Saturday, July 22, 2000
We have been planning to climb Mount Moosilauke for some time now and this weekend seemed to offer us the best time with which to accomplish this goal. The Weather Channel had been threatening showers most of the day, yet we awoke to a sun filled morning with a slight breeze from the southwest. We hurried about the kitchen preparing breakfast and making sandwiches for our lunch on the summit before heading north on route 93 to North Woodstock.
We parked in the trailhead parking lot, which was just past Lost River campground, and we were surprised to see several cars so early in the morning. We love to start hikes as early as possible, but we have learned over the years others do not share our early morning enthusiasm. The only people in the parking lot were a group of fathers and sons preparing for their day’s hike by checking their backpacks and provisions. The fathers looked eager to start while the boys who were around 8 or 9 years old had that look of annoyance so prevalent in today’s youth. It seemed to me to have all the earmarks of a father/son bonding hike. Not wanting to be entangled by this ritual as they entered the trail, we quickly left the parking area and headed north.
The first ten minutes of the hike was an easy walk along a well-marked trail, which crossed several streams, before beginning a steep ascent towards the cascades. We could hear the sound of the waterfall a hundred yards or so before actually seeing the cascades. As we approached, a fine spray drifted into the air laying a soft blanket of mist along our path transforming the trees into a sparkling rainforest. The footing along the path was slippery given the amount of mist that covered most of the trail. The National Forest Service, who maintains the trail, saw fit to build steps into the rock face thereby lessening the hazard one would encounter during the ascent. We were both extremely appreciative of their foresight as we began our climb.
To say the climb was steep would be an understatement given the grade of the trail and the fact that steps were needed to assist hikers in their climb. I labored alone for the first 20 minutes or so hoping my hiking legs would soon kick-in thereby lessening my exertion as I ventured northward. For some reason the hiking gods decided to toy with me for awhile because I was having a difficult time getting acclimated to the hike. At this point I was covered in sweat and breathing heavy as I tried to reach a level of equilibrium in my energy output. Susan, who was bone dry and breathing normally, saw fit to taunt me as she relayed the advantages of her daily Stairmaster ritual. At this point I began to wonder how long the lush vegetation would hide the body before the authorities finally discovered her.
After about a half an hour, I began to relax and my breathing regulated as my sweat output subsided to a trickle. We encountered our first hikers about an hour into our hike as they sat along the trail looking somewhat confused. They asked us how much longer the hike was to the summit and a look of dread fell over their faces when we told them they hadn’t even reached the midway point. The male who was about ten years older than his female companion acknowledge our information, while the younger female had a look of horror on her face as we relayed the news. The young woman gave her companion a look that could only be interpreted as an ultimatum that either he give up any hope of reaching the summit, or all carnal knowledge was hereby off the table for good. As any male faced with this decision would react, he quickly succumbed to her wishes and they both began their descent.
We reached an AMC hut about one hour forty minutes into the hike as our White Mountain guidebook had predicted. Susan was somewhat dismayed because she always likes to better the estimated hiking time by at least 10 to 20 minutes. I took great joy in pointing out that we were on schedule and not 20 minutes ahead as she had hoped. Paybacks can be fun at times, especially when they annoy the other person. In an attempt to mock my observation of our hiking time, Susan decided to quicken her pace thereby besting the guide’s schedule. Her efforts paid off as we reached the midway point 15 minutes ahead of the guidebook’s estimation therefore reaffirming Susan superior hiking ability.
After the midway point, the trail got a little easier as it headed towards the summit. We were not sure at what point we would be able to see the summit, but continued to follow the trail as it approach the tree line. Once above the tree line we saw another peak about a mile off and we were wondering if that were in fact Mount Moosilauke and not the ridge we were ascending. After several minutes of discussion, I made the statement that the summit in the distance had to be Mount Moosilauke since it was the highest mountain on our map for this area and since we were below it, the ridge we were climbing couldn’t possibly be the summit. Sure enough as we continued our hike, the trail began to descend towards the other ridge.
An hour later we were ascending the summit of Mount Moosilauke somewhat drained but in good spirits nonetheless. There were several people on the summit when we arrived and they all looked considerably better off than we looked, which I found to be odd given that some were in their fifties and didn’t look to be in great shape to say the least. We sat down and began to eat lunch when I saw a group of children heading for the summit from the west. The adult of the group was a perfectly coifed buffy type with white tennis shoes with nearly a hint that she experienced any exertion in her travels. “Dearest”, I asked, “would you mind explaining to me how buffy over there could possible look like that after hiking up this mountain.” “Oh, she must have taken the other trail,” she said without even a hint of explanation. I took a large gulp of water, collected my thoughts and than asked, “other trail? what other trail?”, I asked not wanting my voice to quiver as I asked. “There is another trail to the summit”, she said once again not adding anything to her statement which might be misconstrued into an actually explanation.
I retrieved the guidebook from my pack and started to read the trail description of the “buffy” trail. As I read, words like moderate, gentle, leisurely and novice leaped from the pages. “Love”, I asked somewhat confused, “why didn’t you tell me there was another trail to the top?” “Because” she began, “if I told you about the other trail you would have wanted to do that trail instead of the one we did” she said matter-of-factly. “And the problem with that would be?” I asked totally confused at this point. “Do I look like a buffy type to you?” she said with a look only a woman knows how to give. At this point any further inquiry would be met with the same matter-of-fact explanation, so I decided to leave it at that. Besides, Susan carries a 12-inch hunting knife she calls her “Big Lorena” after Lorena Bobbitt. My mother didn’t raise a fool!!
Twenty minutes later we began our descent. We knew the first hour and a half would be easy until we reached the cascades where the trail would then descend sharply. We passed several hikers who displayed the same haggard condition we did earlier, which made me feel a lot better. About a half an hour later we came upon a group of thirty-something males sunning their beer bloated guts in the afternoon sun, as they rested before continuing their ascent. I tipped my hat to acknowledge their efforts as I passed, while Susan did her best to imitate a drill Sargent a little disappointed in her troops performance. The males tried to suck up their guts and display some level of masculinity, but fatigue won the day and they continued to lie about like beached whales. Even Susan’s Mr. Bubbles tee shirt had no effect on their demeanor as they contemplated why they even began this hike.
Two hours after beginning our descent we reached the cascades. Experience has taught us no matter how hard the ascent can be, the descent can be even harder if fatigue is at all present. We knew our knees were in for a beating, so we slowly descended the trail being mindful of our footing and balance. One misstep and it could be all over except for the funeral arraignments.
An hour later we reached the car tired, cold, and hungry. According to our watch, we bested the guidebook’s estimation by at least an hour. Susan felt vindicated as we piled into the car for our trip back to the house for some much needed rest. We passed on making dinner that night and decided to treat ourselves to a Mexican dinner complete with several strawberry margaritas. Our legs are still a little sore, but they better mend soon since we are climbing Mount Washington next weekend.
Submitted by Richard Kipphut
Sun, 5 Nov 2000