This past Saturday found me back at the beginning – at the foot of Little Haystack in the New Hampshire White Mountains, the first mountain I ever tried (and failed) to climb. It was a couple of months after I had moved to Massachusetts last year, and one weekend we had the idea – let’s climb a mountain. Just two kids from Florida foolish enough to think that the 9 mile Franconia Ridge hike would only take them 3-4 hours. Start in the early afternoon and be done in time to make the 2.5 hour drive home to make dinner. Only it’s different when the hike isn’t flat. It takes longer when you’re climbing straight up. Three hours later we had made it to Shining Rock, and were forced to descend in defeat in order to make it back to the car before dark.
But not this time. This time, failure was not an option. This time, we’d make it to the top.
We started on the Falling Waters Trail, a scenic route where you eventually cross back and forth over the waterfall six times, only once on an actual bridge. It’s an enjoyable way to start a long hike; the air around the falls stays cooler, the view is great, and the slick rocks help prepare you for the rest of the hike. About an hour into the hike you leave the splendor of the falls and enter the woods, where a couple of switchbacks lead you up. And up. And up. There’s very little level ground on this trail. It’s also fairly narrow and busy, so you find yourself squishing to the side quite often to let descending hikers by.
About two hours in, we reached the branch off for Shining Rock. It had taken us three hours to reach this point last time. We were making good time and ready to confront the part of the trail we had never seen before. When it started to rain. We would not be denied. Rain or not, we continued forward, onward, upward, (lots and lots of upward), until at last, we saw the summit rise above us.
This peak was an entirely different experience than any of the other mountains we’ve climbed. At almost 5,000 feet, the wind is rough and cold. You’re literally up among the clouds. After taking a few pictures I found myself sheltering on the leeward side of a rock ledge, trying to stay warm during a quick snack before descent.
Once you reach the top of Little Haystack, you’ve officially entered the Franconia Ridge, which will lead you across Mount Lincoln and Mount Lafayette, where you can descend using the Bridle Trail which will bring you full circle back to the parking area. Completing the entire ridge is our next goal. It’s an entire day’s hike, which will involve some extra planning on behalf of the dogs. Not that they wouldn’t love to hike with us, but they’re too short for such a long hike.
I also need time for my muscles to recover. Do a few more 5,000 footers. I believe in setting yourself up for success. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia 14 years ago, and while I don’t let it stop me from doing anything I want to do, I have learned that sometimes you have to be more careful, take more time, and ease your way up to the level you want to be at. This is a challenge that normal muscles complain from; I want climbing mountains to continue to be something I enjoy, not a painful punishment I inflict upon myself. But I feel successful. I met my goal, and I have confidence that when I set out to conquer the entire ridge, I’ll meet that goal as well.