Editorial: Josh sent this along with his second report from the trail “I could not get any of these out to you on trail. Our phone batteries were nearly impossible to keep charged due to the cold, … we had very few sunny days to recharge with our solar panel. …it became a logistical nightmare towards the end to get the pictures onto the iPhone the few chances we did have, as they were taken on my camera. … this has been my first major trip where field reports have been unsuccessfully relayed back… Good old pen and paper came through!  …The trip proved to be both the hardest and yet most incredible thing I have ever experienced.” Follow his journey here.

Going in, we had been well aware that the Whites had a reputation for being fierce mountains despite that they lacked the height of their western counterparts.  So far, they had not failed to live up to that reputation.

Our team meeting at Pinkham Notch had been difficult enough, as we had decided that despite his great effort and unbroken will to go on, it was simply unsafe for Bob to continue.  It had been emotional, and despite that Bob had agreed with the decision, a heavy sadness hung in the air even after he had left for his hotel.

Kirk and I repacked in stoic silence, watching as the full blown torrent outside Pinkham Notch, that had earlier been merely a drizzle.  It only served to accent the emotion of the moment, as gloomy and gray as one might imagine losing a team member would feel like.

At last we were experiencing the famous weather of the Whites, and despite all the hopes that it might clear, it seemed we were fooling ourselves.  Ahead lay the Presidentials at last; not only the largest in the Whites, but the most famous for its unpredictable and sometimes deadly weather.

Josh and Kirk, summit of Mt. Madison

Once Alex had returned from dropping Bob off at his hotel, we set off into the downpour.  Alex would be joining us to film for the next four days.  That night we camped at the base of Mt. Madison.  The rain gave no inclination to ceasing, and the following morning when we rose to enter the Presidentials, it remained with us.

The steep, wet climb progressed slowly, and although the rain pared back once we reached tree line, the cold wind and thick fog still kept the air moist and the visibility low.  Momentary flashes of warmth came occasionally through the clouds as the sun tried in vain to make even a brief appearance, but cloud and gloom rained supreme over the slippery, jagged world of rock.

Slowly we checked off the famous peaks.  Madison, then Adams, then Jefferson.  Each time Kirk and I would pull ahead to bag the next summit, while Alex stayed behind to film time lapses.  We would wait for him to catch up at the next trail junction, and it was in this manner that we leapfrogged through the day.

Even shrouded in clouds, the brief glimpses of the ridgelines that comprised these vast mountains were epic, and we could only imagine how they appeared on a clear day.  There was a grandeur, a mysterious beauty to them, yet one that seemed to thinly veil a looming threat. Despite that we could not really see them, they felt every bit as I had imagined them feeling.

The Rocky Presidentials

That sense of threat soon became real.  Thick cloud cover rolled in, ruining all visibility.  In his attempt to catch up with us at the next junction, Alex lost the trail in the cloud and soon found himself lost in a huge rock field.

At first we called to one another through the blinding fog, then relied on a whistle before we at last located him.  He was far enough over that it was easier for him to climb the rest of the rock field to the ridge, which was tiring enough without the near 70 pounds of camera gear on his back.

What began as being slightly behind soon grew, and before we knew it we were making our way up the side of Mt. Washington at dusk.  The fog had only grown worse, and on top of it Alex had begun to bottom out.  I was concerned for his well being, particularly if bad weather rolled in.  To make matters worse, we were out of water.

“This is Charlie’s mountain!” Kirk yelled through the fog in response.  “Use it!”  The mention of the man who had unwittingly set us all upon this mission seemed to be more effective than any power bar.  Alex locked back in, and after a final grueling push we had at last attained the summit of the highest peak in the Whites.

World’s worst weather…

That night we spent in the dungeon, a mildew smelling fallout shelter left open for weather emergencies on Mt. Washington.  Yet to us, it seemed like the greatest place we had ever slept, and the plywood bunks felt like five star mattresses.

The rain returned the following morning as we made our way across the lower Presidentials.  One by one we checked them off, catching brief, stunning glimpses of their alpine zones before they swirled back behind the rainy gray.

At last we made it down to our campsite by the Mizpah Spring Hut, only to find that our adventures around the Presidentials had scarcely begun.  Only Mt. Isolation stood between Crawford Notch, and us where we would be able to rest and resupply.  A single mountain does not sound terrible, until one factors in the nearly 14 mile round trip required to reach it.

Yet that was not a problem, nor was it when we learned that the damage from Hurricane Irene had proven to be extensive, particularly in the Dry River Wilderness, where Mt. Isolation lay.

A rare glimpse…

Nor was the fact that the rain had not only continued, but also actually grown worse.  Not even the fact that I had slipped off the tent platform the night before and fallen six feet, landing on my head on a rock had been the issue.  I had not blacked out or lost consciousness, after all, and no traumatic brain injury was present.

The problem was the Irene had completely destroyed the Dry River and the surrounding wilderness with washed out riverbeds and banks, caved in landslides, and blow down.   As a result, the chance of further landslide remained great, particularly after three straight days of rain, and the trail to Isolation had been closed.

It was frustrating news, but not news that we could afford to let slow us down.  We had come here for a lot more than ourselves, or the 48 peaks.  While Alex remained behind to film the raging weather, Kirk and I set out into the Dry River Valley, unsure of what to expect.

Mt. Washington summit

What we found was every bit what had been described to us.  Streambeds that had once been tributaries had been bored out into full on creeks, even rivers.  Banks that had once held trails had collapsed and washed away, leaving walls of mud and rock up to forty feet high and over twenty feet across.  Each time we were forced to cross or climb one of the collapsed banks, we did so quickly and with light feet, hoping that it would not collapse upon us further.

The damage was so visible, we found ourselves imagining what it must have looked like during the actual storm.  The days of persistent rain did not help, causing everything from the trail to the mountainside to be flowing as though it was a streambed itself.  Worse, the water was slowly beginning to rise.

Josh and Kirk, the Dungeon

Yet we remained undeterred, and instead followed our compass and the trail until at last we reached the summit of Isolation. What we had thought would be one of the most aggravating days had turned out to be one of the most rewarding, and as the windy summit gusted and poured rain, a renewed sense of mission came about.

We returned to camp soaked but exhilarated.  Tomorrow we would descend to Crawford Notch, the first leg of our Expedition for ALS behind us, the next yet to come.

Josh, Kirk, and Alex; Summit of Eisenhower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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