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Sunday, September 23, 2007

New Hampshire 7Sept07

Never tried the Indian Head trail to Pemigawasset Mountain. As good a day as any. No threats of rain. Warm and sunny, but the forested mountainside would present us with shelter from the sun and allot some cool mountain breezes. Height: 2664 feet, 1.8 miles each way; ascent/descent.

And, as we learned, a relentlessly ascending clamber over stones, rocks, pebble-encrusted dirt, and gnarled tree roots. No volunteer handiwork to enhance the climbing experience here. All as nature intended; a rough-hewn mountain ascent, however relatively modest beside its 4000+ft. neighbours.

Approaching the trailhead, we looked up...up...up. Before dipping into the highway underpass. Admiring the spire high above us, only slightly cringing at the bulk, the height, the presumed ease of access.

The forest understory of ferns, dogwood, jewelweed and Queen Anne's lace. Hawkweed, white, mauve, purple asters, goldenrod and pussytoes. The backdrop of maple, pine, beech, made for a lovely forest snapshot. Monarch butterflies flitted about the wildflowers. The sound of highway traffic filtered through the leafmass, and so did the sun, but barely.

The day was heating toward its predicted high of 85 - 90-degrees. the trail dipped, then began steadily rising and we passed a number of rough footbridges, switching across a barely-there creek.

Two thirtyish shorts-clad men, each carrying two hiking poles descending, their shirts sweat-drenched, their faces leaking perspiration. We briefly stop, exchange pleasantries, forge on. A very long way for us to go to reach where they've come from, clearly exhausted. Wimps.

We're feeling pretty good, our little dogs obviously interested, ready for adventure. Progress is fairly steady. Up, up and onward. Not stopping to rest too often. Guide book gives an estimate of an hour and a half to reach the top. We're good to go. Whoops. Forgot the hiking stick in the trunk of the car.

Crossing another rock-infused stream. There's some fallen beech branches and out comes the trusty old Swiss Army knife, replete with saw blade. No time at all to sever a portion cut to length. A tad heavy, but it'd do.

It's soon obvious that beech and yellow birch are king here. Specimens of super-sized trees dot the forest interior. Some old birch giants have fallen, their impressive, deteriorating girths hosting peculiar-looking, colourful fungi. Lots of white birch, modest in size. Mostly deciduous, with the exception of various-sized firs stippling the forest floor. The understory a combination of ferns, dogwood and striped maple.

The too-heavy beech stick is abandoned in favour of a more slender, still stout, length of striped maple. A more comfortable fit. A peeling process proceeds as we do.

Faint voices drifting from above, steadily approaching. A young couple. He bald, she prettily not. She's intrigued with the dogs' exploit, making the hike. Her own little Boston bull terrier, she says, can't manage that level of exercise. She also whispers to me that her companion proposed marriage as they sat on top. She glows, I respond and we chat.

Her husband-to-be busy in conversation with mine. Finally, best wishes all around, and we forge on. Forge it is, with some degree of terrain-inspired difficulty and a growing sense of effort for us. The ascent seems interminable, a steady effort, one rise seeming more steep, rock-bound, treacherous than the last. We're breathing more heavily, perspiration dripping from brows, stinging our eyes.

Button and Riley stop when we offer water. We stop also, not for water; to regain physical ease and perspective. Before trudging on again. And again. Finally, ahead we espy blue sky and stunted-appearing trees fringing the near horizon.

Now I notice the leafy remains of lily-of-the-valley, Ladies' Slipper, wood sorrel, around the trunks of trees, siding the trail at this height. On we stumble, a last steep push forward - and finally emerge, the trail giving way to broad, grey bedrock.

Up there, we see short, lush spruce skirting the area between the bush and the granite overlook. The landscape drops precipitously, an arras of mind-boggling sweep and grandeur. Assertively taller peaks beyond our own. Heavily treed below, grandly bald above. The drop is sudden, immediate, amazing.

Our little dogs sniff and snuffle about with great curiosity. We're exposed now to the sun and it's hot. We've leashed the dogs. It would be impossible to attempt retrieval were they to venture too edgewise and slip. They're soon busy, in any event, with doggy biscuits and water again.

It's a long way down from where we marvelled at the height of the mountain. Full to the sun, a hazy mist hangs over the backdrop of the distant yet near peaks. A cooling breeze mediates the heat of the day and our newly-exposed sun experience.

The vastness of the depth and height and complexity of the geological features before us are compelling, absorbing, commanding and daunting. We take photographs. Bake in the sun, yet revel in the wind-sharp contrasts, like the conundrum of two earthbound creatures surveying an infinite scene of inhuman proportions.

One misted, mystical promontory folding into another, into another.



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