Maybe the title of this post is a little over dramatic, but judging how worn out I was after last weekend’s hike, I can live with that. Over Columbus Day weekend, Yvonne and I joined one of her hiking buddies to finish off his New Hampshire 4000-footers with the Carter-Moriah Range. Yvonne has been too busy with school and work to do much of any hiking with me this season, and I hadn’t hiked with Patrick in over a year, so I was overdue for hiking with both of them.
|Morning light through the trees on the Imp Trail.|
Friday evening, Yvonne and I went to bed early, undecided about the hike. The forecast called for rain all day, and in order to get to Gorham on time we would have to wake up at 5 AM. Hard decisions. Do we wake up super early, drive for three hours, and hike all day in cold rain? Or do we bail and miss out on Patrick’s big hike, while we have nothing planned otherwise? We risked the rain.
The drive up through Franconia Notch was foggy with patchy clouds, but not as bad as I’d expected. The foliage was just past peak, with bright yellows and dark reds contrasting with the lightening greens all around us.
|Alpine bog on the Carter-Moria Trail.|
Fall foliage has been hard for me to catch for the past several years. I try to think of when my last really good autumn was, as far as being in places with great color, being outside in the mountains, and having that crisp fall air that I love so much, but the last I can remember was 2009, on the New England Trail. Yvonne has had some good days of mountain views while working as a summit steward on Monadnock, but I always find myself missing the best of the foliage season– either for work, poor weather, or being in the wrong place. Not that I’m complaining, though. The days when I see the leaves in all their glory are even more special for all the misses.
|Leaf-coated cascades along the Carter Dome Trail.|
Four of us arrived at the Imp Trailhead by about 9, with the skies still mostly clear and the air nice and crisp like you’d want it on a fall day. We started up without much fanfare, and had a lovely walk through low woods for a while. Most of the brightest leaves had already fallen, painting the ground a dark red and filling the streams with a skin of floating tans. What was left in the trees was still green, moving toward a sunny yellow. The light coming down through the trees seemed amplified by the colors. We may have missed the peak of the colors here, but there was plenty to see.
|Wet stream crossings.|
We had a few minor mishaps to start off. One of us had forgotten to feed our coffee addiction. Another (me) hadn’t brought as much food as he’d thought. Patrick had miscalculated which peaks he needed on the ridge, so we could have started from a different trail head for shorter miles. No matter, though. By the time we reached the Carter-Moriah Trail, we were in the clouds and had little to see. We decided that rather than push ourselves to total exhaustion, we might as well leave Moriah for later, when there might be better views. The rain started between South Carter and Carter Dome, making us that much more confident that our change of plans had been the right move.
|Walking on sunshine.|
A wet, dreary day with long miles can easily become unpleasant, but the lower elevations had plenty of gorgeous views of a different variety. The ground’s fresh coating of wet, fallen leaves glistened like shining confetti, and cascading streams were decorated with smatterings of what hadn’t already washed downstream. The dampness of the forest made it glow, even if we couldn’t see far.
|Nineteen Mile Brook.|
Maybe it was the round trip drive of nearly six hours, leaving Keene at 5:30, and getting back at 10:30 in the evening, but those 12 miles we hiked felt more like 24. Yvonne and I had to trade off driving shifts on the way home while the other slept. The next day, I was more sore and aching than after the large Pemi Loop hike I’d done a few weeks earlier.
It’s amazing how fast the body loses the energy that builds up over a summer’s worth of hard hiking. In a way, it’s just like the drop-off in the colors during foliage season. That energy shows up almost out of nowhere when the season is right, then disappears before you realize it’s even there. You know it’ll be back next year, but no matter how much you get out into the mountains, it doesn’t seem like enough. Having not experienced the full glory of foliage season since 2009, I always feel somewhat cheated when the season is over, just like when I wake up one day in autumn and find I’m not in the same hiking shape I was in a few weeks earlier. But hiking is all about patience– seeing another foliage season will have to wait another year, and getting into solid long-distance hiking shape will wait until spring. In the meantime, I have to change gears and prepare for cold weather and snow. It’s just around the corner, now.