Jefferson for 30 for Dejah

Submitted by Pat

Mountain: Jefferson (5,716)
Date:August 1, 2009
Weather: Partly sunny, humid, hazy - 60's
Time: 9.5 hours
Steps: 25,911 Miles: 7.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,169 feet
Trails: Castle Trail to summit and down Caps Ridge Trail

Picture Gallery

We contemplate doing the Bonds traverse since the weather for Saturday looks wonderful, but both of us are tired from over exercising, and my sisters are visiting my mom who lives in Contoocook and I want to spend time with them, so we save it for another day. With good weather predicted we want to climb something big with lots of views so we decide to hike the Castle Trail and tag Jefferson, Dejah's last Presidential peak. On May 22, 2007 Nancy and I attempted to climb Jefferson via the Castle Trail. On one of the castle ledges when Nancy was trying to give Dejah a boost, the weight of the dog caused her to fall backwards and stun her - a huge bruise on her thigh and a desperate need to get away from that place. Instead of retreating down the trail, we continued hiking upward. Today's hike has a revisiting of that scary day wrapped up in it - a way to make peace with the ledge, with the fear, and with the trail.

After a delicious breakfast at the Tilton Diner we head for the Mountain Bean for sandwiches and then to the trailhead. The trail starts off completely flat for .4 of a mile - then we hit the Israel River, change into water shoes (I forgot mine and forgot about the water crossing so I borrow Nancy's size 6 flip flops for my size 9 feet) and cross the river in no time. Even Pinta, my housemate's light, athletic dog, decides she can cross the river without help. We leave our water shoes in the woods and start up. Half an hour later we are both saturated with sweat - the humidity and the greasy rocks and roots make for a challenging climb. When we hit the steeper part of the ridge climb, we are breathing heavily. I am really struggling with my breathing, having been diagnosed with a mild case of exercise induced asthma and it's still not part of my routine to bring my inhaler when I hike.

My stomach has been feeling off for the last two days and I start to feel it churning through my bowels. Finally I tell Nancy I have to pull off and use the facilities. What a mess...diarrhea, my favorite bodily function - I am thrilled. Cramps and crap - whoo hooo! I feel some relief but find that I am lacking my usual strength and stamina. I am laboring up the ridge, breathing hard and not feeling quite right. My legs are protesting and we haven't even made it to the castles yet.

When we reach the flatter section on top of the ridge, I am relieved but still anxious about being able to make it all the way to the summit and puzzled by how tired I am feeling. About halfway up the ridge we meet 1HappyHiker, ZMan and his friend Grant who are climbing the Castle Trail for the first time and doing a loop down the Caps Ridge Trail. We talk for a while and eventually figure out we are all VFTT'ers. Very friendly personable gentlemen. We end up leap frogging each other for the rest of the hike.

I have forgotten some of the more difficult ledges and pitches that the Castles have in store. No memory at all of some of the ledges until we actually get to them and I remember oh yeah, this is where we had to give Dejah a boost or OK, it's straight up for 25-30 feet on slick rock - how are the dogs going to make it? We give Dejah and Pinta a boost and they scramble up the rock with less difficulty than we do. When we reach the ledge where Nancy fell in 2007 1HappyHiker and friends are going up and before we can take a moment to pay our respects another hiker comes along and we let her pass us. With the people and the distraction we don't take a moment to honor what happened here; instead we push on - boosting up Dejah and Pinta and Nancy and I clambering up.

We keep going and are confronted with ledge after ledge after scramble. The dogs are nervous and hate being helped - they cry and the crying makes Nancy and I even more anxious. I start to imagine trying to descend on this trail and it begins to feel too intimidating. Then halfway up the Castles I have this thought - I don't remember putting my car keys in my pack like I usually do so I ask Nancy to look. No keys. I take off my pack and look through everything. No keys. Meantime Nancy is chatting with 1HappyHiker while I am trying to accept the reality that I either left my keys on top of the car or in the car. I let the negative impact of the situation get the best of me for a few minutes, then decide to let it go. What can I do? Nothing until we get down and scope out the situation.

Onward and upward - I begin to suffer cramps again and have to find a spot above tree line to relieve myself. Very very nasty, but I feel some relief so we go on. At some point we decide we are going to go down via the Caps Ridge Trail and beg a ride back to the Castle trailhead - I can't go back down the Castles and I am almost out of gas, struggling to make my legs work and put my feet in the right places. No balance, no confidence, I feel miserable. We meet ZMan and 1HappyHiker again and explain our predicament - they offer to give us a ride if they can and our arrivals at the Caps Ridge trailhead coincide.

We arrive on the summit around the same time - Zman takes our summit pic - thanks, Z - and we climb down to a place where we take off packs and decide that 2:30 is a fine time to eat lunch. I try to imagine eating my sandwich and I can't - I nibble some peanuts and potato chips and drink some Gatorade but realize I will not be able to eat my sandwich after I take a small bite. What is going on with me? I have never felt like this or struggled so much (physically) on a hike. I can't believe it's happening to me.

We salute 1HappyHiker and ZMan and start down the Caps Ridge Trail. I urge Nancy to go ahead since I know I am moving so slowly. I just can't believe how slowly - it is like my legs and balance won't work together and I am scared of every step. Me? Pat Piper? How can this be? What is going on? I talk to myself and tell myself that I am going to get down this mountain safely and under my own power. All I need to do is just keep taking one step at a time. Nancy stops and waits occasionally but it is better that she moves ahead - I can't keep up but the fact that she is ahead by such a distance keeps me going, pulls me down the mountain.

We meet ZMan and 1HappyHiker on one of the Caps ridges and Nancy explains our dilemma with the keys and my stomach upset. ZMan offers me some Imodium and pulls out his AAA card so we can write down the number in case the keys are locked in the car. I am so grateful for their kindness and generosity - this to me is the epitome of what hikers do for one another. Nancy and I will definitely pay it forward and be ready to help someone in need, even if we don't get the chance to pay back 1HappyHiker and his friends. They give us a gift - we will gift someone else.

The Imodium works - phew - and once we are off the rock pile my pace picks up and I start moving more freely. I am fiercely happy when we reach the trailhead and seeing 1HappyHiker (John) and his wife Cheryl waiting for us with their Honda Element was a sight for sore eyes (and feet and legs). ZMan and his friend have gotten a ride from one of their wives, leaving enough room in the Element for both Nancy and I and the two dogs. Both of us felt so thankful - so kind of them to help us - although the dogs don't really care and fall asleep on top of each other.

We arrive at the car and I am overjoyed that it's still there. Nancy peeks in the window and sees the keys in the ignition. Nice work, Pat. John asks if the car is locked and Nancy looks doubtfully at the door handle and then pulls - it opens - OH MY GOD - I cover my face with my hands - saved. We are saved. Once again another example of riding the grace wave. We are deliriously happy and say thank you to Cheryl and John and quickly pull off boots, put on running shoes, and walk back to the river to pick up our river shoes. Just what I wanted to do - I could have stayed behind and let Nancy take the walk, but I just can't and I have enough left to walk another few tenths of a mile.

Very intense day for me - talking through it on the drive home, I realize that there are lots of stressors - illness, the keys, the dogs, my exhaustion - in my being and it's not really surprising that with all of those things (and more I don't feel like naming) that I struggled. I am absolutely exhausted - but am able to finally eat and that revives me. We don't get back to Keene until after 10pm. I can't tell you how good it feels when I walk into my house, drop my stuff, and feel the full impact of how lucky we are to have made it up the mountain, down the mountain and not had the car stolen. Some of it is luck, some of it is grace, and some of it is sweat and our own desire.