South and North Percy and Sugarloaf

Submitted by Pat

Mountains: South Percy (3,176), North Percy (3,379), and Sugarloaf (3,710)
Date: September 20, 2008
Time: 8 hours
Weather: Partly sunny, hazy, high clouds - 60's at the base and low 50's at the summit
Miles: 6.3 and 4.8
Elevation Gain: 2,493 and 2,096
Trails: Cohos Trail
Picture Gallery

"Downward facing roots are not a hiker's friend."
--Pat Piper

This is our first hike after our return from the Grand Canyon. The mountains we have left on the New England Hundred Highest list are all bushwhacks, viewless or way up near the Canadian border. I decide to look at the 52 with a View list instead. After poking around a bit I found that we could tag three summits and two 52 with a View peaks. New area - up near Groveton, NH and lots of views. North and South Percy and Sugarloaf. Ok, then - a little more research and how to get to the trailhead and we are good to go.

Because the drive will take 3 hours+ we leave Keene at 5 a.m. and stop for breakfast at the Fairlee Diner - clean, fast and local. During the drive Nancy and I have an interesting conversation about fairness and how the effort to be fair about everything in an unfair world can lead to disappointment, guilt and difficult choices. I try and be fair when I can, but life isn't fair. Why does a child get cancer? Why is someone involved in a motor vehicle accident? Why does my dog turn out to be a nutcase and a bully? I don't know the answer and none of those things are fair. So if I have something to say and I take the time and make the effort to say it and we only have two hours together, I'm going to take the time. If I'm talking crap, I'm sure someone will tell me. If I'm talking my truth, someone will listen. If I take half the allotted time, then someone will have an opportunity to talk the next time we meet. I'm not going to cut myself off because I've exceeded my time in order to be fair to everyone else.

We also talked about wanting - with some things I know exactly what I want. I'm clear and direct and believe in myself. But there are some big picture areas where I really don't know what I want. I have deferred my wants to others most of my adult life. One of the most recent examples is deciding to buy sibling Golden Retriever puppies with Nancy. We found the breeder and visited the pups and put down a deposit and when we returned from the Canyon I felt a disturbance in the field. I knew I wanted to share the upbringing and training of a dog with Nancy - get them fit and ready to go out there and climb the 48 4,000 Footers in NH. I also found myself uncertain and still struggling with the decision I had made to euthanize my Australian Shepherd who had turned into a nut case when she reached adolescence, biting people, aggressive fear behavior, attacking dogs, and finally, the last straw, attacking and paralyzing my housemate's dog. The decision was clear at the time. When I saw her ashes in a bag on my bureau when I came home from the Canyon trip, I lost it. I questioned my decision and fresh guilt and grief pushed me into a bad place.

Nancy watched me struggle for a week. I tried talking about it, but only ended up confused and incoherent. I couldn't make sense of my feelings and the desire for this puppy and my grief over euthanizing my 3 year old dog. It all felt like a black pit of sludge. Then one day she made a connection and when I was able to let in her words, the relief and sense of freedom was huge.

We had been talking about wanting and not knowing what I want. As I was trying to work through my feelings about this puppy, I started talking about other pets I had owned. As I listed them Nancy observed that none of them had been my choice. Every pet I had owned as an adult was chosen in deference to someone else. I have never actually picked my own dog, chosen the breed, and the breeder, the name, and the time by and for myself. Nancy pointed that out and said that despite her wanting us to have siblings, it sounded like I needed to back off on the decision to buy a Golden Retriever and honor the time I need to grieve the loss of my Aussie. The whole thing fit my heart perfectly and as hard as it is for me not to defer to others, I was able to hear her and agree to pull back and make this puppy choosing experience one that will come solely and completely from me. Just me. So that is where I am with the puppy thing.

Interesting conversations we have on these drives.

We turn left onto Emerson Road and then onto Nash Stream Road and drive for what feels like a long way to reach the Percy Trailhead. We throw on our packs - what a difference from the 35 pound packs we carried in the Canyon! - and start up the trail. The air temperature is in the low 40's and it feels so good to start hiking into the woods. We talk and laugh, enjoying the day, the beauty around us, and the strength in our legs. We are so lucky to be able to do this, hike like this, and love it this much, and enjoy being together. So lucky.

I notice that the trail becomes increasingly steep as we hike on, very full of roots. I say to Nancy, "Downward facing roots are not a hiker's friend," and she bursts into laughter. I replay the tone of my words and it sounds absolutely ridiculous. We both laugh - I ask if she knows what I mean and she says of course she knows. We spend the rest of the hike laughing about downward facing roots and slipping on them every time we misstep. Sideways facing roots are also not a hiker's friend. I am amazed that despite cross training during the week, I still experience muscle fatigue in my calves when I climb the steep stuff. No cramps, thank goodness, but I know that Sunday will be a day with sore muscles.

We reach the trail junction - to the right is the spur to South Percy and to the left the spur to North Percy. We decide to do South Percy first and head left for 4/10's of a mile. It's a short but very steep climb to the summit - the view looking back toward North Percy is incredible. The naked rock slabs on North Percy are startling - I could almost image the rock shearing away millions of years ago. I couldn't take enough pictures, although one or two was probably enough. We hit South Percy at 11 a.m. and decide the view is perfect for an apple and some trail mix. We sit on a rock in the sun and enjoy our taste treats. The apple and the trail mix taste like manna from heaven. Absolutely the best apple I have ever had in my life. And the trail mix is to die for.

After 40 minutes and more pictures we start back down toward the trail junction. We then started up North Percy and were soon circling the east side of the mountain, walking up steep rock inclines. We reached the summit around 12:45 p.m. and took a summit picture. We both walk around the summit - enjoying 360 degree views. Absolutely gorgeous.

As we head back down to the trail junction, Nancy asks me what I want to do next - I think and offer several suggestions - walk the full Percy Loop and head home, walk the Percy Loop and then a mile on the road back to the car and then up Sugarloaf or take the same trail back to the car and climb Sugarloaf. What did I want to do? What was my heart's desire? I choose to walk back down the same trail and go for Sugarloaf. Nancy says that would have been her choice as well. It's such a treat to know what I want and have the courage to just say it. Practice. That's what I need. Practice.

Anyway, we arrive back down at the bottom at 2:07 p.m. and change boots and socks. My big toes are numb and tender, as usual, when I wear my Montrail boots. I don't know why it happens, but it does. It felt great to put on dry socks and slip into my Vasque Breeze boots. Ahhhhh.... We start up Nash Stream Road and drive and drive and drive and drive. We must be lost - the trailhead doesn't look this far on the map. We stop and ask some folks who are working around their camp and they send us back two miles. The sign for the trailhead is almost non-existent - a little yellow CT and an arrow on a wooden post.

We pull up next to the driveway of a camp called Finally Inn and at 3 p.m. start walking up a driveway. Looks like the driveway is a right of way snowmobile trail as well as part of the Cohos Trail. We walk around a gate and start up a woods road. I am feeling a little anxious because there are no blazes - ah, yes there are - there's a yellow one painted on a rock - ok, we are on the trail. We walk side by side for a mile or so. Now this trail is basically a woods road/ snowmobile trail and it is straight up. After maybe 20 minutes of walking, I begin saying to myself, "Is this fun? Am I having fun? What is that pain I feel in my calves? What are we doing?" Nancy looks and acts like she is doing fine, feeling strong, and in good humor. I feel like I am pushing my body up a hill that simply doesn't want to be climbed. I almost say something to Nancy, almost put the hint out that we can always turn around, but don't. I suck it up and take the lead.

Around every corner we see another long stretch of straight up. We keep slugging through it. Eventually in order to stay somewhat sane, I look up briefly and spot a rock or tree - that is my goal - get to the rock or tree. From there I spot another marker - once I get to a marker and feel like I can barely take another step without a rest, I go to the next marker and stop. We breathe and sweat and stretch and I still wonder if this is the fun part.

The trail starts to become narrower and feels more like a trail. We walk single file and keep our legs pushing us up the hill. I guess it's more than a hill - it really is a mountain. Nancy says that she thinks this would be a great training trail - nice and wide and fairly good footing and straight up. Yeah, I think, really nice - NOT. I am running out of steam, but I can't give up - we're too far into it now. Why is it so hard for me to stop when it gets hard? Hard = the good stuff...most of the time. Today it just feels hard.

Finally we enter an area that really looks and feels like a trail and suddenly we top out on the summit - 3, 710 feet in elevation and the views are spectacular. We take pictures and sit for a while to eat something - the wind is picking up so we put on more clothes. I am not quite ready for winter climbing and even putting on my soft-shell feels like giving in. I do enjoy hiking in warmer weather. We commune with the views and the elements for half an hour before starting back down. We did some decent elevation, bagged two 52 with a View and another summit that may not be on a list but counts for us, and got some exercise. Yes, indeed. I can attest to the exercise part. I'm pooped so I take the pressure off and pull out my poles for the descent. Up may be hard, but there's something about it that I love. I really have no affinity for descending. My muscles simply don't want to spend hours trying to keep me from falling on my face. It's unnatural - this constant braking motion we do when we go down. But hey, I'm hiking, I'm hale and whole and pretty fit for an old fart.

I ask Nancy if she had thought at all about turning around on the way up. She answers promptly that no, turning around hadn't entered her mind. Ok, truth time - I said, well, I thought about it. And she asked, "When?" I hesitate and then said, with long pauses between each item, "I wanted to turn around in the beginning (pause), the middle (longer pause) and the end." You had to be there but we laughed at that one. Good comedic timing. And there is a small element of truth in wanting to turn around - I just don't give up easily so it's really hard to give in, even when I want to, even when I'm feeling lazy. I'm glad we went for it - it was a great day, good talk, good friend, and beautiful country.

16 and 17 out of 52 with a View

South and North Percy