In the White Mountains of New Hampshire, there is a range of 13 mountains spanning 19 miles called the Presidentials. Washington is the tallest (6288 ft), then Adams (5793 ft), and so on in order of the presidents themselves! (Except, Wikipedia fastidiously notes, in the case of Mt. Monroe, which “due to a surveying error… is 22 ft taller than Mt. Madison” and throws the whole order out of whack.)
This weekend I mounted three of those presidents. (Tee hee.)
My Kilimanjaro training plan called for two 2000-feet, 5 hour hikes so on Saturday morning I headed out to conquer Mount Pierce (4310 ft) and Mount Eisenhower (4780 ft), followed up by a night of camping and another hike on Sunday of the (Joe-recommended) Mount Jackson (4052 ft).
I’ve been hiking and running a lot lately as I prepare for my trip, but this was the first time I was going to hike and camp alone and as far away. It was by and large a huge success (only a little sore today!) but there were a few bumps along the way. Below is a list of the highlights, lowlights and things I learned…
1. Highlight: In the northeast mountains are MUCH smaller than in the west. This means when something “far away” looks huge and difficult, it’s actually easier and smaller (and closer) than you think (as opposed to Colorado where something “far away” looks huge and difficult and, in fact, it’s MUCH farther, huger and more difficult than you ever imaged).
2. Highlight: Summits are beautiful. Seeing the world from that height is humbling and exciting and sprawling and awesome.
3. Reminder: Summits are WINDY! This was really swell when I needed my very sweaty shirt to dry out while I sat down for 15 minutes on Mt. Pierce and Mt. Jackson. But on Mt. Eisenhower…well…you listen:
4. Highlight: Sometimes nature looks like a technicolor painting. I ran straight into the below scene hiking down from Mt. Jackson and I was floored. The picture actually captures some of what it felt like, but it was like all the trees and all the leaves and even the mud where reflecting this incredible bright, intense, hot green light, and I was in the middle of it. It reminded me of the green I see in Rachel’s (amazing sauce) paintings.
Lowlight: Highlight: When it’s poured in the two days leading up to your stay, expect mud. I cannot CANNOT stress enough how much water there was. Guys. There was SO much water. Hiking down Mt. Eisenhower was basically like hiking down a very muddy, very low, very slippery brook. The ENTIRE way down. And hiking between Mt. Piece and Mt. Eisenhower was like swimming through a pool. The picture below does not do it justice…it was just the only time around any kind of puddle that I felt if I took out my phone I wouldn’t automatically drop it into a never-ending pool of mud. I find it so be absolutely amazing that I did not ONCE lose my balance and fall in. That’s basically unheard of. Also, it totally proved that my awesome hiking boots are freaking awesome and can withstand a lot. Which, you know what, means that this too is a positive.
6. Lesson: Stakes are important. So is reserving the appropriate type of campsite. The first thing I realized after my day of hiking when I arrived at my campsite is that I’d reserved a platform campsite. A platform campsite has a (surprise!) platform, usually wooden, on which the camper is supposed to erect their tent. Which is a problem when your tent only comes with stakes. And an even bigger one when you forgot the stakes at home. And an even even bigger one when you left all your slacklining gear and ropes and such at home. What’s a girl to do? Well, instead of giving up and sleeping in the car, I tried to get creative. I unlaced a pair of boots hanging out in my car (thanks messy car!), I found an old electronics cord that I have likely never used and am not likely to use in the future (thanks again messy car!) and I found a section of rope that I forgot to unload with the rest of the slacklining stuff (thanks kate, you bad cleaner-upper!). With these in hand, I tied off the corners of the tent to the bolts on the side of the platform and, ta da, I was in business!
7. Realization: I don’t know how to build fire. I thought I did. I reaaaaallly thought I did. I still kind of think I do. But I totally, completely, could not figure it out on Saturday night. Instead, I burned up a lot of newspaper that only managed to char some sticks and never quite catch fire. And after giving up on that situation, I ate my (vegan) marshmallows and chocolate cold and they were still freaking delicious. So suck it fire! I don’t need you!
8. Reminder: Falling water is freaking amazing. I know it’s just gravity. I know it’s just rain. But jesus, something about seeing water find its way down a ton of rocks and spill into a pool and the sound it makes and the way it looks and the power it seems to have, it’s just really cool. I can’t get enough of waterfalls.
9. Learned: Hiking alone is kind of lonely. Especially when going downhill, when everything pretty much hurts and there’s no summit to look forward to, and you wish someone was there beside you to look at and grimace at.
10. Highlight: People are pretty darn nice. Despite being lonely, I had many great encounters with strangers. There was the couple I’d seen along the trail who picked me up on the road while i was walking back to my car at the end of the day. The guy who shared his hiking map with me and tried to give me some ideas of where to hike on Sunday. The many people on the trail who offered very genuine ‘hellos’ and ‘have funs!’. Thanks nice people!
11. Lowlight: Helmets are still not in fashion. I took a wrong turn on Route 302 as I headed back to Providence and ended up having to wind through a series of backroads to get back to I-93. It turns out these backroads are very popular motorcycling corridors. And it also turns out that most motorcyclists on this corridor think they’re too cool for helmets as they round blind corners and ride two by two. Smart move, guys.
But overall….my hiking and camping trip was awesome. It was tough, but in the end I liked pushing myself past my comfort level, physically and emotionally, and am feeling more and more ready for Kilimanjaro by the day.