Saturday, November 03, 2012

NH 4000 Footer Essay (Pt. 2): Overnight at Mizpah

What follows is part two of the five-part essay I'm writing for the NH 4000 Footer Club.  You can find part one here.

My very first trip up one of NH's big peaks took place in 2004 as a young camp counselor taking teenagers to the AMC's Mizpah Spring Hut for Calumet Lutheran Ministries.  Before that first summer I hiked up to Mizpah, the outdoors in general hadn't really ever been my thing.  I had technically been a Boy Scout for years, and even had recently earned my Eagle Scout Badge, but campouts had always been more about building fires, chopping down trees and generally screwing around with a ragtag group of friends than actually enjoying any real hiking through God's creation.  I had also been a camper at Calumet for a few years and counselor the prior summer as well, but even then I was more interested in getting a great tan or flirting with girls than soaking up the untrampled beauty of the White Mountains... when possible, I'd always go on the easy canoe trip with a few campers rather than a hike.

Boy I was goofy.
Upon first hearing I had to help lead an overnight to Mizpah, I was pretty bummed... the trip up the Crawford Path was technically categorized as one of the "hard" hikes Calumet offered, and it additionally meant two days away from my "epic love" that summer.  I was also at nearly the pinnacle of my neo-flower child phase, and thus had great concern about a long day of sweaty hiking messing up my "sweet" bleached-blonde locks.  Eventually though I came to terms with my fate and even heard from a few of my fellow counselors that it was amazing trip. The moss covered forest floor looked like some sort of fairy garden and water from the spring was supposedly the tastiest in the world.

Following my usual practice that summer, I fell asleep during the bus ride to the trailhead despite being responsible for campersI awoke as the bus pulled into Crawford Notch near the AMC's Highland Center to an absolutely beautiful valley all around me... I had never, ever even come to close to seeing such wondrous creation during my Boy Scout trips.  As we headed up the Crawford Path, I quickly realized that it wasn't all that bad, even with the heavy pack on my back.  The kids that usually sign up for the hard hike at Calumet tend to actually like the outdoors, and that definitely seemed to be the case on this trip.

A similar "fairy-garden" on Wildcat Mountain.
Right around hitting the Mizpah Cut-off, things seemed to flatten out pretty substantially AND the fairy garden deal started happening.  Long before getting to a summit, seeing such lush, beautiful forest for the first time already made the trip well worth my effort.  Soon enough though we reached Mizpah Hut and I was once again astounded, this time that such things existed up in the White Mountains.  The clearing around the hut was filled with birds that seemingly lacked any fear of people and I specifically remember hearing Uncle John's Band being played by the hut crew as they started preparing dinner.  Calumet couldn't afford quite such plush accommodations for our group however, so we instead found a couple platforms at the nearby Nauman Tentsite.

Eisenhower, Pierce and Jackson from Mount Monroe.
Once we set up our tents on the assigned platforms, the trip's head counselor quickly suggested we take the "optional" Webster-Cliff trail up to the summit of Mount Pierce.  Most of the campers seemed pretty enthusiastic about the idea, so we grabbed our Nalgenes and headed up a decidedly steep (although short) trail to the summit.  Despite the tough grade, I felt hungry to reach that summit... a feeling I had never felt before, and I remember it sort of surprising me.  

It didn't take our group too long to summit, and since most of us had never been above treeline before, there was a strong sense of camaraderie through our shared experience.  I felt honored to be part of that moment with my campers and fellow counselors, and we stayed above treeline for much of the afternoon.  Mount Eisenhower and even Washington seemed like a close hike away and  I remember wishing we could keep ascending up the Crawford Path to the top of New England... the whole world seemed in front of us, all-embracing and filled with adventure.  Being a sentimental fellow, I quickly realized how this reflected my own life situation as recent high-school grad soon to go off to college for the first time.

After heading back into the trees and down to our tents, I suppose we had dinner, told a few stories and went to bed... I frankly don't remember much more about the trip.  Looking back on it though, that trail up Mount Pierce helped me recognize two things.  First, I realized that much like the ecstasy of looking forward to the summit of Washington for the first time, the joy I felt during my last summer before college, the joy of having a bright, untarnished future ahead of me, was fleeting.  Second, I comprehended the great hunger for future mountaintop experiences within me for the first time.

Dustin is currently a vicar at the Lutheran Office for World Community and Saint Peter's Church in Manhattan, having recently completed his second year of a Masters of Divinity program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice building in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.


  1. Great entry - and that is an amazing picture of you, I have the same one in my memory :)

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