Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Adventures of Tuckerman and Wood Frog - Part I

(L-R) Mikes Valliant (Tuckerman) and Keene (Wood Frog) in search of lunch on Crawford Path after summiting Mt. Washington of the first full day of their adventure.

I take it back. I have never run hills. At least not until this past week's trip to the White Mountains. When moving forward requires your hands to be pulling you upward, along with your legs, then you are running up a hill. That's a lesson I learned. Several times.

Sunday night/Monday morning, Mike Keene and I loaded clothes, gear, water, and gorp into Keene's Expedition and drove 12 hours to Pinkham Notch in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We arrived sleep-deprived and slap-happy, checked in to the "Wood Frog" room of Pinkham's "Joe Dodge Lodge" and did what sleep-slap combo takers do: went for a 4-mile trail run.

Mike K., a Whites veteran, suggested Old Jackson Road for our run--a 2-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail, that holds mostly runnable. If you are an idiot, that is, a moniker for which I am qualified. On the way up, the trail rose quickly, and consequently fell just as quickly on the return. It was a glorious run--difficult, scenic, and freeing, especially given that we ran it carrying only a single hand-held water bottle a piece. The White Mountain Guide recommends hikers give themselves two hours to walk the trail, one way. We managed the 4-mile, round-trip in 58:07. A sublime prelude to the next three days, we then dined, family style, at Pinkham for dinner and breakfast the next morning, before leaving clock and cell-phone based comforts and reality behind and below.

To fully appreciate the beauty and simplicity of trail running, I recommend throwing a 20-pound backpack onto your shoulders. We did the math and packed what clothing, gear, food, and water were deemed necessary for the next three days and two nights, knowing we would be having meals and be able to refill water at the Appalachian Mountain Club's huts. On the way up Tuckerman Ravine, pack weigh-in put Keene's at 29-ish pounds, and mine at 23-ish.

Never underestimate having a hiking partner who knows the lay of the land. After a clear sunrise, and a good weather report, Mike recommended we re-route the day to head straight up Tuckerman (known as "Tucks" to the short-of-breath) to summit Mt. Washington. Tucks was my holy-crap, world-bending, reality check-in to the mountains. We climbed past waterfalls, over bridges, up rocks, and we climbed past hikers, shelters, and a ranger station. Then the real climbing began. Bodies of weary, but stoked hikers adorned various break-worthy stretches of Tucks' higher parts. We summited into the parking lot (aka buzzkill) at the top of Mt. Washington in 3:08:55. Other hikers we met and chatted with along the way were impressed with our speed-themed summit time. Emerging from their cars, photo-op tourists looked askew at the lot of us, asking, "did you really just hike up here?"

Wood Frog working his way up the higher stretch of Tuckerman Ravine. Fielding a question from a group of hikers a couple hundred yards below, the Frog replied, "It gets much worse."

After a quick fill of the hustle atop Washington, we descended down Crawford Path to the Lakes of the Clouds Hut, in search (hope) of soup. We walked and talked for a time with Katherine (whom we met on the way up), an ER nurse and mother of 20s and teen-aged kids, recently returned from hiking in Switzerland, and was backpacking the Whites solo. The off-handed consensus of the Mikes is that she may well be one of the coolest moms on the planet, and certainly an inspiration to (us and) her children.

The Lakes Hut, and the masterful Minestrone therein did not disappoint. Note for dinner parties: combine voraciously hungry dinner guests, with a panoramic view of the mountains from your dinner table, with hearty bread and vegetable-based soup, and you will have the happiest guests possible, and lifetime fans.

With sodium and carb tanks topped off, we continued down Crawford Path, ridge-walking along the tops of mountains, stopping for the occasional jopped draw (sic) from the view and photo-op of the same. En route, we were passed by a jolly, bearded, walking stick-wielding hiker, who spoke enthusiastically, and whom we would later meet at our common destination: Mizpah Springs Hut. Crawford Path is also part of the AT, and the young gent turned out to be a thru-hiker, but more on "Wandering Woody" in the next entry.

Crawford Path is a blast--runnable in stretches, scenic, and after its ridge-walking reputation, not afraid to plunge head-on into the woods to take its travelers to the AMC Hut known as Mizpah Spring. The end of the first full day of our adventure (total miles, 10.5) and the scene for the beginning of the next act...(To be continued)

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