On sunny days – which are few – the mountain could almost pass for friendly.
Today is one of those rare days, sky completely devoid of clouds so that we have a clear view of the summit from the recently-rebuilt lodge at the mountain’s base.
Spencer and I power-hike (for us, at least), largely motivated by large packs of kids following their leaders up the trail. Nothing against the youth of today, but we’re happy to get ahead of the mass of people, disappearing into the woods until the only sounds are our own breath and the wind through the trees. Our breathing is labored, but our muscles feel strong.
It is so cool, I think aloud, that we can just put on shoes and walk outside and end up at the top of a mountain. Hiking is the best.
Mt. Moosilauke in New Hampshire has instilled a healthy sense of fear in me since the first time I stood at its foot. It wasn’t until a year after that that I even hiked it, on packed snow in November with blizzard conditions at the top. I froze, ducking behind rocks to avoid the biting wind; the pom-pom on my borrowed hat unraveled and fell off; and yet I fell in love with the glittering, icy trails.
It’s not that the hike itself is so difficult; it’s that I feel the history of the place in my bones every time I approach the access road that leads to the mountain. Whenever I drive towards Moosilauke, the spooky feeling returns.
Legends of the mountain that I’d heard throughout college only increase the sense that you are always being watched here. I’m a rational, semi-functional adult, but I’ve been convinced that there’s no way these woods aren’t at least a little bit haunted.
The night before our hike, we arrived at the Lodge around 11pm after finally ditching the sketchy white van that had been trailing us for miles. This did not help with the spookiness.
I drove with my hands gripped tightly on the wheel, shooing away paranoid thoughts about being followed until we made our final turn and tore off into the woods. The van was probably just cutting across the state, on their way somewhere far away. Probably.
My nail polish is chipped. Spencer previously commented that it looked like blood, so, well, perfect. It is Halloweekend, after all.
Fall leaves scatter on the ground, eventually giving way to moss, which gives way to matted pine boughs weighing under light smatterings of snow.
I like that the yellow leaves are the only ones left clinging to their branches, the other colors having fallen to the dirt. Peak foliage was weeks ago, but the yellow pierces the dark background of shadowy trees fiercely.
We reach the summit almost 2 hours to the minute from when we set out, joining the throngs of people and dogs milling around the top and hiding from the wind behind cairns to eat the cheese and crackers we brought.
A familiar face draws us over to a small group eating lunch, and we spend some time catching up with our undergrad counterparts. We’re so old, we complain.
Slushy snow squishes under our boots as we head back down. The paths are muddy, a few spots more stream than trail. We’ll update the crew at the bottom that trail work needs to be done.
Until then, we hop across rocks and grab branches for balance. 2 more hours, and we emerge at the trailhead, weary and ready to give our sore feet a rest.
We know we’ll be back; a mountain like this one pulls at you, gives you no choice.