Risking on Cannon

Submitted by Pat

Mountain: Cannon (4,100)
Date:July 17, 2009
Time: 6 hours
Miles: 6 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,432 feet
Trails: Hi Cannon Trail to Kinsman Ridge Trail to Lonesome Lake Trail

Picture Gallery

We almost didn't hike on Friday. The weather was calling for rain and I was taking a vacation day so I wanted it to be beautiful. We talked it over and decided hiking was more important so we made plans.

We bring two dogs this time - Dejah, Nancy's daughter's yellow lab who has 28 of the 48 4,000 footers under her belt and Pinta, my housemate's Puerto Rican rescue with some whippet in her who has bagged 4 of the 48 4,000 footers. We get a late start because Nancy teaches (and I take) a 7am aerobics class. We are on the trail a bit before 11am and moving up the Lonesome Lake Trail. Very shortly we arrive at our first decision point - whether to go out and back on the Lonesome Lake Trail or do a loop - up Hi Cannon and down Lonesome Lake.

We had read the trail description and vaguely remembered the ladder going up the one difficult section on Hi Cannon. We climbed that trail two years ago and I just couldn't picture it. What I had in my mind was the ladder but plenty of trail on the outside edges for the dogs to scamper up. I am convinced the dogs will have no trouble and start up the trail, hoping Nancy will follow. She does, trusting me, trusting herself, trusting something.

The dogs are happy and explore up ahead and return to check on us often. We see no one. I remember that the Hi Cannon trail is steep and yes, indeed, it is. It feels so good to be hiking again that I can barely contain myself. Everything is very green, almost jungle like from the excessive rain we have experienced this summer. It feels good to sweat and be on the trail with Nancy again. We haven't hiked as consistently this summer as in years past and I feel the lack. We have been on such a roll for so long, hiking almost every weekend for two and a half years. Then I get injured in January and we start a new project - the 4,000 Footer Challenge - and the amount of time we used to have is cut in half and regular life forces hiking to take a back seat. So it feels great to be hiking again...

Until I round the corner and get my first glimpse of the ladder. Wow - now I remember it - I took a picture of Nancy climbing it when we did this hike in August of 2007. And there is no easy way for the dogs to get up. I immediately go into high alert mode - it looks like they can climb up on the rock on the right side of the ladder so I suggest that Nancy go up and call Dejah. Pinta is so small and light she is able to scrabble her way up (and down and back up and down) without a problem. Dejah is a bigger dog and she gallantly tries to climb up on the rock to the right of the ladder.

Nancy is worried. So am I and follow behind her, but she doesn't feel comfortable when it comes time to make a leap of faith onto the ladder and jumps down. She jumps up on a ledge on the left side of the ladder and I see that if I help her she can probably make it up - it looks like an easy scramble. Dejah is down below crying for help - she gets very anxious when she can't easily climb something. Pinta is going up and down the ladder anxious about her friend and not knowing what is going on. I climb down and move to the left to help Dejah. If I hadn't seen Dejah jump up onto this ledge under her own power, I would not have tried to help her. But she did get up and I did see her so I know she can.

I look for footholds and handholds so I can get myself up a little more and give Dejah a better boost. Nancy is on top calling Dejah and I step up to give Dejah a boost. Unfortunately the foothold I choose is not firm and bends away from the ledge so that I can feel myself falling backwards. It happens so fast I have no time to be scared - the only conscious thought I remember as I fall is that I can't injure myself - I don't want the hike to end yet. I hit the ground and the weight of my back sends me ass over teakettle into the trees below me - it's a steep little drop, maybe 10 feet, before my neck comes up against a tree that takes my weight. Talk about an awkward position.

I hear Nancy yell my name and start down the ladder. I yell to her that I am ok but because I am in such a bad position and my chin is pushed down into my chest my voice sounds unconvincing. The weight of my pack plus my own body weight makes it very difficult to get myself out of this position. I can feel my head being ground into the pine trunk that is holding all my weight and have nothing to hold onto to pull myself up. I grab leaves and thrash my feet around until I finally am able to sit up and take stock. I'm fine. A bruised knee. If we can get Dejah up we can continue our hike. I looked below me and saw a six-foot drop off and more steep hillside that the pine kept me from exploring. I feel very lucky.

I step out of the woods and greet Nancy who is worried and anxious. I assure her I am all right, that it is just my poor choice of foothold and not the task that caused the fall. That and leaving my pack on so I am very back heavy. I take off my pack and convince Nancy to go back up so we can try again. Dejah and I are successful this time. What a relief!

I feel a bit foolish. I chose to take a risk - go up the Hi Cannon Trail and make a loop out of it because I like loops instead of considering the safety of the dogs first and foremost. The reality of the danger I put myself and Dejah in has me trembling with shock. Nothing is worth hurting myself or our trail dogs. Big lesson - when we see descriptions of difficult scrambles we find another trail or make absolutely sure if we have only one trail option that a dog the size and strength of Dejah can get up safely.

We continue on and meet a group of youngsters hiking down in tennis shoes. Mom is behind them - she has misread the map and thought they were on a trail that only went .5 miles. We said no and asked them to follow us back to the tramway. They are all very engaging - one is already designing handbags and selling them on the web - the youngest wants to be an astronaut. I love it. I don't know that when I was growing up I ever wanted to be anything. Maybe my mother remembers. I sure don't. Nancy takes their picture and promises to email them copies.

I am more reserved and lead the walk up to the summit. My brush with possible injury to me and Dejah has me feeling pretty serious. The summit area is full of tourists - we meet a couple from Israel who are going to visit Acadia National Park and recommend that they make time to eat popovers at the Jordan Pond House - a do not miss experience. We sit on rocks under the tower and tourists stare at our muddy boots and our dogs. We smile and eat our sandwiches.

The hike down is very steep - I had forgotten how much fun it is - the dogs love it - down is Dejah's thing - she has no fear and can jump off any ledge. Meanwhile us humans sweat and toil and slowly make our way down the Kinsman Ridge Trail to Lonesome Lake. It feels great to get to the Lonesome Lake Hut and know the trail is less steep for the rest of the hike. The dogs are happy, smiling with tongues lolling. We finally arrive back at the car ten minutes before the skies open up with rain. That's the second time that has happened - getting back to the car just before a downpour. We are blessed.

The dogs sleep all the way home - and Nancy and I spend three hours talking about ourselves, the Challenge program, the upcoming Falmouth Road Race and our next Grand Canyon adventure. It feels great to have another 4,000 footer under our belt and treat ourselves to a burger and fries at the Tilton Diner. I forgo the frappe this time, but I think about it.

6 - 4,000 footers for Pinta

28 - 4,000 footers for Dejah

Lots and lots for Pat and Nancy

Whoo Hooo!