EVERY DAY IS A FIELD TRIP was written to help people get out and enjoy their one life. I took my own writing to heart and found my way down the path. In fact in Chapter 35: Forty-Eight Mountains and Chapter 36: Bucket List, it was all about getting out into the great outdoors. In my case, the mountains.
But last week on a hike in the beautiful White Mountain National Forest with my friend Nicole, I was climbing Mt. Moriah for the second time and it seemed like I hit that wall where it was work and not fun. The first time I climbed Moriah was when I was finishing up hiking those aforementioned 48 mountains that fill up ‘The List’ (New Hampshire’s 48 summits over 4,000 feet). It was August 2019 and Moriah was number 47 for me. It was a hot summer day and my brother Scott had joined me. We had a great day and my most vivid memory was a beagle who belonged to two woman who were at the summit when we arrived. Scott was sitting on the giant rock summit when the beagle took this opportunity to jump all over him.
Scott was chuckling and having a great time with the friendly canine. While I remember the stunning view of the Presidential Range, it was the beagle and Scott’s joyful face that I remember most and assured me I was on the right path.
Since that wonderful day, I finished hiking the 48 with a summit on Mt. Jefferson. I went on to hike most of the summits again, and added hiking the rest of the 67 peaks in New England over 4,000 feet, I also section hiked the Massachusetts & Connecticut portion of the Appalachian Trail, hiked the entire New England Trail, the Mid-State Trail, the Terrifying 25 trail list, and 39 state high points across the United States.
My love of the mountains had turned into a list checking, cross this off hot rod pursuit style. It started feeling like a chore, a real slog.
Sound familiar? Perhaps work burnout?
I mentioned in EVERY DAY IS A FIELD TRIP a conversation I once had with a teenager and his mom on the summit of Owl’s Head. He talked about a guy who they had met the last time they were on Owl’s Head. The guy had one more mountain to reach his personal 48. But, he decided he had enough and was shutting it down. He obviously had reached some type of burnout and decided, so close to his goal, that this path was no longer right. I joked that he was like Forrest Gump, who in the movie just stopped running after being on the road for his great run and said “I’m pretty tired now, I think I’ll go home”.
It’s funny, I felt the same way just a couple days later when I was hiking my 46th summit with my friend Gregg. I was simply toast, and needed a break. I stayed off the mountains for a few days and was revitalized and then went back.
While exploring new mountains or new trails, it is a little bit like life, always trying to find the right path, and just like life it is not always easy.
COLD WEATHER CHALLENGE
While on Mt. Moriah with Nicole last week, every step felt like an effort. We arrived at the trailhead just off route 16 near Gorham, New Hampshire at ten o’clock hoping the temperature would rise, but it was still a flat zero degrees. And it was going to get colder as we gained elevation. We also knew the summit was going to be very windy. Hiking in the cold weather always brings surprises. This day was no different.
The challenge in the cold for me is usually my fingers. I have had great success with my OBOZ hiking boots which are rated to -10 degrees, and frankly I had not had any issues with my toes or feet so far this winter season. As for my hands, once I gave up wearing gloves of any kind in the really cold temps and moved over to my KOMBI leather mittens (I’ve used these for cold skiing days with great success), my very sensitive fingers never get cold.
On this day, the area had just received a fresh 18 inches of snow. We were lucky that there was a group ahead of us who broke out the trail, but we were still walking on snow with our micro spikes or snowshoes, and with the cold temps my toes started getting cold. It is that feeling of numbness that starts, almost like your boots are too tight. Nicole was having the same problem.
The last thing you want on a happy excursion to the mountains is to get frostbite and potentially lose a digit, so both of us kept tabs on our cold feet to be sure we did not press on when we really should be turning back. In fact, when I mentioned my toes to Nicole, she said, “you know I am okay if we need to turn back”. It is important to have a hiking partner you can trust on frigid days in the mountains.
Our toes held out and in fact got warmer as we neared the colder summit.
FINDING REAL JOY
Nicole would pop up with a statement of wonder here, a fact of awe there; she was just loving her time on this frigid day and on this mountain, with blankets of fresh snow covering the conifers, drifting onto the trail, while the snow was gleaming against the bright sun: it truly was spectacular.
As Nicole mentioned her awe in one glorious site after another, I stopped and realized I was not noticing all of the beauty around me. I thought about it as I huffed my way up the mountain, realizing that I had lost my way in what was important and why I started hiking in the first place. The race up the mountain was always on my mind, always thinking about how fast I could get to the top. On this day, it felt as if my snowshoes were slowing me down.
Listening to Nicole reminded me to enjoy the opportunities I was blessed with in these mountains. And shortly after I started my drive home, I saw a giant moose about ten feet off of Route 16 just down the road from Pinkham Notch. The sight of a live moose always pumps me up and as such made the trip home fly by.
I thought about how I felt for days, it bothered me. Maybe I went a little overboard, hiking so many mountains in the last few years. Do I need some time off?
Not willing to give in, I wanted to take away any excuse. So I purchased a smaller pair of snow shoes that would be easier to hike bigger miles with. Once they arrived I decided I needed to take them on a test drive.
I decided I would try the new snowshoes out at a local place that I had never been to. I have to admit I never went before because it was not a big mountain, I guess I kind of looked down at it. But on this day I would go to Mt. Pisgah a 164 acre woodland with a high elevation of 715 feet. I arrived at the trailhead in about ten minutes (I was already happy)! There was not another car in sight on a Wednesday afternoon at roughly 2:30. Another reason to be happy, I would have the woods all to myself.
I put the snowshoes on, even though the trail was well broken out, and in fact kind of icy, really more appropriate for micro spikes. But the purpose was to try the new snowshoes. One thing was clear: these new shoes were smaller, a plus.
After about an hour on the trails, I felt foolish. I thought how ridiculous it was that I had never spent time in this wonderful spot. I went by three of its trailheads on my bike well over a hundred times. My happy meter was now up again, and I knew choosing Pisgah was right for this day, its path was wonderful.
After about five miles, I started to huff and puff a little. I knew it was the snowshoes and I just had to accept it. I liked hiking more in the summer, when I could fly through the trails and rack up big mileage. There is a saying within the hiking community: “winter legs are earned”.
I had to come to grips with the fact that I have not earned my winter legs this year. I had become a weekend warrior, and in fact not even every weekend. Gone were my weekday jaunts to Monadnock to enjoy its beauty and to get in shape for one of my big Western climbs.
It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had become a hiking slacker. Walks around the neighborhood would not cut it, walking 5-6 miles on sidewalks or roads, is not the same as walking 10 or 15 miles in snowshoes. I needed to step up my game.
I decided to get back to my hiking roots. Monadnock.
Even though I had hiked Monadnock so often and knew the trails that I hiked so well I could run down the right path without worry that I would trip on its many rocks or roots, I recently realized there were some trails at Monadnock that I had never been on. In fact, a series of trails connect Cliff Walk to White Arrow Trail. I had hiked on these two trails many times, but never the trails in between. One of the trails is Thoreau trail.
Before leaving for Monadnock I did some quick research. Was this trail named after Henry David Thoreau the American naturalist, poet, and philosopher.
Turns out Thoreau had hiked Monadnock four times. He wrote these words after one of his trips.
“Those who climb to the peak of Monadnock have seen but little of the mountain. I came not to look off from it, but to look at it”.
I decided I would go and look at the mountain.
I hiked some familiar trails to get to the six trails I had never been on. The bright sun and above freezing temperatures made for mushy snow on my approach. Once I found my way into these less used trails, I found trails that had one set of footprints or no footprints in the snow. The trails were not marked except for the signs at the beginning of the trails.
Even without steady trail markings, I knew I was on the right path, even if I was not on the trail. I was seeing the mountain and it did not matter where I ended up. Every now and then I would stop and check Alltrails to see where I was in relation to the trail. It made me stop and see the mountain more. I had made it back, loving my time on the snow within the trees in nature’s home.
FIND YOUR WAY
While exploring the abandoned Hedgehog trail, I found myself in drifts of snow up to my waist deep and quickly put on the new snowshoes. With the sound and sight of ice and snow dropping off trees, I had no choice but to allow all of my senses to feel the mountain. Not only looking where my feet were landing and how deep my snowshoes would go into the untouched snow, but also listening to the signs that snow would be dropping like wet little bombs from the sky.
Dancing with the evergreens lofted up several feet by drifted snow was a movement that made me smile knowing the majority of the folks on this mountain would be walking through well broken out trails. I was literally performing do-si-dos with my tree partners. It was a fun little side trip, bushwhacking through the deep snow on a trial that no longer exists. Just me and the mountain.
I was enjoying more of everything. I stopped to see where deer tracks were going, I noticed porcupine tracks and thought of the two times I saw a porcupine on Monadnock. The first time I accidentally bumped into one. I was lucky I did not end up in trouble that time. The other time a Porcupine was sitting high up in a tree, a much safer distance. And I was sure I saw the small paw prints of red fox, or was it the rarely seen American Marten?
There was not another person to be found on this day on these trails at one of the most hiked mountains in the world. It was just me and the mountain. I still had plenty of exercise going up and down the trails, but I was not rushing toward any list, in fact I followed Thoreau’s advice and intentionally did not summit. And it felt right.
I found the right path, and I was back to opening my eyes at all the wonder that an outdoor field trip can offer.
Often just leaving your house opens you up for life’s surprises. On this day, shortly after leaving Monadnock, I was offered another gift from Mother Nature in the tune of a beautiful red sky peering out of my car window. My smile opened up all the way across my face: the path was right and I felt at home.
Please visit https://everydayisafieldtrip.com/blog/ for more blog posts from EVERY DAY IS A FIELD TRIP.