Excerpts and 52WAV Mountain Stats

#48 The Horn: Excerpt

Tough Cookie heads up into the snow and The Horn.

Tough Cookie heads up into the snow and toward The Horn.

Time is running out.

We’ve explored the base of the summit rock now for ten minutes, fully exposed to a bitter valley wind, our sweat freezing to our fleece. We are six feet from the top, but it’s six feet up and our stabilicers are not up to the task.

The Horn has a unique distinction. The mountain’s summit is one very large, very steep rock. In the summer, it’s possible to scramble up that rock from several different points. Now, however, as Janelle and I hover around the summit rock, its icy flanks might as well be Mt. Everest.

Six feet. If we reach up with our poles we can touch the summit. But it looks like our feet aren’t going to make it.

“We’ve been here too long, kid,” I say close to her ear, over the howl of cold wind. “It’s too dangerous.”

I could, I suppose, heave her up there. But then, how would I get her down?

“We’ll have to come back!” She says this not as a statement or question, but as a dreaded exclamation. Neither of us want to miss a summit. We won’t have enough time to come back. It’s now or nothing.

“Are you warm, every part of you, are you warm?” I ask.

“Yes.”

There is one chance. The western side of the giant boulder is split near the bottom, forming a wedge about two feet wide and ten feet long. I have no clue what’s on the other side of that wedge. Perhaps more impossible-to-negotiate rock. Perhaps a pathway to the top. “Can you fit through there?” I know she can fit. My question is designed to see if she wants to.

“Yes!” she says again, nodding her head to add emphasis. There’s no hesitation, no claustrophobic fear. She’s excited.

“Ok,” I say. “We’ll take one last shot. Follow me. Do as I do. If I say turn back, we just shimmy back the way we came, ok?”

And so, at nearly 4,000 feet, amid the ice and snow, fully engaged and ready for anything, the girl and I squeeze into the void to search for a path to the summit.

The Horn (11/5/12)

Height: 3,905 feet

Location: Stark. I-93 north to Exit 37 to Route 3 north to Route 110 (Groveton) to Mill Pond Road to the end and trailhead.

Our trailhead: Unknown Pond Trail to Kilkenny Ridge Trail to The Horn Spur, out and back. (Warning: Mill Pond Road is not maintained in the winter.)

Distance: 8.4 miles.

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Hiking big miles meant staying focused. Here, Tough Cookie contemplates South Baldface from the summit of Eastman.

Hiking big miles meant staying focused. Here, on the longest day hike of our journey, Tough Cookie contemplates South Baldface from the summit of Eastman.

We have a winner! On Sunday, we asked you to guess how many total miles Buffalo and Tough Cookie hiked to complete the 52 With a View list. We had some great guesses, you all must have gotten the calculators out! The winner will get a postcard from us and be entered into a drawing to win a reader’s copy of the book. So, here are some numbers from our journey:

Total day hikes: 41

Overnights: 1

Time: 371 days

Longest single hike: 13.7

Shortest single hike: 2

And the number you’ve all been waiting for, TOTAL MILES HIKED: 225!

That means Melissa is our winner. She guessed 230. Nice job Melissa. We’ll be in touch to get your mailing info. Thanks to all who guessed. We love your support and enthusiasm! More contests soon.

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Categories: Excerpts and 52WAV Mountain Stats | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

#47 Kearsarge North: Excerpt

Tough Cookie breaks out onto the ledges and heads for the Kearsarge North tower.

Winter is afoot.

Near the top of Kearsarge North, we begin to see and feel signs that we are not going to escape winter before we finish the list.

A full on storm was raging north of notches as we drove down. Here, further south, the sky is blue, but hints of hail and ice mark the trail. We pause before the exposed ledges, our breath short and visible. I’m feeling chilled and somewhere above us a cold wind roars over the summit and we can hear trees groan under its force.

“Layer up, kid-o,” I say. “Full on winter conditions. Get your fleece on. Get your gloves and hat out and ready.”

Janelle immediately drops her pack and starts rummaging around for her gear. No protest. Any questions will come later. We’re fully a team now. In the last few weeks, as we’ve inched closer and closer to the finish line, I’ve been humbled by her trust.

I watch her gear up not because I told her to do it, but because she understands now what she must do to stay safe and warm.

“Can we have some tea before we go up there?” she asks.

So I break out the thermos and my partner and I sip raspberry tea, pull our hats down over our brows and listen to the wind scream. Full on winter conditions. This will be our first foray into cold like that.

“Listen,” I say, casually, as though it’s no big deal. “It’s going to be cold up there like we haven’t felt before so we need to stay close and listen to each other. If you feel anything getting too cold, you tell me right away, ok?”

She nods. I give her cheek a pat with my gloved hand. “Let’s get this.”

Janelle smiles and hits the ledges at nearly a run. Above, the frigid wind waits.

Kearsarge North (11/4/12)

Height: 3,268 feet

Location: North Conway. I-93 north to Exit 23 to Route 104 east to Route 25 east to Route 16 north to Hurricane Mountain Road, trailhead on the left.

Our trailhead: Mt. Kearsarge North Trail, up and back.

Distance: 6.2 miles.

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Author note: We’re counting down to our final four vignettes! Number 48, The Horn, will drop on Tuesday, Dec. 4. Stop by as Janelle and I face our first full winter conditions hike. But first, on Sunday morning, Dec. 2, we’ll have a little website / Facebook page contest! Look for that announcement on Sunday morning.

Categories: Excerpts and 52WAV Mountain Stats | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

#46 Paugus: Excerpt

One of the “easier” blowdown sections on the Old Paugus Trail.

There is no getting around the blowdowns. Four hours into what is supposed to be a three-peak circuit in the Sandwich Wilderness, Janelle and I are faced with a seemingly impossible-to-solve puzzle. We are too far into the hike to turn around, especially since going back would require a steep decent in choppy conditions off the south end of Paugus cliff. But ahead of us the trail is destroyed.

Hurricane Sandy had swirled through two days earlier and the Old Paugus Trail is, in this section, gone; as though the hand of a giant had swished across the range, brushing over four and five-inch thick trees like toothpicks. I cannot not see the continuation of the trail on the other side of the enormous, perhaps valley-wide, blowdown.

“What do we do?” Janelle asks. I sense her frustration, and feel my own. It has already been a tiring hike. The day is raw and windy. Three summits is now out of the question, which puts our pre-Thanksgiving finish in danger.

But even more disturbing is the problem immediately facing us in the form of what appears to be the obliteration of the trail.

I slip off my pack and gulp down some water. Then, I push on the cluster of fallen trees in front of us, checking for give. There is none, which is good. It means the blowdown directly in front at least is fully down and won’t collapse on us.

“Take off your pack,” I say. “We have to create a path.”

The slope to our right is too steep to go down and back around and the up-slope to our left is too dangerous to attempt. So, the girl and I slowly begin snapping off branches on the trees in our path, trying to create a window among the trunks. That’s grueling work. After a while we have enough of an opening to slip through. We zig and zag in and out and under the trees, snapping branches in some places, crawling on our hands and knees in others, until an opening appears ahead.

After 30 minutes of work we step through onto the path and come face to face with another, bigger, section of blowdown. And beyond that, more.

“Well, at least if anybody hikes this after us, they’ll have an easier time,” Janelle says.

“Yup, let’s get to work.”

Mt. Paugus (11/3/12)

Height: 3,198 feet

Location: Sandwich. I-93 north to Exit 24 to Route 3 east to Route 113 east to Route 113A north to trailhead on left.

Our trailhead: Big Rock Cave Trail to Old Paugus Trail to Lawrence Trail to Cabin Trail, loop.

Distance: 8.4 miles.

Categories: Excerpts and 52WAV Mountain Stats | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

#44 & 45 Middle Sister and Chocorua: Excerpt

Tough Cookie takes in the views from near the summit of Mt. Chocorua.

Author’s note: Today, as New Hampshire rests and we all breath a sigh of relief that Sandy seems to have passed through the state without too much hardship, I thought I’d offer our readers an extended excerpt from our recent hike up Middle Sister and Chocorua. This hike was a watershed moment for us, where all our effort and training these past few months played out. Janelle and I agree that Chocorua was our favorite mountain on our journey thus far. Thoughts go out to our friends in the mid-Atlantic. Stay safe and dry everyone! Onward!

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Janelle blows by two hikers like they are standing still.

The enormous summit block of Chocorua rises before us like a granite castle, hard rock seemingly shooting straight up like grey seracs. A stiff wind rolls up out of the valley, gaining velocity as it creeps up the side of the mountain. Atop one ledge, the wind hits us and I watch her hobble for a split second before planting a pole, ducking her head and regaining her balance. She’s learning how to do this, how to readjust to changing, and challenging, conditions.

She loves rock. She asks on every hike if there is any scrambling. Now, Janelle has a full quarter-mile of nearly nothing but rock – exposed and sheer – to play on. I work hard to keep pace.

In some areas the trail takes us up and over ledges that are eye level on her. But we work together. The wind is too loud to hear each other, but after 44 mountains we know each other well enough to not need to talk. She’ll toss me her poles, use her hands, then I’ll toss them up to her. In one instance, she waits before climbing up a ledge and I realize she wants me to plant myself below, in case she slips.

It is a solid 30 minutes of trail dance as the girl and I duck and dodge and shimmy up this mountain, on top of the world, at the top of our game. Two months ago, she could not have done this. I would not have let her try. But now, we’ve reached that moment that hikers always long to feel, where the hike is effortless, where you are so in the moment with the trail that there are no aches or pains, no worries. Only joy.

We spin like this around the base of the summit rock, and she skitters ahead of me toward the summit. There, near the top, we encounter reality.

“Wow, guess you’re going to be mad at your dad later for dragging you up here, huh?”

Working the ledges of Chocorua, Tough Cookie gets epic!

The man near the summit directs his question at Janelle. The question is so abrupt and sharp, the girl freezes. At nearly 3,500 feet in howling wind, fully exposed to the elements, I’m not interested in engaging anyone in a long explanation so I ignore the “dad” part and make light of the comment. “Nah, she’s the one dragging me up here. She kicked my butt all the way up!”

But he won’t let it go.

“You ever been here before? First mountain?” Again, he addresses Janelle. She shakes her head no to both questions.

“We’re working on the 52 With a View list, we’re nearly done,” I say, sidling up next to her. “Let’s go find some shelter from this wind and get a bite to eat, kiddo!”

We stop at the glorious summit for a moment, then drop down to a lower rock shelf that breaks the wind. But he’s not done.

“You know, if you go down the summit area about 100 yards or so,” he points south, “you can find some shelter.”

All I can think is that 100 yards off the summit is no longer the summit. “We like the views,” I say pleasantly.

“Great views from down there as well,” he says.

“We’re good. Thanks.” I put an edge to my tone which he appears to hear as he doesn’t bother us again. And soon, there are half a dozen other hikers at the summit and we’re forgotten.

Janelle and I lean back against the rocks and sip chicken noodle soup out of a thermos, and all is again right with the world. After a little while, she says, “That guy, there was something wrong with him.”

“Guess he was a little creepy, huh? I’m sorry if he ruined your hike.”

“What? Why would he do that?” she says. “This has been my favorite!”

A hiking friend of mine once suggested that to some adults, after spending hours huffing and puffing their way up a mountain, seeing a child at the top deflates their own sense of accomplishment. Bursts their bubble, so to speak. We’ve been lucky, Janelle and I, surrounded by family and friends and a hiking community that is genuinely enthusiastic and encouraging about our quest.

And now, as we sit at the top of Chocorua with the waves of wind from approaching hurricane Sandy bursting like tiny explosions over the mountain’s bald top, the end is in sight. In two weekends, if all goes well, we’ll tag the summit of Starr King together and then… what?

For now, though, this is enough.

Atop Middle Sister, Tough Cookie does not appear to have been “dragged” anywhere!

Middle Sister and Mt. Chocorua (10/28/12)

Heights: 3,340 and 3,500 feet

Location: North Conway, off the Kanc. Route 93 north to Exit 32 Route 112 (The Kanc) to The Champney Falls Trailhead on the south side of the road.

Our trailhead: Champney Falls Trail to Middle Sister Cutoff to Middle Sister, then the Middle Sister Trail to Piper Trail to summit. On the return, straight down the Champney Falls Trail.

Distance: 8.1 miles.

Categories: Excerpts and 52WAV Mountain Stats | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

#42 & 43 South and North Moat: Excerpt

Tough Cookie tackles the big slabs near the summit of North Moat.

I stand there, irritated, waiting for Janelle to catch up. Despite the long day and the big miles, I know she can move faster. I need her to move faster, but I’m running out of ideas to motivate.

“Look ahead of us,” I tell her. We are about a mile from the car, the trail is flat and we’re warm. But, we’ve already hiked nine miles, and the Moats beat both of us up. Now, deep erosion grooves cut through and around the trail leaving deep sitting water in our path. Leaves cover any obvious tracks. Blazes are far and few between. We have 20 minutes, tops, of daylight left. “Can you find the trail?”

She peers into the trees for a moment. “I have no idea,” she grumbles.

“What will we do, here, if it gets dark?” I ask. “Imagine how much harder this will be for us.”

Janelle takes a deep breath and I can see the lines of concern. She understands it’s important for us to step it up, but she’s tired. There’s no tears, no early teenage frustration. She’s just tired and lowers her head.

I close my eyes for a moment and try to re-focus.

“Ok, listen,” I lift her chin up, “we have headlamps, we have food. I know how strong you are. Can you hurry for the next five or ten minutes and help me find our way through all this water? Things will get better after this.”

She nods and offers a weak smile. “Ok.” We set off into the darkening unknown.

South and North Moat mountains (10/27/12)

Heights: 2,770 and 3,196 feet

Location: North Conway. Route 93 north to Exit 23 to Route 104 east to Route 25 northeast to Route 16 north to West Side Road north (for 0.7 miles) to Passaconaway Road west (for 3.2 miles). We spotted a second car at the other end of the ridge at the Diana’s Baths parking area trailhead.

Our trailhead: Moat Mountain Tail, from south to north.

Distance: 9.7 miles.

Categories: Excerpts and 52WAV Mountain Stats | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

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