Monday, July 23, 2012

Getting Back to Nature

It's good to get away from everything now and then. An opportunity to recharge, relax and forget about all of those things that cause stress. What better than to get out in nature for a bit to take in fresher air free, free from the cloistering atmosphere of the city? Enjoy the forests and birds. See the stars you can't see past the glow of civilization.

That's what I did this past week, which, for those paying attention, explains my recent absence from cyberspace. Five days of camping in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, with no computer at hand and no way for work to contact me was simply amazing. I was able to experience a number of different things that no amount of photography or video can portray adequately, and even words fail to fully encompass.

This trip was my first experience surviving mountain thunderstorms. Though I had been rained on previously, nothing compared to huddling in an old tent under a tarp, checking for water seeping in through the seams; all the while, the lightning flashed and thunder crashed overhead, shaking the very ground. The rain came down in periodic torrents, creating its own answer to the rolling booms from the clouds as it pounded the thin material keeping me dry. I learned a number of things that night. First, I need a new tent. What genius thought it was a good idea to put a seam in the floor, I have no clue. Second, make sure all points of the tarp(s) covering the tent are securely tied down, lest the wind deprive you of your waterproof shelter. Third, earplugs may help one sleep the whole night through, rather than being woken up every time a strong gust of wind or downpour starts. Finally, in the event that water does manage to get in, folding camp cots may not be such a bad idea.

At any rate, the following morning, the skies were clear and cool, weather that continued for the rest of the week, making for ideal hiking conditions. I went up Indian Head (so-so climb with a decent view at the top), walked the 2 miles of the Flume Gorge (stunningly gorgeous - ha!) and finished up that day's hiking with Bald Mountain (sadly, no ominous music tempting me to spend the night) and Artists' Bluff (no worth the effort, in my opinion).

The pinnacle (haha!) of my getaway was climbing up Cannon Mountain. Starting at Lafayette Place Campground and taking the Lonesome Lake Trail to Hi Cannon Trail, this was one of the most varied, beautiful and challenging hikes of the week. Steep forested switchbacks and scrabbling over boulders, including an old wooden ladder bolted to the rocky face at one point, lead up to a more serene trail through pines after about two and a half miles. It's not a trail to take lightly. While probably not one of the most difficult, it is still rather tiring and demanding. A good pair of hiking boots is a must, as is a hearty breakfast.

But it's all worth it. Here's the view from the top:

View from the top of Cannon Mountain - taken with my Android
That range in the distance includes, from left to right, Mt. Lafayette, Mt. Lincoln and the Little Haystack, with Mt. Liberty just right of center. Even in July, the temps up top were nice and cool. It was a welcome respite for me, but I highly recommend packing a jacket, as it could be quite cold for some people. A bite to eat and some basking in the sun, then it was down to the base via the Kinsman Ridge Trail.

A side note: Kinsman Ridge Trail starts out with some boulder hopping and some up-and-down paths. And then it gets downright nasty. With nary a leveling out, the trail goes down, steeply, over rocks and boulders spaced just right to force you to take your time finding footholds rather than bounding from rock to rock. After a while, the trail then turns to loose gravel and scree on steep slopes, again forcing you to take your time descending, lest your foot slide out from under you and you wind up with a twisted ankle or careening off into the trees. In other words, take your time on this 2-mile descent and be prepared to just keep on going until you reach the bottom; there are no good places to pause along the way.

I also managed to get in one night of really good stargazing. The skies were dark enough to pick out the Milky Way, which, if I hadn't already been familiar with it, I would have mistaken for high, thin clouds. If I'd had a good camera and tripod with me at the time, I would have tried to get a long exposure of it. Next time, perhaps. I was also graced with about 14 or 15 satellites, 4 or 5 meteors and one UFO. And I mean that in the very literal sense: an object, flying overhead that I could not identify. Following more or less in the trail of a satellite, it would be visible, then disappear, reappear and so on, appearing to subtly change direction as it passed to the left of Cassiopeia and under Ursa Major. My guess is that it was some piece of space debris tumbling along its orbit, with a reflective surface only occasionally catching and reflecting the sun's rays.

All in all, it was a phenomenally enjoyable getaway, teaching me more about what to expect, what to prepare for and what are my own capabilities and potential. Perhaps in the future, I'll take on Mt. Lafayette. Until then, I'll recall the wonder and joy (and aches and pains) of getting back to nature.

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