Monday, November 16, 2009

Carrigain In Crocs

Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Mount Carrigain - 4,680'
Pemigewassett Wilderness, NH
Outdoor Education Community Event

There is nothing worse then having an amazingly gorgeous day to hike, and when you've driven a half hour out from home you realize that you've forgotten your hiking boots or shoes. So as I glanced down at my feet while Gilly asked if I wanted to turn around, I smiled and quickly answered that hiking in my crocs would be just fine. A silly notion for sure, but thats how it was about to play out either way.

Upon arriving in the parking lot off of Sawyer River Road, I noticed the vehicle of the infamous "HikerEd" sitting in the shade. Ed has hiked all 48 four-thousand foot mountains in NH some 49+ times. He's is a legend to most and a friend to many more. With a smile rivaled only by the cheshire cat himself, I couldn't wait to run into Ed and his group of hikers. While Gilly and Nate laced up their boots, I simply sauntered out of the car in my red crocs, smiled, shook my head and got ready to go.

As soon as we hit the trail I was able to see the kinds of problems hiking in crocs would pose for me this day. The bottoms of my indestructible shoe contained no traction as I've worn them clean and they slip and slide on the litany of fallen leaves. If I stepped in any mud, my feet would slide from side to side. There were pockets of standing water hidden under the leaves and given the holes in my crocs, if I accidentally stepped into one of these puddles, my foot would then be automatically soaked. Other then the aforementioned, hiking in the crocs was VERY comfortable and enjoyable.

The forest is mostly naked this time of year. The leaves are off of the trees and nestled into the cracks and crevices of the forest floor. This is both good and bad. While I miss the green canopy of summer, one is now afforded exceptional views typically unseen when the forest is full. We could hear the wind lightly dancing through the trees and the branches lightly rattled together. The higher we climbed, the cooler it got and on this magnificent day where the Valley Temps reached into the 50's, we were chilled by temps in the 30's up high. It is very much winter in these mountains, snow or not.

As we made it to the rocky switchbacks of the Signal Ridge Trail, we had finally caught up to HikerEd's group. They were resting and grabbing sips of fluids as well as enjoying a variety of snacks. Of course, I'm not one to turn down Ed's offer of chocolate. After introductions and a bit of jovial conversation, we decided to move along ahead of this group and make our bid for the summit. As we climbed ever higher, the conversation behind me got a little shorter and quieter. Gilly and Nate were doing an amazing job in keeping up with me, but it was obvious they were ready for some views.. especially since Gilly kept asking how much further it'd be.

And just as we'd leisurely walked into the woods a few hours before, we leisurely walked out into the sky. "Hey Gilly.. we're on the ridge.. enjoy." "Really?!" With as much excitement as she could contain, we all walked out onto Signal Ridge and enjoyed the views all around. And then, Gilly mentioned she thought it would be better. To this very moment I have no idea if she was being sarcastic in her expression about one of the finer views in the Whites. We took photos, paused for reflection, told more jokes and then pressed on to the summit. GIlly asked to here the story of the Waterman's.. I gladly told her what I knew from my research over the years.

In reaching the summit we climbed the old fire tower to take in the 365 degree views of these white mountains. 46 of the 48 4,000 Footers are visible from this peak. I had a hard time remembering the last time I had even been here. I was turned around in 2008 because of a thunderstorm... I think it was 2007 when I was here last with Sarah over the Memorial Day weekend. As the chilly winds blew across the summit, I thought back to the time I was here in Winter... and vowed to come back. After enjoying the views we decided to descend off the tower to eat our lunch. HikerEd and his group joined us on the top and all of us enjoyed entertaining the Gray Jays with some snacks to bring back to their nests.

After the feeding frenzy I sat down upon the stones under the tower and looked at the map. I asked GIlly and Nate how they felt about a bushwhack, they were all for it. SO I went over to HIkerEd and asked him if he had ever 'whacked off of Signal Ridge down to the Valley Below. He told me of a whack he'd done on the opposite side to bag another peak, but never what I proposed. We agreed that it would probably be open most of the way given the forest's nature. I agreed, took my group, and we headed back down to Signal Ridge. Once we reached the ridge, we glanced down off the steep side of the mountain and could see what looked like a large drainage down below. That became our target. Just as we were stepping off of the ridge, Gilly saw someone she knew (what else is new) and she said hello. Her friend's father gave us a puzzling look and asked if we were descending on a trail he never heard of, "Nope.. it's called bushwhacking... kinda like what hunters do." And with that, we slinked off of ridge, me in my crocs, into the unknown.

The upper reaches of the mountainside was a mix of thick spruce and deep deep moss. The moss was the most dangerous part. As it flowed over the stones and roots it did an amazing job of hiding many small crevasses, one wrong or unsuspecting step and your leg would easily fall a few feet down into nothingness. We played this delicate came for a short while as I led our group across the slope to the most open areas I could find. For the most part, we descended a few hundred feet before really getting into it with the forest. We then had a hell of a time pushing, pulling and of course weaving our way through the woods, but thankfully I was with the two most adventurous kids I could find. Laughing and smiling the entire way down hill, it seemed as though nothing was going to ruin the very spirit of our hike. We were having an amazing time engaged in adventure.

The hardest part for me was keeping my crocs on my feet. Every once in awhile one would slip off and I'd have to backtrack to retrieve it. I was thankfully for the copious amounts of moss that graced the mountain. Never once did I find a place to injure or compromise my feet, I was very pleased. I then spotted a more defined drainage off to our right, so I headed right for it. When I first got there it was easy to see that the thick intertwined network of branches made for a touch whack down through the rocks. I led us back into the woods for another 300 yards or so and we re-emerged out onto the drainage. It was wide open from here as we began to bleed elevation quickly. The further down we got the more open the drainage became.. and then... we found a rock slide.

We sauntered out of the thicker woods onto a wide open swatch of talus. It didn't matter where we stepped, the earth let go beneath us. Rocks slide all around us, carrying us down with it in a sulfur scented avalanche if we were not careful. Quick footwork was the key, which was hard in crocs, to make it down unscathed. With each step I took I felt the earth leave me, I ended up surfing down on the largest rocks I could find. As the tidal wave of rocks moved beneath me, others came down behind me, chasing my feet and as I stopped, I felt my ankles get pummeled from all angles with heavy sharp shards of rock... for some reason I loved it.

The further down we got, the larger the rocks got. As we scampered down I dove deep into my best Keith King impression. Keith is a pioneer of outdoor education and I had Gilly and Nate rolling with my dialogue. Our laughter echoed off of the rock strewn walls of the drainage we were in. ONe drainage after another filtered into the one we were in. Once small and almost unnoticeable, we were not walking down a pile of rocks wide enough to stick a two lane road into. We could hear the rushing of water close by as we started to grow annoyed with the constant rock hopping. Soon, water appeared to flow up form the earth and begin it's cascade downhill and eventually towards the ocean. Down lower we came to an opening to our right and upon pausing, I was taken a back by the sight of a magnificent waterfall. Water simply trickled over the edges of rocks. I'd love tobe back here during a heavy rain or after spring run off. It was amazing. Just up ahead, I noticed the river and drainage taking a hard right, it was time to duck back off to the left so back into the woods we go.

Once we scampered up the steep river bank, we entered into the forest of beechnuts and striped maple. This was moose country for sure with droppings a plenty. I wanted Nate and Gilly to get the true effects of finding their way out of the woods, so I pushed ahead at a quick clip. I kept them with ear shot while I remained mostly quiet in my travels. I found a HUGE fungi and left a story written on it, placing it neatly in the woods for another whacker to see... maybe some day. I eventually came to the trail where I settled myself down amongst the leaves and rested quietly while I heard Nate and Gilly thrash around amongst the brush. As I expected, they were drifting too far to the left while I sat to the right.. I hooted like an owl a few times to lure them towards me and it eventually worked. They emerged from the wood, unscathed minus a few scratches and holes in their clothing, but in the end... accomplished bushwhackers.

From here, we shuffled along through the leaves on our way out of the woods discussing an arrange of interesting topics, telling inappropriate jokes and even leading each other into hidden swaths of shin deep water (Thanks Gilly). I'm always ever amazed at the power of the Pemi. As we followed the old railroad bed back out of these woods, I was humbled to know once more than I am merely one walking amongst a forest of ghosts. But everything here in these woods contains a power beyond what is conceivable. Something here makes me feel whole again. Something here makes me feel at peace... something here makes me so alive. As we walked out of the woods, I was very thankful that I could bring at least two others to this place to perhaps experience what I do here... something beyond human... something real. Something.. amazing. I never asked them... but I can only hope within themselves they did.

When we reached the car I was jealous that they could slip into their crocs and be comfy. My feet were achey for sure! We saw Ed and his group huddled around his truck sucking down some PBR's. He offered us some libations to which we gladly accepted. We stood around and talked about this Grand and Magnificent place.. and I couldn't help but wonder what my next adventure here-in would be.. where to next..

Hiking in crocs wasn't bad at all. Some in the hiking community would scold me saying that I "need" or "should" hike in boots with ankle support. My response... you "need" or "should" live a little. Nothing in this life is black and white and you make your own adventures. Go out there and make some. Will I bushwhack in crocs again?? Not if I can help it!

Happy Trails

Friday, November 6, 2009

Lincoln's Throat - Swallow Hard

What: Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Lafayette
Where: Franconia Notch, NH
When: Monday, October 12, 2009
Who: Sherpa John and Bryan Mazaykia

As a younger hiker I'd taken many trips up the Old Bridle Path to the Greenleaf Hut or Mount Lafayette. I'd glare out across the Walker Ravine and marvel at the scoured sides of Mount Lincoln. The peaks rise so steeply, creating the fabeled notch, that the earth has no choice but to let go of its grips, succumb to gravity and crash ever further into the valley. I specifically remember a trip just 6 years ago, where I'd stand amongst the rock outcrop where one is afforded their first views of the Fraconia Ridge. We stood atop the cliff and threw rocks down into the ravine, watching as they would explode and scatter into dust as they collided with other rocks and trees. This woman came up and scolded us, telling us "Someone could be down there." I remember laughing.. hard.. glancing down into the green abyss and thinking, "Yeah right.." Flash forward to 10.12.09 and here I was.. in the valley hoping someone else wasn't being as ignorant as I and chukcing stones below.

Bryan and I drove up from UNH early in the morning. As we watched the rising sun cast it's shadows amongst the hills, our first views of the ridge from Ashland did not look promising. A veil of clouds had encapsulated the ridge and I knew rime is was being encrusted onto every surface up there. We parked in the Lafayette Place lot, (Southbound), then walked under 93 and headed up The Old Bridle Path to where the Falling Waters Trail verges off to the right. From here, we'd walk just a little further up the trail to where it takes a hard left. We wandered off into the woods on the straight and narrow, following the river along a well trodden herd path.

What started out as an obvious fishing route soon turned into an all out logging road, or at least the appearance of being a logging road. The birch allowed us to have amazing line of sight through the forest as we followed a well established path ever higher up the river bank. Eventually, we'd be forced to cross as the terrain grew steeper and the ravine deeper. This herd path went on forever and ever all the way up until we reached a form in the river. Here we had to choose to go right or left. Left would climb Lafayette, and right climbed Lincoln's Throat. We veered off to the right and our breath was taken away.

The clouds continued to tickle the tops of the peaks on high but as they cleared, we could see the magestic white rime ice that had encassed everything up high. The contrast of white above the leaves with a mix of gray skies and clear blue made for a spectacular fall display of color. The rocks kept getting bigger and bigger the higher up we went and as water trcikled down the mountain-side, it froze upon the stones, causing us to slip and slide from time to time. Travel was growing treacherous through we continued on.

Soon we reached the true run-out of the massive slide and glared ever higher wondering how the hell we'd ever make it up there. The slide continued to grow steeper and steeper and icier and icier. Then all of sudden we went from being in a world of gold, orange and reds (Autumn) to a world of white and chilly winds (Winter). It was hard to not stop and take it all in. Just enjoy the earth for the beauty it possess's. We came upon sections of rock slab which were difficult to negotiate. It was actually rather time consuming. Every time we came upon a section of slab, we had to carefully hone our eyes in on the sections of ice, and place our feet on what little areas of bare rock existed. This practice was dangerous and nerve racking. As I was doing so, I'd look down and have an opportunity to realize just how far down I may travel if I slipped. At times, Bryan just gave up on the rock and headed into the tree's. He'd come out up high, soaked from the rime and snow he shook off the trees and carried with him.

Finally, we arrived at the Head Wall of the slide. We'd followed herd paths and man-made cairns just to get here.. and see this. It was magnificent! Ice was all ready forming thickly down it's sides, of which I am certain excites the ice climbers of New England as this is one of more talked about routes. The wall was about 45-50 feet high, straight-up, and ominous looking. Like the gates to a hidden castle, we stood in front with our jaws wide open, awe struck by it's mystery and splendor. Without ropes, crampons or any other necessary gear to climb the wall today givent he icy conditions, we search for a way around. The the right is another long wall of rock and ice, too steep to be negotiated. To the left, our only option existed, a steep climb up a rock face with about a 75-80% grade/angle. Bryan led the way...

At first we tried our best to climb the rocks, I wished I had my rock climbing shoes and a harness. It was steep, terrifying and a testament to knowing your surroundings and tuning into your senses. I tried my best to follow Bryan's lead.. he is a much better climber then I. Soon I heard him say, "turn back." "What do you mean?!" "There is no where to go up here. It's all ice, a dead end.. I'm coming down." Bryan climbed down and soon caught up to me while I tried to negotiate the rocks. We searched for a few ways of getting across the slab, and after a few failed attempts, we finally found a way, thought risky, over to the safety of the spruce. From here, we clawed and crawled our way through thick spruce, so thick that you couldn't see your feet, where you were going and was only awarded with sporadic fews to our backsides. It was crazy thick, yet, not the thickest I've seen in the whites. We shook more rime off the trees, got spruce needles down our backs and fought our way ever higher. Bryan was a tad frustrated, while I sang songs and whistled along. I was in heaven.

Finally, we topped out on top of Mount Lincoln, stood on the Franconia Ridge trail and stared down into the never ending ravine below, dumbfounded by what we had just accomplished. We made it and it was a hell of an adventure, not for everyone, but perfect for us. We sat down amongst the stones on top of Lincoln, soaked from head to toe, covered in spruce and ate our lunch. We bundled up and carried on to Lafayette before heading down the Old Bridle Path. We stopped in at Greenleaf Hut to listen to the banter of fellow hikers. I was annoyed.. and needed to leave here if I heard one more foul slur for Owls Head. I think some of these peak-baggers need to suck it up a bit, Owls Head isn't hard at all.. it's just a longer day then they are used to. Yet I digress. We enjoyed left-over desserts, some lemonade and then we took off. When we got to the rocky outcrop I spoke of at the beginning of this report, I stopped to again glance out over the ravine and we looked at what we had accomplished... and we both stood there, silently, scratching our heads wondering how the hell we did.

From here I asked Bryan if he wanted to run, "It's only a 10 minute run to the car from here." We strapped everything in and down and headed off down the trail running as comfortably as we could in boots. We made it to the car in 13 minutes, I was off. However, funny story.. on the way down we passed a small group of children and their parents. They were playing tag. As we ran passed, I got tagged as one of the kids mistooken me for one of their own. As I reached the head of the pack, I tagged them and said, "you're it." About 8 minutes later, Bryan and I reached the car when a small boy came running up to me. "Hey, you the guy that was running down the mountain?" "Yeah" He tagged me and said, "You're it." I got a HUGE kick out of this as I very much enjoyed the power and spirit of our youth.. especially in the mountains.

Lincoln's Throat... complete.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Over the last few days I've had the distinct privilege and honor to play host to Chris McDougall here at the University of New Hampshire. Chris is a former AP War Correspondent, a writer for Men's Health and a New York Times Best Selling author for his book "Born To Run." Chris and I had exchanged various e-mails with each other, as runners, just a few months ago and in conversation, I asked him to come to UNH to share his experiences with the community. I won't discuss the details in getting Chris up here beyond saying that, Beer is a magical tool of the trade.

Chris hoped on a 4-am flight yesterday morning then drove to UNH Durham, about an hour drive, at which point I ushered him immediately into a classroom filled with the UNH Freshmen in our Amped Up program here on campus. He spoke to them about his travels in working for the AP, Men's Health, Runnersworld and now as an author. His talk was both engaging and insightful serving his freshman audience well. He left ample time for the students to ask questions and engage him and I really feel that his sense of humor is what works best when Chris Speaks. In the end.. he was both humble, intelligent, well prepared and accommodating.

I wanted to get Chris out for a run yesterday, but an overdue assignment saw him locked up in his hotel room at The New England Center. Once I was done running instead and Chris done writing, we treated him to dinner at Holloway Commons, the universities flagship dining hall. Imagine that, here I was at UNH, walking a NY Times Best Selling author around campus and now having dinner with him.

After dinner we went over to the Memorial Union Building where we welcomed the folks from Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Manchester. (Chris is there signing books tonight!!) Chris then sat down in a chair at a table and patiently greeted every person who wanted to meet his acquaintance, he listened to them, engaged with them and signed their books, tickets or whatever. Then he spoke to an audience of 104 for about an hour before entertaining questions for another 45 minutes. His talk was amazing. Lots of laughter, an engaged audience, insightful questions... after the presentation Chris told me that UNH Provided him with one of the best audiences he had during his 6 month tour. We all had an amazing time which was again followed by Chris signing books until everyone in attendance had their chance.

I drove to campus this morning and picked Chris up at his hotel. We drove to A Lot, I put on my running gear while he bounced around in 30 degree air (he's not used to this kind of cold yet), and then we took off. We ran through campus and then into college woods. Chris was wearing a pair of vibram five fingers. He stubbed his toe hard a couple of times, each time causing him to have to catch his breath... but Chris kept his cool (literally), ran 6 miles with me before I had to bail and go to class.

I just really want to thank my friend Chris for coming to New Hampshire and providing all of us here at UNH and the surrounding communities the opportunity to meet him and hear him speak. His book is inspirational, insightful and in my opinion and important read. I also want to thank my advisors in the Kinesiology: Outdoor Education department for supporting and hosting the talk last night. I also want to thank all of those who came out to hear him last night, it was an amazing evening and one of those moments that helps get me right back out the door.

Here is to goals, dreams, aspirations... and checking dinner and a run with a NY Times Best Selling Author off of my Bucket List. THANKS CHRIS!