Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mount Pemigewasset

The White Mountains of New Hampshire are part of the Appalachian mountain range. In New Hampshire the White Mountains National Forest covers a major portion of the north eastern part of the state. More than 100 miles of the famous Appalachian trail, 48 peaks with an elevation of 4000 ft. or more, innumerable waterfalls and ponds and trails... all of this makes for endless opportunities to hike, camp and go wild in general.

Mount Pemigewasset (Indian Head) was my first hike in the White Mountains and I loved every minute of it. Mt. Pemigewasset is located in the Franconia Notch state park. The trails starts from the Flume visitor center which is located just off of exit 34A on I-93. Its a nice, quick 2.5 hour drive from Boston. Travelling northbound, after you pass Concord, NH; the highway becomes a toll road. After this there are a couple of rest areas near the highway. The very first rest area gave an opportunity for some interesting observations and snide comments about New Hampshire in my mind (I was travelling alone so there was no one else to develop the theme further).

In most states, the license plates have some "motto" or "tag phrase" on them. In New York it is "The Empire State", in Massachusetts it is "The spirit of America" and in New Hampshire it is "Live Free or Die". Now, that is a catchy one... very inspiring too. For me, driving along America's endless highways is the perfect expression of the "live free" spirit. Rest areas along roads serve the purpose of giving the drivers a place to relax a bit in their journey. Everyone knows that taking a break serves well to avoid the "die" part while "living free" on the highways. So... going back... in the very first area in New Hampshire one will find a "New Hampshire Liquor and Lottery store". After a bit of Google search I found that this is a state-run, tax-free store. In New Hampshire, I guess the state has decided to make both the options in their state motto easily available to the drivers coming. Here, my fellow drivers, is a rest area where you can not only rest and relax but also avail yourself of some nice liquor... so that you can "live free" or "die" (or kill someone else) while you drive drunk. What a neat idea!

That aside, the hike up the trail reminded me that by being lazy, avoiding exercise and eating junk food I had become devoid of the kind of strength and stamina that is dearly needed to make up to the top. The trail itself is fairly moderate. It is well trodden and very easy to follow because of the blue blazes. The foot-hold is good and it's not too rocky or steep or slippery at any point. The distance to the top is a moderate 1.8 miles and the elevation gain from the parking lot is about 1250 ft. So in all respects this is a moderate-to-easy hike. At one point on the trail, while resting on a rock, sweating profusely and worrying about having enough water (I had also made the mistake of forgetting one of my water bottles in the car) I was seriously thinking whether I should continue or just head back. I continued nevertheless and what a good decision it was.

The views from top of Indian Head are amazing. There is a spectacular view of the Kinsman - Cannon ridge and the valley in between to the north and west. To the south one can see a good part of the Pemigewasset river valley. Since a picture is worth a thousand words here are some pictures.

Indian Head

Endless mountains

View of the Pemi river valley and the highway

On the way back, on a pretty lonely portion of the trail I heard the "knock knock" sound of a wood-pecker. For once, I was able to spot the bird. It kept hopping from tree to tree but it was gracious enough to hang around nearby, not be scared and carry on its knock-knocking while I changed the lens on my camera took a couple of snaps. I noticed that it kept hopping on to those trees with the white bark (they are Birch, I think) which make a good camouflage for it. I thought was very neat. Here are some of those snaps. (click to see a bigger image).

Lessons learned:
1. Eat well, exercise and stay in shape if you want to beat the trails.
2. Even when you don't follow lesson#1, the rewards of all the sweat, pain and self-loathing are sweet and sublime.
3. While lesson#2 maybe true, following lesson#1 and "always being prepared" helps... so don't forget the water bottle in the car.

Happy trails!

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