August 9, 2017
We have now hiked north for four months, and hiked south for one month and five days. Each day has brought us closer to the White Mountains, a milestone in the 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail. People love to tell horror stories of hiking through the Whites. Howling winds knocking hapless hikers off ridges, pelting hail, slick rocks, frozen fingers, impenetrable fog … the list gets longer as the campfire burns lower. The more I have heard of the White Mountains, the more fearful I have become. Jay has tried to reassure me. “People like to make things sound worse than they really are. A story seems only worth telling if it exaggerates a bit.” But even Jay has worried over how to get me down Wildcat Ridge safely. And that, frankly, scares me witless!
I have always been a bit clumsy. (At the age of nine, I fell off a sidewalk and broke my arm!) So far on this trip, I have broken my clavicle, injured my knee, jammed my thumb so badly it swelled to twice its size, and received numerous bumps and serious bruises from various falls. The looming hazards of the White Mountains has brought on an unwelcome state of terror.
We’ve crossed some rough countryside since the Mahoosuc Notch. We’ve ascended and descended several thousands of feet of mountains and rocks, sometimes in rain (slick!), sometimes in sun (hot!). Each day there have been times of fear as I negotiated tough spots on the trail. There has also been fun and delight; picking blueberries on Mt. Hayes, seeing a rabbit on Mt. Moriah, changing into warm dry clothes each evening in the tent.
As we begin today’s hike, climbing 1,000 feet out of Carter Notch, I reflect upon my emotions. I realize that I learned something important in Mahoosuc Notch. When all my concentration is being used, there is no time. The present is all around me, encompassing. I live in the present, and there is no use in worrying over the future. Now is what matters.
Wildcat Ridge – a climb out of a notch, over four mountain peaks, then a descent into another notch. Only six miles, but length of trail has little to do with amount of effort needed in this stretch!
The first two miles, out of Carter Notch, took me three hours. Many times I was slowed by vertical rock scrambles. Fresh muscles, and my newfound wisdom, helped the climb go by quickly. For the next two miles, we walked the ridge, just below tree line much of the time, among stunted pines and soft moss. We crossed over four of the peaks of Wildcat Mountain, often slowed by rough tread. We paused at an observation tower to enjoy the view, then passed a ski gondola on Wildcat Mountain peak D. It was tempting to take the gondola to the bottom of the mountain! Instead, we utilized a sunny picnic table sheltered from the wind, and ate an early lunch, preparing ourselves for the 2,000 foot drop into Pinkham Notch.
It’s hard to describe that trip down Wildcat Ridge. Measurements tell me we took four hours to hike 2 miles and descend 2,000 feet. Adjectives include steep, long, steep, rocky, steep, tough, steep, strenuous, and steep! My focus narrowed to each separate footstep, taking care to place feet and hands safely as I descended.
One place on our trail profile is described as “rocky crevasse, stairs”. In reality, the bedrock of the ridge pokes outward and splits, providing a fissure into which the trail builders threw smaller rocks. Those that stuck became “stairs” for hikers. Halfway down the fissure, the rocks end, and we had to climb out onto the edge of the bedrock again!
There were a couple of places where trail builders had bolted blocks of wood onto the sheer surface of the cliff, giving hikers a different type of stairs to use while climbing or descending!
I did lose focus once, as the trail turned, providing a tiny spot of flat ground. My loss of focus coincided with a waver in my balance, a catch of my foot on a root, and a fall. A rock thumped my knee, and a sharp point on a branch snatched at my neck. For a few moments, fear and pain overwhelmed me, and all I could do was lay on the trail, taking deep breaths and trying not to cry too much. Jay sat down above me, giving me time and space to work through the accident. Later, when it was established that all I had was a few scratches and a couple of formidable bruises, Jay told me, “You get hurt in the creepiest ways!”
Pinkham Notch, when finally reached, was a welcome change of the present! Jay had arranged for us to celebrate our first major challenge of the White Mountains by staying the night at the Joe Dodge Lodge, along with a delectable all-you-can-eat dinner and breakfast! Yes, now is all the time there is, and I am trying to live there!