My Reflection of the Journey to My NH48 Finish
When I started my quest for the NH 4,000 footers, I never expected to fall in love with hiking the way I have. It all began when I broke my neck in September of 2017, but I never could have imagined the grueling and amazing journey that came next. This seemingly unfortunate setback motivated me to reach for goals I never would have even considered before. Finishing the NH48 has been one of my biggest accomplishments, and I've learned so much along the way.
Hiking is a feeling unlike any other. You push yourself to a point where your body is telling you to stop, your mind wants to give in to the exhaustion, and you think that you can't go any further. You're hurting but you keep going. You want to stop but you keep climbing. All for the unbelievable high that washes over you when you reach the summit. That feeling of accomplishment that you can't get from anything else.
My friends and family see me bruised, blistered, and so sore I'm unable to move. And the next morning I still get up before the crack of dawn and drive hours to the mountains. They wonder why in the world I would subject myself to it. The answer is simple. Hiking makes me feel like I can do anything in the world. It shows me that my body is more capable than I ever could have imagined. Most of all, hiking is my escape from the world around me and the only time where I don't have to worry about my crazy life in the city.
104,570 vertical feet
231 hours on the trail
13 solo peaks
5 peaks with Lucy
Longest hike: Three-day Pemigewasset Loop
Most difficult hike: One-Day Southbound Presidential Traverse
Longest day: Day 2 of the Pemi Loop from the North Twin Spur to Liberty Springs Campsite with a detour down to 13 Falls (3:30am-8:45pm)
Furthest day: One-Day Southbound Presidential Traverse (21.1 mi, 8,400 ft, 14:10)
Here are some of my favorites and least favorites from my first round of the NH48!
Bondcliff - This summit is my favorite for obvious reasons. It's absolutely gorgeous and hanging your legs off the edge of the cliff is a rush that you can't experience anywhere else. I also love that this is one of the most remote summits in NH. No matter where you look, you can't see any sign of civilization. It's absolutely refreshing. No roads, buildings, or cars, just fellow hikers working their asses off the same way you did to be there. There's no easy way to get to Bondcliff and that really adds to the beauty of it.
Mt. Monroe - Out of all of the presidentials this was my absolute favorite summit. My southbound presidential death march was an almost unbearably long day, but the summit of Mt. Monroe was a spot where I stopped to take it all in. I was in an incredible amount of pain, running on basically no sleep, and feeling really beat down, but at the summit of Monroe all of those thoughts lifted and I felt like I was on top of the world. Sitting on the edge of the drop-off with my legs dangling down, all I could think about was the beautiful landscape surrounding me on that perfectly clear day. It was truly a unique moment.
Cannon Mountain - There was cold beer at the summit of Cannon! I have considered Cannon my home for as long as I remember. I grew up skiing there every weekend when I was a kid, and it holds some of my fondest childhood memories. Being able to hike to the summit with Lucy was really special. *Mt. Hight gets a special mention for the best view out of all of my hikes so far!
Star Lake Tr. to the summit of Mt. Adams - This has probably been my favorite stretch of trail so far on my journey! It was a struggle early in the morning after almost no sleep, but it was so much fun! The scramble up the west face of Mt. Adams looked impossible from the bottom, but it ultimately was a lot of fun trying to figure out my way up it. I love a good scramble!
Bondcliff Tr. traversing across the Bonds - This is just a gorgeous traverse when the weather is nice. It's a lot of above treeline terrain, and when you're coming southbound from the Twinway there are more and more sights to be seen. Finally coming up on the northern edge of Bondcliff is absolutely beautiful, so that's why this one makes the list.
Glen Boulder Tr. up Isolation - Although this was a much harder than expected Glen Boulder had some of the best views out of all of the trails I've been on. The Presidential Traverse had amazing views, but I spent so much time focusing on my foot placement I didn't look up to take it all in. I did Glen Boulder solo, so I went at my own pace and got to admire my surroundings much more. It was gorgeous!
Blueberry Ledge Tr. up Whiteface - This may not make many people's favorites list, but I loved Blueberry Ledges. It started with huge, flat slabs of granite ascending to a tough but beautiful scramble to the summit of Whiteface. Every time I turned around there was an amazing view of the lakes region. Just breathtaking!
Owl's Head Path - Although most people don't enjoy this trail, I did! I thought going up the slide was lots of fun and I enjoyed the stretch between the old and new summits because it was good for trail running. I had a 35lb pack for the rest of that trip, so taking it off made me feel so free. This was another solo hike, but I made lots of new friends along the way. Also the views of Franconia Ridge from the slide was beautiful and unique.
Sidenote: I did all of the Presidentials in a one day traverse so I haven't yet done any of the fun ones leading to the northern presis. I suspect when I do some of those in the following months they will definitely make this list! I'm especially looking forward to King's Ravine, the Chemin des Dames, Great Gully up Adams, and Cap's Ridge up Jefferson. Also, when I did Franconia Ridge the weather was terrible, so I a presume when I do it in good weather it might make the list as well.
Least Favorite Trails:
Rollins Tr. between Whiteface and Passaconaway - I did this trail in mid-August, and it was basically a long skinny mud puddle. The muck sucked my feet in, and there was no good way to avoid it on the trail. Also, these puddles were a breeding ground for relentless bugs that swarmed me the entire way. Not fun.
Signal Ridge Tr. (the old part that was rerouted) - My first solo hike in the dark was Carrigain for sunrise, and boy did I make a big mistake going on this trail. My AMC book and maps were outdated, and I blindly followed my map and compass for fear that I would get lost if I went on the nice looking side trail. I ended up on the old section of Signal Ridge Tr. that was abandoned in 2012. There were downed trees everywhere and three really sketchy stream crossings, not to mention that in the dark the trail was nearly impossible to follow. My misstep caused me to really dislike this section of trail. And to add to that the sunrise at the summit of Mt. Carrigain was socked in.
Lincoln Woods Tr. - This. Trail. Never. Ends. It's fine on the way to the Bonds or Owl's Head, but on the way back to the car it's a real mental struggle. It's a long stretch of completely flat trail that seems to on forever. This being said, the two times that I've encountered my strong hatred for Lincoln Woods were both on the back sides of very long days on the trail. The first was at the end of the Pemi Loop and the second was from the other side coming down from the Bonds. For both of these trips it felt like I was walking on an endless moving sidewalk (like in the airport) going against me in the wrong direction. It was incredibly frustrating.
Least Favorite Summit: Mt. Washington
Halfway through the hardest hike of my life, I reached the summit of Mt. Washington. We had already been hiking for eight hours, so I was absolutely exhausted and very excited to kick off my boots and sit down. When we got to the summit, there was a swarm of people that had driven or taken the train to the summit. So many in fact that there was nowhere for us to sit down and eat. I was also really frustrated that we did all of that work and couldn't take a picture with the summit sign (this is as close as I got) because we didn't have time to wait in line. It seems like a silly reason to despise it, but it was really aggravating. Ten Life Lessons I've Learned Throughout My Journey:
1. Preparation is key. When I started my 4,000 footers with Zealand, I had a North Face school backpack, boots that didn't fit, and no clue what the ten essentials were never mind how to use a map and compass. I quickly learned (by making lots of mistakes) to be prepared with the skills and gear that I need to hike safely. Trust me, it only takes running out of water once to make buying a filter worth it. This also includes the proper equipment to carry out everything you carry in. Leave no trace!
2. Solo hikes can be the most peaceful and rewarding experiences. When I started hiking, I was pretty independent, but I never did fun stuff on my own. I quickly found out that if I was going to wait for my friends to be free every time I wanted to hike, I was never going to get out there. People ask me if I get scared out in the woods by myself and the answer is sometimes, but the serenity outweighs the nerves almost every time. I will admit that on longer hikes it's sometimes tedious on the way down with nobody to talk to, but those are the best times to make new hiking buddies!
3. Winter hiking is a whole different ball game. There's a completely different collection of skills and gear you need in the winter. Breaking trail will take so much more time and energy than you think, and the days are so much shorter that there's a lot less room for error. I did my first winter (conditions) hike solo on Carter Dome right after a big snow storm, and looking back it probably wasn't the best idea even though it worked out well. I was lucky, but it taught me that I was in over my head and I needed more experience and different conditions to be out there by myself.
4. Hiking is always worth it. I've never had a time where I regretted getting outside for a hike. (One caveat to this one is inclement weather. I've never gone out in a blizzard or hurricane-like conditions so I would assume in those situations, it may not be worth it...)
5. Just because I can do it, doesn't mean my dog can. Lucy has struggled a bit with a few of the hikes that we've been on, so I ended up leaving her at home for most of the 4,000 footers. We did Zealand and Cannon together, two hikes that she really wasn't prepared for. After these two experiences I learned that she wasn't ready for many of the hikes required to summit the 4,000 footers, so I decided that I would vet every trail before taking her to make sure it would be a fun hike for both of us. I see people out there with dogs that are struggling to keep up with their owners and suffering because of it. On the contrast, there are some dogs that can have fun hiking miles upon miles while you're fighting to keep up. Every person's and dog's ability is unique so just remember your dog will follow you to the end of the earth, but that doesn't mean they should!
6. Push yourself! You'll never imagine what your body can accomplish if you don't try! I could have never guessed that after breaking my neck my body would be able to handle this much stress. I was devastated by my regression in running ability after the accident, and if I hadn't pushed myself (within reason), I would have never discovered my passion for hiking and the outdoors. At the same time, listen to your body because there must be a balance between going out of your comfort zone without pushing yourself too much, putting yourself at risk for injury.
7. Don't rush it. The mountains are always there! By the end of my experience with the NH48, hiking the peaks I hadn't done yet became almost an obligation. Don't get me wrong, when I'm in the mountains there's no place I'd rather be, but there were points at which I wished that I could have hiked other mountains instead of doing the ones I needed to finish. I know this is a pressure that I put on myself because I was so determined to finish the list, but sometimes I wish that I hadn't made it such a priority. I'm a little bit relieved that I can now hike whatever I want, whenever I want without that pressure to finish.
8. Don't compare yourself to others. This has always been something that I've struggled with in all aspects of life. Everyone has their own unique set of skills, abilities, and goals, so there's no reason to get down on yourself because of how your progress is different than others.
9. Trust your instincts. Your gut is a very important tool when you're out in the wilderness on your own. For me it took a while to build the skill set that I needed to be confident in my hiking abilities. I learned time and time again that when I went against my instincts to follow an outdated map, an inaccurate GPS, or other hikers with seemingly helpful, but sometimes misguided information.
10. The hiking community is a beautiful, supportive group of people. I don't think I could have finished the NH48 without the help and kind words that they have given me throughout my journey. I've met so many new friends on the trails, and they're some of the nicest, most genuine people I know. They've given so much good advice that has really paved the way for me to finish my 4,000 footers.
I started this blog because I wanted to keep track of my hikes with Lucy on a platform where I could share them with my friends and family. A few months ago I wrote about why I started hiking in the first place, showing how an unfortunate injury led me to some of the best experiences of my life. There have been many bumps in the road, but my mistakes became great learning experiences to further my knowledge about the mountains around me. I've had so much fun and learned more than I ever could have imagined about myself and the world around me. Most of all, I've fallen so much in love with the mountains that I grew up in that I can now truly call them home.
Follow me on Instagram @lexi.brocoum for more pictures of our adventures!