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.
Going The Greeley Ponds
Greeley Ponds, White Mountains, NH
From Fogs to Downpour
In order to balance the fairly arduous climb of the Boulders Trail from the day before, I planned to keep this day calmer by choosing a “horizontal” walk, the Greeley Ponds Trail.
As I was driving the Kancamagus west towards the Greeley Ponds trailhead, I saw the trees were now changing colors. What an amazing universal process of life through the Earths’ seasons…
Though the morning started fairly nice, clouds were quickly gathering:
To me this is one of the most beautiful sights in existence. Beauty aside, it eventually started raining, which is what beautiful clouds tend to do…
Like many others on the road, I took refuge in one of the shelters:
Everybody was huddling inside, as rain was raging around us. It was mostly a group of scouts, their counsellors, companions and accompanying parents. They had special orange polls to hang flags on, once they reached a summit. The flags “had to” stay up there for two hours before being lowered down again…
I was impressed how everybody took the weather with a good stride. Nobody complained, or seemed to worry about anything. People were joking, telling stories, socializing. Women were having women talks and guys were having guys’ talks. Everybody was happy.
"Peak Bagging" and Mountaineers in Skirts
I was reading some of the interpretive panels that surrounded the rain shelter, learning more about the area. Some (interestingly) were about the history of hiking!
“In the 1700s mountains were off limits by choice and settlers kept to the fertile valleys, where it was hard enough to clear the land and farm crops in the harsh climate. Surveyors would climb up to map the area and find land fit for farming. Hunters and trappers relied on the forest’s resources, but hiking and mountain climbing were not recreational pursuits”.
In that context, I must add that this situation is typical for societies mostly focused on survival, and is true today as well. In South America we met few locals travelling or hiking, backpacking or climbing. It made me feel that doing a low-budget backpacking trip, with all its hardships, was still nonetheless a Western luxury. It did not matter that I slept for a dollar a night and did not buy new clothes tor two years before the trip… In comparison with the “hand to mouth” economy of most locals, I was rich. Risky mountain climbing did not make sense to the locals anyway.
“In the 1800s, an exciting new idea swept the salons and parlors of eastern cities – that beauty so vast and sublime as the wilderness would uplift and inspire the beholder. Artists painted the mountains as a wilderness paradise. Writers romanticized them. People soon flocked to the White Mountains – at first to look, and later to hike its trails and scale its peaks.”
The first wave took place in 1830-70, to be followed by more organized hiking clubs that built trails, published maps and guidebooks. Ladies would go hiking in long skirts and snowshoes:
“This week of tramping has been such a pleasure and benefit to me that I feel like telling others, and especially women, what they miss. After a good stiff climb, we spent an hour and a half on the summit, but it was too short, and we found it very hard to turn and go back to the world below us.” (Unidentified lady trekker, after climbing Mount Lafayette in 1888).
“Peak bagging”, or “collecting 4000-footers”, as it is called today, became a fashion. Climbing clubs were trying to reach the desired magic number of 48…
All these 19th century ladies climbing mountains in skirts and snowshoes already put me to shame, and I decided to be brave and drive to the trailhead once the rain eased up a bit. Once there, I was still not able to pull myself out of the car, though. If truth be told, I was secretly contemplating to blow it all off and continue the drive to Lincoln, where I would for sure find a nice breakfast and a warm room.
But, a group of young girls in shorts jumped out of their cars into the rain, on for their track to Osceola…
I collected myself, decided to stick with my goals, get out of that cute car and into the pouring rain…
OK, I did not use to be that way. In my twenties I would see a mountain and would immediately try to scale it. Among others, I climbed the Nevado de Toluca in Mexico, the Tunguraua in Ecuador, the Pacaya in Guatemala. I trekked the mountainous parts of Ecuador to the spectacular volcano crater lakes of Quilatoa …
Then came the knee problems and my physical horizons shrunk…
This is me on Tungurahua, Ecuador, 1981. Vive la difference.
Two Roads Diverged in a Wood, and I Took the Easier One...
Basically, again, there’s no need to do “verticals”. We have enough imperatives in our lives. The world offers its beauty also at level. So despite all the “pressure” (mostly internal) to be ambitious, I stuck with my program and went on a perfect “horizontal” that day. I already paid my vertical dues the day before on the Boulder Loop.
While “everybody” was collecting their 4000+ footers (in this case the extremely challenging Mount Osceola), I followed the recommendations I got from G. and the old couple, and kept to the Greeley Ponds trail. The trails started at the same point, but then split. Two roads diverged in this wood and I took the easier one.
At the same time, the young, beautiful and ambitious were toiling to see summit views of the ponds, but according to http://www.summitpost.org/mount-osceola-via-greeley-ponds/156276, they will not actually see much there: “At 2.8 miles of often difficult climbing it reaches the top of East Osceola (4156′) and its view of nothing but the trees right in front of you. Not much of a reward for hard effort, but if you follow the ridge a few steps in either direction you can get glimpses through the trees“.
I, in contrast, enjoyed the most beautiful lake vistas.
The pond reminded me of Newfoundland lakes – pristine, totally natural, no camps, no motorboats or any boats for that matter, not even kayaks.
By the pond, I met a couple with their two children and their dog: He was a firefighter and she was a nurse. Interestingly, he was currently taking a class about bomb dismantling, delivered by an Israeli guy with 25 years of experience… It made me feel good we can be useful to big America, and the couple was extraordinarily nice as well.
On the way, I also “met” a lot of fascinating mushrooms, some red leaves, trees and creepers that started to change colors. Trees and ferns ere growing out of decaying trees or on sheer rock.
Some mushrooms are total aliens…Maybe they miss their evolutionary past as jellyfish…
How can you pay attention if you are busy catching up with your group in conquering the summit?
And, by the way, “Flats” are not exactly flat or a walk in the park. There are ups and downs and other obstacles:
And, again, taking decisions on the spot. How long does it take to the second pond? Is there time? Yes. Energy? Also. OK, will do.
Beauty was out for grabs:
September 11th, American and Israeli Scouts and New Hampshire Peaks
On the way back, I met a large group of scouts coming down Osceola Mountain. They were carrying the huge orange flag poles they used for marking the summit conquest. By their own admission, they only hung the flags for five minutes or so, as the cold was so penetrating. They could not wait the two hours required by the scout etiquette.
One of the boys was rubbing his hands with a small packet. It was a hand warmer, an unknown item in the Israeli market… The boys came with two older men, who were their mentors. The men were fairly advanced in years and, compared with the boys, were not that much in shape. As the boys ran ahead, I talked with them. They explained the hike was intentionally set for September 11th as a commemoration.
Scouts in America are so much more formal than in Israel. That holds true for our militaries as well. The costumes are cleaner-cut and very decorated, the mentors are much older and professional. The whole fun of the scouts in Israel is that 16-17-year-olds train the younger kids. Only the top heads of the troops, called “gdudim”, are anything like army age or older. It is an organization basically run by children for children, and that is its beauty.
Kids learn how to become leaders for other kids, a useful skill in an emerging country that depends on its army, but the atmosphere is not militaristic. The emphais is on socializing and the outdoors. The non-formalism in Israel is an integral part of the fun. In my generation, scout membership was a major element of our social lives outside of school.
The separation between girl scouts and boy scouts was terminated at seventh grade, the beginning of junior high. From then on, the social aspects of boys meeting girls were paramount. Only the smaller kids had separate groups, with girl mentors for the girls and boys for the boys. Once together, the mentors were mostly high school folks. They would lead discussions on various pertinent topics, like what is the definition of a people. Sometimes they read us from books that were popular at the time and could intrigue our minds, like Orwell’s 1984… At one time we spoke about the riots in Berkeley…
I know very little about the American Scouts, but just looking at the uniforms, it is clear there is a big difference. To be fair, though, on this trip at least, the kids were dressed plainly…
The boys being boys were going a bit wild once they realized the older guys were lingering. They didn’t grab the opportunity for independence, but waited for us a bit down the road, then split off again to meet us at the parking lot. I insisted on taking their group picture. Unfortunately, I forogt my walking stick by the tree.
As I reached the campground, I realized the walking stick wasn’t with me, but it was too late to return, and I was tired. The first thing I did the next day was to drive all the way back to Greeley Ponds, but the stick was gone. Somebody must have thought it was left as a present, as sometimes people do…
I decided not to take another walk, but rather drive the three flanks of the “scenic trail”, including the two notches: Franconia and Crawford, both spectacular!!!
I stopped several times, taking pictures, breathing.
That hotel was incredible, but no sense in jealousy. We were doing a camping trip!!!
The famous Appalachian Trail crosses through these powerful notches. I came back taking the shortcut called the Bear Notch Road, a lonely desolate road, closed in winters. It was winding and exhausting to drive, but pretty. Its junction with the Kancamagus was almost adjacent to the campground.
The next day I took to the peak of peaks, braving (kinda braving) Mt. Washington itself…