A few introductory words…
At 30 years old, I’ve had the opportunity to do a bit of traveling in my day. I’ve seen many beautiful places and met some sensational human beings. That being said, I can honestly say that New Hampshire is still one of the most brilliant locations I’ve ever ventured through.
A short 3 hour drive north from my mission HQ in Massachusetts, lies the great White Mountains of New Hampshire. Certainly not the tallest nor most extreme mountain range in the world, but this little section of the Appalachian mountain range is home to 48 gorgeous peaks that tower over 4,000 ft above sea level (amongst countless others at lower altitudes). The most prominent of which is Mount Washington, which has held some records for the most extreme climate changes in the world. A wonderous place indeed.
A month ago I took a short hike on the Boulder Loop Trail off the Kancamangus Highway with some friends after a canoe trip and caught the hiking bug again. I had to get back to the Whites and test my human spirit a little more.
Let the adventure begin…
The timing was perfect, my cousin Andrew Golenski (usual hiking partner) had just returned from a two-week mountain excursion in Wyoming and was jazzed up about life as he always is. Simultaneously, my friend, colleague, and fellow adventure seeker Michael Arestad was in town from Colorado and co-working with me for the week. We had to get up to the White Mountains to do some exploring since he’d never been. Admittedly, I was unaware at the time, but it was going to be the 100th anniversary of birth of the United States Park Service. What better time to go for a walk in a national park, than this?
We decided that an overnight night trip was the best way to maximize a wilderness recharge and Andrew suggested Mt. Carrigain. I wasn’t familiar with this particular peak, but he explained that at the summit of the 4,682 foot mountain was a fire tower that offered a 360 degree view of the White Mountains. Having an unhealthy interest in the Milky Way Galaxy and astrophotography in general, I knew I had to see this spot. I quickly checked the weather, and moon forecasts for the week. The cosmos decided – Wednesday night would be our night.
On Tuesday we packed all our overnight gear in our framepacks and got ready to set sail Wednesday morning. At a seemingly endless drive, we arrived at the base of Mt. Carrigain around 1:30 p.m. and quickly began our ascent. It was a 5 mile hike that began at a leisurely increase in elevation with beautiful trails covered in moss and small mountain run-off streams. Before long, the pitch of the trail started becoming steep and the soft ground gave way to some seriously rocky terrain.
As we ventured towards the heavens, many folks passed us on their way back down the mountain. As experienced on any trail in New England, many folks said hello and wished us luck, and a few even spotted our sleeping bags and made some pleasant small talk about how amazing it was going to be for us to sleep at the summit. While the day was mildly warm and extremely humid, we were sheltered from the sun by some wonderful birch trees most of the way. We didn’t have to break that much, but we each consumed well over 2 liters of water on the ascent alone.
It took nearly 5 hours to climb the 5 mile trail to the summit, but when we arrived we were greeted not by humans, but by a couple of birds and a 30 foot fire tower we had all to ourselves.
We grudgingly climbed the tower with our packs that now felt like they were actively trying to pull us back down to earth. The air was cool and the sun was quickly disappearing behind the peaks – we didn’t have much time for a breather before we needed to set up camp.
After a quick change into some dry clothes, we found a spot just below the fire tower with was relatively flat and ready for some hammocks to be propped. Andy and Mike quickly got their sleeping equipment ready and I began to mark a fire pit away from the trees. In my packing haste I forgot my hammock so it was destined to be a ground dweller for the evening. Whoops!
We made a small fire to keep us warm and dry our clothes – the temperature that day went from around 80 degrees F at the base to the mid 50’s at the summit with a wind that got stronger as the sun went down. We made our favorite freeze-dried meals (beef strogenoff drooooool) and settled in. Before long, the light was gone and it was time to get back on top of the tower for some star-gazing.
The light gave way to a beautiful painting of the stars…
The guys brought their sleeping pads and I brought my camera and tripod. There was no laying down for me, my camera and I had work to do.
It’s worth noting that if you’re a city or suburb dweller like many, chances are when you look up on a clear night you can see a few hundred or a few thousand stars spaced our by black and deep blues. But when you’re in a location with little light pollution, there isn’t much empty space – the blacks and deep blues are replaced with more stars – a seemingly infinite display of diamonds overhead with the occasional shooting star. The Milky Way Galaxy is visible to the human eyes and it’s so jaw-dropping that you’ll often forget to blink. I can’t stress enough to folks how their appreciation of existence and curiosity will be heightened exponentially after an experience like this.
For over two hours we sat atop the tower and admired the stars. We could see some faint lights of Lincoln New Hampshire and Bartlett down below, but also far to the east we bright lights of Portland, Maine – nearly 100 miles away. The depth was truly spectacular.
It was getting late and some clouds were beginning to roll in from the west. The stars were slowly fading. Time to get some rest after a strenuous day. We hung our food from the tower away from camp. Just in case any hungry bears were wandering around we didn’t want to let them get our food supply! We then relit the fire one last time for a night-light, and settled in for some slumber.
The walk down…
We woke up fairly early to a brisk morning in 40s (Fahrenheit). We climbed back up the tower for one last spectacular view before the descent. It was a hazy morning and the sun was slowly waking up. I took a few shots with my camera, but mainly just wanted to sit and gaze at the ancient mountains. There’s a spectacular amount of clarity that presents itself to one when they close their laptop and place themselves in a position of solitude amongst the wilderness.
After climbing back down to our camp, we quickly packed up our gear, cleaned up the campsite we constructed, and began the trek back. Although we were still fairly exhausted, the walk down was considerably faster. Only taking about 2.5 hours, it felt like we were flying down the side of Mt. Carrigain. Admittedly, at one point about halfway down, my knees gave out and I face-planted on the rocky trail. I was fine so we all laughed good and hard for a bit. Before long the trail evened out and we were greeted by Michael’s Jeep. It was time to return home.
After a long drive, we returned home and it was time for a beer. But we’ll be back soon…