains. Here you hike in dense forest on a trails that can be mostly boulders and sometimes are outright stream beds. It’s not uncommon that the trails can run with water all spring and summer. I’ve heard it said that a hiker doesn’t need Gortex boots unless she hikes in New England.
So in keeping with the challenge of White Mountains hiking, we decided to tackle Mts. Jackson and Webster. There’s a 6.x mile loop trail that goes up one mountain and across a ridge to the other. Little did we know that it was all up or down, extremely rocky and steep as hell. Some niggling voice in my head made me take my hiking poles just in case and I’m seriously glad I did; they helped immensely with balance, like having a tail. Because I had to manage the poles, I couldn’t hang the camera in it’s usual spot on my pack shoulder strap and instead stowed it inside. I did break it out for little gems like this though –
On the way up Mt. Jackson we came to our first of many stream crossings (I suspect we crossed the same stream over and over) and I couldn’t resist getting in a few photos. I also shot some film here, too and have to send it off to be processed. Ah the old days. This shot of the brook falling away out of sight will give you some idea of the constant uphill pitch of the trail. It hardly ever switchbacks and just basically plows straight up.
From here until I was almost at the summit the camera stayed in the pack. We really had to get a move on if we wanted to get back home at a reasonable hour. I stopped just before the final rock scramble to take this next image. I just loved the nearest trees contrasted with the farthest and the colors of the mountains and sky.
So let me turn around for a second and let you see the final ascent -
Anyway I finally made it up and damn, it was pretty spectacular. The clouds hung in there and the light cooperated.
After a quick lunch of turkey sandwiches and homemade graham crackers, I found some mountain sandwort among the rocks on the summit -
Such fragile beauty in a relatively harsh environment. I wondered what in the world pollinated them and then found some bees, so I guess there are lots of hardy creatures in New Hampshire.
After much sliding and semi-falling, we got off the peak and started over the ridge to Mt. Webster. There’s only about 100 feet of difference in altitude between the two and so after a bit of down (ow! visions of what’s to come) we found a few rare flat spots on the trail. None lasted more than a minute, but they had their own secret beauty -
Soon we made it to Mt. Webster, had another snack, shot some more and headed out.
The camera only came out one more time on the way down, to shoot a waterfall in such bad light that I am not sharing them with anyone. On a nice overcast day, it would be spectacular though.
The climb down Mt. Webster was a personal misery. The relentless pitch and lack of any flat spots that stretch the legs and release the pressure on tendons and ligaments did me in. I hadn’t been in as much knee pain in years and it took an extraordinarily long time for me to descend. But I did and was soon ensconced in the Audi for the 90 minute ride home. A shower and a beer were never so welcome!