September 18, 2013

The Difference a Day Makes: An Overnight on the Twin Range

Johnny G. on the Bondcliff Trail hiking south to camp.
A few months ago, I was working on a project in the basement and glanced at my backpacking and camping gear sitting unused in a musty storage bin. "Geez, I haven't been on a proper backpacking trip in about three years, what a shame," I lamented to myself. Backpacking, you see, is one of my absolute favorite outdoor activities. Of all the outdoor sports, I consider backpacking to be the most "pure" because of the inherent simplicity of walking in the woods, the self-reliance of carrying your life necessities on your back, and the enhanced situational awareness of navigation, weather, body, and trail conditions. Of course, backpacking trips are the hardest to come by these days precisely because of the time needed to pull one off (such are the compromises of being a parent). That, and there are few people out there who are willing to subject themselves to such "recreation".

Johnny G. near the summit of Mt. Guyot.
So, much to my delight, a planned family day hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire morphed into an overnight excursion with my cousin Johnny G, a participant in one of the famed Bolton backcountry ski trips. The plan was simple; the family, Johnny, and I hiked the 2.8 miles to the Appalachian Mountain Club's Zealand Hut via the Zealand Trail. For those of you hiking with small children or, ahem, older folks, the hike to Zealand Hut is moderately difficult with rewarding views of mountain marshes, streams, waterfalls, and Zealand Notch. Not to mention, you can buy hot food and drink at the Zealand Hut and have yourself a proper sit-down potty break if the occasion calls for it. After lunch at the hut, Johnny and I parted ways with the family and continued another 5 miles along the Twin Range to the Guyot campsite on the southeast flank of Mt. Guyot.

I love hiking in the fog. I estimate that two out of three White Mountain hikes I've done in the last 3 years have been shrouded in mist…a testament to the stormy temperament of these mountains. Day 1 of the Twin Range expedition kept the foggy streak alive. The fog obscures the obvious vistas and forces us to look elsewhere for inspiration…those intricacies that go unseen on clear days when sweeping mountain views capture our attention. The movement of the wind, normally invisible to the human eye, is portrayed in swirling droplets that pass through the trees with a whisper. The scent of pine pitch, strangely resembling cotton candy, is somehow amplified by the mist. These sensations haunt and excite me, and they are worthy reasons to hit the trail on less than perfect weather days. I reflected on similar sentiments in my blog post about a hike on Mt. Moosilauke almost exactly one year ago.
Pemigewasset Wilderness.
As the family hiked back to the car for a comfortable evening of hot-tubbing and Web TV, Johnny and I forged through the fog, passing by the cloud-choked Zeacliff view, the imminently forgettable forested summit of Mt. Zealand (but one of New Hampshire's 48 peaks over 4,000 feet above sea level), and the rocky moonscape of Mt. Guyot. The trail gave us a nice blend of rocky, heart-thumping climbs and mellow ridge traverses, perfect for conversation, observation, and photography. And then there was the nerve-jangling rush of flight from a disturbed spruce grouse! As the day grew long in tooth and our legs weary, the trail brought us to the Guyot campsite. The friendly (half stoned) caretaker informed us that the tent platforms were full and offered us space in a crowded lean-to or an overflow tent site that was in the path of a water diversion ditch. Thanks, but no thanks. We elected to try our luck at a tent site on the ridge between Mounts Guyot and Bond…windier, but without the human commotion of the main campsites. After a quick dinner and beverage, we retired to the tent as daylight faded. That evening, the ridge was host to the tumultuous arrival of a cold front that evicted the fog from the mountains. The winds raced down the ridge from Guyot to Bond and onward, sounding like automobiles on a highway overpass. Our tent, sheltered by the thick evergreens, was not affected by the wind and offered us a unique vantage to the readjusting pressure gradients above us. 

Zeacliff, Day 1
We awoke just prior to sunrise over the Willard Range to the east. The clear, dry air of the cold front had swept the Whites free of the mists that defined the previous day. What a difference a day makes! We struck camp after a quick breakfast and gained the summit of Mt. Guyot around 8AM. We were gifted with sweeping views at every point of the compass…North and South Twin to the northwest, Mt. Lafayette and the Franconia Range to the west, Bond and West Bond to the south, and Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range to the east. Just as impressive was the sweeping view of the vast forested Pemigewasset Wilderness. And to top it all off, the valleys were filled with morning fog that hid any evidence of humanity, save for the towers on the summit of Mt. Washington! Wild!

Zeacliff, same vantage point, 24 hours later.
A few short hours of pleasant hiking brought us to Zeacliff, where our view of Zealand Notch had been rebuked by fog just 24 hours earlier. The Pemi Wilderness sprawled out beneath us, framed to the east by the rock walls and talus slopes of Whitewall Mountain and to the south by the imposing massif of Mt. Carrigain. We watched a raven ride a thermal, gaining thousands of feet of altitude in less than a minute with nary a wing flap. We stood on the cliff, spellbound by the panorama, too engaged in our surroundings to remember to take off our packs for a brief rest. The utter solitude was punctuated only by the distant roar of the many cascades that drain the steep mountainsides. Zeacliff was the exclamation point to a great hike and a fitting reward for our fogbound travels.
The Twin Range expedition was a quick hit of wilderness that stoked the flames of passion for outdoor adventure. I once again shouldered a pack of trusted camping gear and wandered into the woods in search of… 

Absolutely Nothing

Low tide?
That's right!  Nothing!  An interesting development in my outdoor experiences! In years past I put a lot of emphasis on these adventures to somehow find or define myself, or prove something to myself and others. I think that even the Moosilauke hike a year ago was in a similar vein…the tumultuous account of that trip was a reflection of a transitional time in my life. But now that parenthood has settled in and my perspectives have changed, I find myself asking far less of my outdoor trips. I simply want to get out and enjoy them. By stripping away such expectations of "meaning", I leave myself more receptive to serendipity, and I come out of the woods feeling refreshed, and CALM.  Calm - there's a term I would never use to describe myself when I was in my 20s!

So, despite my lack of expectation (or maybe because of it), the woods once again taught me a lesson. 

Thanks for a great hike, Johnny.

Safe travels, all!



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1 comment:

  1. Awsome Trip! I did an overnighter on the AT here in CT, and had a great time.