Field Agent: Zach Schwasman (@zachschwasman)
Time Zone: Eastern
Location: Presidential Range of the White Mountains, New Hampshire
The draw: The quiet yet powerful beauty of New Hampshire's Presidential Range can rejuvenate the worn soul.
Like so many adventures, this day started with a topo and a keen eye on that weekly forecast. Getting home from work I’d pull up a chair, crack open a cold one, and study for this weekend’s test, How many miles? Pack size? Bail out plans and alternate routes? By Wednesday I had all the answers. Friday was coming in like a freight train ready to take me to those giants in my backyard, the Presidential Range of New Hampshire’s famed White Mountain National Forest.
Saturday’s dawn snuck in through the windows lightly tapping on our shoulders and opening our eyes to a light dusting of snow. The crew jumped out of their beds and fought for the bathroom, with the late arrivals giving their gear a final check and inhaling breakfast. Trunks slammed shut, we were off to some funny named trail head that takes a few tries to get right. Trading pavement for dirt, within 20 minutes we parked the snowy Subaru and piled out. Traction and poles discussed in mumbles as the crew continues waking up. The morning sky looming grey and overcast slowly melted away and patches of blue began to rip through. After tightening compression straps and shoelaces, and a few quick gulps of water, we disappeared into the Ammonoosuc Ravine. Finally on our way. Through the scattered skeletons of Beech and Birch we could already see our punchy 4.5 mile ascent to the saddle between the fabled Mount Washington and the equally impressive Mount Monroe.
We zigzagged our way across the brook. After two miles, the trail settled on the right wall of the ravine, the bulk of our 3,800 foot ascent laid before us. Our crew peeled off fleeces and Clif Bar wrappers in preparation. Beside us, a waterfall snaked out of the frozen forest and into a slushy pool. I could almost hear the spruces sigh with relief as the snow cooled their roots from summer’s heavy traffic. A light breeze tumbling down the trail chilled my back, so I pull my MS017 Standard ¼ Zip Fleece up into a turtleneck. The tree line appeared as we made our last stream crossing. Mount Washington guarded the horizon to our left. The peak’s cold stare pierced through the spindrifts. The last 500 feet of climbing put us on top of Monroe. Visibility is 100+ with a sea of blue tinged mountains stretching from the gulf of Maine to the east and the Green Mountains in Vermont to the west.
The descent we mapped wound through the Presidential traverse, a scenic stretch of astounding panoramic vistas. We stopped for lunch--chicken caesar wrap and cabot cheddar washed down with a tall Torpedo. Our shadows grew long as we navigated through our alpine heaven, stopping every so often to take in some water and mountain healing. At the top of the golden hour we had reached our final summit. Regrettably, we said goodbye to our high altitude playground and entered back into the trees. The south facing descent had begun to thaw out and slushy drops plopped down my neck. The star speckled blanket of night hung beautifully above us as we followed a small brook back to the trailhead. Eventually the lights of civilization and the wet hiss of tires rolling through Crawford Notch started to filter through the tree trunks. Our trip was in the books. Before crashing into the car, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath of cold mountain air. My soul, recharged.
Our backyards still serve the same purpose as they did when we were kids. Although much bigger, they still beckon us to come play in them, putting a fat smile on our face while in the company good friends and family. Lace up your boots, kick open that backdoor, and get after it!