A Fretful Morning
So, I’m stirring my bowl of maple oatmeal, listening to the rain, knowing I have to eat, but feeling sort of sick.
It’s 5:30 a.m.
I was picking up Alan in 15 minutes and heading down to Lafayette Campground where 17 other hikers would begin to join us – our Wedding Party.
A day earlier, I had pushed back our trailhead time by 1 hour as weather reports seemed to indicate that Earl was going to be leaving around 8 a.m. My thinking was if the rain went away, and the sun burned off some mist, by the time we arrived above treeline, we’d be in the clear.
But really, I had no idea. It was all guess work. I’ve learned from past White Mountain hikes, that basically, you step outside about an hour before your hike, hold out your hand and see if anything is falling from the sky, and that’s your weather forecast. And right now, rain was falling from the sky.
Well, I figured the train had left the station at this point. It was what it was.
I gobbled the rest of my breakfast, crept to the loft to let M know I was leaving, and headed out into the rain and darkness.
And so it begins
Alan, like usual, was chipper! Thank goodness too, because as he mentioned in a toast the next day, I was… fretful.
I picked him up down the road at the B and B where they had been staying. My oldest friend had been a last minute addition to our Wedding Party as he was not even supposed to be there that day. Earl had pushed them off Nantucket Island and they got into town a couple days earlier. The day before, I had rummaged up some hiking gear for him, and he was ready to go, despite looking like something out of a Silent Film era hobo film!
I wanted to get there at our original 6:30 a.m. meeting time as I wasn’t sure if everyone had gotten my last minute email pushing the start time back an hour. Plus, I figured the extra hour would give me time to evaluate the weather from ground up. And also, it gave me a chance to calm down from freaking out!
As it turned out, my fears of the campground parking lot being packed were unfounded. It turned out that Earl scared most of the tourists away. Wimps!
Alan and I set up in the parking area, got our stuff ready, and waited.
I had a special surprise for everyone – a custom made bandanna, design by our friend Peter and printed by our friend Jose. It was a little token of appreciation, but also a way for everyone to be able to identify all the other members of the Wedding Party once the hike began.
By 7:15 as people started arriving the weather also appear to begin to clear. At least the sheets of rain stopped. The sky south of Franconia Notch seemed clear and the temp was a pleasant, if soggy, 60 degrees.
Since there were so many of us, and a few I had never hiked with before and therefore had no clue as to their ability, we had divided the party into two teams, the bride’s and the groom’s. The bride’s team would leave a half hour earlier than the groom’s and consist of the newer or slower hikers. The idea was that we’d all get to the Greenleaf Hut at about the same time. I also had hopes that the “slower” team was not really that slow and being part of team one would give them a little extra boost. Sometimes a little competitive spirit makes a hike that much more fun.
Well, I certainly overcompensated on that mark, as Team 1 proved their metal while Team 2 struggled a bit with some injury problems. But more on that later.
With everyone accounted for, the whole Wedding Party posed for a group shot and off Team 1 went. Thirty minutes later, Team 2 followed and our 4 mile march down the aisle had begun!
Despite the soggy mist, it was such an upbeat and joyous feeling to finally be heading up. The rain had more or less stopped and I felt that we certainly would be able to get as far as the hut, even if the summit remained out of the question.
Team 1, rocking up the mountain!
Team 2 takes a break at a nice lookout!
It pretty quickly became apparent that Team 2 was not going to overtake Team 1. Deepti, M’s cousin and our youngest hiker had a rough summer with an ankle injury and tendinitis, and it started to show. We all quickly slowed down and came together as a team to work with her and get her up to the hut. Earlier, I had asked Marianne to be my sweep for the hike – to make sure no one dropped behind her – and now she became Deepti’s partner, giving her encouragement and helping set the pace.
I wasn’t worried about anyone’s safety as temps remained steady, but it did appear we were going to be behind schedule.
The Old Bridal Path is a fairly moderate trail that runs over a series of humps called the Agonies, and it was nice to final arrive at the ridge where we were able to get some views, but it was clear that the summit was socked in.
The team did great over the Agonies, scaling a couple chimneys and working through the mist.
And as I figured, when we finally arrived at the hut, Team 1 had been cooling their heels there for half an hour, wondering what the heck happened to the “fast” team! Ha!
So, there we were. All 19 of us, finally at the hut. Still a mile of exposed summit cone hiking in front of us. A very anxious Team 1. An injured hiker. And a cold and socked in summit that appeared out of reach.
It was time for hard decisions… (to be continued)
Neil Lovett photo