By Randy Pierce
…And now, part 2 of our hike on Mt. Washington, Monroe, and Eisenhower!
AMC Hut Life
The “higher huts” as they are called can be an amazing experience in the White Mountains. The people who have built and cared for these places created an environment like few others. The crew staffing the huts have a love of the region and are part of the atmosphere designed to make the haven a blend of community, naturalism, entertainment, feasting and rest.
This particular hut can host 90 guests and is usually pretty close to this on weekends. The community of hikers shares stories and experiences while generally reveling in the present experience they are sharing. So too did our group. As the incredible turkey dinner was being served family style, we had time to share a toast as a group. A Nalgene flask of homemade chocolate raspberry port had found its way into my pack for the purpose.
“To all the folks who have been part of making this experience possible!” which included the names of all those prior hikers, all the staff of 2020 Vision Quest, and all of the supporting community who keep us inspired to not only choose these experiences but to continue to use them and our other efforts towards our mission. Anything is possible and while success may not come immediately, the determination and perseverance to problem solve, practice, and proceed may lead to moments like this. We were going to officially add Washington to our list and this would be the halfway point, peak 24 of 48, in our 2020 Vision Quest goal!
After dinner we put on warm gear to sit outside and repeat that magical sunset of 2010, at least in part. Each experience is different and though the clouds created an interesting “black ray” phenomenon, our westerly view over the seven ranges extending into New York could not hold the intensity of that crystal clear evening two years prior.
Neither was the same immense gathering of people present, but the few sitting in the cold winds to marvel had a different bit of bonding and communal appreciation for the majesty of these mountains. It passed slowly and satisfying before dusk encouraged us to take our weary bodies to bed. Jenifer shared a tale from one of the many books from the hut library: a tale of how the Mt. Welch ledges alpine zones became officially and unusually preserved. The circle gardens there did what many other attempts failed to accomplish and was precisely the tale to send us to sleep in our private, comfortable albeit impressively tight quarters.
Shakespeare? And Bacon?!
I’ve heard it espoused that bacon goes with everything and apparently it’s true for a staff-inspired performance of Romeo and Juliet. The huts commonly have skits to show guests the best practice “check-out” procedures in a humorous and educational way. Without question, the one we saw the morning after our stay in the huts (a humorous skit inspired by “Romeo and Juliet”) was the best any of our group had experienced. With a hot breakfast of bacon and accompanying goodies in our bellies to match the laughs there as well, we were prepared to say farewell to our hut haven with very warm memories. Whether a hut is right for others isn’t my expertise, but I can tell you the experience has been very rewarding for all of my trips to stay there and the AMC and their incredible crews have my admiration, respect and appreciation!
The dense fog of the morning was burned away by a sunny and very windy day. Gusts reached 60 mph pretty quickly as we faced the prominent craggy peak of Mt. Monroe directly ahead of us and the gateway to the Southern Presidential range through which we would hike down to our car spot. As we set upon the short journey to the summit of Mt. Monroe. Cliff took the opportunity to guide along this challenging stretch and within a short time we scrambled up the final section to stand, albeit leaning into the gusts, atop the fifth highest of the 48!
The wilderness beyond here was breathtaking and the skies were giving us full appreciation of the scenic offerings. Away in the distance our next and final summit, Eisenhower, was visible with the tallest cairn in the whites clearly discernible. Back towards Mt. Washington, the line of cairns was described as a line of soldier sentries to guide and guard the path to the peak. We needed to continue as we had several miles above treeline and exposed to that wind and the descent would be precarious footing until we cleared a sub peak and reached the Crawford Path. Cliff continued to guide me in these winds and our teamwork grew stronger. At one point, a gust nearly blew him into a dangerous fall save for the steadying of my hand on his pack. A small return for the innumerable crevices and challenges through which he guided me.
Crawford path was a fairly smooth pathway on which Quinn was able to guide me at reasonable speeds along the ridge line. Three of our crew took the loop over Franklin to appreciate the look deep into Oaks Gulf while Tracy and I enjoyed some quality time along the easier trail. It’s worth a pause to consider the people who have maintained and still maintain these trails from erosion and work on them so that others can readily appreciate the treasures of these hills. Some of those people are long gone, yet so many modern day trail workers perform their work with insufficient thanks for the incredible service they provide.
In 1972, Eisenhower became the more appropriately presidential name for Pleasant mountain. As we endured the intense and powerful winds, we found a small sheltered point to have a quality food stop before the final ascent. We had watched the mountain loom closer for miles and didn’t intend to repeat the prior day’s over-zealous drive towards the hut. We also knew there would be no wind shelter up there allowing us to eat. Most packs were dropped to allow for the final steep ascent. Cliff again guided me and with pack weight absent we made tremendous time to the expansive summit of Eisenhower. There is tremendous space atop this bald summit which makes it a distinctive experience. Mt. Pierce lies directly south after a tree-laden saddle that promised a respite from the win soon. We would take Edmund’s Path and skip Mt. Pierce but the trees would soon be there nonetheless. John took over the guide work as he had his pack and that eases the process of guiding me down. Our 0.8 mile out and back to this summit had us changing our gear, donning our packs and preparing for the final leg of the journey.
Trail reports are not always as they appear. Edmund’s path was touted as a beautifully crafted and maintained trail. Perhaps this was once true but at the higher points we crossed a slide that created challenge and some danger with a drop off. We found it rocky, eroded, and challenging for much of the descent into the trees. Even beyond the trees there was work to manage the very wet slabs which typically slanted in disadvantageous ways.
Perhaps some of this was the feeling which often comes when the final stretch of the journey is underway. Often, whether due to the efforts expended, the anticipation of the finish, or perhaps the reflections of the experience overall–this portion can become the slog. Conversation quiets and people feel the weariness grow disproportionate to the challenge they are facing. Certainly the trail had eased to the rather decent trail reported before we began to slip out of the slog and begin the full appreciation of our adventure together. During a break, our “slogging” feelings began to abate as we laughed at the Mighty Quinn’s immediate ability to sleep on a trail and his dubious half awake look when deciding if we were getting up to hike more or if he could catch a few more moments of sleep! It was exactly the cure to get conversation flowing and the final mile stretch on easy ground for Quinn to Guide me out of the Presidential range!
Often we tout the celebratory high five on the summit. It is a glorious experience for certain and worthy of that group celebration. The work there is only partially done as we learned all too well on our last climb of Mt. Washington. The true finish is back at the trailhead when you have achieved the full measure of success. The challenge is overcoming exhaustion, the desire to change footwear, and perhaps even clean up a bit of the wilderness grime! We were, however, so very full of our accomplishments–meaning our groups camaraderie and the desire to celebrate–we had one of our best high five moments to date!
This occasion was monumentous enough for all of us to continue the celebration as we packed the one car full, reunited everyone to their own vehicles, and then travelled to savor a post-hike feast together. Stories called out favorite moments while satisfied smiles made it clear how much this group had come to appreciate far more than just the mountain trails we had travelled.
We celebrated something more important than the accomplishment of three significant peaks in the White Mountains. We celebrated each other and the chance to bond through the experience. The goal for me at least is to always reach more people than peaks and that is the real mission accomplished this round. Though I think Mt. Washington, Monroe and Eisenhower were worthy deeds as well!
What’s next Quinn?!