Imagine ten women (eight of which have no backpacking experience) strapping on backpacks full of all the normal gear plus shared food, kitchenware and tools, and tackling the rock scrambles of New Hampshire for the first time. Then imagine that again, but with rain.
I had no hat to speak of, though there was one sitting smugly in my Jeep back at AMC’s Camp Dodge, which I talked about in my first post. I had a rain jacket, of course. An old EMS one I bought in 2009, that was starting to peal off in places, but worked non-the-less. I wasn’t wearing it, though. Instead, rain poured down on me soaking my t-shirt, shorts, and underwear through. It rolled down my hair, flowing from my side bangs so that my vision was a frightening mix of dark brown hair, water, and unfocused trail in front of me.
Before the rain hit us the weather was the opposite.
It was hot.
It suffocated our space as we all sat cramped into a van on our way to the trail head, a bunch of older women driven by a 22 year old summer camp go-er who was switching the station to music I actually liked even though I was 10 years older than her. Her hair was long and shaved at the sides, which seemed to be a trend going on at the camp among all the young girls. I wondered if it was a mix of fashion and function; I could have used a little less hair at that moment. The air conditioning wasn’t working, and instead we sat through a 30 minute ride swallowing thick, heavy air, ready to rush out at the first available moment to start our trip.
As we started along our hike to Lonesome Lake, the heat continued to bear down on me. My throat ached for some water. Inside my head, I battled out the steps instead of stopping for water too often. My Nalgene was tucked far too snugly in my side pocket, completely out of my reach without assistance. Of course, anyone would have been happy to retrieve it for me. One of the best things about hiking and the outdoors is how encouraging and helpful people are to one another.
But my body wasn’t use to the elevation gain and difficulty of the trail. Having only hiked occasionally in the past, New Hampshire was eye opening. So instead I kept walking, constantly thirsty, until I hooked the bottle to one of my straps in the front. It was absurdly in the way, banging against my body and too heavy for its spot, but at least I’d be able to drink water more readily.
Lesson 1: Use a hydration system that is most comfortable and efficient for you.
Not only would it have been much easier to drink water while hiking, the bladder itself weights much less than a hard, plastic Nalgene does. Though others preferred a water bottle and had suggested I could always fill the bladder up later, when later actually came I had no desire to take everything out of my pack just to fill the bladder up with water and put everything back.
The trail was riddled with ups and downs, forcing us to face what seemed at the time as extremely intimidating rock scrambles. Yet, when we came back down the same route at the end of the week I saw everything differently. I guess such is the way of experience. Seeing something, doing something for the first time creates different impressions on your brain then any other repeated venture.
Going up on the trail was no easier, waddling around like bowling pins spinning out of balance; our hands and feet trying to clasp any surface that would give stability, while the weight on our back threatened to topple us over no matter our efforts.
My shoulders started to tingle halfway through, sending tiny pricks of information to my brain that they were not liking this new, unknown adventure. It was a minor pain, but gradually I started to worry. If this continued, I’d be worn out before our short hike was up.
Pure dumb luck managed to solve my issues. We came to a part of the trail that was too large of a step down for me to tackle with my pack on. Instead, three of us unbuckled our straps, easing the weight off our briefly happy shoulders. We slid the packs down five feet or so to someone below. I let my Nalgene fall as well, and it bumped and rolled away as if to admit in shame how inconvenient it was as a water holder for my first backpacking trip. When I stepped down to lift my pack up again, I cinched the waist belt so hard, it was almost like it was choking my hips. My shoulders stopped screaming in overuse the rest of the hike, and with that small adjustment I no longer viewed the rest of the way in anxiety.
Lesson 2: Make sure your pack’s hip belt is tight enough or your back will hate you.
I remember our first little peak at the mountains sitting there as the all women volunteer crew I was in made our way to Lonesome Lake–and eventually Kinsman Pond Shelter. A sliver of Lonesome Lake soon appeared out of the trees, a teasing glimpse of the beauty and mountains yet to come. We had mountains back at the AMC camp, but this was our first view while hiking. During most of the hike the trees covered all directions, making glimpses of anything other than branches and sky impossible. It was here I realized I was really doing this. I was climbing mountains.
The AMC hut was still a ways away yet, but with the knowledge that soon we’d have a short break and some food we charged ahead eagerly.
Hot soup awaited us, as well as lemonade and gorgeous, gorgeous views. The hut was nothing short of adorable, in the way that only an outdoors person could love. Raised above higher than the lake but only a short distance from it, I would love to go back one day and stay there. Young AMC volunteers worked on some repairs on the porch outside facing the lake, and a part of me wished we could spend a little bit longer enjoying those views.