We kept seeing all those 20-somethings, 30-somethings, and yes, 40-somethings trucking on by us, sometimes at an alarming rate. We didn’t break any land speed records doing it. We took our time. We took years. But we did it. Me and my hiking buddy Mary hiked all 48 four thousand foot peaks in NH.
We finished off last Saturday with Bondcliff. The weather was incredible. Warm, clear, with just a few puffy clouds skimming the tops of the Presidentials from time to time. Rich autumn colors were spread out across the Pemigewasset Wilderness. It couldn’t have been a finer day.
I camped out just off the Kancamagus Highway up by Oliverian Brook the day before meeting Mary and her family at Lincoln Woods parking lot for a car drop. I found a good spot to pitch my tent and just sit for a spell. Went up to Square Ledge and back, following the tracks of a good-sized moose up the Oliverian Trail. I looked across at the mist-shrouded summit of Passaconaway, the first 4K I’d hiked, years ago. Then I hung out by the brook, reading Wilderness Man, Lovat Dickson’s biography of Grey Owl. Listening to the sound of rushing water as dusk set in. The sun came up warm, bright and September golden. I spread out my tent to dry before packing it up, then broke camp and hiked back to the car.
We left Mary’s car in Lincoln and drove up to Zealand. With us were Mary’s husband Nick, their daughter Diana and her boyfriend Tommy. We managed to cram all our gear in the back and squeeze into my RAV. We hiked up to Zealand Falls hut where we spent the night, comfortably accommodated and entertained by the croo. In the morning we set out up the Zealand Trail. We paused at Zeacliff to take in an awesome view, just a taste of things to come. The summit of Zealand itself is just a bump in the woods, but our next goal, West Bond, was fantastic. And we had a clear view of what we’d be hiking the next day, 4,700 ft Mt. Bond, and the rocky alpine ridge of Bondcliff.
We stayed overnight at Guyot Campsite, which was packed. The caretaker, a very friendly fellow named Dylan, was kind enough to let us share his tent platform. Being there gave us a keen appreciation of what caretakers have to deal with sometimes, including (incredibly!) verbal abuse from visitors. One guy, coming into the campsite late and well after dark, lit into Dylan for shining his headlamp into his face. Duh. It’s after dark. The caretaker has to see who you are. But this guy fumed, “Don’t you know how rude it is to shine a light in someone’s eyes?” Dylan was polite and apologetic. When the jerk finally left, Tommy muttered, “Don’t you know how rude it is to be an asshole?” Dylan and the rest of us cracked up in appreciation.
Be nice to your caretaker. You know that outhouse provided for your use? Guess who gets to deal with composting what you leave in it. That’s right. Guys like Dylan. So be polite. They already have enough crap to deal with.
The next morning we packed up and thanked our host, and set out again. Mt. Bond was number 47 for me and Mary, a grand 360 degree panorama of the White Mountains, many of which we could point to and say, “I’ve been there!” Or, “Remember when we did that?” I almost didn’t want to leave. Achieving a goal is also the end of a quest. I hiked Passaconaway on June 11, 1989. Twenty-four years later, here I was looking at Bondcliff. My last.
I walked through the lovely alpine garden of the ridge slowly, soaking in every detail of sight and smell and sound. The dwarf ash trees with their brilliant red berries. The short stone walls bordering the path. The small, glossy leaves of the mountain cranberry and leathery leaves of the Labrador tea. The roiling of the white wisps of cloud in the vivid blue sky above. The bare, bronzed shoulders of Mount Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison. Ridge upon ridge of familiar peaks, going from red gold to hazy blue as they faded in the far distance.
Then we marched up to the summit of Bondcliff, and we looked at each other, Mary and me, and we let out a whoop that echoed off the sides of all those peaks we’d climbed. Damn, we did it. Not bad for a couple of old broads. We took the requisite victory photos. Mary, with more courage than I, posed out on one the jutting cliffs. I picked a safer spot away from the precipitous edge. We hung out in the splendid autumn sun and then reluctantly (me, anyway) headed down. It was a long hike back out, down the Wilderness Trail and eventually to Lincoln Woods.
So, achieving a goal means it’s time to set a new one, right?
Nope. I think I’ll just reflect on what I’ve learned, what I’ve accomplished, and pick some hikes not based on a number or a list, but just because they sound interesting. Pitch a tent somewhere just because I like the spot, not because I have somewhere I need to get to.
I think I’ve earned it.