A Major Milestone on Adams

Submitted by Nancy

Mountain: Mt. Adams (5,774)
Date: May 5, 2007
Time: Almost 10.5 hours - 8:30 a.m. to 6:50 p.m.
Weather: Sunny with passing clouds, temps at the trailhead in the 40s, windy and temps in the 20s on the summit
Miles: 9.4
Elevation Gain: 4,450
Steps: 30,497
Trails: Lowe's Path
Holy Shit Factor: Emotionally high and really steep

"Life doesn't require that we be the best, only that we try our best."
   -H. Jackson Brown Jr.

Picture Gallery

Video Clip
Summit Movie

It's Sunday, May 6th, exactly one year since Pat and I started hiking with the goal of bagging New England's 67 highest. And it's the day after Adams.

I'm sitting on my purple couch, a bag of ice on my knee. My body just wants to melt into the cushions. I don't want to move. I want to be still in the silence and slack off all day. My shoulders and back feel like they have been carrying the weight of the world, my calves are tighter than a pair of too-small control-top panty hose, my quads feel like they have been tenderized, my left hand is black and blue and sore and my knee is swollen and stiff. And I am so happy.

I've never thought of myself as a real hiker. Up until this year, my hiking repertoire consisted of climbing Mt. Monadnock half a dozen times. I brought my daughter Kelly up when she was six. I was worried she was too young so I asked a park ranger at the base if he thought she'd make it. He took a look at her and then at me and said, "Lady, you're the one who's going to have problems!"

Turns out he was right. I was overweight and not in the best shape. Kelly ran up the mountain while I labored to keep up. She'd stop and wait for me and the second I'd catch up, she was off again. I remember her looking at me with disgust about half way up saying, "Mom, I can hear you breathing!"

But yesterday the mountain was way bigger than Monadnock - big badass Adams. I'm 20 years older and 60 pounds lighter than when I climbed Monadnock. And the stakes on this hike were higher - it would be our 50th peak. If we made it, we could say we'd bagged 50 peaks in one year. The if in this case was a big if. This would be our 4th attempt of Adams.

The first time we tried this past January, the ferocious wind and cold scared the beegevis out of me and we turned around. Then in March we bagged Madison and were hoping to continue on to Adams. But Madison whipped our butts and we left Adams for another day. Then just a few weeks ago, we attempted Adams via Lowe's Path. The new snow and limited visibility made following the trail impossible and we turned around.

Adams -- TAKE 4...

We leave Keene at 5 a.m., and my "climbing anxiety" kicks in on the drive north. Will I make it? I'd had an emotional week - my last days at my old job before starting my new one. And I am taking all that heavy emotional baggage up the mountain with me.

We hit Lowe's Path at 8:30 a.m. and Pat and I and Dejah, my daughter's two-year-old-happy-peppy yellow lab set out. We start the climb in spring, temps in the 40s and a trail of thick soupy mud and lots of water. By the time we hike through the moderate rise and arrive at the steep section we are climbing in winter snow. Now folks, when I say steep section what do you picture? I want you to imagine vertical, almost 90 degrees, straight up. Got it? Adams is the second highest White Mountain, at 5799 feet. But as the 4,000-footer book by Smith and Dickerman says, "...there is nothing else second-rate about this ruggedly spectacular mountain." Adams has the highest elevation gain of any of the White Mountains, 4450 feet in 4.7 miles. Yup; straight up, sucking wind the whole way. We make it part way up the steep section, past the Log Cabin, before we have to put on our STABILicers to give us traction on the slippery surface. We arrive at tree line, always a welcome sight, around 11:30, and eat half of our sandwich warps that we'd bought that morning at the Mountain Bean. Yummmm.

The wind is tolerable, unlike other times we have ventured above tree line in the Presidentials, and the trail has mellowed out a bit. The path is littered with flecks of mica, hiker's fairy dust, making the trail shimmer with light. I've been collecting mica chips on our hikes in hopes of using them for a NH 48 4,000-footer ceremony. We only have 4 NH mountains left to climb!

The steep section takes its toll on me, or maybe it's all the emotion I'm lugging with me; I am pooped. But, miraculously, I can see the summit and am sure I can get there. Whoops…not so fast. That is NOT the summit. Oh shit, is that Adams way the f*** over there! It looks like Adams is a galaxy away and I am draggin'. Pat tells me not to look so I put my head down and keep moving.

We climb up and over the false summit, known as Adams 4 (that's imaginative), through the snowfields of Thunderstorm Junction and across Gulfside Trail. The snowfields are so slippery we have to dig our toes into the crust to avoid sliding down the mountain. Why we don't put on our SATBILicers here, I do not know. I think we are both done for and don't have enough juice to make the switch. In my heart I know we are going to make it, but boy, oh boy, my body isn't so sure. On the last snowfield I lose my footing and start to slide down. I use every last morsel of my energy to dig my toes and fingers into the hard-crusted snow to stop my slide and hold my panic at bay. I am on my hands and knees, barely holding on and all the emotion of the past week -- the anger, pain and frustration -- erupts inside of me. I rest my head on the snow, frozen in place, tears gliding down my face and onto the slope.

I gather myself and stand. "I am a hiker! I can do this and this Goddamn mountain is not going to beat me. I will stand on that summit." It becomes a rite of passage -- the mountaintop representing the transition from old job to new. Pat and I attempted to summit Adams three times before, and similarly, for three years I have struggled to find satisfaction in my work, trying in vain to make a difference and give my gifts to this organization. Until now, Pat and I had been thwarted in our summit bids of Adams. But today would be different. Today we will make it.

Pat sees that I am overcome with emotion. She has been a witness to my job struggle and she is my climbing partner, a witness to the hiker I've become. We are 100 feet from the summit and she asks me to sit down on a rock to regroup. She puts her arm around me, helps me to center myself, find my heart, feel my power, regain my strength. We are together on this amazing journey.

We reach the summit minutes later at 1:48 p.m. The wind is pretty fierce and it is cold on the pinnacle. We hunker down among the rocks and take a movie of summiting our 50th peak. It is an emotional moment. We are tired, proud of what we have accomplished and linked together in a friendship that has changed us both.

The views from the summit area are spectacular. We can see Washington, a view of the king we have never seen before. Madison and the peaks we once thought were Adams stand majestically on the other side no longer taunting us.

Both of us are in good spirits as we slide down the snowfield on our butts, our hearts lighter knowing we accomplished what we set out to do. We pass three snowboarders and I think - they are crazy to be up here. Then it occurs to me that I am up here too.

We are both physically wiped out so we know going down is going to be a long haul. As we climb back up to Adams 4, Pat postholes next to a rock and falls in up to her hip, in obvious pain. I am scared to death she has broken a foot or ankle and begin digging the snow out around her leg with newfound energy. She eventually is able to pull her foot out and after a few moments stands. Thank GOD! We take a needed breather and enjoy the second half of our wraps for a late lunch.

The panorama heading down is spectacular, mountains melting into the blues of the distance, the trail clearly marked by white-quartz-topped-cairns that appear smaller and smaller as the distance expands. I love the cairns, markers that reassure me I am going in the right direction, starting a new life in a new job where the staff is anticipating my arrival with excitement.

We reach tree line and our anxiety heightens. The incredibly steep trail is covered with soft snow, actually more like ice crystals or tiny glass beads, that are very slippery. Three weeks ago we slid down the trail on our butts, but not today -- the snow is way too fast and we know we will kill ourselves. Pat falls and slides twice, trees stopping her each time and she has the bruises to prove it. I'm slow sidestepping down and am relieved when the steep turns to a more moderate grade down and we can relax a bit.

But we are SO tired. I fall twice during our descent. Once I wrap myself around a sapling, feet in running water and my butt about two inches from a mass of mud. Me doing a backbend trying to avoid a mud bath almost causes some pee-pee problems for both Pat and I as I try to unwind myself from the precarious predicament. The other fall I land on my knee on a rock in the water. Ouch! It is not surprising there are painful moments when we push ourselves this hard. Pat and I are quiet the last mile or so, reserving our last bit of energy just to keep walking. We make it back to Lowe's store at 6:50 p.m. and I lean against the car, taking a moment to feel the relief. We made it. And that brings the tears. It wasn't easy and we made it -- maybe not as quickly or with as much dexterity or ease as others, but perhaps that's the point. It wasn't easy and we made it.

Sometimes I can't believe I'm writing about myself - an ordinary non-athletic over-50-year-old woman giving my best shot at summiting one New England mountain at a time. Pat and I stood on the peaks of 50 4,000-foot mountains in 365 days. As I sit on my purple couch the day after Adams, one of our toughest hikes, ice on my knee, I am excitedly exhausted and profoundly proud.

44 out of the NH 48
50 out of NE 67
52 out of the NE 100 Highest