“If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”
The cloudy skies had deceived me. From the lodge’s window, their appearance had led me to believe the outside temperature was cool so I had dressed in layers. But after fifteen minutes of hiking it became clear I had overdressed and the temperature was not what I had expected. It was perfect. Not too warm, not too cool but I was hot, sticky and sweaty in my long-sleeve, layered shirt. The sweaty clothes were an added nuisance to my heightened awareness of the weight on my back. I questioned whether or not I should take off my pack and remove a layer but in the end decided against it. This began a constant struggle and debate I had with myself during the whole hiking trip. To add or remove a layer-that was the big question.
The Avalon Trail was pretty, well maintained and well marked. On the way to the summit we laughed and talked as we marched in a single line, one behind the other. Joyfully we stepped over slippery stones as we crossed over streams and waterways.
I cannot remember at what point the trail turned on us. Some time early in the day, while we were very joyful and happy, the trail went from something like this*:
and turned into this:
(Please note, these pictures not do the trails justice. The depth and the grade are lost in these shots. These are challenging trails to conquer. They are filled with rocks, roots and many hidden places to trip and lose your footing.)
While scrambling up over the rocks and gracefully executing pas de bourrees over the slippery roots, I realized that I had expectations of this trip. Even though I had said over and over again how I did not want to know anything about what to expect or where we were going, I had unknowingly made my own conclusions. Conclusions that included a what a trail should look like, what the weather should be like and how much effort I would exert.
I laughed to myself at my own realizations. What had I expected? A mild, gentle graded trail? A waltz in the woods? We were hiking in the Granite State. The White Mountains! Hello! GRANITE. ROCKS. MOUNTAINS. There’s a specific reason why things are named the way they are. I had figured this would be a challenging hike but did not know just how challenging it would be. Oh, but to have this challenge made me happy and feel blessed to be alive. No guts, no glory. Right?
At the top of a rock pile, we made a steep climb, and final scramble over the boulders to the summit of Mount Avalon (elevation: 3,442 ft.) The view from Mt. Avalon is gorgeous. Some people say it is one of the best views of the Presidential Range from all the mountains at Crawford Notch. We paused for a few moments to take it all in. Our very first peak bagged.
It’s funny how sometimes you can see things more clearly when you look back at them. When I look at this picture now, I can clearly see something I missed then. Dark, streaky rain clouds at the horizon. A turn of weather, earlier than we expected.
Minutes after we left the summit small drops of rain began to fall. Just a few spits of raindrops at first but soon the rain became steady. There would be no chances of drying out now and it was getting cold too. We stopped to put on our rain gear and cover our packs with rain covers and ponchos. I still felt sweaty-cold from the morning and my hands were the starting to feel numb. I put on my winter hat and gloves trying to get as warm as possible. We had about five more hours of hiking ahead of us.
As we hiked, clouds continued to pour buckets and buckets of rain over our heads. The woods offered us no protection from the showers. The rain added an extra challenge to an already challenging trail. Mossy rocks became hazards and roots were sneaky and slick. Small streams started to form in between the rocks of the steep paths we walked. We tried to avoid stepping in puddles and mud but our efforts were in vain. Extra concentration was needed as we contemplated each step and where to hold our footing.
As wet and cold as were nobody complained. We cheered each other on. The rain did not snuff out our joy or extinguish our movement. We were women on a mission and bagged two more peaks. Two 4,000 footers. Mt. Tom (elevation: 4051 ft) and Mt. Field (elevation: 4340 ft) Here I realized that not all summits have beautiful views as (as I had expected.) Mt. Tom and Mt.Field had trees and cairns. I concluded that the view was not as important as the accomplishment and I was content in knowing we had safely reached each summit.
Some time toward the end of the day, the rain stopped (thank you, Jesus.) A trail sign with the hut’s name was a very happy, welcomed sight. I felt as if I was about to cross the finish line of a marathon. One last push and I would be done. I dreamed of a hot cup of coffee, dry warm clothes and regaining feeling in my fingers. I felt like I had been baptized by water and fire. My strength had been tested and I had persevered. It was a great feeling, a mixture of exhaustion, hard work and accomplishment. One last steep, rocky incline and I was about to find out that a night spent at the huts is the cherry on top of a day’s long hike…
PS-For those wondering about the practical side of things, using outdoor facilities is extra “fun” in the rain. Lots of stuff (rain gear) can get in the way and a bare bottom in the cold is a jolting experience. If you want to feel at one with nature, try going the bathroom on the side of the trail, in the freezing cold rain. I guarantee you will get the full experience Mother Nature has to offer.
*This is not a picture of a trail in the White Mountains but an accurate depiction of what I thought the trails might look like before I left for the trip.