Belknap Mtn. 2382' /Gunstock Mountain 2250' /Mount Rowe 1680'
Brook Trail/Saddle Trail/Blue Trail/Ski Trails/ Ridge Trail
5 +/- Miles 1200' Elevation gain
Kevin, Judy, David, Coco and Blue
One year ago today our world came to a screeching halt. Our trail companion and beloved dog Emma left this plane of existence to chase squirrels and birds on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. For now we are separated, but she lives on in our hearts. If there is hope and faith left in the world we will one day be together again, hiking muddy trails and stopping to sniff the wildflowers. We returned today to the mountains she hiked with us on the last day of her life, Belknap and Gunstock. We did not have the heart, nor could we make ourselves follow the same route we took on that day one year ago. Someday we will.
On this day we once again hiked from the east side, up the Brook Trail from the parking lot at Gunstock, a route we had also taken with her many times. The brook was flowing well, with quite a bit of snow still left on the ski trails left to melt. As we stopped to choose our paths across the gushing brook as the trail winds its way back and forth from one bank to the other, I swear I can still see her trot through the water and up the other side, but I know it is only the memory that lives on inside me, and gives me the strength for my next few steps.
David is with us again today, and he has brought along Linda's Blue and his newly rescued dog, Coco, (Coconuts). Blue was a great friend and trail buddy with Emma, who tolerated many dogs, but truly seemed to like Mr. Blue. He was with us last year on her last hike and it was only fitting that he return with us to mark the day this year. He and Coco have come a long way in two short weeks to becoming trail buddies. There is a still a ways to go, but it seems success is a distinct possibility where it was a question mark a short time ago. The dogs bound off ahead, disappearing and reappearing at intervals, thoroughly enjoying the trail and the freedom it had brought them yet again.
As we rose up the trail we crossed the ski trails at different junctures. It had been a good snow year and there was still a pretty good amount of it packed down and covering most of the trails. We saw someone taking a few turns with his dog chasing him the whole way. He only hiked up a short way and ran out of snow, but as we hiked further up the mountain we could see that he should have gone higher as well as some pretty good runs could still have been made. In the damp forest and glades we could tell that spring was trying hard to take control. There were ferns and bracken starting to poke up, and I found some trillium that had not yet flowered.
We reached the junction where the trail intersects with those going south to Belknap and north to Gunstock. There is a wet puddle where snowmelt makes a seasonal brook and I stopped for a moment remembering the last photograph I had taken of our little girl wallowing in the mud here. In my mind's eye I could still see her, old, but not struggling. If I had known her time was so rapidly approaching I would have carried her down the mountain, but brave little dog that she was she carried herself. Later that day she carried her tired little body into the emergency vet's hospital as she wrestled with congestive heart failure. When I think of how brave she was that day I well up inside…
We followed the trail south towards Belknap, first descending slightly to the col, then rising up the north flank. A couple hundred yards before reaching the summit there is a viewpoint that has a nice log to sit on and one of the best built cairns I have ever seen. We've begun to call this spot "Emma's Outlook". It is the last expansive view she would ever have in this world. She stood and looked out as she always did whenever there was a view to be had. Out she looked, across Lake Winnepesaukee to the Ossipee Mountains then north to the Sandwich Range. There was not a one her tiny legs had not carried her to the top of. Beyond them all, glistening like a crown jewell, rose Mount Washington, snow covered and splendid. Could she see that far? I like to think she could…
Today there were to be no such views. The sky had darkened and a cold rain began to pelt us as we stood in this spot, gazing at the fog above the lake and the storm clouds which enveloped the Ossipees beyond. We stood at the cairn and found the rocks from home we had added. A friend had built the cairn in Emma's honor when he heard of her passing. I have to say, it means an awful lot to us. We had brought a couple of stuffed animals, small replicas we had made of Emma, hand-made of sheep's wool by a sweet girl who makes these Woofin' Woolies.
She made us one to represent young Emma, whose face was almost completely black, and one to represent an older Emma, whose face was almost completely white. She paid exceptional attention to detail, and we are very thankful to have them. I stood them on the highest rock of the cairn and they stared out over the gray lake as the rain turned to sleet and the mountain gods seemed to shed their tears as well. We donned our rain jackets and gathered up our things as we wiped a tear or two and choked back the rest.
We continued on to the summit and the fire tower where I hoped I would find the Fire Warden/Trail Adopter who had built the cairn for Emma, but the tower and fire warden's cabin were locked and did not appear to have been opened yet for the season. We stood on the porch of the cabin for a bit to see if the rain would let up. When it did David and I made a quick trip up the tower, but there was little to see except passing clouds. As we began our descent back the way we had come the sun came out and the sky cleared. I found some more trillium beside the trail. Now rain soaked its water droplets glistened in the bright sun as steamy wisps of fog raced along the high meadow. I felt my Emma there…
We returned to the col, then up to the junction and then continued north towards Gunstock. The dogs continued to bound along, now on the trail, now off. As we rose up to the open summit of Gunstock the clouds had once again taken over and within minutes, just as we sat at the picnic tables of the pub and looked out towards the Ossipees, the sleet came again. I stood under the eave and ate my sandwich, dogs at my feet hoping for a bite, or better, that I would drop it. As quickly as it came the shower left again, leaving ice pellets in the dog's fur. We began our way down towards Mount Rowe.
I found several places along the trail that were covered in Trailing Arbutus, more commonly known as Mayflower. As we descended to another col and began to scramble up and along the ridge on the way to Rowe we came across some Hepatica. Here we could turn and see the two hills we had already crossed, and the many ski trails still covered in snow now facing us. The sun ducked in and out of the clouds and warmed us to the bone which was a nice change from being on the tower in the cold rain and feeling my hands freeze on the cold railing. My leg now sore I lagged behind the others on the descent, taking my time and stopping to photograph the Mayflower which I found in beautiful patches of pink and white. A little shadow trotted along beside me...