Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Recollections: 2014 in retrospect

Working title: It's been quiet around here lately

"It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end." 
~ Ernest Hemingway

Just because it's been quiet, doesn't mean I haven't been up to anything. It may not come through in the finished product, but writing doesn't come easily to me. My process is haphazard, I get easily distracted, and the writing comes in fits and starts, never all at once... needless to say, it's very time consuming. I'm not one of these writers that can get home after a hike and regurgitate my day in an hour or less, upload pictures (another time-sink), and be done with it. I'm too much of a perfectionist to think anything good would come out of it if I did! As much as I enjoy sharing my experiences, I've gotten to wondering if it's more for my own amusement (torture, record keeping?) than anything else. It would seem that a majority of people (a crude generalization perhaps) these days would rather see a picture or two, than read the details. It's a world of instant gratification. Why should I toil over a thing if it's just going to get lost in the shuffle? Until I can figure a proper answer to that question, these yarns will continue to be spun.

Since my last writing more than a month ago, things in the mountains progressed towards winter, then just as quickly regressed. I got in some early season ski touring, along with one epic and one not so epic resort day. The snowshoes have come out to play a couple of times, but mostly bare boots have sufficed. This skier hopes that the early melt out means that there will be NO January thaw, and that great conditions will prevail through the rest of the season.

My goal for the year was to get to the 75% mark in redlining the White Mountain Guide, which I sailed past on Halloween. Much like last year, I continued to soldier on, figuring I'd go for 80%. An oversight the other day (not figuring out how much mileage I'd actually need) now has me at 79.9%, 2 miles exactly from the goal. There was tentatively a W.S.D.S. (Wednesday Sleep Deprivation Special) in order today, but seeing as it's Wednesday, I obviously stayed home. I'm happy with how the year went, and look forward to tackling more of everything in the next!

So without further adieu, here's 2014 by the numbers:

# of individual hikes: 84 *
# of hiking days: 78
# of solo days: 23
Named peaks: 117
4000-footers: 38
Days of backpacking: 19
Days of ski touring: 9
Miles: 856.4 **
Elevation gain: 248,338' **
Average per hike: 10.2 miles, 2956' of gain **
New redlining miles: 402.2

And the most important statistic of all...

Injuries: 0 (zero, zip, zilch, nada, nil!)

*    Individual hikes include multiple hikes in a day, backpacking trips count as one
**  Not including 4 days ski touring on/around Mt. Washington, I can't properly account for them

The impending completion of the largest goal I have yet to set for myself, has left me contemplative. While I look forward to the finish, it's bittersweet thinking about it. With only ~290 miles left to go, it's almost assured that I'll finish up next year, though I almost don't want it to be over. It makes me wonder if I hurried, if I didn't take enough time to savor what was before me. Part of me wants to keep it at arms length, just out of reach, for as long as I can. The OCD part of me wants to see the spreadsheet filled in. An internal tug-o-war. Anyone who knows me can see how this one is going to work itself out.

Instead of doing a best hikes of the year list like I did last year, I figured I'd do a list of my 10 most memorable moments. They may not have all come under the greatest of circumstances, but they were all worthy of remembering.

(not really in any particular order)

10.) Solo ski touring on Cannon

During my March vacation, I got around to investigating a down-mountain classic on the north slopes of Cannon Mountain, the old Tucker Brook Ski Trail. During the skin up, I could barely contain my excitement, as the trail looked excellent. After hitting the summit, I skied back down through the tough upper section, and in the lower elevation hardwoods, I found heaven. Soft untracked powder graced the edges, and my skis only pointed me toward more of it. I'll be back for more, I'll be back for laps.

Tucker Brook Ski Trail

9.) Crossing Edmands Col on a windy winter day

Closing in on the summit of Jefferson after ascending via Lowes Path and Randolph Path, Mike and I came upon the venturi that is Edmands Col. We had witnessed clouds being blasted over the summit of Madison as we drove in that morning, and it was a scary sight to behold. Being in it was another experience entirely. Mount Washington recorded wind speeds sustained in the high 60's, gusting into the 80's, during our transit. Sculpted snow lay all around us, and I was humbled by the beauty of the fury that often envelopes the Presidential Range in winter. We skittered across the ice in the col, being buffeted by the wind, which threatened to blow us over. I stopped and leaned back into it.

Climbing out of Edmands Col, Jefferson summit clearing

8.) Rockwhacking J.Q. Adams

Following a fantastic ascent up Madison Gulf Trail, Jake and I set our sights on John Quincy Adams, one of the five "Adams Family" peaks, lording over Star Lake and Madison Spring Hut. We originally aimed for a ridge, but instead just went straight up. Some borderline rock climbing moves needed to be made in spots, and it was an absolute blast. Nearly there, I turned to look out at Madison, and the unique angle struck me. Madison never looked more impressive.

All class

7.) Sugarloaf sunset

A backpacking trip not planned by me, led to an impromptu camp-out just off the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain. The clouds had been moody all day, we even got hailed on at one point, and they had begun wrapping around the summit as we set up our tents. They never got completely around, and we were treated to an amazing light show, as the sun dipped ever closer to the horizon. Second only to my companions, it made the whole trip worth it.


6.) Garfield Ridge - East Peak

The day I did my longest hike of the year (30 miles, for 2.9 miles of new trail), I tacked on two "bushwhacks", to the two peaks on Garfield Ridge between Galehead and Garfield. Both are officially unnamed, though both appear on the New Hampshire 100 Highest list, which I've apparently decided I'm pursuing. Much to my surprise, the East Peak (signed Mt. Pam) has an amazing view, down the long Franconia Brook valley, and up Garfield Ridge to Garfield and Lafayette. I could have stayed here for hours, if I didn't have miles to go. Perhaps another day.

Mt. Pam isn't too shabby

5.) Whitewall glades

Being a year of skills development (or so it would seem), bushwhacking of course came into play. Mike and I made a sometimes treacherous ascent of Whitewall Mountain via a slide on the west side, to the vast south ledges, before hitting the actual summit. Our descent was to the north, and we passed through some amazing birch glades on our way to our next destination. Gently sloping and open, with a ferny understory, a light mist hung in the woods, accentuating the colors. Certainly one of the more idyllic places I've ever been, ever.

A treat

4.) Smarts Mountain Tentsite

On day two of a four day A.T. backpack (from Hanover to Glencliff), Mike and I ended up climbing Smarts in the waning light of the day, only to find the cabin occupied by idiots and no water (where we'd been assured there was some). We dropped back and punted, ending up at the designated tentsite, which sports a decent view to the east and south. The stars were brilliant that night, and I decided to try my hand at astrophotography. Sunrise the next morning wasn't horrible either.

The Milky Way

3.) Shelter fever

Getting drenched on the first day of a four day backpack into the Dry River valley, and having the rain continue on through the next day, Mike and I were left with time to dry out. I woke up sometime during that first night, listening to the rain pound on the roof of the shelter, the river roaring close by. Turning on my headlamp, the first thing I saw was a particular piece of writing on one of the logs, among the sea of other writings and carvings. It summed up the trip to that point, with perfect sarcasm.


2.) Missing out

If you really want to get behind the "leave no stragglers" mantra, you need to do your research beforehand. While hiking the Wild River Trail on an unseasonably nice October afternoon, heading to Perkins Notch for the night, my friend Will and I came upon the Spruce Brook Tentsite... or at least the sign for it. I didn't think anything of it. After getting rained off the ridge the next day and bailing home, I checked the spreadsheet... there's a 0.1 mile long spur trail to Spruce Brook Tentsite.

Railroad remnants on Wild River Trail near Spruce Brook Tentsite

1.) Acceptance

Maybe I'm guilty of cherry-picking days to hike, we all do it. I mean, who doesn't like nice weather? That being said, I finally got over hiking in the rain. Sure it can be unpleasant at times, and dangerous at others, but it provides an altogether different sensory experience. The pitter-patter of drops in the woods, increasing and decreasing in frequency with the intensity of the rain, starting with a rushing sound, and fading to a stop. The air feels heavier, like the moisture could just burst out of it. Oh, and you're wet, and you don't care. Showers prevailed on a mild mid-November day, and just before I began my climb toward Mt. Paugus, I found myself not cursing the dampness that surrounded me, but taking it for what it was worth. I'd say it's worth a whole lot.

Along Bee Line Cutoff

So with that, 2014 is at a close. Let's raise a glass to what was, and one to what will be. 2015 already has plenty in store, and it hasn't even begun yet. I'm crossing my fingers (and you should be too) that snow returns to the mountains, and leaves a deep base with which to play in as spring gets closer. A plan is being formulated, and time off has been requested, for a thru-hike of the Long Trail in late September and early October with two of my favorite people. Until then, there will be some winter redlining, and when that aforementioned snow arrives, much skiing.

Until next year...