I’m a mountain girl. I always have been. For most of my life I’ve lived within 100 miles of the sea. For the last 15 years, I’ve lived within 10 miles. Entire years have been strung together when I haven’t once gone to a beach or gazed over the crashing waves. Back in my dorm room, in college, where other people had pictures of their dogs or their high school friends, my wall was plastered with Mt. Rainier.
Mt. Rainier is 14,411 feet tall. If you ask me what the proper height for a real mountain would be, I’d venture that between 14 and 15 thousand feet is just about right. Anything you can drive to the top of can categorically not be a mountain. This was, at least, my opinion for years. But it has mysteriously come to pass that I am living in New England, and have lo these fifteen years. And while I might make condescending noises about the so called “mountains” that top out at a piffulous five thousand feet (barely a hill!), my sons are New Englanders and my weekends for the forseeable future will be spent in New England.
For three summers, now, we have camped at White Lake State Park, which is a lovely combination of rustic and convenient. We have driven over the Kankamangus on our “Car Walks” in foul and fair weather. And I’ve been lured, I confess, to thinking about hiking those trails branching off appealingly to the sides of the road.
This weekend, a strange collection of events made it possible for my beloved husband and I go camping up there, BY OURSELVES. After the 4th of July trip, replete with great whining, we were wondering whether we actually LIKED camping. (In retrospect, camping is less fun with a massively swollen knee and several torn ligaments – FYI.) The answer by the way is yes – we do like camping!
Yesterday after a leisurely and late morning, we went to the ranger station for the White Mountain National Forest for advice on trails and to buy a parking pass. The advice was greatly needed, since Irene had actually closed the Kankamangus. The ranger pointed us to a moderate 4 – 6 hour hike, which was exactly what we’d asked for.
Little did we know he was a maniac. The route in question was originally intended to summit Mt. Chocorua by way of Champney Falls. It gained roughly 3000 feet over the course of 3 miles. Much of the trail looked like this:
Other sections of the trail were steep and had bad footing.
Sadly, good sense caused us to turn back .6 of a mile short of the summit of Mt. Chocorua. (There were thundrous looking clouds overhead and I was concerned regarding whether we had enough daylight to safely navigate our way down.) But altogether, it was a splendid hike. I’m delighted to report that my knee, shredded as it is, endured remarkably and gave me hardly any trouble the entire hike. It was a lovely farewell to mobility for me.
Of course, drying my foot in the shower that night (see also: civilized campground) I managed to activate my torn meniscus and I am once again limping and moaning, but that’s not the fault of the Champney Falls trail!
I have backpacked the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier – much of it more than once (and sans ACL, by the way). I have hoisted 40 pound packs over 7000 foot high glacier-ridden saddles between great mountains. I have watched eagles soar beneath my feet and clouds break on the shores of alpine meadows like waves. This trail was as mean as any I have known, and I have known many.
Over time I have come to realize that these tame, worn-down, solid, glacier-riven granite mountains of my adopted home are, perhaps, shorter than their younger Western siblings. You may be able to drive your station wagon to the top of Mt. Washington. Coming down from the Kankamangus, you may have your choice of (bad) burgers and beer to slake your hunger and thirst. But for all that, these are no less mountains. Their trails are no less treacherous and difficult. Indeed, perhaps they are more so. My beloved Cascades flaunt their glory and majesty. The White Mountains are crafty and guilesome in their old age, revealing their splendour more in their rainment than in their bodies. But, grudgingly, I am coming to respect them. Perhaps even to like them.
We’ll see how this goes.