Thursday, June 20, 2024

On the Trail #2 - Mount Whiteface & Mount Passaconaway

June 16th, 2024

Mount Whiteface & Mount Passaconaway

[Old man from northern New England enters the frame]

Old man: Oh, yah goin up Passaconny-way, ah yah? Be careful goin' up Passaconny-way. Lotta history up theyah. Lotta trouble too. Some say the beyah man's still up theyah. Even heard about beyah dogs roamin' trails now n' again. If yah heyah a bahk or a growl, run like the frickin' dickens. Yep, lotta history up theyah. Ain't nothin' good goin' on up Passaconny-way.

[Ominous music starts to play as the picture slowly fades to black]

After a wash-out last week (LUSH crew was supposed to hike Cannon Mountain last Sunday but it was raining up north) I decided to send it on Father's Day up to the Sandwich Range in Grafton County, NH. All signs pointed towards a beaut of a day. Lows 50s in the early hours and mid 60s by noon. A perf Sunday to check a couple more 4,000 footers off the list. The two big dawgz in my sites this time around: Mount Whiteface and Mount Passaconaway. About a 12 mile loop. A mondo as they say. It was time to up my game 😤

I woke up early af at around 3:30AM and was on the road by 4:30 AM. I wasn't planning on hitting it that early (I swear lol), I just happened to wake up naturally then and decided against trying to get another hour of sleep in. Fate wrestled my eyes open. I was happy to roll with it. I'll sleep when I'm dead.

It was an hour 45 min jaunt up to the Ferncroft Road trailhead and I enjoyed every minute of it. It's always cool to catch the sunrise while on the road, and the sky was clear and still as the light slowly poked out above the horizon. A glorious site to bare witness to anytime it falls upon your lap.

I've been slowly and steadily reacquainting myself with The Bible these last few months. I'm not a devout Christian - I don't accept Jesus Christ as my lord and savior. But I'm fascinated by the moral and ethical bedrock that Christianity has provided the western world. The good and the bad. And I'm a huge admirer of the good, as even the most secular of us should be. Believing in universal human rights, caring for the sick and the elderly, seeing honor in suffering, and treating those less fortunate with dignity and compassion. These are all Christian moral principles at the end of the day. Secular humanism, agnosticism, even atheism - these are trees that have grown out of a Judeo-Christian garden. If you ask most atheists what their moral stances are, chances are their beliefs are rooted in Christianity. For those reasons (and other reasons that are my own) I'm dustin' off The Good Book once again. I've only ever read a children's Bible when I was young, and I've read through various books within it here and there over the years. But this time I'm trying to do the whole thing through. 

We'll see how long it takes, or if I can even stay with it lol.

I mention all this because I listened to a little bit of the Book of Exodus at the start of my drive. I've been doing this hybrid style of book consumption lately, where I'll read chapters and listen to chapters in audio form too. I basically zigzag as I go. It's a nice way to power through a book. Sometimes I'm just not in a reading mood and would rather listen, and vice-versa. And The Bible is certainly a book that takes some perseverance. By any means necessary, baby. As long as you go chapter-to-chapter it's pretty easy to keep track of where you are. With The Bible it's even easier. It's crazy how well-broken down it is. Down to every couple of sentences. Exodus Chapter 20 was especially moving on my morning ride. The Ten Commandments. Holy hell. So much weight in those few paragraphs. The course of entire civilizations were bent and shaped to those words. There's your bedrock. Pretty remarkable.

Towards the end of the journey north I switched over to another book I'm hybrid-reading called Black Elk Speaks. It's about a Lakota medicine man who lived in the late 1800s / early 1900s named Black Elk. He sat down with a writer named John G. Neihardt and told him his life story (through his son Ben Black Elk who was his English interpreter). So much of Native American history has been lost over time, so the book feels like a cherished historical document. It's been a great read so far. There are autobiographical accounts, and also old Lakota myths / stories mixed in. It's interesting to note the similarities with Exodus. Moses is leading the Israelites through the desert after finally escaping years of enslavement by the Egyptians. Black Elk is one of the last of the free Native Americans, wandering the Great Plains in search of safety and salvation from the Americans. The Israelites suffered. The Native Americans suffered. Both tribes of people are - in hindsight - revered for their nobility and stoicism while dealing with immense tragedy. To quote the famous verse from Exodus (2:22) - they are both 'strangers in a strange land'. The parallels are remarkable.

It ended up being a blessing that I got after it earlier than I had intended. The lot was already getting packed when I got there. It was half full - at 6:20 in the fucking morning! Hikers are an early-bird bunch, that's for sure lol. Good lord. No wonder I love it so much 😏

I went up the loop clockwise, ascending Whiteface first. The first couple miles heading in were pretty even-keel, and then the last mile-and-a-half up to the summit was absolutely brutal. One of those stretches that just kicks your ass. Huff-and-puff city. You gotta get up to 4,000 ft some way or another, and in this particular situation it was hard and fast. Most of 'em are at the end of the day lol. 

The last half mile or so had some rock scrambles in the mix, which was badass. A lil sketchy at points, but not too wild. Fortunately the views at the top of Whiteface were well worth it. What a scene. Barely a cloud in the sky, and a full view of Mount Chocorua to the east and the big New Hampshire lakes to the south. Absolute gem town.

I wanted to do this particular hike on Father's Day because my Dad wrote a book in the last years of his life called Bald Mountain. It's loosely based on his own experience hiking Chocorua when he was a kid (there's a smaller mountain right next to Chocorua called Bald Mountain, hence the title). I haven't read it in full yet, so I didn't want to do that hike this time around. But I thought it'd be a cool way to honor him by going up to the same mountain range that inspired him to write an entire book. I love how I'm finding my own inspiration now as I'm writing this. Funny how that works. The legacy continues.

In Black Elk Speaks, Black Elk talks about how his ancestors are with him when he goes on the hunt, or out into the wilderness. When he and his people walk, they walk in a sacred manner. And in The Bible, Moses repeatedly talks with God on top of various mountains. The burning bush incident happens on Mount Horeb. The Ten Commandments are delivered while God is on Mount Sinai. All those things were swirling around my mind as I pushed forward on the hike. Something along those lines is on my mind every hike I go on, if I'm being honest. But today it was a little more in-focus considering the holiday. It's no accident that both those cultures and their origin stories revolve around the wilderness. It is the root of our species. It's where many of us go to find answers.

After a long sit at the top thinking about this rich melding of ancient and personal history, I found my own particular answer. One that I wasn't even searching for to begin with. I decided I'd try and read Bald Mountain before next Father's Day. That'd be a helluva sacred walk for next year. 

After a brief chat with a mountain momma at the top of Whiteface (she was a badass backpacker who gave me some tips on camping in the mountains, as I hope to do a overnight backpacking weekend soon), I trudged on. The second stretch of the walk towards Mount Passaconaway wasn't very difficult at all. Basically a simple walk in the woods, with an easy descent from Whiteface and a long run of flat trails toward Passacony. Easy breezy. I've always loved that portion of a 4K hike, when your up in the clouds. Such a sublime feeling. Such a sense of accomplishment. The air is crispy and the pine trees smell sweet and minty. The birds are chirping. The squirrels are rustlin'. Pure magic.

Goin' up Passaconny-way (way up theyah 😂) to the summit was tough, but not too shab. At that point in the hike I was in the zone, just truckin' my heart out and feelin' real good. A hikers high, if you will. It wasn't nearly as tough in terms of scrambling, but unfortunately the views at the top were suss compared to Whiteface. There were a couple clearing views which were deece. But nothing spesh. I shot off the main trail north toward a small clearing view of the Presidentails and was glad I did it. That was by far the best view on Pass-the-cone-my-way🌳💨

Once again I stood face-to-face with Mount Washington. Great to see George again, and so soon after my last visit. What a treat! He's doing well. Standing as tall and proud as ever. He's always a monumental site to behold, as are all his Presidential buddies beside him.

We are still coming for you George. Don't you worry about that.

The descent was nice and steady. My knees weren't doing too bad, my dawgz weren't barking (yet lol), and the rocks weren't too sketchy. Towards the latter part of the trek down the trail got even more forgiving. AKA no major rocks to traverse. And by the last couple miles it was back to flat(ish) ground. Sweet relief, although it did drag on a bit (it always does). 

After I got out of the woods I came off the trail right next to a beautiful old farmhouse. Such a peaceful parcel of land. I'd love to buy a plot up in that area one day soon. It'd be so sick to have a little base camp spot for LUSH crew in the summer. And maybe one day build a small little cabin or a tiny home, with heat for the winter. In the words of the great Kevin Garnett - anything is possible!  (Go Celts! Banner 18 baby LFG! 🏆🍀)

I ended the loop with a welcomed phone call from my old friend Jake the Snake. Perfect timing. He's driving back to San Diego from Michigan right now, and was hauling ass through Nebraska toward Colorado when we talked. Somehow he knew I needed a distraction, and lord knows he was lookin' for one himself lol. I know that drive through Nebraska. Them Plains is tough. Keep on truckin' brotha. See you on the Ipswich River come September.

I was once again lucky enough to be able to log this hike, thanks to good (enough) cell service. Here are the breakdowns:

The ride home was super chill. No traffic whatsoever and sunny skies all the way through. The weather was absolutely perfect all day, I felt truly blessed. Somewhere out in the ether or up in the heavens, I'd like to think my old man Matty B was looking down on me keepin' the skies bright and blue. Thanks pop.

For about half the ride home I soaked in some Paul McCartney and Wings. Their newly released album One Hand Clapping is dope af. It's a studio session recording from back in the mid 70s that they just released last week. There's some cool alternate takes of his mega-hits, and some deeper cuts I had never heard before. What a creative force that guy was / is. If I had to pick the greatest human being alive right now, I'd be hard-pressed not to pick Paul. What a treasure. 

The rest of the ride was a mix between my two hawttt and freshhh summer playlists. Summer of Country of courese - LFG! And the other is a poppier playlist that I've been curating on the side too (with some rock and rap in their 🍅 as well). Charli XCX is certainly making a case for the Summer of BRAT lol. What an album. My god. Her fiance's name is George, which is a hilarious coincidence. She name-drops him a lot on the new record. She must've known it was the Summer of George too lol. 

'I wanna dance with George'

She's all over it.

After a quick stop at Market Basket to get some groceries / dinner, I made it home. I was tired but not too tired. All in all it was a great day. MWB is no longer on this plain of existence, but he still is inspiring me to get up and at 'em and enjoy every Sandwich. Glad I could exercise that inspiration on Father's Day of all days. I also came home to find out that my brother Q shot the round of his life at Wenham Country Club that very same day. Unreal. Matty B working his magic.

Happy (belated) Father's Day to all the pappas out there.

Hope to be back at it next weekend. We're supposed to sneak that Cannon hike in at some point either Saturday or Sunday. But it's looking like more rain. Praying the weather holds, but who knows. We'll see where the wind takes us.

-Z.B. James

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