After The Presidentials….

It was hard to believe that the first leg of the expedition was actually behind us.  The morning after bagging Isolation, we headed down into Crawford Notch and met up with a group of ladies from home who donated money towards the expedition.  They had driven up to New Hampshire from New Jersey to summit Mt. Jackson with us on a day hike.

They seemed to bring good luck with them, because at last the sun crept out from under the clouds and began to shine on us.  It was the first clear day that we’d had since the Kilkenneys, and from the summit of Mt. Jackson we got our first clear view of the Presidentials at last.

The Presidentials from Mt. Jackson

Even more enticing was our first view of the remaining portion of the trip, laid out at last in front of us.  Jackson was our 17th summit of 48, and Kirk and I stood on the summit pointing out as many of the remaining 31 as we could.

Afterwards we returned to Crawford Notch to rest and regroup.  Sadly it seemed that the ladies took the good weather home with them just as they had brought it, and in a blink Kirk and I were heading back out into the rain bound for the Willeys, the next range on the list.  It was slow to start after the rest and shower the lodge at Crawford Notch had afforded us.

The return of the rain was hardly our biggest concern.  While my left leg had almost fully healed since I smashed it in the Carter Moriahs, my injury situation had only degraded.  Two weeks before we had left home for New Hampshire, I had noticed a small, sore twinge in the outside of my right leg, between the top of the calf and the knee.

It had revisited me occasionally since we had entered the Whites, but it was minor and I had simply protected it using the muscles in my leg until it had gone away.  This system worked fine, that is until I had been forced to put the weight of my body and pack all on my right leg to begin protecting the left one after smashing it during my fall.

Since then, the twinge had grown from a small soreness to an undeniable pain that followed me with every step.  As we made our way through the Willeys, it became apparent to me that the success of the trip was in jeopardy if I could not find a way to offset the injury.  At last, I relented to using trekking poles, and began to crutch my way through the mountains on them to allow myself to continue.

My speed was now gone, as was much of my agility.  Yet our mission was far from over, and if this was what I had to do to make it succeed, then so be it.  I focused on my new manner of walking, and set about enjoying the mountains around me.  Despite the on again, off again rain and ever present gray, the fall colors in the lowland were bright and exuberant.  Reds, yellows, and oranges glowed along the trails and across ponds and bogs as though they had been colored by magic marker.

Summit of Mt. Hale

As each day passed, we slowly worked our way through our list, peak by peak.  Mt. Hale had been swampy and spooky, swirled in mist and covered in fresh moose tracks, the largest we had yet seen.  A massive, pointed cairn marked the top.

South Twin had been windy and rocky, but exposed enough that we were granted views through the light haze of clouds around us.  It was a stark contrast to the wooded summit of North Twin, which granted us no view.

As far away as the conclusion seemed, it finally felt as though we were making good time, and that we had picked up speed.  It was huge for morale, as we had a massive scheduling objective looming ahead of us.

Martin Wallem, the ALS patient whose team I had joined to help him climb Mt. Washington this past August was determined to joint Team Horizon to summit one of the 48 during the trip.  The Adaptive Sports Partners of the North Country, a non-profit based out of Franconia, New Hampshire, organized Martin’s hiking trips.  ASPNC specialized in helping individuals with disabilities enjoy the outdoors.

Sandy Olney, our contact at ASPNC had put forth much effort towards organizing a team and the logistics it would require to make this possible.  She had succeeded in gaining the permission and assistance of the Cannon Mountain Tram and Ski Area.  Martin was excited to go.  Yet there was one major variable left: us.

Josh and Kirk, Summit of Mt. Hale

Cannon Mountain stood near the very end of our route.  It would be the 45th of 48 peaks.  Due to the distance still ahead of us, a seemingly worsening injury, and the unpredictability of the mountain weather, we had been unable to set a date in stone.  The goal was Monday, October 15th, and it had since been our mission to make up any time possible to make that date happen.

Yet the Whites seemed just as determined to maintain their rugged reputation as we were to overcome it.  Just when it started to feel as though we had pulled ahead, they threw their next obstacle our way.  As we were preparing to make our way towards the night’s camp, a hiker overheard our intentions to summit Owl’s Head the next day.

Like Isolation, Owl’s Head was very difficult to reach, requiring a round trip of nearly 16 miles from the Garfield Ridge to obtain.  The man stopped us, warning us that there was close to a mile of virtually impassable bog along the trail we had intended to follow.  He warned that it was similar to quicksand, and that people had been stuck up to their waist in the past and had needed to be pulled out by rescuers to escape.

Sunset over Garfield Ridge

Worse, we were told that the bridge over the East Branch Pemigewasset River had been removed, and that the river was large and would likely be difficult to cross.  As a result, we were advised that we would have to hike an additional twelve miles just to get around it and continue on.

The news shattered our newfound sense of progress, and the rain returned yet again to accent the gloom.  The extra day of hiking around the river could cost us our shot at climbing Mt. Cannon with Martin.

Frustrated and discouraged, we made our way south over the Bonds the following morning, determined to find a way around these obstacles.  Owl’s Head could be reached from the south, yet the river loomed in our minds.

The Bonds, however, offered momentary distraction, and proved to be my favorite of the ranges we had been through thus far.  They were jagged and rocky with jutting, dramatic cliffs and covered with brightly colored alpine moss.  Every so often the thick gray clouds swirled away for just a moment, revealing the valleys around us.  We caught stunning glimpses of the jagged slides torn into the slopes of surrounding peaks by Hurricane Irene.

Mt. Bondcliff, Bonds Range

The further we got through the Bonds, the harder the rain fell, and we pressed hard to get down into the next valley for our fateful meeting with the East Branch Pemi, fearing that each passing moment of rain might make the river more impassable.

At last we came upon the river, and though it was wide we were overjoyed to find that it what may have been impassable to one man was easily crossable to us.

Quickly we took off boots and socks, and after clipping them to our packs, we carefully picked our way across the current.  Despite the pounding rain and our freezing feet, we had never been happier to set up camp, knowing that we had managed to stay on schedule, and that our date with Martin was still a very real possibility.

View from Zealand Falls





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