Submitted by Pat

Mountain: Mt. Moosilauke (4,802)
Date: July 17, 2010
Time: 6 hours
Miles: 10
Elevation Gain: 2,417
Trails: Asquam Ridge -- Beaver Brook -- Gorge Brook

Picture Gallery

This is my first solo 4,000-footer hike and nothing feels the way I am used to - not the preparation of pack and gear, not the wake up alarm, the drive up, breakfast at MacDonald's, stopping in Meredith, driving that endless stretch of Rte. 118, then heading down the dirt road to the Ravine Lodge to the turnaround and parking down the road. While there is a lot of me time, I am not in a pensive or thoughtful mood. I am more in the moment, present, not thinking. I feel Nancy's absence. I feel Dejah's absence. I feel my presence. I feel Pinta's presence. It is familiar, and it is OK.

Lots of cars are there already - Lodge guests and day hikers - when I pull into a parking spot and start gearing up. I had forgotten Pinta's leash so there is some anxiety - I know I have some rope in my pack that I can cut to size - but don't want to have to do that. There are lots of dogs, but all are friendly or leashed as we head down the Asquam Ridge Trail at 8:30 am. It is a beautiful morning, sunny, temps hovering around 68, shrubbery covered in dew, everything looking fresh and clean. Like how I feel on my first solo hike - a new beginning.

The Asquam Ridge trail starts off gently, a perfect warm up trail, before it becomes rockier and a bit steeper. An hour and a half into the hike I start to slow down my ambitious pace. I take advantage of stopping to photograph some amazing orange mushrooms, to pick up a water bottle discarded by a hiker, to clear the trail and pick up trash. I feel like I am making slow progress, but have no way to judge. I force myself to breathe through my nose, not an open mouth. I start to feel some fatigue in my legs, taking more frequent short rests. It's discouraging but I certainly am not ready to give up yet. I wonder if I am expecting too much from my 55 year old body.

My balance is good. The trail becomes rougher and steeper, rocky, rooty, slippery. I hear the breeze slicing through the tree canopy. The forest floor is beautiful - dead tree trunks coated in thick green moss. I can't remember how my legs felt when we first started climbing 4,000 footers. I know I felt fatigue going up plenty of times; I just don't remember the exact feeling of how they felt. Time and distance does that to memory. If I remembered all the pain I have experienced in my life the same way I felt it when it happened, I don't think I would want to be a volunteer on this life journey.

At 11:20 I reach the Beaver Brook Trail - a really nice ridge with occasional views. I am definitely slowing down. Legs are OK, but not feeling strong. If this hike was any steeper I think I'd consider turning around. I am feeling a little lightheaded - time for a bar and some Gatorade. It's beautiful and I have a long way to go.

I shouldn't be breathing this hard on a ridge this flat, should I? I did take a rescue inhaler about 40 minutes ago. I don't notice any change. On the positive side, I've been clearing trail, picking up trash, and enjoying the beautiful boreal forest. I look forward to walking above the tree line and seeing those big cairns and the waving fields of grass.

We reach tree line and I meet some of the first hikers of the day. They are fascinated by Pinta, everyone throwing out ideas about her breed - dingo, Australian castle dog, blue heeler, hyena. Everyone is friendly and it's fun to pass the time with them. The view of the cairns is as beautiful as I remembered, except that some darker clouds are scudding overhead blocking the sun. I want the sun - but it comes and goes like a tease while I am up there. The air is cooler, maybe low 60's with a strong breeze. The trail to the summit is punctuated by tufts of Diapensia - so fragile and delicate, growing in every crevice, every piece of soil. I concentrate on not stepping on them or puncturing them with my poles. They are too beautiful not to treat with the utmost respect.

The summit is crowded at noon when I arrive - I wander around for a few minutes getting my bearings, take a summit shot, take someone else's summit shot, then move away from the people down the Gorge Brook Trail where I find a rock and gratefully throw off my pack and share my lunch with Pinta. It's beautiful being up high, I don't see the rock where we ate our lunch on that spectacular day we climbed Moosilauke in 2006. A steady stream of hikers comes up the Gorge Brook Trail so it isn't a peaceful or quiet lunch.

I meet maybe 30 hikers as I descend the trail. Some with dogs - one with a young male - he and Pinta hit it off immediately and they tore off into the woods, up and down the trail, at full speed - how can they possibly do that without getting hurt? Amazing how they can make minute changes of direction and still stay upright. Only one couple passes me on the way down, but I continue to see hikers on their way up well into the afternoon. I feel good, haven't lost balance, legs feel "normal". I notice my knees are talking to me. No deep knee bends for me. I feel a lot better than I did on the way up.

I stop and talk with families, couples, girlfriends, boyfriends on their way up. The top of the trail is a steep staircase of stone - I enjoy those the best - I feel like I am making good time when I can descend a stone staircase and not have to stop, shift my weight, step over a rock, lean on my poles. The staircases end as I enter dense forest and the trail becomes much rockier. I have to watch my footing. Usually when Nancy and I hike, we talk on the way up and are more pensive on the way down. Although I talk to hikers who pass by I am alone, not lonely, but alone. I've walked hundreds of miles that look just like this trail I'm on and I can feel my mind collapsing in on itself with boredom. I miss Nancy - even in silence her presence is big and I always seem to have access to emotions that I miss when I'm in the real world. I feel my presence now and I'm not thinking deep thoughts or feeling strong emotion - I am walking down this mountain, one step at a time, and the trail goes on forever.

When I come down from the steep area of the ravine, I meet the waters of Gorge Brook - it's cool and breezy and the trail becomes more gradual. I love it. My legs don't feel anything like how they did after the Mt. Wolf hike. They feel tired and normal. My feet are sore and I feel great. It's a good day, although the last uphill to the parking area is an insult. Dang. My ice cold Pepsi tastes so good - that first swallow is perfect - I enjoy the moment. I start driving back to Jaffrey and encounter 92 degrees and humid in the lowlands. What a difference from my time on the mountain!

I feel hopeful. If something is wrong with me I don't think it's serious - more and more I feel like what happened to me on Mt. Wolf was an expression of my body to climbing an extreme trail after three months of marathon training where I hardly got my heart rate above 120. With a few hikes under my belt, I feel pretty normal now. A 10-mile hike like this one makes my knees ache - normal - and my feet ache - normal - and it feels so good to stop moving and sit down - normal. I made it. I'm back.