Saturday, December 15, 2012

NH 4000 Footer Essay (Pt. 4) Mount Zealand, Mount Bond and Mount Twin

Given the tragic shootings that took place in Newtown, Connecticut yesterday, it's hard to think about much else.  After a day of shared tears and prayers though, I needed a bit of escape, so I decided to write...  What follows is part four of a five-part essay I'm writing for the NH 4000 Footer Club.  You can find part one here, part two here and part three here.

As I awoke to a fading blanket of stars in the early morning hours of August 25th, 2012, I was definitely ready for a bit of a walk...  With only a few days left of what had seemed a nearly endless summer, it was time to finish my list of the New Hampshire's big mountains, but in order to do so, I needed to put in at least twenty-two miles to bag Mount Zealand and the three peaks of Mount Bond before heading back to my car.  An optional exit route over Mount Twin's two peaks beckoned in the distance as well, if I felt confident enough that a friend could pick me up at the trailhead and give me a lift back to my car.  Back in the real world away from familiar landscape of the White Mountains, things had certainly changed from a year earlier when I last set off on a very long hike, that time to conquer the northern presidentials with my brother (see part three).  Having a new serious love in my life and after finishing a second year of seminary, I suppose I was year older, a year wiser and certainly less lonely, but also less happy.

A beaver pond off Zealand Trail, 2012.
My previous summer, life had new, a blank canvas sort of feel as I finally broke out of the darkness following my mother's death.  This summer, as I prepared to set off for my internship year in NYC, the walls were closing in.  It felt like young adulthood and the freedom associated with that period of life was coming to end, something I wasn't quite yet ready to accept... the beginning of a lifelong career as a pastor, marriage, kids maybe... I spent much of the summer seeing these things approaching in the distance and thus cramming in as much adventure as possible.  After an amazing month spent hiking the Colorado Rockies and a visit to Yellowstone, I returned to New Hampshire determined to finish up its infamous list of forty-eight 4000 foot mountains.  Unfortunately, as the objective wasn't enjoying God's good creation but checking names off a list, many of my hikes were rushed and done solo... more like a two month long scavenger hunt than a series of beautiful journeys.

Early morning on Zeacliff, 2012.
My long walk over Zealand, the Bonds and eventually the Twins was a solo hike as well, and given that I had hiked three other mountains over the previous three days, I was already tired before even hitting the trail.  In order to cover the necessary twenty-two miles before sunset, I started out a bit before sunrise, running the first two and a half miles of the Zealand Trail through an absolutely beautiful valley.  This part of the trail was familiar terrain (my favorite in the Whites actually), so outside of a quick water stop to chat with a nice older couple I nearly ran into, things were great but uneventful all the way to the beginning of the Twinway up to Zealand Falls Hut.  After a very short but steep climb, I arrived at the hut right as some early risers were eating breakfast.  I took about five minutes to chat with a young father about the joys of hiking with children (no sarcasm intended) and then kept moving onto what would be brand new trail for the rest of my journey.  Completing another quick but tough mile, I arrived at my favorite point of the whole trail, an absolutely epic overlook off of Zeacliff.  With the morning fog billowing out of the valley below me, I couldn't have been happier.

Zealand Summit Sign, 2012.
I said a quick prayer thanking God for Her creation and the gift of a day to enjoy it, and then quickly rushed off instead of staying awhile to fully take in the breathtaking scene... needed to keep on time, of course.  Another mile and a half later saw me bag the day's first mountain: Zealand.  Although its entirely wooded summit offered no views for my effort, it does arguably feature the best summit sign in the White Mountains.  Not too long after leaving Zealand's summit I made it to Mount Guyot, which sort of marked a point of no return for my hike.  A long ridge jutting sharply south from Guyot into the heart of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, Mount Bond's three peaks are some of the most remote of NH's four-thousand footers.  Surrounded by other mountains and miles of forest on all sides, it's also one of the most stunningly beautiful places in New England.  Folks tend to bag the Bonds on a overnight due to the distance, the beauty and the convenience of the nearby Guyot Campsite, but given my lack of gear and companions, a really long day hike had proved necessary.

Bondcliff from Mount Bond, 2012.
Making good time and actually getting some limited cellphone reception, I left a message for my friend to pick me up at the Mount Twin trailhead... he was planning on coming up to hike my final peak the next day (Carrigain), or so I thought, and thus I figured it wouldn't be much of a problem.  After bagging West Bond I made my way through a half mile of thin trees to the highest peak of Mount Bond, and boy, it was awesome!  Bond is one of the few summits in the Whites where you really can't see much human civilization due to its remoteness.  Furthermore, you've got the sharp knife-edge of Bondcliff straight ahead of you to the south... couldn't be more amazing really.  Unfortunately though, it seemed like clouds might be soon rolling in, and given that I didn't really want to get caught above treeline if it rained, I bound quickly back into the trees in order to reach Bondcliff's highpoint (another 4000 foot peak).

On Bondcliff, 2012.
By the time I ran the mile out to Bondcliff and back, it was starting to rain HARD... the sort of hard summer downpour that gets through even the best rain-gear, so I decided to seek shelter at the Guyot Campsite.  I was a bit nervous about doing so as it would cost me a bunch of time, but I simply couldn't make it back out over the open face of Guyot and Mount Twin in such weather.  Soaking wet, I spent about an hour munching granola in a small lean-to at the campsite.  Luckily, the older women I met early that morning had arrived and raised my spirits through telling about their own journey through the Whites together.  Although the rain eventually stopped, the clouds never seemed to burn off... as it was getting late, I had to decide whether to spend a very cold, wet night at the campsite or try to make it across Guyot and Twin in less than ideal weather.  With some persuasion from my two companions, I decided to go for it.  By the time I got back to Guyot, the weather had improved and the two miles across a shallow ridge to South Twin didn't seem all that foreboding... it should of though.  Not long after I made it to the open summit of South Twin, it started to thunder, but instead of thundering above me, it was pretty much AROUND me.

On Mount Guyot toward South Twin, 2012.
I didn't see any lightening really, but boy was I scared... I think I yelled for God to quit it or something with all the thunder, but She kept at it until I made it another mile and a half over North Twin's summit.  Completely aching after almost eighteen miles of hiking and emotionally exhausted after my near-death experience, I gingerly started limping my way down the home stretch of the North Twin Trail.  It was a bit after 5pm by then, so I tried to make the best time I could in order to rendezvous with my friend at the time I planned, but it was definitely slow going.  I eventually came upon a fellow named Ben, who turned out to be the best person in the world.  When I finally got to the trailhead, I heard the news my friend couldn't make it, but Ben, being the best person in the world, drove me over what would have been another ten or so miles of road back to my car... I'm pretty sure he was an angel or something.  Bruised and exhausted, I set up my tent at Zealand Campground and ate a cold can of baked beans, feeling proud of my journey that day... I had covered over twenty-two miles and seven of NH's big peaks after all.  I realized though that after completing my list on Mount Carrigain the next day, I was finished with going fast and especially finished with going solo.  I discovered that I had grown into a place where the beauty of God's creation needed to be shared rather than experienced alone.  I'd like to think I came upon a new understanding of the whole "where two or more are gathered" thing Jesus was talking about this past summer, and I hope to never forget that discovery.

God's peace,

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.

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