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Nov 24 2011

Thankful for Light

In the nighttime hours, particularly under clear skies and after a freshly fallen snow, the world is changed. The stars and the moon light up the edges of everything covered in virgin snow, drawing attention to details once unseen.

This was most certainly the case while driving Route 16 and while along the trail for my annual Harvest Day hike in Jackson this morning. I was captivated by the glistening world, and intrigued by some of the changes. In Albany, a young lady on one of the giant billboards was transformed from a trendy model peddling a stylish scarf and hat set into a sinister and ominous looking character. Her mascara made her look more dead than alive, and she appeared almost criminal. Along the Doublehead Trail, while cutting a fresh snowshoe path in almost two feet of powder, the individual airborne flecks of ice and snow sparkled like tiny gems by the light of my headlamp. On top of North Doublehead, the transition from light to dark at sunrise today was an definitive sort of example of the difference between twilight and daytime; there was a nearly distinctive line drawn directly on the skyline separating the red and purple of day from dark blue and grey of night.

North Doublehead View of Mount Washington

Early Sunrise View of Mount Washington

North Doublehead View of Mount Washington

North Doublehead View of Mount Washington

Today, on Thanksgiving, I am thankful for many things. Among them, I am thankful for light. Not only for light itself, but for its uncanny and magical behavior. It’s mornings like this which reaffirm for me that darkness often isn’t as much a cloak as it is a veil. Rarely is darkness a pure absence of light, and thus it makes an already beautiful world all the more interesting; and when it gives way to light, all the more photograph-worthy.

Doublehead Cabin

Doublehead Cabin

Thanks for stopping by to visit me here on Thanksgiving day at my New Hampshire Landscape Photography blog; I’ll see you again soon!

Nov 19 2011

Franconia Notch State Park: Family Friendly November Hiking

The Flume, The Old Man of the Mountain, The Pemi Bike Trail. These locales are part of a patchwork of summertime memories for generations of traveling families. And for those of us who call the great State of New Hampshire home, Franconia Notch State Park can be a year-round source of adventure, enjoyment, and strikingly beautiful natural scenery.

For an enjoyable family-friendly outing, consider exploring the Artist’s Bluff & Bald Mountain Area, followed by The Basin. Each is within about 10 minutes of the other, and offers the best of both worlds in the Bluff’s grand vista, and The Basin’s tranquil succession of cascades. A full loop of over an hour and about 1.7 miles can be made of the Artist’s Bluff by first visiting the famed overlook, then continuing on to the top of Bald Mountain (note: be cautious on the way up Bald, particularly on the steeper humps of granite). Beyond the summit, the trail descends back toward the 34C parking lot for Cannon Mountain to complete its loop. Footing beyond the summit is really never difficult.

View of Franconia Notch from Bald Mountain

November View of Franconia Notch from Bald Mountain

The Basin turns out to be a great way to relax following the hike up and over Bald Mountain. The central feature of this area is a tremendous granite pothole that is believed to be the result of erosion provoked by the North American Ice Sheet over 25,000 years ago. Over time, its features were smoothed out by Little bits of matter flowing along the Pemigewasset River.

The Basin Area

The Basin Area

The Basin

The Basin

My two-and-a-half year old son, wife and I found this circuit to be incredibly enjoyable over the course of a few hours this morning…even though it’s late November!

Happy trails, and until next time do take care of yourself!

Nov 9 2011

The Hiking Dialogues

“Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb.” — Greg Child

Ethan Pond Sunrise

November Ethan Pond Sunrise

Although I spend copious amounts of time and energy hiking, creating New Hampshire landscape photographs and writing reflectively about the mountains, I fully admit that there is a conversation of an entirely different magnitude going on around the world. The media refuses to let us ignore the plight of the economy, of wars, and of disease. But by and large, I submit that something dramatic happens to our perspective when we make our way into the woods and when we plod upward onto mountaintops. Something that is a part of us, let’s call it the minutia for lack of a better word, gets stripped away clean, allowing something far more essential from within to eventually surface. There is no clear transition, or verifiable “point” at which this happens, but more or less it is gradually brought on; by fresh air, by the labor of an uphill climb, and perhaps by the very nature of simple surroundings.

The mind wanders, though this drifting is not at all aimless, and an internal dialogue manifests that at times leads to profound benchmarks in our lives. In the company of others, these conversations might unfold aloud and you may find yourself talking about politics, love, or even about God(s). These are exchanges that could never happen in quite the same way under fluorescent lights, within the cubicle cages, or at a summertime barbecue.

Furthermore, when you find occasion to pause, perhaps at a peaceful rivulet or on top of a ragged precipice, and really take a good look around once the mind has been stripped of the minutia, a true sense of our smallness and our insignificance sets in; or perhaps it’s that the universe is simply incredible, and immense beyond comprehension. Whichever way you look at it, you come to realize that although you may be but only a brushstroke in the fresco, life is at once incredible, and incredibly complex. In large part the complexities arise because of the meaning that we add to the existing physical world. It is at this point that the hiker’s dialogue proves to be important; just as much so as other, more ubiquitous conversations. I know that it seems tough to resolve worldly matters and the discourse of a couple of sweaty hikers as being similarly important; but it’s easy if you try. By and large, this reflection, this reflexivity, this resolution…is part of what makes us human.

While hiking and camping out near Ethan Pond with a good friend this weekend, I was again privy to the treasure of this hiking dialogue. As is always the case, it seems that I’ve come out of the woods knowing a little something more about myself, my friend, and life. Furthermore, I have concluded that if this aspect of hiking is ever lost on me, I will have reached a truly unfavorable point in my life.

Ripley Falls in Crawford Notch

Ripley Falls in Crawford Notch

As always, thank you for joining me; do take care, and as colder weather begins to set in we’ll be sure to see you again soon.

Oct 24 2011

Old Friends

Quite some time ago, I slipped into a hearty infatuation with solo hiking. On one of my first solos, I set off to discover the Tripyramids in Waterville Valley. Ignoring the advice of the guidebook, I opted to walk the entire Livermore Road portion instead of “stashing” a mountain bike, which made for about 13 miles of total hiking. I can remember it well; the day was warm and summery, and although the talus slopes on the south slide were thoroughly dry, I was careful and deliberate as I scrambled my way up. I crossed paths with only a few other hikers while lumbering my way to Middle Tripyramid and on to North Tripyramid’s viewless summit. Before long, I arrived at the trail junction to Scaur Ridge and Pine Bend Brook. But to my dismay, the sign, which is normally staked into the ground and supported by a crude cairn of rocks, had been knocked over. For a good few minutes I looked at it laying there on the ground still attached to its post, trying to imagine which way it had been oriented when it was still standing erect. I suppose it had something to do with the mild fatigue from the eight or nine miles I’d already hiked, but I just couldn’t decipher which way to head. So, I drew out my map and my compass, and began to study them both. But alas I am hardly a “natural navigator”, and it is only now after many years of practice that I have become at ease with the craft. In a bit of a haste, I eventually stuffed my compass and my map back into my pocket, adjusted my pack and forged my path straight ahead hoping that it was the Scaur Ridge Trail.

After hiking briskly downhill for about thirty-five or forty minutes, I was joined by a stream to my right. Despite the normal calming properties of running water, I felt a growing and overwhelming suspicion that I wasn’t on the right trail. I stopped and sat beside the babbling watercourse, and the sting of salt and sweat all along my forehead at once penetrated my pores, and ran ever so slightly into my eyes. I squinted and rubbed the sweat out of the creases below my brow with my thumb and my finger. I was starting to get tired, and after a few minutes of studying my map I decided I needed to head back to that extricated sign; I decided I’d almost certainly made a wrong turn onto the Pine Bend Brook Trail.

Having to head back uphill after getting to the “it’s all downhill from here” point can be mentally devastating. I was cursing at myself, disgusted at my mistake while I plodded up the jumbled mess of woods and rocks to get back on course. I came upon a couple of other hikers who seemed friendly enough, and I figured I’d be clever; I asked, “Hey, this is the Pine Bend Brook Trail, right?” They confirmed that it was, adding that it was one of their personal favorites. I carefully concealed my dismay, and I thought simply to myself Goddamn it.

The hike back up to the junction was a solid mile, and when I got there I made sure to take the right turn. A few hours later I was back to the Tripoli Road Trailhead, and on my way home.

After “bagging” the Tripyramids that day, I’d never been back. I also didn’t have a single photograph of the view from the Tris since I didn’t carry my camera in my early hiking days. It wasn’t that I explicitly didn’t want to return (although I did harbor a bit of personal shame at my wrong turn), but I just never had cause to. The Tripyramids are fairly isolated, and they represent a pretty long day’s hike. For years I would occasionally drive past the Pine Bend Brook on the Kanc and I’d think of that day, and of my wrong turn. But in the passage of those years, my affinity for the outdoors evolved dramatically, and eventually I could no longer hold a grudge against myself, or against the Tris and the Pine Bend Brook Trail. I have come to embrace wholly the experience of nature, the tribulations and the triumphs, and the anoetic growth, so to speak ,that comes of purposeful implantation into the woods and upon the mountains. I conceive the wooded and rocky hills as a place that gives way to art, philosophy, science, and a generally “good” way of existence. I believe that through hiking, I have come to deconstruct a broad variety of my own personal boundaries. And, as luck would have it, I recently stumbled upon some cause to return to the Tris.

An old friend who I used to work with contacted me to see if I’d be up for a hike on Monday, and I happened to have the opportunity to work it into my schedule. After tossing around some ideas we decided to look for a trail that neither of us had been to. He’s still working on bagging his four thousand footers, so the Tripyramids came up for discussion; I was stricken with excitement at the chance to return, and I knew just the trail. At last, I’d finally be able to see the entirety of the Pine Bend Brook Trail.

My friend, who also shares the name Matt, brought his dog Buddy, a strikingly handsome husky. With a 9 o’clock start, the air was warming, but still crisp and cool. As we criss-crossed with the brook and began to make a steady uphill push, I told Matt about my only other experience along this trail; I confessed to my wrong turn. I pointed to the spot where I’d stopped to sit with my map and reconnoiter my plan that day. I chuckled audibly while telling him my story, and he chuckled right along; it wasn’t a wrong turn of grave misfortunes, but it felt like big deal at the time. We walked along, chatted, and enjoyed occasional views back to the north that showcased Mount Washington, I thought to myself how unjust it would have been to ever hold anything against this mountain or this trail.

Our journey was planned as a simple back-and-forth to North and Middle Peak, which the only two of the Tris that qualify as four thousand footers. We spent quite a bit of time marveling at the clear views from Middle Peak, with Waterville Valley’s Mount Tecumseh and the Osceolas on one side, and the Chocorua area on the other. I have come to realize that it is always amazing to be on the top of a mountain; but those mountaintops become all the more charming when you have the chance to share them with an old friend.

Matt & Buddy on Middle Peak

Matt & Buddy on Middle Tripyramid

We began our descent after taking in the views for about a half hour. The day was winding down and giving way to that late October light, in which everything seems awash in gold. At the last crossing with the Pine Bend Brook, I stopped and took off my pack. I knelt down in a few inches of water and cupped my hands beneath the water, letting it run past my writs for a moment. I drew my hands upward and pushed the cool water of the brook gently over my face. I cupped hands again and drew more water up, this time pouring it onto my hair, and giving a bit of a scrub. I took a few more cupfuls for my face, and few for my thirsty mouth (I can never seem to resist water fresh from the Whites). Matt also seemed to think that was a good idea, and he followed my lead. I stood up and threw my pack over my shoulders and took to walking along the last few thousand feet of the trail. My still-wet face was cooled by the slight breezes, and as I lifted up my chin and opened up my nostrils, I took in a deep and cleansing breath through a satisfied smile; I felt very much alive, and very happy to be with Matt and the Tris again.

I couldn’t help but think that often times, men look into the still of a pond or a lake and find that they are drawn immediately to decipher the reflection of their own face; for those who are fortunate enough though, a good hike within the woods and among the mountaintops allows for the reflection of the self, as it if conveyed unseen upon the wind.

Thanks for stopping by to partake of my New Hampshire Landscape Photography here at Summitblog; I do hope you take care and as always, I hope to see you again soon.