Two weeks ago, I was picked up on a Friday night by none other than the hilarious Jon, a favorite tent-mate and expedition member from the Himalayas. Up we drove into the darkness, heading north, away from Providence and Jon’s Boston home. After a few hours on the road, reminiscing and chatting excitedly, we reached Sam’s cabin in Southern Maine. All fatigue, lingering sickness and stress melted away as the fun of a reunion with NOLS friends began full-force. After enthusiastically packing for our trip the next morning, noting the bittersweet nostalgia of our collective gear spread across the floor, Sam and her boyfriend Jared led us on a walk down to the ocean. The fresh saltiness of the warm ocean air, combined with the peaceful silence of the night, struck me as a huge sensory relief after weeks in the constant noise and bustle of Providence. The quietness and tranquility of that nighttime waterfront was magical.
The next morning, we began the drive into the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Our objective for the weekend was Franconia Ridge, where we planned to summit Liberty Peak, Little Haystack, Flume, Mt. Lincoln, and Lafayette, two that Saturday and the next three on Sunday morning. The weather forecast was what NOLS had taught us to simply describe as “less than ideal”, predicting pouring rain and gale-force winds. No matter. We trekked enthusiastically to our campsite, pitched our tents and a tarp above them to allow a dry cooking area below. The foliage was beautiful, with deep crimson leaves layered thick on the path in places, accumulating pools of rainwater reflecting the moody grey-blue of the sky. However, my assignment for the weekend was to practice seeing the world in shades of grey. Nevertheless, I initially shot in color, but felt later that the pictures best captured the atmosphere of the stormy, grey weekend in black and white after all.
After setting up camp and warming up with some delicious ramen for old time’s sake (this time, luckily, without the addition of dehydrated mashed potatoes), we promptly set out towards Liberty and Flume. With pouring rain and howling winds, the apparently stunning views normally seen from the top of the ridge were completely obscured in fog. We reached the summits to desolate views of rock formations and gnarled treetops fading into a blustery oblivion of mist. I took a few pictures with film, for once, but they currently remain undeveloped. Goals achieved, we hurried back to our campsite for a delicious dinner of homemade pizza (prepared over MSR camping stoves – yes, it’s possible, and actually quite easy) and hot chocolate. Then, in the true spirit of NOLS, we retired to our tents by 7:00 PM, going to sleep with the sun.
It was wonderful to sleep in a tent again, curled into the downy warmth of a sleeping bag while the weather raged outside. Sharing a tent with Jon again was a serious flashback to the days when he, Zach and I tented together in India for eight days in what was probably the most hilarious living situation I’ve ever experienced. Just like the “old days”, we found ourselves overtaken with hysterical laughter (about virtually nothing) until sleep took over. Throughout the night, the treetops thrashed and screamed with the sheer force of winds above our forest shelter.
The next morning, we dragged ourselves reluctantly out of our tents at the crack of dawn. Jared, awesome in his enthusiasm at that hour of the day, had hot drinks ready for us by the time we got out of our tents. Packing our soaked camping gear and securing our raincoats, we departed immediately for our next three summit goals: Little Haystack, Lincoln, and Lafayette. The weather continued to absolutely rage; Jared produced an American flag which he stuck in Sam’s pack, creating an epic atmosphere as the flag flapped wildly in the wind and water.
Frozen and soaked, it was with a sense of relief that we summited Lafayette and began our descent. Jared stayed with Sam, who was tormented by her painfully ill-fitting hiking boots, while Jon and I sought shelter in the Greenleaf Hut. Far more sophisticated than the plywood shelters I envision when I hear the word “hut”, Greenleaf was essentially a full-service lodge, offering free apple pancakes and bowls of hot soup for a mere $2. Feeling as though I was nearing hypothermia when its rooftop came into view over a hill, the hut was a lifesaver, giving us the chance to warm up, refuel, and dry off for a bit before descending the rest of the way to the car. Eventually, we all made it – Jared had to carry Sam for a bit, and she ended up walking the last stretch of trail in her socks, but we all arrived in good spirits and cheerfully headed back to town. While not the idyllic, sunny weekend most people desire on their backpacking trips, the conditions successfully recreated the spirit of high adventure all of us had been craving.