“Nobody climbs mountains for scientific reasons. Science is used to raise money for the expeditions, but you really climb for the hell of it.” – Sir Edmund Hillary
During summer 2015, Larry and I decided to go on an east coast road trip. Living in Atlanta at the time, we flew from ATL to BOS – from which we drove the Dodge Charger we rented northeast to the Pine Tree State’s largest city. The official starting point of our journey along America’s most populated coastline – we spent the first night in Portland then headed south. We only built one hiking excursion into our 13-state journey; that being Mount Chocorua in New Hampshire. In hindsight, we should have add two additional hiking treks into our 840-mile odyssey. Trekking in Maine and Vermont sounds really cool to me now.
After grabbing a surprisingly delicious lunch at a BBQ joint named Yankee Smokehouse in West Ossipee, Larry and I headed toward the White Mountain National Forest. This federally protected park spans almost the entirety of the Granite State – with a small section spilling into west central Maine. I recently learned 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail (AT) winds through the forest, connecting the Vermont and Maine portions of the AT. What Larry and did not know at the time, we would later move to Washington DC and find ourselves one October Saturday morning of the same year, walking along the West Virginia share of the AT. We entered the forest on the southern end at the Mount Chocorua Liberty Trailhead in Albany.
There was one other hiker present when Larry and I began our adventure – he was readying himself as if he would never return to his car. He had a tent, food, and a backpack among other camping supplies. Clearly he was planning to hike and camp in the national forest for days at a time – making Cheryl Strayed look as if she was carrying only a billfold when she started her expedition along the Pacific Crest Trail all those years ago. He was friendly – sharing some directional tips to ensure we experienced the best views White Mountain has to offer.
Per the lone hiker’s recommendation, Larry and I chose the Old Paugus Trail over the Liberty Trail we originally planned to conquer. We set out for our designated turnaround spot – 3.9 miles one way – taking a little over two hours to reach it. The Old Paugus Trail was the first Larry and I had hiked that far north and east with Atlanta serving as our reference point. It was one of the hardest trails we traversed as well – required us to literally amateurishly ascend piles of boulders as if we were rock climbers. The AllTrails app ranks the Old Paugus Trail as hard – an assessment I find unassailable. I am confident we burned a minimum of 2,000 calories round trip.
The Old Paugus Trail was quiet and nicely packed – portions of which were covered completely by immovable rocks. There was nothing to fear once we encountered these stones – the boundaries of the path were clearly marked to keep us from losing our way. The creeks and streams crisscrossing the path gently ran clear. The vegetation was plentiful and refreshingly verdant. The weather was perfect – cool and not humid. The Old Paugus Trail was shaded for almost its entirety, something Larry really appreciated given his skin sensitivities.
He and I found the number of felled trees near the mountain’s summit somewhat shocking and saddening. It appeared as if a powerful storm with strong winds had moved through the area a few weeks prior to our hike. We are not arborists by any stretch of the imagination – yet the trees looked as if they had not fallen all that long before we saw them strewn about the mountainside. It seemed like a waste to us, all of those downed trees. Now we know that they too have their purpose in the circle of life – playing the role of nurse logs that will provide amble nutrients to fuel the growth of other plant life.
If you are ever in or near the White Mountain State for any reason – especially if you and/or your significant other are hiking enthusiasts of outdoorspeople – you must hike any of the trails that venture into the White Mountain National Forest. You will have such a great hiking experience.