A short hike, a hut and a group of unwieldy climbers
Location: White Mountains, New Hampshire
Miles: 8 with 4,000 vertical ft
Song in my head: Take me Home, Country Road – John Denver (because that is what one hiker was singing at the summit)
Brunch food motivation: Hot Chocolate of the Hut kind
We huddled close, soaked to the skin in our shirts, pants and rain jackets. We cupped the hot chocolate a little tighter and allowed it to warm our insides. Nothing but white washed the outside windows. You couldn’t see what was north, which way was south nor anything in between. Every now and again the doors of the hut would swing open and another wide-eyed group of hikers would huddle through the doors seeking the shelter of the homemade bread, soup, and the reprieve of the hut. Long wooden benches lined one side, while the center was the hustle and bustle shift change of experienced hikers, Sunday hikers, and some families with the kitchen sitting off to the left. The mug of hot chocolate (nothing special just a packet and hot water) along with the dill soup were EVERYTHING. We had been hiking for just over 7 hours. And we had 3 miles to go.
We headed out into the hazardous conditions in our still wet clothing and new layers knowing 2 hours lay ahead of us between us and the car and mini-Twix as promised by Syed.
Not 12 hours earlier I had been boarding a Boston Express bus to meet Carolyn in New Hampshire for what would be an impromptu hike of Mount Lafayette and the Franconia Ridge Trail. We embraced as she picked me up from the station and we drove to pick up Syed. Carolyn is a tiger wrapped in sheep’s clothing. The most beautiful, docile in appearance with a beast inside, heart of gold, and a hilarious sense of humor. She had done this route before. Syed and I on the other hand, were still new to the mountains. Syed and I were her faithful warriors with 4,000 vertical feet between the two of us. This was my first time meeting Syed. He was absolutely wonderful, so warm and welcoming. “This is my first 4,000 footer,” said Syed as we entered his apartment. I breathed a sigh of relief. “Me too!” I exclaimed. We packed our bags with snacks and water and Syed drove us to the base of the White Mountains. Along the way, he recounted all of the research he had done on our trail. I thankfully knew what I was getting myself into, having heard the tales of Carolyn and her husband Eugenio’s adventures.
We pulled into the parking area at the base of the mountain. Other hikers were grabbing their packs and starting their way up the mountain. Onward we went. We took multiple, much-needed breaks. While Syed called the break directives, I was all too relieved to take in the blissful rests along the route.
We passed waterfalls, trees, and humble hikers galore. We chatted and caught up on life, made up stories and wandered on our path. One spot we were looking for was Shining Rock. Shining Rock was worth it. A little detour off of our path before reaching the summit. We all looked at each other and confirmed we still wanted to take the detour. It was a small, narrow, downward slope and at the end was a massive, white shining rock sticking out of the side of the mountain. We hit pause. We sat on the rock and looked out over the expansive view of New Hampshire, of the world. We felt small. We appreciated every part of the moment. We paused. It was absolutely gorgeous, the fall foliage greeting us with all of its red, orange, and yellow splendor. Shining Rock was in all of its glory, allowing hikers to glimpse at just a preview of the beauty the White Mountains held.
We happened upon other hikers as we emerged from our .1mile detour. They asked us if it was worth it. We replied emphatically that it was! They poo-pooed the idea, despite our best efforts to assure them of its beauty, and declared they were here for the summit. That’s what they came for. We shrugged and continued on the trail.
As we reached the first summit (there are three total connected by a ridge – one mountain for each of us), we were met with wind whipping at our clothes and white clouds and more white clouds. There were dozens of hikers at the top. Their bodies made black shapes across the ridge with the white backdrop of clouds obscuring any view as they made their way across. It was a strange feeling, feeling you were at the top, but not knowing how far up, nor how far out you could see on any other clear day.
I could not have asked for better hiking companions on our tour along Franconia Ridge. They brought jokes, laughter, positivity and snacks…lots of snacks. Author’s Note: This is not the only reason I appreciated them and their shining personalities. It was a solid team: Car Keys, Hype Girl, and Boss Lady.*
There was another group at the summit singing “Take Me Home, West Virginiaaaaa! Take Me Home.” We all laughed. It was a reminder we weren’t the only ones out there. That there really wasn’t an option to turn back. Plus, we had to make it to the hut by 3pm. That had been our original plan to beat out the potential rain. We definitely weren’t making it to the hut by 3pm. And we definitely weren’t outhiking the rain. We were only at the first peak and there was no sign of Mother Nature taking back her wrath. The wind whipped hard in its best attempt to pin us to the mountain as we crested rocks and traversed the ridge. Hype mode on for all of us.
We made it to the Greenleaf Hut, the most adorable hut where you could break from the elements, regroup at the tables, meet other hikers, grab a change of clothes before venturing back out on the trail. It was the cutest New England lodge. Just cozy enough to give you a break, but not cozy enough to overstay your welcome, because, after all, you were there to climb.
We ended the hike in the dark, led by Boss Lady’s headlamp that she had remembered to pack. Teamwork makes the dream work. We highfived at the base of the mountain and in the parking lot to our lone car as Syed produced the promised treat.
We made it to the top. The one view we got was on Shining Rock, otherwise it was white clouds with an unknowing sense of where you were. We also talked about going back for the views. I sleepily smiled in the back, knowing I got something way better than views that day. I didn’t go for the views. I went to prove something to myself. I could be this new me. Maybe it’s not about finish lines, maybe it’s about the hard work, moments, laughs and unexpected people you meet along the way that’s really important. Maybe its about embracing the detours, the breaks, the unexpected. Maybe it’s the person that you’re becoming along the way, the friendships you’re gaining, the moments you’re sharing on the journey to the top that mark the experience.
“These mountains you are carrying, you were only meant to climb.” – Najwa Zebian
I think people go to the mountains to find themselves, to be reborn, and go back to their truest form. I just finished the book Unbound: A Story of Snow and Self-Discovery. More on that later, but she talks about starting lines and how they might just sneakily be as important as the finish lines. Her goal was to ski 4,000,000 vertical feet in one year spanning mountains across continents and countries. She had set out to break a record, but what she found out about herself as a person was the most important revelation. The people she met along the way and the blue ribbons she had been chasing opened her eyes to something entirely new about her way of living and her true, authentic self.
Mt Lafayette, Franconia Ridge
*Syed was in constant reminder mode that he held the car keys and that we could not leave him behind in our travels. We would never. No man left behind. Hype girl’s rules of the trail.