Dear Herm’s Hiker’s,
In the words of Rod Serling from the Twilight Zone, “Tonight meet our good friend Son-Dance, a gypsy trail hiker who once traveled to the White Mountains in search of perfect knowledge and spiritual enlightment. Tonight meet our good friend Son-Dance, a mystic voyager who survived his trip in another mythical and magical dimension known as the Alpine Zone.” Cue to music (theme from the Twilight Zone!)
Did I just refer to myself as a trail hiker in the Whites? No, no, no! Let me correct that mistake! A more accurate description would be rock climber. For you see, for most of the Whites from Mount Washington to Gorahm, there is no trail, just mountains of rocks with a few white blazes if you’re lucky. Most of trail is marked by cairns. Sounds easy enough to follow, but when you get to the top of a mountain ridge where trails intersect (and there are lots of side trails in the Whites for day and weekend hikers), there are cairns standing eveywhere like silent traffic cops. They know the right direction, but they’re not saying a word. If you’re lucky there might be a signpost giving you some additional directions. Sure glad that I bought the trail maps from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy!
Entered the Whites at Franconia Notch. Instead of tenting at the nearby campground, I decided to head for Lincoln, NH, a trendy little tourist town situated next to a ski resort. What a great place for hikers! Gourmet shops and restaurants, and a Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonalds. Is life good in Lincoln or what! But most of all, Lincoln had Chet’s Place, a home hostel run by Chet West and his helpers Bruce and Fallon. What a great place and what a great story! Chet, who is in his early 30’s, was severly injured when a camping stove blew up as he was attemping to light it. Chet’s face and arms were unscathed, but his lungs were damaged from breathing in the smoke and flames. In addition his mid-section received third-degree burns which destroyed a significant amount of muscle tissue. Chet was in a drug induced coma for 8 months and in the hospital for a total of 18 months. Speaking with Chet brought goosebumps to my arms as he described his spiritual journey immediately following the accident. He said he was standing at the door to the other side where a bright, blinding light was shining. He saw the faces of loved ones who had gathered at the door and and heard the voices who told him to go back becasue it was not his time to step through the portal. Wow! Chet recovered from the accident, although he still has to use a wheelchair. What a courageous and inspirational story!
Once again, I feel the Hand of God pointed move in the directon of Chet’s Place. In the trail journal there was only a listing for a hostel. There were no details about Chet’s and his miraculous story. I think my guardian angel was whisppering in my ear “Go to Chet’s Place for the night.”
The next day I headed out from Franonia Notch to hike Franconia Ridge. Heard a lot about the views but had no idea what I was in for. After a 2,500 ft. climb (hand over hand, up and around the boulders for 3 miles), I reached the ridge summit. Spectacular! The weather was sunny and the wind was blowing in excess of 25 miles an hours, but the views were stunning. Looking around, I was instantly transported to Evererst and great mountains in Nepal. Any second, I expected to see sherpas leading a group of mountaineers and local villagers herding yaks. Up and down, I hiked the various summits, Little Haystack Mtn. at 4,800 ft, Mt. Lincoln at 5,089 ft, and Mt. Garfield at 4,500 ft. The climbing was difficuult but not severe becuase the peaks were on the ridge. It was a lot of ups and downs above the treeline, and a mountain hiker cannot ask for anything more than that.
Stayed at the Garfield Ridge Shelter that night (thanks to the overnight hikers who carried up the Blue Moon ale) and then headed out for more mountains the next day, South Twin Mtn. at 4,902 and Mt Guyot at 4,580. More hard climbing with the hardest part coming as soon as I left the shleter. The trail to the mountain valley was literally the waterfalls for about a quarter of a mile. Totally insane! The most most difficult and dangerous hike that I have experienced. No place to take any chances with your footing. At Mt. Guyot, a storm front with light rain and heavy fog was racing across the across the mountain. I missed the turn off to the AT and met up with professor David Taylor and his two assistants who were doing reseach on mountain vegatation. Professor taylor hiked with me back to the turn off and put me on the right path to the next hut. Thank you, Dave! You are a trail angel.
Later in the day teamed up with follow hiker Utah who was also heading north. For the next three days we hiked and hit the “huts.” After bypassing the first two, we stayed at Zealand falls, Mizpah Spring, and Madison Spring. Since I’m with the advance party of NOBO’s, we were able to “work for stay.” In return for about an hour of work (dish washing, room cleaning, etc.), we got a place to sleep indoors and dinner and breakfast. We lived like hiking kings! The food and hospitality were fantatic! Our dinners were stuffed shells, chicken in wine sauce, and lasgna. Breakast was oatmeal and pancakes! Of course, we had to wait until the paying customers had eaten before we could dine, but who cared. We were eating a hot meal and eating as much as we wanted. Hiking gypsy kings!
A special thanks to Doris, Ken and their daughters, 1, 3 and 7 at Zealand Falls. As a bone-tired hiker (That’s me!) was making his way down the side of the mountain at the end of a long day, what appeared before me was a vision of beauty as three lovely ladies (appearing to be in their 20’s or early 30’s) in spandex outfits and hiking shoes, were bounding up the mountain with bubbling energy and enthusiasm. For a minute, I thought I was hallucinating! Son-Dance, I thought, you’e been in the mountains far too long. As we passed, I inquired about the proximity of the hut, and they replied just about 20 minutes down the mountain. In response, the long-faced hiker (That’s me!) bemoaned the fact of another 20 minutes on a rocky trail with tired and aching feeting. Then up, up and away, this lovely trio disappeared into the forest on their way to the scenic viewpoint.
Well, I finally reached the falls at the hut and decided to soak my feet in the cold mountain water. As I was relaxing, a couple (Doris and Ken) came over to where I was sitting with a carton of wine and a couple of plastic cups. Good wind and great conversation! Can’t be beat! As we were talking and drinking, the three lovely returend from thier mountain journey to join. Yes, the three ladies were the daughters of Doris and Ken. They noted my quick recovery as I sat with my feet in the water and a glass of wine in my hand, all with a smile on my face. To Doris, Ken and daughters, a sincere and humble thanks for your hospitality and generosity! You were a highlight of the triip.
The next day Utah and I reached Crawford Notch where we were thinking about taking time off. When the info desk said they were expecting good weather for the next two days at Mount Washington, we immediatley threw on our packpacks and headed up the mountain. And, glad that we did! By the time, we summited Mount Wasington at 6,288, the weather was bright and sunny with winds blowing at 55 MPH and temps in the upper 40’s. A perfect day at the top of the mountain with some of the harshest and severest weather in the country. Like at Everest, when the weather beakons, you heed the call. After a quick lunch,we headed out for more mountains named after presidents (That’s why it’s called the Presidential Range) for Madison Spirng Hut. The six miles from Mt. Washington to the hut were extremely diffiuclt, rock climbing hand over hand. With it being late afternoon, it mad the hike only harder. My bloodied and bruised shins are proof. The hut was an oasis in a rocky desert. Lost one of my water bottles on the hike to Washington and scored two matching, relatively new bottles, in the lost and found box at Lakes of the Clouds hut. Thanks, guys, for letting me rummage through the box. It was my lucky day.
After a night at the hut, I hiked to Pinkham Notch where I met hiking legend Leon Barkman who thru-hiked in 1967, long before trail names. Leon leads hikes from the notch and dispensees trail magic with bags of trail mix. Leon, thank you for your trail magic. You are, indeed, a trail legend and a trail angel.
Well fellow hikers, I’ve been at the computer too long. I’m getting a lot of stares from the librarian. In two day, I’ll be in Maine and then in two weeks, I’ll hopefully met with Rainbow Brite (Mrs. T) to hike the Wilderness. As always, keep me in your prayers. I know somebody’s prayers were answered because of the fantastic weather. Hike in peace and hike with your angels! Happy trails until we met again!