Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Mount Carrigain – 4,680′
Pemigewassett Wilderness, NH
Outdoor Education Community Event
There is nothing worse then having an amazingly gorgeous day to hike, and when you’ve driven a half hour out from home you realize that you’ve forgotten your hiking boots or shoes. So as I glanced down at my feet while Gilly asked if I wanted to turn around, I smiled and quickly answered that hiking in my crocs would be just fine. A silly notion for sure, but thats how it was about to play out either way.
Upon arriving in the parking lot off of Sawyer River Road, I noticed the vehicle of the infamous “HikerEd” sitting in the shade. Ed has hiked all 48 four-thousand foot mountains in NH some 49+ times. He’s is a legend to most and a friend to many more. With a smile rivaled only by the cheshire cat himself, I couldn’t wait to run into Ed and his group of hikers. While Gilly and Nate laced up their boots, I simply sauntered out of the car in my red crocs, smiled, shook my head and got ready to go.
As soon as we hit the trail I was able to see the kinds of problems hiking in crocs would pose for me this day. The bottoms of my indestructible shoe contained no traction as I’ve worn them clean and they slip and slide on the litany of fallen leaves. If I stepped in any mud, my feet would slide from side to side. There were pockets of standing water hidden under the leaves and given the holes in my crocs, if I accidentally stepped into one of these puddles, my foot would then be automatically soaked. Other then the aforementioned, hiking in the crocs was VERY comfortable and enjoyable.
The forest is mostly naked this time of year. The leaves are off of the trees and nestled into the cracks and crevices of the forest floor. This is both good and bad. While I miss the green canopy of summer, one is now afforded exceptional views typically unseen when the forest is full. We could hear the wind lightly dancing through the trees and the branches lightly rattled together. The higher we climbed, the cooler it got and on this magnificent day where the Valley Temps reached into the 50’s, we were chilled by temps in the 30’s up high. It is very much winter in these mountains, snow or not.
As we made it to the rocky switchbacks of the Signal Ridge Trail, we had finally caught up to HikerEd’s group. They were resting and grabbing sips of fluids as well as enjoying a variety of snacks. Of course, I’m not one to turn down Ed’s offer of chocolate. After introductions and a bit of jovial conversation, we decided to move along ahead of this group and make our bid for the summit. As we climbed ever higher, the conversation behind me got a little shorter and quieter. Gilly and Nate were doing an amazing job in keeping up with me, but it was obvious they were ready for some views.. especially since Gilly kept asking how much further it’d be.
And just as we’d leisurely walked into the woods a few hours before, we leisurely walked out into the sky. “Hey Gilly.. we’re on the ridge.. enjoy.” “Really?!” With as much excitement as she could contain, we all walked out onto Signal Ridge and enjoyed the views all around. And then, Gilly mentioned she thought it would be better. To this very moment I have no idea if she was being sarcastic in her expression about one of the finer views in the Whites. We took photos, paused for reflection, told more jokes and then pressed on to the summit. GIlly asked to here the story of the Waterman’s.. I gladly told her what I knew from my research over the years.
In reaching the summit we climbed the old fire tower to take in the 365 degree views of these white mountains. 46 of the 48 4,000 Footers are visible from this peak. I had a hard time remembering the last time I had even been here. I was turned around in 2008 because of a thunderstorm… I think it was 2007 when I was here last with Sarah over the Memorial Day weekend. As the chilly winds blew across the summit, I thought back to the time I was here in Winter... and vowed to come back. After enjoying the views we decided to descend off the tower to eat our lunch. HikerEd and his group joined us on the top and all of us enjoyed entertaining the Gray Jays with some snacks to bring back to their nests.
After the feeding frenzy I sat down upon the stones under the tower and looked at the map. I asked GIlly and Nate how they felt about a bushwhack, they were all for it. SO I went over to HIkerEd and asked him if he had ever ‘whacked off of Signal Ridge down to the Valley Below. He told me of a whack he’d done on the opposite side to bag another peak, but never what I proposed. We agreed that it would probably be open most of the way given the forest’s nature. I agreed, took my group, and we headed back down to Signal Ridge. Once we reached the ridge, we glanced down off the steep side of the mountain and could see what looked like a large drainage down below. That became our target. Just as we were stepping off of the ridge, Gilly saw someone she knew (what else is new) and she said hello. Her friend’s father gave us a puzzling look and asked if we were descending on a trail he never heard of, “Nope.. it’s called bushwhacking… kinda like what hunters do.” And with that, we slinked off of ridge, me in my crocs, into the unknown.
The upper reaches of the mountainside was a mix of thick spruce and deep deep moss. The moss was the most dangerous part. As it flowed over the stones and roots it did an amazing job of hiding many small crevasses, one wrong or unsuspecting step and your leg would easily fall a few feet down into nothingness. We played this delicate came for a short while as I led our group across the slope to the most open areas I could find. For the most part, we descended a few hundred feet before really getting into it with the forest. We then had a hell of a time pushing, pulling and of course weaving our way through the woods, but thankfully I was with the two most adventurous kids I could find. Laughing and smiling the entire way down hill, it seemed as though nothing was going to ruin the very spirit of our hike. We were having an amazing time engaged in adventure.
The hardest part for me was keeping my crocs on my feet. Every once in awhile one would slip off and I’d have to backtrack to retrieve it. I was thankfully for the copious amounts of moss that graced the mountain. Never once did I find a place to injure or compromise my feet, I was very pleased. I then spotted a more defined drainage off to our right, so I headed right for it. When I first got there it was easy to see that the thick intertwined network of branches made for a touch whack down through the rocks. I led us back into the woods for another 300 yards or so and we re-emerged out onto the drainage. It was wide open from here as we began to bleed elevation quickly. The further down we got the more open the drainage became.. and then… we found a rock slide.
We sauntered out of the thicker woods onto a wide open swatch of talus. It didn’t matter where we stepped, the earth let go beneath us. Rocks slide all around us, carrying us down with it in a sulfur scented avalanche if we were not careful. Quick footwork was the key, which was hard in crocs, to make it down unscathed. With each step I took I felt the earth leave me, I ended up surfing down on the largest rocks I could find. As the tidal wave of rocks moved beneath me, others came down behind me, chasing my feet and as I stopped, I felt my ankles get pummeled from all angles with heavy sharp shards of rock… for some reason I loved it.
The further down we got, the larger the rocks got. As we scampered down I dove deep into my best Keith King impression. Keith is a pioneer of outdoor education and I had Gilly and Nate rolling with my dialogue. Our laughter echoed off of the rock strewn walls of the drainage we were in. ONe drainage after another filtered into the one we were in. Once small and almost unnoticeable, we were not walking down a pile of rocks wide enough to stick a two lane road into. We could hear the rushing of water close by as we started to grow annoyed with the constant rock hopping. Soon, water appeared to flow up form the earth and begin it’s cascade downhill and eventually towards the ocean. Down lower we came to an opening to our right and upon pausing, I was taken a back by the sight of a magnificent waterfall. Water simply trickled over the edges of rocks. I’d love tobe back here during a heavy rain or after spring run off. It was amazing. Just up ahead, I noticed the river and drainage taking a hard right, it was time to duck back off to the left so back into the woods we go.
Once we scampered up the steep river bank, we entered into the forest of beechnuts and striped maple. This was moose country for sure with droppings a plenty. I wanted Nate and Gilly to get the true effects of finding their way out of the woods, so I pushed ahead at a quick clip. I kept them with ear shot while I remained mostly quiet in my travels. I found a HUGE fungi and left a story written on it, placing it neatly in the woods for another whacker to see… maybe some day. I eventually came to the trail where I settled myself down amongst the leaves and rested quietly while I heard Nate and Gilly thrash around amongst the brush. As I expected, they were drifting too far to the left while I sat to the right.. I hooted like an owl a few times to lure them towards me and it eventually worked. They emerged from the wood, unscathed minus a few scratches and holes in their clothing, but in the end… accomplished bushwhackers.
From here, we shuffled along through the leaves on our way out of the woods discussing an arrange of interesting topics, telling inappropriate jokes and even leading each other into hidden swaths of shin deep water (Thanks Gilly). I’m always ever amazed at the power of the Pemi. As we followed the old railroad bed back out of these woods, I was humbled to know once more than I am merely one walking amongst a forest of ghosts. But everything here in these woods contains a power beyond what is conceivable. Something here makes me feel whole again. Something here makes me feel at peace… something here makes me so alive. As we walked out of the woods, I was very thankful that I could bring at least two others to this place to perhaps experience what I do here… something beyond human… something real. Something.. amazing. I never asked them… but I can only hope within themselves they did.
When we reached the car I was jealous that they could slip into their crocs and be comfy. My feet were achey for sure! We saw Ed and his group huddled around his truck sucking down some PBR’s. He offered us some libations to which we gladly accepted. We stood around and talked about this Grand and Magnificent place.. and I couldn’t help but wonder what my next adventure here-in would be.. where to next..
Hiking in crocs wasn’t bad at all. Some in the hiking community would scold me saying that I “need” or “should” hike in boots with ankle support. My response… you “need” or “should” live a little. Nothing in this life is black and white and you make your own adventures. Go out there and make some. Will I bushwhack in crocs again?? Not if I can help it!