Coming Home on Lafayette and Lincoln
Submitted by Nancy
Mountain: Mts. Lafayette (5,260) and Lincoln (5,098)
Date: May 9, 2009
Time: 9 hours
Miles: 8.9 miles
Elevation Gain: +3,832 feet
Trails: Old Bridle Path, Greenleaf Trail, Franconia Ridge Trail, Falling Waters Trail
Pat and I have not hiked since January 10th. We had hoped to peakbag through the winter, checking off the summits on the winter NH48 list - but that was not to be. Pat injured her Achilles tendon and I pulled a calf muscle and that was that.
Of course - as the grace wave continues to take us on a ride of a lifetime, there is a greater good hidden in our injuries. We put our down time to incredibly good use, pulling together a presentation on hiking the 67 4,000 footers in New England and a Challenge program geared to helping others discover their own inner strength and beauty by reaching a mountain summit. The program is up and running and we are giving free hiking presentations every chance we get. It feels like we have come full circle. We hike the mountains and find our hearts. We share our joy with the world through our presentation and the Challenge Program. The feedback has been overwhelming. The hard part for me is to stop, breathe and soften enough to actually let the person's words, and the love behind their words, into my heart and feel it.
Eventually, our injuries heal enough to begin talking about when we might get back on the trail. May 9 is the date. Nothing is going to stop us.
I remember coming home from college for Thanksgiving after starting my freshman year at Marietta College in Ohio. My heart beat with excitement as we drove up Hurricane Road in Keene. I remember being surprised and comforted that the house looked the same, same moss on the brick patio, same broken window on the porch. The dogs remember me. The kitchen greets me with its familiar smell; everything is in its special place, the cluttered lazy susan filled with notes, and salt and pepper shakers still sits in the middle of the kitchen table, the six chairs askew around the table.
I remember running up to my bedroom and walking into the my own special space - all so familiar still -- my yellowed bedspread, pink flowered curtains, light from four windows filling the small corner bedroom. My dresser, with the water stains on it, my old leg cast covered with Spanish sayings on top of my bureau, my books on the shelves, my desk just as I left it. I was home and it felt so good to be surrounded by the familiar and the comfortable. I had been away for so long I was afraid it would all be different, that it would be somehow changed and I would no longer fit in. I was relieved to find that it was just as I had left it. It was good to be home.
Pat picks me up at 5 am and we drive out of the driveway, leaving Dejah and Karma at home. My daughter, Jess, and Dejah, her 4-year-old-yelow lab, are living with us again while her fiance serves in Iraq. Dejah climbed 25 4,000-footers with Pat and I before she and Jess moved to Texas last year. So Pat and I have our trail dog back! Maybe she can get her 48 patch! But she gained some weight in Texas and I am getting her back into hiking shape. Karma is my 9-month old golden who doesn't come when I call her, jumps on everyone and won't get in a car. I've got some training to do.
Pat and I have been half-kidding each other, wondering if we can still climb a 4,000-footer after taking off three and a half months. But I know we can. It will be good to stand on the summit, though, so that even the tiny little part of me that doubts can be reassured that we still have the right stuff.
We head up the Old Bridle Path and I take a deep breath. What a thrill to be back in the woods again, back in the black flies, the bright green of spring, the dark soil, dead leaves and boulders beneath my feet, the warm smell of nature. Ahhhh, I am surrounded by the comfort of the trail, back in the beauty of nature. It feels like I have never left, except for the excitement I feel inside at being back. Not only are the woods the same, but Pat and I are the same. We start taking pictures almost immediately of the trillium, the rushing water in the brook, wooden steps in the ledges and the ladders built for giants. I love these mountains. I love reaching the summit under my own power, walking along the most beautiful trails in the world, encountering the most powerful weather and the kindest people anywhere. We are home, Pat and I. Finally...and it feels great!
After the first mile or so, we come upon a man and woman taking a rest. We say good morning as we pass them. They follow behind us and the man starts talking about the Alpine Zone in the White Mountains. He tells us that The White Mountain National Forest contains the largest alpine area east of the Rockies and south of northern Quebec. He explains that the area on Lafayette and Lincoln is home to many rare, threatened or endangered species. He shares the history of Guy Waterman who loved the Alpine Zone and put small boulders and large rocks along the sides of the trail above tree-line to keep hikers off the alpine vegetation.
By this time, Pat and I are intrigued and listening intently. Neil Andersen introduces himself and explains that he is a volunteer steward of the Alpine Zone and that now, by virtue of having passed his knowledge onto us, we are ambassadors for the Alpine Zone, responsible for caring for the fragile areas on the mountains and for passing on the knowledge. I am touched by the gentle nature of our interaction with Neil. Rather than hiring rangers to guard the precious alpine zone, the White Mountain National Forest and the AMC have chosen a kinder, gentler way. In the belief that knowledge breeds ownership and pride, volunteers are spreading the word, and the responsibility for caring for our fragile hiking environment. Way cool.
We leave Karen and Neil and head up the Old Bridle Path. Then I see them -- May Flowers lining the sides of the trail -- Trailing Arbutus - my favorite flower. Every year since I was a young girl I have walked to the small patch of flowers in the woods and cut some for my neighbor, my mother and, if there were enough, for a little vase to put in my bedroom. For such a small, unassuming flower that's more leaves than petals, it has a big, bold, very sweet scent that is truly exquisite. This year I was busy and never made it to the patch. But the world takes care of me. Here is my yearly May Flower moment on the Old Bridle Path. I bend down to take some close-up pictures and to smell the flowers. I am so grateful to finally be back home in the mountains, to be appointed an ambassador for the alpine zone and to be greeted with the beauty of these small white and pink flowers with a blow-you-away-fragrance - I am on-top-of-the-world giddy and we are not even close to the summit yet!
Then we hit the snow. I know it is coming. We had read trip reports that said that snow still graced the trails above 3,000 feet. The monorail is a hump of snow that runs down the center of the trail. Much of the snow has melted, so the monorail is like a balance beam. But the Chinese gymnasts have nothing on us. Pat and I negotiate the thin wall of snow with grace. We reach the Greenleaf Hut at 10:48 and have a snack before continuing on.
I feel strong and confident, filled with well-being and so happy to be back in my element. We arrive on the summit of Lafayette at 12:08 all smiles. It is cold and windy and I put on my hat and we find a place out of the wind for lunch. There's lots of people and dogs on top. We are all blessed. What's cool is that we all know it. So even if we don't speak, we smile, bonded together by a love and appreciation for all that surrounds us.
I check in with Pat who has not entirely healed and is still having issues with her ankle and her groin. She chooses to continue on so we head off to Lincoln and Little Haystack. It's cloudy and the sky is a bit dark - but nothing can take away from the beauty of that ridge. I remember the first time we climbed Lincoln and Lafayette. It was our second hike. I had never seen anything like that ridge and was in awe of that anything could be that beautiful and that magnificent.
We bag Lincoln at 1:45 and quicken our steps because we don't want to be caught in thunder and lightening above tree-line. Before we know it we are back in the woods. The Falling Waters Path has lots more snow than the Old Bridle Path and we are walking the dirty white balance beam for what feels like forever. There's lots of water running over the falls and the water crossings are a bit tricky, but we make it across relatively dry. We arrive back at the parking lot at 5:15, take off our boots, and get in the car. Pat opens her diet Pepsi, I pop my Snapple and it starts to rain.
Here is what I know. I know that I am extremely lucky to have places in my life where I am at home, where I can let go of all that I am carrying and just be me, fully and completely. Places where everything is familiar and comfortable, where I can be loved and love myself more easily. Places that I hold in my heart and miss when I am not there. At home, with my husband Don, is that place for me.
And now I know, in the mountains with Pat has become my home as well. From the trailheads to the summits, the mountains remind me of how incredibly lucky I am to be alive. Hiking brings me into the moment. I am blessed by every turn in the trail and by the perspective I gain when I look out into the vast expanses of blues and greens. The mountains bring out more of me. And each time more of me arrives, it is here to stay and I come back more whole, more completely me. I am coming home to me.