This would be a bittersweet Seek the Peak year, the first we would attend without one of the stars of the show, Emma. We had waited in nervous anticipation for this event, knowing full well that it would be emotionally draining, seeing so many friends and people who loved Emma who we had not seen since her passing, and who would be giving their heartfelt and sincere condolences. We know it is all part of the process, part of the healing, but this knowledge did not stop us from shedding some tears.
As always, we arrived Friday to camp at Moosebrook where we would be with friends. Due to my feet dragging getting things together this year we missed out on our favorite site at the shelter for the 2nd year in a row. This time we camped in the main CG close to several good friends, most of whom we never would have met if not for this annual event. Mutual love for the mountains, Mount Washington and the Observatory in particular had brought us all together over the years through their forum, and through this annual hike-a-thon. Many of you have donated to our cause over the years and we are very grateful.
The weather gods threw a monkey wrench in the gears this year. The forecast for Saturday, the day of the planned hike was scary. This, I'm sure, made for some sleepless nights for those trying to pull off the largest fundraising event of the year for their non-profit organization. After all, if you are going to invite 500 people to hike your favorite mountain, you want to be able to tell them they will be relatively safe from the weather, especially when your organization is just that, a weather data gathering facility on the top of the highest point in the northeast, responsible for giving up to date weather forecasts for the high peaks of New Hampshire.
One of the meteorologists on Friday quipped, "The forecast numbers for the next 24 hours are the kind of model runs you do as a first day freshman to show a worst case scenario for severe weather. Comically scary." With that in mind we planned an easy day for Saturday, at a safe distance away from the rockpile. As it turned out we had an excellent view of the event as it engulfed the Northern Presidentials and brought a quick moving rain shower across Pinkham Notch at around 11am. This surely would have soaked any hikers on the slopes, and the potential for lightning and hail were too high to risk going above tree line. Kudos to the Obs for making it clear that people should stay off Mount Washington on this day. It was the right call and the simplest of logic, better safe than sorry.
The promise from the Observatory was that Sunday would be a beautiful hiking day, so with that in mind we planned an easy day with our friends Mark and Nat, and we would hike Pine Mountain in Gorham, minutes from our campsites. We decided to hike in from Pinkham B Road which may not have been the best choice for a Saturday, as it seems that Saturday is pick-up day for the parents of kids attending camp at the Horton Center. The first mile or so in is along the driveway to the HC, and we had to contend with some traffic on the way in. We were soon however off the road and onto the trail which quickly rises up to the southern ledges which offers incredible views south to Pinkham and Carter Notches, as well as the surrounding Carter/Wildcat Ridge to the east, and the Northern Presidentials to the west.
From this southern ledge we watched the predicted rain storm engulf the high peaks as it spread across Pinkham Notch and unleashed its drenching rain. This can make hiking in the Presidential Range treacherous even without lightning as it makes the lichen coated rocks slippery as ice. I have taken many a tumble on such rocks, they are unforgiving. The mica schist make up of these has an extremely rough surface which can tear skin and leave unprotected limbs as well as paws torn and bloody. Pondering this as we stood on the ledges and watched the rain pass I thought of how lucky we were to have been able to hike these mountains with Emma, her light weight saving her pads from injury on these bony trails.
From the ledges we headed north, taking in the views to be had along the way towards the northern hump of Pine Mountain known as Pulpit Rock. Here there is a wonderful, roofless church where there are Sunday morning sermons for the campers. The mountains have always been my church, and hiking with wife, dog and good friends my fellowship. On the way back we passed through the Horton Center where the child in me could not resist ringing the huge church bell. Apparently this is frowned upon in this establishment. My mortified wife and companions looked on trying to figure out just what the hell is wrong with me as I was scolded by the counsellor that was on duty.
"Can I help you people? We only use that bell for emergencies!" Damn, I didn't think there was anyone around, doh! "I didn't know that, sorry. There wasn't a sign." "Well, there's no sign because not everyone needs to touch everything they see." Damn, I do... "OK, sorry! Just leaving now!" I shuffled off in my best Quasimodo impersonation. Remember, if you're ever there: Don't ring the bell, no matter what your inner child says...
We went back to camp and got ready for the Seek the Peak after party, held in the huge circus tent at the base of the MW Auto Road. As always it was great to see old friends, and make a few new ones, and as always Hart turkey farm outdid themselves. Pulling off a catered turkey dinner for 3-400 people cannot be an easy feat. There is just something about having a Thanksgiving Dinner in July after a good hike that I find appealing. Is it just me?