By Randy Pierce
It was an ambitious goal for our Carter-Moriah hiking team a few weeks ago to achieve all four summits, and more unrealistic with the hot and humid pair of days we chose for them. So while there was some trepidation in the initial decision to skip Carter Dome, the reality was a wonderful gift as the Dome earned a hiking day of its own.
Hiking on a schedule can provide an element of obligation and pressure if keeping the schedule is too significant. The completion of our initial 2020 Vision Quest to climb all 48 peaks in the non-winter is just such a situation. Adding this “make-up” hike into the schedule was difficult and moreso as the weather in the White Mountains suggested more rain, something all too prevalent this season.
Departing Nashua at 4 a.m. with steady rain dampened the spirits a bit. Arriving to the trailhead for 19-mile Brook Trail with clouds but no rain eased that considerably and the voices of our hiking companions coming together finished the job of building enthusiasm. It was a Friday morning, and while many would be undertaking the normal working world routines, we were headed into the deep woods of Zeta Pass and beyond.
Kyle would lead and hike with us for likely the final official 2020 Vision Quest hike while Stephani was undertaking her first with our crew as Mike returned for his second, opting to share his Isolation experience again. Sarah was sneaking in one more hike while John, Dana, Tracy, me and Quinn came together as they have for much of this final season. A successful day would put us back on schedule with just “two to do” in our goal.
The pace was steady and the temperatures a comfortable cool as our hike along the brook delivered cascade after cascade and the peaceful quiet of a forest’s early morning. Shortly after the first mile, a light rain began to play percussively upon the leaves of our woodland canopy, some small bit of which dripped lightly upon us. However, the hike was underway and spirits were undaunted.
Much laughter and conversation kept the crew climbing past water crossings and trail junctions and soon the rain was gone and sun rays were streaming through breaks in the trees. Near to Zeta Pass, we paused as the ground was steaming and the low foggy swirls seemed to dance in the rays of those sun streamers. As each person walked through the trail, a swirling of the fog enhanced the splendor of the scene.
This wonder buoyed our steps further and a snack break at the pass let us recline on the rare bench built in the very place we’d opted out of our last hike to this summit. Sitting at 4,000 feet already, we knew it was a totally different status than our last visit. Strong and eager, we set upon the trail traversing the side of Mt. Hight and reaching the Dome before lunch. We took a short stay to record the official summit and observe the overlook towards the presidential peaks, and we set our goal for a bonus hike of Mt. Hight on the return trip.
Mt. Hight has a 360-degree view from its rocky summit and proved an ideal leisurely lunch location. The skies which had vastly cleared to give us excellent views let us bask in warm sun, with a cool mountain top breeze to hold the comfort. We knew we were indeed a fortunate few capturing such a moment together. As the clouds began to return and distant sounds of rumbling thunder suggested it was time to begin our descent, there was a contentment settling deep within.
That descent was perhaps the steepest and most tricky footing of the hike, yet it passed quickly enough to put us back to Zeta pass with perhaps more enthusiasm than we’d departed a few hours earlier. Swift and steady hiking began to build discussion of stopping at the massive dammed swimming hole near the lower trail section.
Discussion led to reality and soon many were diving and swimming, sometimes shrieking as the icy temperatures shocked our systems on this late August afternoon. Cold water soothed our feet while the woods were soothing spirits. Yet another delight was revealed when Mike spotted a blue heron watching our revelry from just a short bit upstream.
Reluctantly, boots were donned and we swiftly traversed the last section of trail at speeds which belied a blind hiker was being guided! Unwilling to relinquish the day quite yet, we retreated to a nearby restaurant to share toasts and food aplenty. I don’t think it can ever be sufficiently expressed how a shared experience of such majesty as these mountains provide meaningful connections which linger in every reflection of the day. We captured it all on our return to Carter Dome and were gifted with an experience that we fortunate few will likely treasure often.
All of this because a weary crew on a previous hike made the right decision. Pushing just for a goal would have made the peak possible, but likely more of a drudgery than the celebration it deserved. That same crew finished a three-peak weekend in celebration of the experience, the wiser among them already knowing that another day in the White Mountains would be ahead and that was a blessing not a curse. Dome Sweet Dome was a blessing indeed!
*Photos courtesy of John Swenson and Mike Cherim.