Prime People Watching on Mount Chocorua

I felt like a scientist studying different sample groups of humans, as a dozen or so people stormed into Liberty Cabin where Eric and I were brewing some coffee. We had already been to the clear summit of Mount Chocorua, trudged through the snow, taken the wrong trail, fell a couple times, backtracked, and finally arrived at the cabin all by around 1pm. That meant we were happily inside the basic structure with wooden platforms as beds, sipping hot coffee, when the dark clouds rolled in.

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Lightening streaked across the sky. First came the downpour, then came the hail, and the wind. It would have been quite scary to be on the peak in such weather, and we would soon hear first hand accounts. It was hard to distinguish who was with who as three different groups of people and a lone hiker came streaming in. With only 9 platform beds in the cabin, Eric and I were glancing at each other and thinking the same thing, “Are they all staying here tonight?”

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The answer was no, two groups were just out for a day hike, and had not anticipated how snowy it would be at 3,500 feet. Compared to them, I felt so very prepared for this camping trip, but I must admit that I had not expected the snow either, for some reason. It melted around my house, so snow was out of sight and out of mind; it is springtime!

I lucked out that my hiking partner Eric was much more prepared than I. He even brought extra hiking poles, which I don’t generally use, but proved invaluable on the snowy and icy trails. He also had a lighter, which I had forgot to pack. If I was alone, that could have been a disastrous mistake, being unable to light my camp stove to heat water. I still had enough other food, but it would have made the overnight uncomfortable.

I also lucked out with the temperatures. I brought many layers of clothing, but nothing extremely warm. This ended up being fine, but had it been ten degrees colder, which it easily could have been, I probably would have froze all day and night. So I am not trying to act like I was all set to hike Everest, but I at least brought plenty of extra socks, a map, flashlights, etc.

Party at Liberty Cabin!

As I stood in the cabin, trying to discern who was staying, a girl with booty shorts and a tank top walked in, bleeding from both shins. She was in good spirits, which could have been her disposition, or shock, or perhaps she had more than the two beers she admitted to earlier. See, it was her 21st birthday! And it was either hike a mountain, or go to clubs in Boston. Apparently she decided to dress for the clubs, but go hike the mountain.

I assumed the girl patching up her legs was in the same group as the bloody birthday girl, but I soon learned the healer was with another female friend. The bleeding girl’s two male friends (I use the term lightly) seemed more interested in getting back on the trail. One added that maybe they could stop at a liquor store on the way home. It seemed a hospital might be more appropriate, since the now patched up girl (no thanks to her hiking partners) had removed her wet socks, and put her unlaced Tims back on her numb red feet.

Since more important matters pressed, that group of three got back on the trail, at least taking a picture of my map with the phone that had 9% battery left. That is when we realized the other two girls were not with them, and only slightly more prepared. They seemed equally caught off guard by the conditions and weather, but at least possessed mental toughness.

They had pants on, but their thin canvass, flat bottom vans were not helping in the ice and, I kid you not, over 3 feet of snow in some places. Luckily their phones had more battery, and they took pictures of our maps. We offered them a map to take, but they declined. However when we heard at 3:30pm they didn’t have flashlights for the 4ish hour hike back over the summit, and down to their parking lot, I insisted they take an extra flashlight (I had two plus a headlamp), and the father of two from the third group also sent a flashlight with them. And they were off.

The Overnight Crew

Now the smoke cleared, and everyone who was left exhaled. We had a few jokes at the booty-short-wearing-birthday-girl’s expense, and situated ourselves in the cabin. It was me and Eric, the lone woman hiker, and Brian, his 11 and 13 year old sons, and an 18 year old girl he had adopted at some point in the last few years.

We really had such a good time, getting to know each other, laughing, joking, and commiserating. See, the family wasn’t super physically prepared either, but they were chalk full of mental preparedness. Not to criticize too much, but taking extra socks is like hiking 101. But Brian had only been hiking with his sons for a year, and it was great to see the enthusiasm. They had plenty of water, which was a lesson learned the previous year. Next camping trip, I am confident they will have plenty of socks.

So even though it was technically against the rules to start a camp fire that close to the cabin, we all looked the other way while Brian got one going to dry their socks and shoes. Rules are made to be broken, and this seemed to fall into the survival category. We certainly weren’t going to start a fire, but that didn’t mean we weren’t going to enjoy one that someone else lit.

Brian seemed like a really great, fun dad. They discovered hiking sort of by accident last year, and fell in love with it. There is a big learning curve with camping that I take for granted. My dad was a seasoned camper before I ever went with him, so from an early age I learned all the do’s and do nots of camping and hiking. And even then so much is unforeseen, and new experiences every trip teach you more.

I give Brian tons of credit for getting his family out for camping trips, and enthusiastically making the best of everything, even when they were a bit cold and unprepared. Plus, his kids enjoyed the whole experience, and didn’t complain at all, which is probably more than could be said of me at the same age.

Liberty Cabin with Mt. Chorua peak

Liberty Cabin with Mt. Chorua peak

Over the course of the night, we learned more about what transpired on the mountain in the hours and minutes leading up to the storming of the cabin. Brian was already feeling guilty that his family was on top of a mountain in a lightening storm, but weather is unpredictable, especially on mountains, and I don’t think it was negligence on his part.

His group, the group of two girls, and the birthday girl’s group all came together in the storm on the mountain, counting on strength in numbers to get them to safety. Birthday girl apparently panicked when lightening cracked nearby, and running in hysterics fell in some icy snow, lost a boot (but reclaimed it), and cut her shins on the ice when her feet punched through the top layer of snow.

The lone woman camper followed the trail of blood from the birthday girl’s shins, and arrived at the cabin minutes after the rest of them. She was a 31 year old seasoned camper who was the most prepared of anyone (and even she got her foot stuck in the snow at one point), except perhaps Eric who I was with, and probably made me look more prepared than I was. I have a habit of packing and planning last minute, which makes things harder when your phone dies, and you didn’t bring a charger. But that is when it actually helps that I don’t have a smart phone. I have a phone for texts and calls, a tablet for everything internet, and a GPS for the car. All these would have been on the same device if I had a smart phone. What is normally an inconvenience therefore proved to be an asset.

Brian’s sons were fine that night, since they shared a double sleeping bag that kept them warm. But Brian froze all night, with just a thin blanket, and the clothes he was wearing—sweatpants and a light jacket. He joined Eric and me for the sun rise, which was amazing. I decided not to take a picture of the sun rise since it would not have done the view justice. You’ll have to stay at Liberty Cabin for that image. But maybe wait a few more weeks if you don’t want to have to deal with the snow.

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Water and Fire! Camping in Vermont one Last Time before Winter

Here Comes the Rain

Last weekend I took a camping trip with the whole family. We rented two sites at Molly Stark State Park in Vermont, and myself, my parents, my sister and her boyfriend, and my other sister and her husband and 4 kids all 5 and under descended upon this—until then—quiet wooded camp ground. Now, perhaps I have not made myself clear in other posts, or perhaps it seemed an exaggeration. There are 2 times I can remember camping when it did not rain. One was when I was 9, and we hiked the Grand Canyon as a family. The other was when I was 7 or 8 and we hiked Black Mountain Pond in the White Mountains; it didn’t rain, it snowed.

So yes, on this two night trip there was a significant downpour. But, per usual, we prepared for it, and the tarp kept us dry. Well, most of us. My one year old nephew started the trend by looking mesmerized at the water running off the tarp, before he crept over to the puddle and began playing. It actually kept him entertained for quite some time, and I can understand that. I have always been weirdly obsessed with water; rain, rivers, lakes, the ocean, pools. So as a one year old, this probably was like playing in a waterfall.

By the time he was done and ready for dry clothing, my four year old niece and two year old nephew decided it would likewise be fun to put their heads under the stream of rain runoff, catch the water in their hands, and jump in puddles. What are camping trips for anyway? While I was perfectly content drinking one of my pumpkin beers under the tarp next to the fire, there was a certain element of jealousy. It’s not that I couldn’t have joined in drenching myself in freezing rain, it’s that I didn’t want to. There was a time when I wouldn’t have dreamed of passing up the opportunity to get soaking wet playing in torrential rain. C’est la vie!

Fire Tower on Mount Olga

But before the rain, we managed to get in a couple miles of hiking to the top of Mount Olga. It’s a small mountain by our standards, something like 2,600 feet. It was impressive to see my two nieces, five and four, hike almost the entire way up and down the mountain, bounding and laughing the whole way. I carried the younger one for the final half mile stretch back.

The coolest part of this hike was the fire tower at the top of the mountain. It was once used to survey the surrounding area for fires in order to alert the fire departments and keep it from getting out of hand. In fact we could see smoke quite some distance off, despite the cloud cover. Hmm… now I’m wondering if we were derelict on our duty.

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That thing was rickety! I actually surprised myself that I was getting nervous after climbing only the first set of stairs. See, the only railings stopped at each platform as you climbed, where only the outside pieces of metal holding up the structure offered any safety. Luckily these metal bars became more frequently placed as you ascended the tower, but there were still gaps here and there that it seemed one false move would lead to plummeting five stories down. Needless to say, the kids stayed at the bottom of the tower.

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At the top, you could feel the structure bounce as another person climbed the metal and wood tower. But at least in the “crow’s nest” you were fully surrounded by 4 feet high walls of metal, and window frames above that. The view was amazing. Coming down from the structure, I kept one hand on whatever piece of metal was within reach at all times. It is an awesome place to go! But I wouldn’t bring any careless kids, or ever young teenagers for that matter. Uhg I keep sounding old.

On the hike back to camp I located some Indian Cucumbers, and we dug the small carrot shaped white tubers from an inch or two underground each plant. The Indian Cucumber has a whorl of leaves about halfway up the stock, and then another three leaves at the top of the plant, generally less than a foot high. If it is far enough along in the season, there may be 3 shiny inedible berries at the top, that should not be eaten. If you dig around the base of the plant, which is found in moist woodlands in soil easily dug through with the index finger, you will come across the tiny tuber, always facing sideways, but in no particular direction. Dig this out, clean off the dirt, and you can munch on this crispy little root with a mild sweet and nutty flavor. The girls had fun digging with us to collect about 10 tubers, that we at by the campfire later that night.

It is always good to add a dash of self sufficiency to a camping trip!

 

Overdosing on Nature!

A 3.5 hour drive in beautiful weather up to the trailhead in New Hampshire. The doors open, it starts raining… pouring really. We hear some thunder in the distance. Its okay, we came prepared. In fact it would have been strange if it wasn’t raining, I don’t think I have ever completed a camping trip without at least one downpour. It felt like the start of a good adventure! And we could always get dry tomorrow. So I set out with my dad, uncle, and cousin.

Two miles uphill to the fork in the trail where we would make base camp for the 2 mountain peaks that we planned to hike the next day. Still raining, but luckily my dad found a good spot off the trail next to a river where we could fit 2 tents. We strung up a tarp, heated up some beef stew, and cracked some beers.

Yes, we carry beers with us even when space in our packs is limited. But good hoppy beers, not some of that light crap. It did indeed stop raining the next day, so I was able to make my usual backwoods refrigerator also known as the river. I just pile some rocks up to make sure the beers don’t float away, and voila, the cold mountain water cools them down.

At the top of one of the mountain peaks, I found the rock I would sit on were I to become a wizard inhabiting the region (I have pictures, but I did not take them, so they will have to come in a later post). It looked out over the valley of wilderness to the east of the South Carter, and Middle Carter Mountain. On top of Middle Carter I picked some Labrador Tea. Good flavor, but I didn’t have too much since “some sources describe the mountain version as poisonous” according to one of my books. I brought some home however, and will probably try it again with such easy access to hospitals, should something go wrong.

And the wisdom gained from elders sitting around the campfire is second to none. Drinking our river cooled beers after a solid 8 mile hike topping two 4,000+ foot peaks; “Relationships are like logs in a fire” my uncle mused. “Set the logs too far apart, and they extinguish. Set them too close together, they will smother each other and go out. You have got to put the logs at just the right distance for them to feed off one another, and keep the fire lit”.

And somehow, I hadn’t had enough hiking when I got back to Massachusetts, so I ventured out on Saturday to Douglas state forest. I supposed I might hike 4 miles, but that turned into about 7 when I got lost. Turns out there are many more paths than suggested by the map I found that someone had dropped on the trail. After stopping by the shores of Wallum lake…

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And finding a wild “Hen of the Woods” mushrooms that I later sauteed with some onions and garlic (it was actually wicked good)…

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And coming across some interesting structures and old foundations in the woods…

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For the first time I put the position of the sun to practical use in order to decide which trail to take, and good thing. I was heading south towards Connecticut, when I should have been heading west towards my car. So since I knew it was afternoon, I knew the sun would be more towards the west, I took an offshoot in that general direction.

This got me going in the right-ish direction, and sooner or later I happened upon the tri-state marker where Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island meet! I thought this was pretty cool, and was thrilled that I had gotten lost, because 1) I didn’t know that marker was in the forest and to stumble upon it was kind of like finding treasure or Narnia (well maybe not quite that cool) and 2) even if I did know I might have considered the hike too far.

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But in the end it was only another mile or two back to my car from the marker. So that’s where I have been for the better part of the last week; lots of hiking, nature, and good times.