It seems like a long time since I have just gone off on my own to
do something I wanted to do. Most of the time when I climb a mountain
it is with a troop of boys. Where as I enjoy that, it always involves
a lot of logistics. Who is coming? how do we do the transportation?
Is the smallest scout up to the task.
But not today. Today I am climbing on my own. I wanted to climb Mt. Cube without explaining it to anyone, expect the readers of these notes. So why Cube?
When I moved to Hanover I had this idea that I would hike the Appalachian Trail - but not as a "Through Hiker", who hikes from Georgia to Maine at one fell swoop. Not even as "Section Hikers", who will hike for a week or two every summer, finishing the who trail in a decade or two. Rather, my goal was to hike as a "Micro-Section Hiker". My span would old be New Hampshire and Vermont, and I would hike primarily as a day hiker. I plan to drive to where the trail crosses a road, and then hike up the next mountain and back down. Later I would climb that same mountain from the other side. It means I hike each micro-section of trail at least twice, but I will be looking in the other direction on the return. And I am in no rush. I plan on being here for years.
However - I have only hiked from the White River in Vermont to Smarts Mountain for a total of only thirty-four miles. So this winter I am planning a series of snow shoe hikes over Smarts and Cube, two peaks twenty miles north of Hanover.
I'm starting the day by having breakfast at the Fairlee Diner. I enjoy breakfast at a diner, but since I live with people who think sleeping in on Saturday morning is a sacred right, I rarely go out. But here I am getting the number two "farmer's Special", eggs, ham and home-fries. Walking into the diner is a curious transition from home. There I tiptoed out while everyone else slept on. Here the world is full of very awake people, many of whom have been up for hours. They start to serve breakfast at 5:30, but I expect that part of the staff has been there since 5:00. At this time of year 5:00 is the dead of the night.
Confession - I am really not very early, and the side trip to the diner didn't help me start my hike early. I have been seduced by not only breakfast, but also a newspaper and coffee, so it is nearly 11:00 when I reach the trail-head.
I am starting on the north side of Cube, on route 25A, between Upper and Lower Baker Pond, near a cross roads marked as Gilmans Corner. These two ponds are primarily surrounded by summer camps. Camp Pemigewasset is particularly exclusive and pricey. But a few steps off the road and the life of the valley vanishes behind me and I am engulfed by a hardwood forest. The leaves are all down, and most of there are buried under a layer of early winter snow. I didn't bring my shoe-shoes, but the trail has been hiked a few times since the last snow fall and is well packed.
The beginning of the hike is a gentle rise through an open wood, but the trail steepen as I climb out of the bottom lands. Occasional the trail hits straight a level sections - old farm roads in the lower lands and logging roads as I get higher. A quick plunge down a ravine and I come to Brackett Brook. The normal stepping stones are frozen under ice. At this point I strap on my "trekkers". These are mini crampons for hiking. They look like over size sandals which you wear over your boots. On the bottoms they have spikes. They remind me of the "pin spikes" we would wear for running races on all-weather tracks.
I pick my way across Brackett Brook, and then start the real ascent. Soon I leave the hard wood behind and the trail become hemmed by hemlocks. As an experiment I step of the trail, and plunge knee deep into snow.
Up and up. I am making good time. After a bit over an hour and a half I reach the saddle between the true peak to the south, and an overlook to the north. I take the north spur trail out to the ledge. I use the term ledge in the New England way. A ledge means exposed rock and not necessarily a cliff face. This ledge only tumbles down to some wind stunted hemlocks.
To the north the view is grand. Mt. Moosilauke is a slumbering giant. As you come up from the Connecticut River Valley it is the first 4,000 footer of the White Mountains which you meet. Its bare summit is well encased in ice and snow. I take off my trekkers and sit on them, and eat a granola bar and sip coffee. I could spend the rest of the day gazing north - or at least until I am chilled. Down below my feet, down in the forest below me I notice what looks like lines running through the forest. I look at them with my binoculars and realize that they are tiny stream and trickles which appear dark against the snow. Curious how many of them there are!
I walked over to the true peak where the view of the mountains of Vermont is stunning. The day is so clear! But now it is time to head down.
The descent is easy, and after crossing Brackett I stop and explore an old foundation in the woods. The stones have a patina of lichen and seem to be the survivors of a different age when all this was farm land. Undoubtedly a hard life on a rocky hill side farm. I would get romantic about a simpler age - but sometimes it does seem like why is it so hard to escape to the woods for a little while? We are rich in everything except time.
How can we make time?