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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.