Friday, July 22, 2005

Back from New Hampshire

And it was quite lovely. The forests there remind me a lot of the forests in Washington state where I grew up: faeryesque clearings lined with moss and smelling of decay. Some contain baby conifers that give a miniature feeling to these dark meadows. You can hear a creek burbling somewhere, but you can't see it. The sounds of the forest are soft.

Anyway, perhaps some of the area that I hiked through was second growth forest. It seemed rather old, developed.

The first day consisted of driving there and setting up camp. However, we found ourselves with a little time on our hands and so we went hiking. We decided to go to the tallest waterfall in NH (it's got nothing on the many falls in Ithaca). Our fearless leader said the trail was flat, so I wore flip-flops. It turns out, the trail was mostly through an old creek bed and gained an altitude of 1200 feet or so.....I had an uncomfortable climb to say the least.

At the top we tested our kung fu bravery and balance skills on a little log over a small creek. You can see me at the right.

The next day we began an early ascent of Mount Washington, the tallest peak east of the Mississippi. It towers over 6,000 feet tall and is part of the Presidential Range. I bet you couldn't guess some of the other peak's names?

We took one of the shortest trails to the top. There was a lot of up and down for a couple of miles and then a bunch of straight-upness that took us through creeks and over slick rock. At first I started with the faster hikers, but after we passed this truly lovely cascade and pool and none of them had any hesitation about stopping I realized that they probably wouldn't ever stop. And it turns out that they didn't. They had to wait at the top for a good hour or hour and a half for everyone else and the summit is the absolute worse place to be on the mountain.

Anyway, another one from my group caught up with me and we hiked and enjoyed ourselves. We eventually ran into another fast-group drop out and had a good chat. We waited for the others to find us and we all scaled the mountain together: laughing, talking, appreciating the beauty of our climb.

Near the end of the steep part you end up in the alpine zone. It was so cool. There were mats of trees covering the ground, both coniferous and deciduous. There were little white flowers growing in the lees of large stones. Saxifrage. It was adorable. Clouds were gathering on us at this point and wisps of fog were following us along the trail. Eventually we made it to Cloud Lake. A lovely spot to have elevenses. It's a small mirror lake with boulders scattered through its demense. After our repast we wondered exactly what were the definitions of lake and pond. For this surely was a small lake.

Our next stop was the summit. We still had about 1200 vertical feet to go and a mile and change of trail. The sky had become much darker during our stay at the lake and as we ascended the final slopes our visibility was about 150 feet, completely obscuring the views.

At around 12 we made it to the top. It was tourist madness. There were cars, vans, a train and people galore. You could purchase food, souveniers, and visit a museum. I was violently thrown out of my hiking experience. I had just been wholey immersed in a world populated to perfection by rock, moss, lichen and cloud. Now I faced coal smoke, generator noise and the clamor of the masses. I wished we had stayed at the lake.

Anyway, the obligatory pictures were taken and after lunch and we began our descent on another trail, one we thought might be kinder to our knees. Meanwhile it had cleared up and our new trail was free of trees for quite some time. It also meandered startlingly close to the edge of the mountain side.

We all made it back to camp that evening satisfied with our day. And after showering I felt calm and relaxed. Of course I didn't know that I was about to develop a terrible sunburn on my legs. I had put on sunscreen but apparently not soon enough. My legs are still red (6 days later), but they don't hurt. I am just very itchy.

The next day we went for a morning hike on a trail called the Basin and Cascade. It was a beautiful hike up a small creek replete with waterfalls, pools and mini-faerie, moss landscapes. At the beginning of the trail, the creek bed is in granite bedrock worn smooth over the years. There are a sprinkling of boulders, but mainly one is able to walk up the channel. Further up on the trail the granite is hidden by downwash and regolith and so the creek takes on a different character. with more enclosed pools and vertical cascades. After some time I and a couple of others decided to turn around and enjoy the lower portion. A few people were even meditating in the water. I, of course, was trying to doze off.

Later we spent the afternoon lazing in the river by our campground. There weren't any nice rocks to sit on so myself and another moved a picnic table into the middle of the river (it's a shallow one). We were cool and bug-free. The minnows, however, kept nibbling on our feet.

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