Cabot, Horn and Bulge
Submitted by Pat
Mountains: Mts. Cabot (4,170), Horn (3,905) and Bulge (3,950)
Date: June 9, 2007
Time: 8 hours and 30 minutes
Weather: Light rain until noon, then cloudy and humid - temps ranging between low 50's to low 70's
Elevation Gain: 3,449
Trails: Bunnell Notch Trail to Kilkenney Ridge to Unknown Pond Trail
Holy Shit Factor: Finally, a hike that kept the holy shit factor low
After our experience on Jefferson, with Nancy's fall and the need to do a hike that will instill confidence and rekindle our passion for this thing we do, we choose Mt. Cabot, the northernmost 4,000 footer, with the option of doing a 12-mile loop that have us bagging Mt. Bulge and Mt. Horn, two of the hundred highest, as well. Not that we have lost our passion - no - we just need a hike that will put it back into a perspective that involves laughter and smiles and high-fives. Our last foray into the Whites was 17 days ago. It felt like ages since we had geared up for an all day adventure, despite squeezing a hike up Monadnock into our busy schedules. The forecast is for rain showers and temps in the upper 60's. Not particularly appealing, but we decide to go for it anyway.
We meet in Keene at 5 a.m. Although the skies are grey, the rain hasn't started, so I think maybe the forecasters have gotten it wrong and the cloud deck will stay high instead of engulfing the summit ridges. We stop for breakfast and then at the Mountain Bean for our lunch sandwiches. The trailhead is on land owned by the Berlin Fish Hatchery and is gated from 4 p.m.-8 a.m. I don't think we will get back before 4 p.m. if we are going to hike the full loop, so we drive up to the main office and Nancy says she'll go in and talk to them. A man drives up after she has gone inside and she steps out to talk to him. He says they always check the trailhead parking lot before closing the gate so we will be all set. Nancy gets back in the car and nearly explodes. She says that the smell inside the building nearly made her gag - powerful fish rot stench. I laugh; she flips me the bird.
At 9:04 a.m. we are geared up, covered in Deet and off on a new adventure. Of course, it immediately starts to rain - thankfully, it's a light rain, and too humid to put on rain gear. We put on pack covers and decide we will just get wet. Amazing stuff, that techwick, because although my shirt is soaked I am warm. The green surrounding us is lush. All the plants are leafing or flowering, thundering along with early spring growth. Toads hopping, fiddleheads unwrapping, mosquitoes buzzing, birds singing their special songs - it is absolutely incredible to be there. The trail is moderate with occasional water crossings, some mud, but never breath-sucking steep. Lots of moose tracks and poops. We take pictures and enjoye the walk.
We reach the Mt. Cabot cabin at 12:15 p.m. Built for the Fire Warden who stayed up there and manned the fire tower, it is now used by hikers. We sit at the table in the cabin and eat our sandwiches. It is nice to actually sit and enjoy a meal without standing in the rain somewhere under a tree. Dejah, her daughter's 2 year old Yellow Lab, is with us. We know this is going to be an easy hike and a wet one and Dejah loves water and mud and wet things. By the time we have finished eating the rain has stopped so we throw on our packs and head for the summit. Almost immediately we reach the old fire tower location and I think, silly me, that is the summit. Not. After we high-fived in celebration of our 51st summit, we look around and realize the trail is leading up, not down as it should if we were on the summit. A half mile later, we reach the true signed summit a little after 1 p.m., high-five again and take another picture. Looking at the map we realize that heading back down Bunnell Notch Trail or going forward, bagging a couple of the hundred highest (Bulge and Horn) and down the Unknown Pond Trail are close to the same distance, so we decide to go for it.
We start down a steep section on the Kilkenney Ridge which always portends more climbing. We reach the Bulge at around 2 p.m. as noted by a triangle cut into a tree and a small cairn. No views. Nothing to see anyway. We step out to Bunnell Rock, but see nothing but clouds. Take a picture of the view anyway. Lots of grey. Off we go, down and down and then up and up till we reach the sign for the trail spur to the summit of Horn. We drop our packs and climb the 3/10's of a mile to the summit. There is even a short bit of scrambling where we actually have to use our hands to climb. My kind of hiking. And back down where we pick up our packs and start the 1.7 miles back to Unknown Pond. That seems like a long stretch and we start to wonder if maybe we missed the trail. But no, we eventually reach the shores of Unknown Pond at 3:20 p.m.
What a spectacular place, Unknown Pond, out in the middle of nowhere and so pristine. We take some pictures and Dejah eyes the water and us, hoping we will throw a stick, but we don't and off we go to find the turn off for the Unknown Pond Trail. The last 3.3 miles are special for me - my knees are tired but neither of us are injured or bruised or bleeding or angry or soaked or covered with insect bites. We are great. Strong and fit and happy to be doing just what we were doing.
As the miles and the hours roll by I start thinking about the date. On June 9, 2006 I took my last drink of alcohol. Since that date until today I have not touched a drop. Throughout my adult life, I used alcohol to take the edge off, to dull the pain, to be social, to fit in, to numb myself, to fill the hole in my life. On June 10, 2006, I was hiking with Nancy in the rain on the Wapack Trail bemoaning the fact that I drank at all, wanting to quit and not knowing how. On that hike, at one point, she turned around and looked at me and said, "So why don't you just stop?" How many times have I heard those words, in my head, from others - hundreds of times. I felt it in my gut - it was time to stop, to end this madness. I was finally doing something that I really loved with someone who cared about who I was and I couldn't stand the push-me, pull-you that continuing to abuse alcohol represented. Yes, it was abuse. Some days yes and some days no, but all in all, I was drinking for reasons that were not showing me how much I cared about myself. All I could see was how much I hated myself.
So I stopped. Just stopped. And my life changed - since then I have climbed 49 4,000-foot mountains and have become a better friend and a stronger supervisor and a kinder lover. It wasn't always easy, but I was finished with hating myself that way. I wanted to know the Pat who didn't drink at all, not socially, not for the wrong reasons, not ever. Now I sleep better. I have more energy and time to do things I love to do - woodworking, gardening, reading, hiking, softball, reading, mowing, chain sawing, tending to the animals, reading, cycling, running, and more. It is not easy to write these words. Even though they are flowing, it is not an easy birth. I am fighting against what I fear what you will think about me. I don't want to care about that - you can judge me if you want and I don't have to let it touch me. I am proud of what I have done, how far I have come, that I did not become a statistic, that I live a full life. And I did it with my own strength and with the help of my friend Nancy and the support of friends and family and by climbing 49 mountains and knowing how it really feels to reach the top.
I am grinning from ear to ear when we arrive at the parking lot at 5:36 p.m. I feels great! We are both so excited about our next adventure - a rim-to-rim hike in the Grand Canyon. We're leaving on June 14 so it will be a week or two before you hear from us again.
Onward and upward!45 out of 48 NH 4,000-Footers
51 out of 67 NE 4,000-Footers
55 out of 100 Highest