Sunday, September 7, 2008
12:02:54 AM EDT
One is never relieved from proving one's grit.
DB - The Vagabond
This is a long one, so put the kettle on if you're going to read it.
Tremont is part of the White Mountain National Forest which stretches from Maine into New Hampshire. There are two ways to hike to the summit. One is a straight up trail off of one highway. The other is a network of trails beginning at a different highway. One day in late October I decided to take the long way up, through the network of interesting trails.
I studied the map and trail guide and calculated that it would take me 4 hours to reach the summit. So I began at 10 a. m. I parked my car in a parking area just off the highway and locked it. I took my trusty walking staff and my back pack. In the pack I had a towel, a canteen of water, a plastic container for my sandwich and a banana. a flashlight, toilet paper, the trail guide, cigarettes and wooden matches.
At first there was an easy half mile walk to the brook which needed to be forded. A pebbly walk from the brook took me to a long, wide straight trail which led along the side of the brook, but then veered onto a spur trail that wandered through the woods to an old logging road beside a pond. After a while on that it came upon a gravel road which seems to have been put in for construction which never took place. On the other side of it was the trail that began the ascent up the mountain. It was a long winding, twisting trail through the forest and up the side of Tremont. It was well traveled, it seemed, but not well marked. The surface of the trail was mainly roots and rocks. It went along the ledge of a cliff, down into a small valley and eventually up through thicktrees to the summit. Easy to describe, but it took a lot of effort to do.
When I got to the summit I received a shock. As the timber line is only a few feet below the summit, I had not seen the sky in an hour or so. When I stepped out on to the peak I saw that the sun was a lot further along in the sky than I had expected. Since I didn't have a watch with me, I didn't know what time it was, but I knew it was later than I assumed it would be and I was going to have to descend the mountain mostly in the dark. But I wasn't really ready for just how dark it was going to be.
I quickly ate my sandwich and banana, tossing the banana skin (biodegradable - good litter), said to the mountain top that I would be back some day and started down.
The first hour was okay, but when I emerged out of the small valley the sun set and it became pitch dark, no moon, nothing. I got out my flashlight and proceeded.
The one thing I knew for certain was that no matter what I had to stay on the trail. I fell into a slow, quiet panic. All the roots and rocks I had stepped on as I came up now seemed to wriggle and squirm under my feet. I don't know if it was moths or small birds flying by me but I sometimes heard something like whispering close to my head. and also the sounds of foot steps in the woods next to me.
There was a strong temptation to just start down the slope of the mountain, but I knew that if I did that I wouldn't know where I was when I cam out and it might take days to find my car. And maybe I wouldn't come out at all but end up in a swamp or a briar patch. And there were cliffs I could accidentally step off in the dark.
So with flashlight in hand I poked along slowly, trying not to stumble and fall, trying to stay on the trail. Occasionally I would see a trail marker, which was encouraging, but mostly it was keeping my eyes on the ground and feeling with my feet. Now and then I would step off the trail, but somehow I knew it immediately and would step back to where I knew it was, and search for the next step. It was a matter of feeling the ground with my feet, intuition and some invisible guidance. Once I stopped to tie my boot and after I had moved on for a minute I realized I had left my staff back there, so I went back and got it. One learns to keep what one has. It was a valuable possession.
At one point the trail even ascended again for a short distance. That was confusing to me.
I didn't know how late it was, but I knew I shouldn't try to bed down for the night and wait until dawn. It was October, cold, and I wasn't dressed warmly enough to get through the night without suffering from exposure to the cold.
After many, many hours of finding my way through the thick forest and uncertain trail, I made it down off Tremont to the gravel road.
I knew that if I walked that road it would eventually take me to a tertiary road which would eventually take me to the highway which would eventually take me back to my car. But I could tell from the map that it would probably take me until mid day to do that. So I decided to continue on the way I had come.
I crossed the gravel road and entered the old logging road that eventually went along the side of the pond. I knew that the Appalachian Mountain Club had posted a sign marking the end of the spur trail and I was looking for it. After about an hour I saw it. But at that exact moment there was the loud sound of something throwing a large rock into the pond, right next to me. I knew there were no gorillas in New Hampshire so the first thing I thought of was that it was obviously Sasquatch, Big Foot, and I expected that at any moment I was going to be picked up by some big, smelly, hairy thing and slammed against a tree.
I didn't shine my flashlight over to see what sort of a beast it was. I just turned on to the spur trail and kept moving, slowly, over the roots and rocks. As far as I know, I wasn't followed.
But then, after another hour or so, I came upon a large tree that had fallen directly across the trail. I didn't remember that tree during the ascent, and it wasn't something that had recently happened, but it was quite obviously there and I must have gone around it. I knew I was on the trail, so I put my back pack down to mark it so that I could always return to that spot, and walked all around that tree searching for where the trail came out on the other side. I think I walked around that tree 3 times looking for the trail when, accidentally, my flash light picked up a trail marker that was off to the side. It was a red ribbon tied high up on a tree. Obviously this trail was used by cross country skiers in the winter and it was one of their markings. But it meant that the trail went of to the right and the tree simply lay along side of it. That's why I hadn't remembered it.
So i followed the trail out to the wide easy trail that went along beside the brook. After another hour or so I came out to the pebble area leading to the brook. I turned off the flashlight and let the sound of the brook lead me to the edge of it. I sat down to rest before I forded the brook, took out my cigarettes and matches. When I struck a match I was amazed to see, for an instant, 180 degrees around me, eyes. Big eyes, little eyes, round eyes, slanted eyes, squinty eyes. It seemed that all the creatures in the woods had come out to see what this was that was stomping through their bushes. Immediately there was the sound of scurrying as they all left the scene. I chuckled because I got the impression that I probably had company every step of the way.
I finished the cigarette, pushed it into the ground (more good litter, non-filter, very degradable) and forded the brook. My staff was very helpful for doing that. With it I could feel the rocks at the bottom that I could step on.
I dried off my feet with my towel and made the last half mile to my car. When I unlocked it and opened the door the light from inside flooded the parking area. It was a welcome sight. When i got in the car the clock on the dash board said 2 a. m. It had taken me 16 hours.
The next day I called my friend Ernie, who knows about these things, and asked him what made that loud noise at the pond that frightened me so much. He said it was probably a beaver. They slap their tails in the water to frighten off their enemies. I am here to tell you it's very effective.
A week later I took the other trail up to Tremonet. It was a tough straight up the hill trail, but it was shorter. When i got to the summit I got to enjoy the view that I had to miss the first time. On my way up I noticed frost forming on the brown and amber leaves that had fallen from the trees and I knew it would soon be hunting season, there would be no more hiking until the spring.
I never returned to Tremont Mountain after that. Why should I? I had proven my grit.
DB - Vagabond Journeys