Last sortie into the White Mountains at the magical Lost River Gorge and Caves easy access reserve. Roots make impossible overground journeys to provide trees with grounding and nutrients, water cascades down tunnels to erupt in beautiful waterfalls, boulders conceal caves, crevasses.
Glen Ellis Falls
The day was still bright and young and needed to be “filled”. I was deliberating whether to go on a major hike like the Arethusa Falls, recommended by the campground’s manager. and the old couple. I consulted with the van driver who took us up Mount Washington, Thinking of his typical retiree passengers, he suggested very easy walks in the area: Glenn Ellis Falls and Diana’s Baths. Given the proximity of these sites and the arduousness of Arethusa, I opted to go to Glen Ellis. That was indeed a fine choice.
I learned that the Ellis River started at Mount Washington and that soon it was about to join another Maine river called the Saco. They would flow happily together from that point on to the mighty Atlantic Ocean.
Something neat about seeing where things start and following where they go. To get a full picture, it would be a good idea to visit Mt. Washington in winter…The guide actually invited us all to come and see the place under snow.
One can only imagine the incredible amount of water that would flow down that mountain once the snowcap melts … Since Mt. Washington is reputed with the worst and most unpredictable weather, it would probably be a tremendous show.
Looking for Diana's Baths, Finding Cathedral Ledge
I never got to Diana’s Bath. The GPS, with a mind of her own, stranded me, instead, at the foot of a spectacular rocky mountain in a fairly forlorn area.
Nearyby, a cool young guy was dismounting his bicycle and tying it up, ready to start climbing. I asked him about Diana’s Baths. He didn’t know, but said this mountain here, called Cathedral Ledge, is very worth climbing. I could ascend it by foot or by car, and there’s a beautiful view from the top.
So I let go of the Diana’s Baths, and ascended Cathedral Ledge with the Kia. From the top parking lot I walked on a foot path leading to a view point above the cliffs. And what a view… All the necessary elements to make it spectacular: forest, fields, pretty little towns and a perfetly tranquil blue lake – all balanced to create an impressionist picture.
On the ledge itself, coniferous trees grew right out of the rocks. I never stop being amazed…
There was a protection fence above the cliffs and I meandered along it as far as made sense.
Some people, indeed, climbed the mountain by foot, but others went even further and climbed on the cliffs themselves with rappelling equipment. This site seems like a favorite for rock climbers.
The actual “ledge” was indeed solid bedrock.
Walking around the Ledge, different views came to sight:
As I started my way back, I saw a short-haired athletic-looking woman in her late thirties sitting on a rock. She was sorting and packing up a big heap of ropes, pegs and hooks. I admire women who do so-called manly sports, so I asked her about her rock climbing experience and equipment. Apparently there are clubs and groups of mountaineers who climb here regularly. She belonged in one of those and was the only female.
As conversation developed, I found out she was from Serbia and was now living in New England. She gave me a rap about how America messed up her homeland. I’m not very familiar with the details of that history, so I was curious. Up until that point I thought America was actually the savior of the Balkans, so I kept my silence. She was annoyed even when I told her I’d been to Croatia. In her opinion Serbia was no less beautiful, but everybody goes to Croatia.
I was curious and asked if she’d like to go out for coffee. She said yes, then asked if I can give her a ride to her car below. I said “sure”, and we took off. She criticized my slow downhill driving and kept telling me (ordering me) how to drive better. She had something to say about the mess in my car as well. Admittedly, I don’t do well on steep downslopes, a major reason I did not drive Mt. Washington, but, hey, I was giving her a ride…
When we arrived at the parking, she said she’d rather not go out actually. Instead, she suggested we supped together at the picnic tables. I agreed and volunteered my stove and whole grains. She wanted to heat up her pasta. We cooked both, but she kept criticizingt everything I did – how I cooked, what I put in the dish, how I used the spoon even… If she hadn’t been that critical of everything me, I could have made a friend, perhaps, but she was difficult to please.
A few meters away, a gang of guys was leaning against their car, being loud. She said they belonged in her climbing club, but refused to talk to them. When I said “hi”, she admonished me for that, forbidding me to have any further interaction with them. It was all very bizarre, but I went along, feeling uncomfortable.
I sure realized by now that this was, indeed, the United States of America, and that the cozy safe feeling I had in the Canadian provinces could not be taken for granted any more. Still, I wasn’t ready for that level of uptightness and paranoia after a day of beauty.
I asked the lady where she was staying the night. She shoo-shooed me again and disparaged my naiveté. The guys over there should not overhear where she was staying. They were drunk, perhaps drugged. She knew them all. According to her, they only spoke with other climbers and wouldn’t bother with the rest of humanity. They were pursuing her, the only woman in the group, and might have “intentions”. I wondered if that level of suspicion came from current experiences, from bad events in her war-torn homeland, or both. Sad in either case.
During the meal she pounded me with U.S. guilt over Serbia, with Croatian WWII crimes against Jews and with more history than I could digest. In her version of history, America was the culprit in everything that went wrong in the Balkans – America broke down her country to divide and rule.
According to her, Croatian concentration camps were worse than Auschwitz. She talked at length how historically the Balkans constituted a buffer between the Ottomans and Austro-Hungary, and later between the two sides of the Iron Curtain. It was interesting and I learned a lot, but I would have appreciated the lecture a bit better if it hadn’t been given in such a bossy manner.
At one point I dared to tell her it was hard for me to function well when she had something to say about my every movement (I was cooking). She was taken aback for a moment. I thought – perhaps nobody ever placed this kind of mirror to her, so she might not have been aware in her passion how aggressive she came across.
It was an interesting encounter overall. Some women who are independent and “do their own thing” in a masculine world, develop tough skins and truculent defense mechanisms.
When I went to get stuff from the car, I discovered that I somehow hit the bumper; it was broken in two places. Looking closely, I realized the whole bumper, which is a fairly large piece in that car model, needed to be replaced. Dismissing my concerns, my companion criticized me for allowing the mishap to even temporarily foul my mood.
She opined it would be very cheap to fix and would not accept any counter estimates or arguments that would challenge her authority. Having a long experience with car troubles, I had my own estimates regarding the cost.
Then came a torrent of advice about where to go to get the car fixed and how to get there. She showed me an alternative road to the Kancamagus where the garage was located: “What? You didn’t know there was a parallel road here?” She had good intentions and wanted to be helpful, but also to show off and control me. Insisting on pointing out every detail on the map, she was giving advice the way men do, making you feel small, incompetent. Admittedly she was on another level than me in bravado and physical fitness, but I wasn’t competing, neither with her nor with myself. And I just was not paranoid about these guys.
Bear Notch Road
The day was waning, it was getting late and dark, and obviously I wasn’t going to any garage right now. I thanked her for all the information, but what I really wanted at that point was to say farewell, wrap it up and get back to the campground. She took the time to show me in detail how to get there, but unfortunately I did not follow her advice. Her explanations were too complex for my spatially dyslexic brain, and so I did what I always did – turned back to my default mode and put the GPS on (AT&T didn’t work again). That was a mistake. I should have listened better to someone who knew the area so well.
Not being clear where I was, I passed through a town, thinking I was in North Conway, but instead of driving the by-now familiar way to the Kancamagus, I found myself, instead, on a lonely darkening road out in the country. I later understood the golem took me up the northern route through Bartlett.
Things were getting darker and windier. I trusted the only guide I had, which was the computer, but started to feel some hibiee jeebies. At one point, something about the road began to feel familiar, though. Then I realized where I was – back on the famous and forlorn Bear Notch Road…
Indeed, I now recalled, this road cut straight into Kancamagus a few meters from Jigger Johnson Campground. The computer wasn’t totally stupid, but, hey…I was alone here. Totally! Totally alone! I started to use the human function called breathing, giving it a chance to get me back in balance.
Five minutes into the road, my fear evaporated somehow. I drove slowly, in case a bear, moose, coyote or anything else might manifest itself in the headlights beam. That happened to me before with smaller animals who moved very fast and abruptly across the road. Miraculously, I did not run over or into anything. These previous experiences made me suspend judgment on drivers responsible for the vast roadkill on America’s roads. It is, indeed, sometimes very hard to avoid…
Luckily, nobody was tailgating me, until, of course, somebody did, emerging from a side road. I let him drive through. When I finally got to the campground, I made me something to eat, then sank with all my clothes on into the sleeping bag, and fell asleep.
I know there are some people with a compass pre-installed in their brains, but I ain’t one of them. Given a chance to confuse north and south, east and west, I will more often than not opt for the wrong direction…It was an experience, though, one of those to tell stories about later.
The next day I said farewell to the White Mountains, but not before visiting an extraordinarily beautiful site: Lost River.