Finally. FINALLY! My goal was at hand. I've oft repeated this, but this will be the final and most appropriate time. I started hiking 5 years ago, and very quickly realized the NH4k list was too close at hand with about 30 peaks left and not much of a challenge. So, I thought about the NH 100 highest list. Hmmm, nice. It would get me into bushwhacking, a skill and freedom I really wanted, and get me to a lot of areas not often visited. But as I looked at the map, there were big blotches of the state up north that were empty. So I then looked at the NH 3000 footers. Bingo! All the gaps filled in. But it was 176 peaks and I only 28. This would be a helluva challenge. But, I figured it'd be a fun 3 or 4 year project. No rush, Get out. Enjoy. Experience.
And that is what I did. Even from that fateful first step off the trail of Mt. Wolf to try to get to Wolf Cub, when I first found out what young fir/heavy blowdown was all about, and bailed back to Gordon Pond nearly out of my mind, I was still determined not to give up and the next weekend I took the short whack over to Resolution. So many times in my life, I have not completed things. I was resolute that this would not be one. This list wasn't about fame, or glory. This list was my test. Not just a test of my resolve, but a test to let adversity knock me on my ass and pick myself up again without letting it diminish my love for the woods. I've always said mental stamina is the domineering force in bushwhacking, not physical stamina.
Even in the worst of times, it was just part of the whole package, and it wouldn't have felt like the accomplishment that it did without them. And to be sure, there were times I damned near had a breakdown (Lowell was perhaps the worst after picking a pretty bad route). But the freedom of being able to go anywhere you wanted.... ANYWHERE... not just some tiny corridor, was always a huge draw for me. I LOVED doing the planning. Picking through websites, staring at Google Earth, carefully plotting out a general route. There were great successes (Bear) and horrid failures (Gore). But, again, that's all part of the game.
And the friends. Brian and Bob, then Joe, then Greg. My core group I picked up along the way. The first already doing the 3k, the last two we sucked them into it. They have been there through thick and thin. They've put up with my rants, my tirades, my many idiosyncrasies. And likewise with them. Though we've argued at times, we always got back together and laughed like nothing ever happen, or could again. These were my partners in this, and while I started out solo, and expected to finish solo, I am ever so grateful to have shared the long rides to Pittsburg, Stratford, Columbia and the like, as well as the many miles.
Where it didn't get fun was the last bit. In September, I completed Sable and Chandler, and that left me with 2. The Captain and Wildcat D. I swore I'd never leave the dreaded Captain to the end, but thanks to yet another abort on my end, there it was. Sawyer River Road was closed, and I just couldn't seem to find the right time or weather to get up there before winter set in, and knowing what a steep pig this was, it wasn't happening for me in winter. That and the gondola closed in October, so no rush. Likewise, once spring came, more trouble trying to get the right time, and it was frustrating that 9 months had past and I had made zero progress to my ultimate goal. Well, that came, that went, and then it was a pain to get a weekend where everyone could come.
So that brings us to the present. All my core dudes were there, plus Keith, Julie and Katahdin, and hopefully a jtbigmoose coming up the ridge trail. And the huge bonus of Desi, who would keep Neesh company going up to the tram. It was terribly important to me that she be there. So many weekend days away, so many late nights getting home (though with pizza from Scorpios or Mr. Pizza as some means of amends). Her presence was huge to me, and I don't remember who mentioned Wildcat as the finish, but it was brilliant as soon as I heard it. And thus for a couple or so years, that was the one to be.
No really, to the present now. The weather had been sketchy as hell for the month. Lots of rain, but Saturday looked ok enough with some chance of showers, and I didn't want to inconvenience everyone with a Sunday hike. Plus I could party in Gorham on Saturday! As it turned out, the weather turned spectacular on Saturday, and Sunday wasn't so great. I apparently had been smiled upon. We all met in the lot, and just I got Neesh settled, of course I forgot something in the car. Of course, we put our cars next to the road to be out of the way of the paying public. Of course. Why should this hike be any different?
And so we finally set off. I had no clue where we were going, other than up, and of course, jokes ensued. I was finally clear the access road was the way to go, being mowed, and with Joe grumbling about soaking wet grass otherwise, thanks to a nice wet hike the day before. We opted for the ski trails, since Keith and Julie were going that way, and I had no preference of the hiking trail vs. this. I had hiked the trail before. All the way to Wildcat “E”. You see, that was the 4k way back then. Why I didn't go to “D” is beyond me, but I had a nagging memory that I had, just no proof. It would kinda suck to find out I had been there, but with no proof, I had no choice.
I do, however, have a love/hate relationship with ski trails. Here's the love:
The hate is relentless uphill, and on a day like today, the beating sun. Actually, the way we took wasn't too bad, as there were some breaks in the grind. The black flies were a little nasty when we stopped, but Julie, who was out in front with the Monster Lab was doing a great job finding shady spots at just the right time. We were taking it pretty slow, which I think was just fine for Joe, who had a bad cold (and still wouldn't give up his 300 pound pack), and Bob, who hadn't been out in a while. Frankly, it was fine for me, too. I wasn't feeling very much like Superman today.
We plonked along, finally seeing the tram cables, and to my (very pleasant!) surprise came to the top of the tram. Woo hoo! Almost there. And there was John, who I was thrilled to see. I've only met John once before, at Marc's NE3k finish, but I liked him instantly, and through the years it's clear out senses of humor meld very nicely. I purposely made this gathering intimate, no open calls, as I wanted those I felt closest to here because again, this was a personal accomplishment, not a hooray, look at me deal.
I took in the views, and very quickly there were Desi and Neesh. Perfect timing, thanks to a phone call from Greg. We sat for a bit, mainly because I was told to stay away from the summit. Oh dear, this cannot be good. Greg and Brian had been saving up their surprises for a year, and Lord knows what else they came up with. Finally we headed up, and I was immediately horrified at what I saw. I thought this would be a quick easy trip for Neesh, but no, it's steep and there's rock steps. Gulp. I helped her as much as possible, and she clearly was as surprised as I after assurances it was just a short distance. She did assure me that in that special moment of mine, she hated me. :)
Finally it got more suitable to actual walking, and I could see the platform ahead. I was more concerned with Neesh than my finish, and as I was trying to help her up the steps, John said I must touch the highpoint. Oh geesh, really? I spied one near the tower, there. I spied another one, there. It's official. Oops, I missed one in the trees. With stuff.
OK, John, now I get it. :) Except what's that on the jar? My. Little. Pony. In pink. Damn, did I ever get a reputation hiking with these guys. Sigh. All right, it was pretty damned funny. Even funnier when I opened the canister and out pops a spring loaded.... thing. Caterpillar I guess. Who knows, who cares, just another good laugh at my expense, and I'm usually the one laughing loudest where that's concerned.
OK, up to the platform. The best part while I hadn't really thought about it, I knew I had not been here before. My clumsy memory of the possibility of this involved a very short trail branching from the main trail and this was decidedly not it. Guess my old notes of going only to “E” were plenty correct. And I'm glad now I did not go to “D”. It was a perfect spot, a perfect day, great friends, and the love of my life by my side.
My first focus was the bubbly. I had brought a bottle of Veuve Cliquot. Errr, no. Neesh and Desi brought it. It was a bonus of someone coming up the tram. Then some selfless soul carried the cooler the rest of the way. Well still, time to celebrate!
Just to keep it classy, we brought a couple of glasses. The rest of the schlubs got Solo cups. It was 4000 feet of tastiness. I had also brought up a bunch of beers for everyone, which I think Keith and I mostly demolished. After running into Keith several times over the years in weird places and receiving surprised cold ones, it was the least I could do. And then came the hot dogs. This should've been the advantage of the tram, but Joe hauled those up along with 15 years of survival gear.
It was just great. No big hooplah, but a nice little party. Which was ruined by the presents of demeaningness. :) Let me try to sum up the highlights, and forgive me guys if I forgot some:
A Hello Kitty doll, which will likely adorn my pack for yuks/weird stares
A My Little Pony water bottle (compensated by being filled with sour candy, woo hoo!)
Slacker of the Year trophy (now adorning my cubicle)
“Yeah, I smoke. F*** You!” button (this is my favorite)
A sloppy kiss by Bob (this was my LEAST favorite, but it made a good photo op)
Well, actually my favorite was the moment I had most wanted, three momentos for the three lists I had finished today. Especially so because two of them were made by a well-known bushwhacker who is no longer with us, and these were among the last ones. I felt very honored.
Neesh was getting heated and tired on her feet, so we headed down into the shade, and everyone was packing up at that point. I then realized everyone had signed a small notebook, ala a summit register, which I thought was the coolest thing ever. Neesh signed “Never again!” Well, yeah, probably not. 8)
Desi scoped out an alternative path which was going to be easier on Neesh. Thanks Des! We hung at the top of the lift for a while longer, enjoying the views, Greg came up with a couple cigars, and of course, I had another beer, now feeling a little, but wonderfully, loopy. God bless altitude. The trip down was pretty straightforward (except I had to take an abnormal amount of pee breaks for some reason), so I'll finish this with this fine photo at the tram. I only wish Joe had got someone else to take it so he could be in it.