"Seems like such a simple thing
To follow one's own dream
But possessions and concession
Are often not what they seem"
From Days That Used To Be - Neil Young
|Lakes of the Clouds Hut. Mount Jefferson is the left peak behind, Clay center, and Mount Washington rises out of frame right.|
As we had approached the hut, I had started to feel the discomfort and malaise return that had been troubling me for weeks. I didn't mention this to my companion at this point as I did not want to make him concerned. I am admittedly one of those guys who tries to grind out pain and illness rather than give in to it. This approach has both pros and cons. It is not the wisest behavior I know, but then I rather doubt anyone who knows me well would expect me to always do the smartest thing. And by "always" I mean "ever." So Mark and I discussed the hut while we ate a quick high calorie bite, and then we shouldered our packs and started the short climb of about a quarter mile of stoney trail to Monroe's summit.
|We ascend the short climb to the summit of Mount Monroe. The trail is a bed of placed stones delineated by small cairns.|
|Looking back at the hut and the two "lakes" from the approach to Monroe's summit. These "lakes" are more accurately called "tarns."|
|Above the hut in this image, looking to the north, are three peaks of the Presidentials. From right to left are Washington with its masts and buildings, Mount Clay, and Mount Jefferson.|
It was not very long before Mark and I reached the flat summit of Mount Monroe. This was a new peak for my companion. For me, it was a return to a summit I had last visited nearly twenty years before. My young friend had not even been born when I last stood on this perch. That day many years ago it was shrouded in a cold October mist, and no views could be had that day. Now the views spread out in all directions, peaks by the scores, valleys, lakes, and towns met our gaze from this lofty place.
|Below the summit of Monroe, to the southeast, lies a broad open shoulder. In June this shoulder is festooned with wildflowers. The Crawford Path is easily seen crossing the shoulder.|
|My companion snaps a few photos from the summit of Monroe.|
Our stay on Monroe was brief. We had most of our hike still ahead of us and I was starting to think we might run out of daylight before we ran out of trail. So after soaking in the views and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with every summit, we headed back the way we came. We would backtrack to the hut and then head past the lakes on our way up Washington. The return to the hut was just a matter of minutes, going down hill is almost always faster than going uphill! But not always of course.
|The lower "lake." This tarn is only slightly larger than an acre and just over 8 feet deep. In summer some of the many hikers and lodgers at the hut sometimes swim in the crystal clear, cold water.|
|The lakes were once called the "Blue Ponds" and "Washington's Punchbowl." Whatever name man chooses for them they are beautiful relics of the forces that have sculpted these mountains.|
|Mark passes a cairn as he climbs towards the summit of the highest peak in the northeast.|
|We arrive. Seen from just below the summit, the mast speaks elegantly of the sudden immersion back into humanity that we are about to experience.|
|The summit of Mount Washington is a New Hampshire State Park. It is also a weather observatory, and in summer a restaurant, train station, and destination of an almost constant stream of cars and buses.|
|The Cog Railway embarks summit tourists for the return trip down the mountain.|
|The eastern face of the Mount Washington Observatory building.|
|The Mount Washington Auto Road and Cog Rail just immediately the summit. Note the cog rail's center strip where the cog engines' gear attaches and holds the engine firmly to the track.|
|The turret of the Observatory on the observation deck. Several webcams are located in this structure and captured images can be viewed on-line.|
Once we finished our gas station quality lunch we refilled our water bottles and headed out onto the observation deck. I pointed out some of the surrounding geography and topography to my young friend as we momentarily delayed the last leg of our hike. I looked at Mount Jefferson in the distance. I had never been on that summit, and a mild case of summit fever welled up in me and battled with my better judgment. I was feeling under the weather and we were behind schedule. We should just skip Jefferson and head down. Unbidden, Mark expressed his strong desire to continue on to Jefferson. I felt like hell, weak and tired. I had returned to a mountain I had last climbed almost three decades ago, a mountain that was the first I had ever climbed. Long before Europeans came to this land, this mountain was called "The Storm Spirit" by the early Americans. As I stood here once again, a storm of conflicting feelings churned inside me. On the one hand was conservative caution and a quick descent, and on the other was wistful longing to continue our walk among the clouds to visit a peak I had never been to. Longing quickly won of course, it seems it always does. So Mark and I adjusted our pack's straps and headed for the trail that lead to the next mountain. I was elated to be leaving the madding crowd behind and to feel the broken stone of the "Rock Pile" under my boots again.
|Sun beams stream through rents in the clouds as Mark and I leave the summit of the "Storm Spirit."|