I first hiked in the White Mountains twelve years ago. Today I returned. Filled with a combination of apprehension, excitement, and fear, I accomplished exactly what I set out to do. For 9.3 miles I enjoyed the beauty of Mt. Moosilauke, shared the experience with good hiking friends, and didn’t fall. I hiked with caution and deliberation all day, anticipating potential danger and watching each footfall. Even with the careful approach I still had multiple opportunities to pause and admire God’s wondrous creation. Yes, the views all day were breathtaking and beyond. Banzai, Pilgrim, Susquehanna Slim, and I could not have had a better day for our first day in the Whites. It is a day I won’t soon forget.
Today was especially important to me because I knew I needed to get past that queasy feeling left over in my stomach from that initial trip here. If any of my readers would like a refresher, go back and read my first entry entitled “A Beginning.” The hiker that entered the White Mountains today at 62 differed greatly from the one who struggled to survive a three day trip in 2001. The fear has subsided; however, a tremendous amount of respect will be offered to these majestic mountains each day I set foot in them. They command a certain degree of reverence. Their difficulty supersedes anything the AT has served up thus far.
Our day began with a short road walk detour. Due to a swollen creek without a footbridge, the trail had been diverted up NH 25 to High St. From there we entered the woods where the AT crossed. As we entered a section hiker, Step Lightly, was also beginning her hike. We would walk with her most of the morning until the summit. During that time the trail elevates from 1068 feet to 4802 at the crest of Mt. Moosilauke. The gradual ascent did not pose any significant challenge. We took a couple of short breaks prior to reaching a 0.1 mile side trail to the south summit. Banzai even chose to do “extra credit” and join Slim and me for the short walk. We all smiled with exhilaration when we first found ourselves above tree-line. It was quite a sight.
After retracing our steps to the white blazes, we rejoined Pilgrim and Step Lightly for the final approach to the summit of Mt. Moosilauke. And what an awesome site it was when we got there. A sign marked the spot of the 4802 foot crest. What appeared to be at least 50 day hikers were just lounging around enjoying the panoramic views. My buddies and I ate our lunch even though it was only 11:20. While relaxing we chatted with several folks who were interested in our thru hikes. One lady had a small black poodle, Duncan, who showed interest in my burger. Step Lightly’s boyfriend, Mark, also arrived after hiking up from the north trailhead. Mike did the same hike as well. With hikers mingling in all directions and dogs romping, the summit of Mt. Moosilauke took on a party appearance.
Eventually we realized that there was still much hiking yet to be done. So just after noon we began the treacherous descent. We have proof of its danger. See the two sign pics at the end of this post. For readers on trailjournals, go to Don’s Brother’s Hike of Hope The first 2.3 miles of the 3.8 mile descent were rather tame. But with 1.5 remaining, the work truly began. It took me almost two hours to make my way down the very steep, rocky, slippery trail. For much of the downward trek, a cascading waterfall bordered the trail on the left. At one point the trail was so close that it may have been tempting for some hikers to reach over and touch the water. Keeping my eyes on my feet, I had no such thought. My only consideration was maintaining focus. I just wanted to stay vertical.
During the walk down I was passed by numerous day hikers. All were young. Two couples from the Manchester, NH area hiked near me for a brief time with their dog. Greg, Dan, Carrie, and Jen expressed interest in my hike when I told them I had started in March. Rudy, the dog, bounded down the rocks with an agility that made me envious. Unable to maintain their pace, I soon watched them walk into the distance as I continued to hike deliberately. I was grateful that Slim would occasionally wait on me, often with a warning of an upcoming extremely troublesome area. With a quickly fatiguing brain, I eventually managed to reach the final challenging section which was followed by the road. In the parking lot we visited with Spirit who was waiting on Steady.
So my first day back in the Whites can be classified as a success in all respects. I am a relieved, content hiker as I type this. There are still many miles left to be completed and even more difficult and potentially dangerous mountains to be climbed. But for now I’m pleased that I met the challenge of Mt. Moosilauke. All in all today proved to be about as exhilarating as I could have imagined. Tomorrow my buddies and I will continue the hike through the Whites as we work our way through New Hampshire on the Appalachian Trail.