(left image-- summit view from 3000 feet, right image--cairn a.k.a. grave marker)
I just returned from a lovely trip to New Hampshire. As most of you know, I love to hike. As some of you know, I'm usually up for an adventure and don't always perform adequate risk assessments until it is too late.
On Wednesday night, I was sipping wine in the kitchen, when a guy named Ed stopped by. He said that every year he hikes to the top of Mt. Monandock
to memorialize his friend's death. I cannot recall if he actually invited me or if I invited myself. However, next thing I know I've signed up to go on a Friday morning sunrise hike. I'm sure in my wine-induced overconfidence, I neglected to listen to important details such as PEOPLE DIE UP THERE EVERY YEAR.
I do recall him saying that we will not be hiking on the State Park side, but on the "locals trail". He also said that he knows every inch of the mountain and can run up to the top in 36 minutes. It is only 2 miles to the summit, so I figured that it's no big deal. If he can do it in 36 minutes, it will take me at least an hour. I tell Ed that I'm in shape--I play squash and practice yoga. He seemed enthusiastic and told me that I would do just fine. I vaguely remember him saying that it is a REAL MOUNTAIN. I must have mentally blocked out the story where he had to carry someone down the mountain. This was someone who didn't properly respect the mountain and had fallen, breaking their leg.
Thanksgiving Day and I'm not feeling as excited about my upcoming hike. I can't imagine what I was thinking when I agreed to wake-up voluntarily at 3:30am, leaving at 4am to hike in the dark. I do not have hiking boots, only sneakers with worn treads.
Ed calls that night to say the weather forecast is foggy and rainy. Most of his other friends have already bailed. I promise him that I'm a trooper and I won't bail. Due to weather conditions, he delays the trip from 4am to 9am.
Friday morning 8am, Ed calls again to say conditions are bad. Sleet has covered all surfaces in ice. This is my opportunity to bail. I get on the phone, prepared to cancel. We discuss my lack of adequate footwear. He says sneakers are not a great idea. He asks if I can borrow boots. I say yes. I open my mouth and instead of canceling, I agree to go.
I slide down the walkway on the way to the car. Ed and I are picking up his friend Adam. On the way, he tells me that the trail will be icy. He says that he can lend me his spikes to grip through the ice. This is when I begin to have doubts. SPIKES FOR THE ICE? He also reiterates that it is a vertical climb (how did I miss this point???) to the summit. We will be climbing 2000 feet to an altitude of 3165 feet. At the top, he says it will be very windy and cold. Winds up to 50mph.
It's too late to cancel. We arrive at the trailhead. Of course there aren't any other cars. We are climbing the Marlboro trail. I find this very funny, since there is no way a smoker could hike this trail. Ed says that the first part isn't too hard. It warms you up for later.
After 15 minutes, I'm breathing really hard, sweating through all four layers. I am thinking that there is NO WAY I'm going to make it. Ed has some sort of superhuman powers, because he jumps from rock to rock and doesn't appear to slip AT ALL!
To their credit, both Adam and Ed tell me where to step and not to step, offering assistance as needed. To MY credit, I do not complain once. I fall and get right back up. I don't want to ruin their friend's memorial.
I do not see any visible trail, just lots of ice-covered roots and rocks. We start out in forest and climb into a barren-looking landscape. Prehistoric, sub-arctic--lots of boulders and no visible signs of life. I see lots of rock piles. Ed calls them cairns, saying that hikers leave them as markers. I'm guessing they mark all the dead bodies. HERE LIES ANOTHER DUMB HIKER WHO DIDN'T RESPECT THE MOUNTAIN.
Half-way point, the view is stunning. Ed gives me the spikes. I perfect the art of holdingonfordearlife. It takes over 2 hours to reach the summit. The temperature drops by 20 degrees. My sweat-drenched clothing is forming icicles. I do not make it all the way to the top. I quit at 3000 feet. Ed and Adam race to the top.
I text my daughter. HARDEST HIKE EVER. I HAVE NO IDEA HOW I WILL GET DOWN THE MOUNTAIN. I briefly wonder how much it would cost to get heliported off the mountain. Needless to say, it is much harder going down than up. My legs feel like jello and aren't working properly. I keep tripping. Only 1 hr down. I can do this.
I've had to pee for the past 1.5 hours. Didn't want to do it at the summit and have it freeze midstream. Towards the bottom, I see a big boulder to hide behind. My legs are so locked up, that I can't squat down. This simple act takes me at least 15 minutes to perform. Darn those men who can pee standing up.
I make it to the bottom. Ed and Adam graciously tell me that I didn't hold them back and that I did great. The next day I can't walk. Later when I look up this trail on the internet, its difficulty rank is 4 out of 3!!!
Ed asks me to hike again next summer. Sure I say. I'm looking forward to it. :)