After a day where I could barely walk the neighbors dogs the two miles out to "The Point" and back because I was in so much pain, I was looking forward to this hike we had planned with a lot of angst and trepidation. I was worried I would not be able to get myself up and over these two small hills. The day broke bright and beautiful, though frigid, and I knew I had to go and at least try. The morning had brought an aching hip and a new pain to worry about in my lower left back. I must have twisted it when I ducked through the gate on the way to "The Point" with the dogs. I was not a happy hiker as we headed out the door… I was wondering how two hours of sitting in the car with a sore back was going to make it feel on the drive up to Waterville Valley.
I stepped out of the car in the parking lot when we arrived and stood up gently. As I straightened up I felt OK and as we went about getting ready Blue bounded around the snowbanks in the empty lot. It was a beautiful morning and I was eager to be on the trail, if I could only do it! I called on all my deceased relatives and the mountain gods, "Please let me do this!" We started out and right away it was obvious that the trail was going to be well packed out, it was frozen solid with a quarter inch of exquisite powder. Blue was ecstatic, running with his nose down in the powder and leaping off trail after every scent it found, often finding himself up to his shoulders in the snow where it wasn't packed trail. The first few hundred yards felt good, maybe I would be OK.
As we hiked on towards Welch Mountain the gradual incline gave me time to stretch sore muscles and for everything to snap back into place. It has been a struggle to walk normally again after having the knee surgically fixed, I limped and compensated for so many years. Arthritis has set in deep in the hip of that leg and has made me worry my hiking career may be coming to a close. I waited long months this time after surgery to go out and skate, and although I have made several long hikes in the months since, I am not back to where I want to be. Recently I began to play hockey again and that has gone well, and the fact I can play without much pain during or after has me eager to hike more though many days, like the day before this hike, it has been a struggle to merely walk.
Bright sun shone through the trees and made the snow crunching under our feet glisten like glitter. The brook beside the trail seemed frozen solid as not a trickle could be heard. In the canopy above us chickadees flitted about and as the sun warmed the trees there was an occasional loud crack as the frozen sap began to flow. I set my mind on these things and realized I was glad to just be out in the woods no matter what, the worry and anticipation dissipated like the darkness at sunrise as we rose through the forest and soon found ourselves breaking out of the trees and onto the first ledge overlooking Waterville Valley stretching east before us. Across the way the mass of Sandwich Dome rose above the valley and there was not a cloud to be found in the sky. We took some water and a quick exhale as I blew away the last of my fears before we started up the rest of the ledges that would lead us to the top of Welch Mountain.
We had all needed this day out in the sun and began to realize just how much as we began again to rise up the trail. My leg felt as good as it ever does ad the pain in my back had become forgettable for the time being. I set out ahead, now in the lead as we crossed the ledges, ducking back into the forest and breaking out again to scamper up more ledge. It really felt like my first time hiking again as the pure joy of being out welled up inside me. The views were magnificent and the temperatures continued to rise, as did our spirits. I was glad we had not been out much in the recent months, it had given my leg time to heal and made the joy of hiking again seem like a renewal of sorts. I missed my Emma, but I carried her in my heart, and I felt her there as I watched her best friend Blue running nose down along the various tracks he crossed.
There was hardly a breath of wind, and that which came was welcome as the sun beat on us. At the top of Welch we stopped and drank in the views as we stuffed sandwiches into our hungry faces. Blue gobbled down all of his food and turned to us for more. We laughed as we shared memories of Emma scratching at our packs for food every time we stopped along the trail, even when Judy had turned an ankle and fallen Emma was there to scratch at her pack. Things will never be the same without her, but we will continue with a new chapter, writing it in her honor until we can meet again.
We soon began the scramble down to the col between Welch and Dickey. The trail was so well packed it was like walking a sidewalk and my leg was thankful. It may have been the best conditions we had ever experienced hiking anywhere in the mountains, and so beautiful a day to be thankful for! We knew that others would be off on Prezzie Traverses and maybe crossing the Bonds on such a perfect day, but it mattered little as we had each other and these two small hills to ourselves. We did not see another soul the entire hike, certainly a first on this trail. We rose to the summit of Dickey and stood for awhile gazing north and west at the snow crowned Franconia Ridge and the mass of Cannon Mountain. Memories of summer nights spent just north of where we stood, gorgeous sunsets, warm nights under a full moon and Emma standing guard outside the tent as coyotes howled in the distance all flooded through our consciousness as we stood there. Blue begged for more food as raven spied us from the top of a nearby spruce.
My leg felt good, but more than that, my heart felt good. The hours of care and worry leading up to the hike had melted away, and in its place was the joy I knew I must once again find. We hiked down again crossing from thick spruce forest and shade and then back out onto open ledges, recalling times we had crossed these spots clinging to bushes to keep from sliding off the mountain on ice coated ledge. We passed the spots where I knew in years past we had stopped to take pictures with Emma and I was thankful that we had done this, and joyful of the time we had spent together here. As the hike was winding to an end we both bemoaned having not chosen something longer and bigger, but I knew in my heart it was enough for now, and hopefully I can get back soon to where I was a short year ago.