Two of my closest friends and I had flown into Vermont and rented a behemoth of an SUV for a roadtrip through the northeast, planning to meander along the Atlantic coast among lighthouses and lobster shacks, finally culminating in a trek through Nova Scotia’s painfully beautiful Cape Breton Highlands National Park and kayaking the record-breaking 50′ tides of the Bay of Fundy. Two weeks before departure we skyped to hammer out the final itinerary and I pointed out my obligation to hike the state highpoints of the Northeast US.
“No. …Maybe.” they said, wary of my overambitious track record. “How about one. Pick one that’s on our route and that we can all enjoy.”
Always drawn to the superlatives I chose the highest one, and after a redeye flight and a towering heap of pancakes sodden with genuine maple syrup, we were blearily staring up at fog-shrouded Mt. Washington from Pinkham Notch. Out of the silence Stacey volunteered to drive the giant SUV up the winding narrow Toll Road, leaving Claudia and me to shoulder our daypacks and head into the mist.
The trail starts off wide and easy; wooden railroad-tie steps driven into the loamy dirt, a tidy bridge crossing a river of waterfall runoff. It was cool and overcast but incredibly humid, and I took off my longsleeve layer just to mop the sweat trickling down my neck. The trail turned from squishy soil to volleyball-sized rocks, but remained wide and gentle. At Hermit Lake we easily picked out Tuckerman Ravine, a crisp v-fold in the landscape, and plunged into the cornice.
Here the trail was steeper, just steps of rock heading upwards through trees clinging to the cracks between boulders, slick with a light cold rain. The view opened up to an expansive vista, an enormous green granite bowl freckled with the first golden specks of autumn aspen. We picked out a waterfall in the distance and then moments later were alongside it, in it, grabbing on to well-worn granite blocks to haul ourselves through the spray, climbing gradually upward toward the edge of the fog cloud hanging ominously over us.
We asked people on their way down about conditions at the summit and they stared at us with dark and glazed eyes, mumbling about 70mph winds and hail beyond the headwall. We clambered up to the imposing ceiling of fog and stepped into it, with one last glance at the wet ravine below us, and passing through the mist was like entering a different world, one built of lichen-covered rock draped in a heavy curtain of fog. We surely would have lost our way in this sea of sameness, but every few meters was another heap of rocks piled into enormous cairns to mark the general direction.
We stumbled through the dark rain from one rock pile to the next, feet slipping on the slick green rock. In the wind my rain jacket’s hood slapped and battered against my head until my hearing was just as muted as my sight, and I continued to scramble upwards by just a vague sense of vertical motion.
Without sight or sound I used my hands to feel each boulder before me, testing its shape and security, until suddenly there were no boulders left and I was touching the edge of asphalt. I stared dumbly at this odd flat rock until surreally a Ford Taurus sped by at nose level, and we topped out in the parking lot to collect Stacey and climb the last few steps to the summit itself, waiting in a line of drive-up tourists for our moment on the highest, windiest, and most full-service peak of the Northeast.
About the beer:
It’s cold, wet, and windy here at the “home of the world’s worst weather,” and the gorgeous Robust Porter from Smuttynose was the perfect thing to warm me up. Dark and chocolately roasted malts with just a touch of tangy molasses sweetness, tasting as thick and rich as the tasty dregs at the bottom of a mocha latte, it’s an unbelievably smooth velvety dark brew, a perfect complement to the cozy maple syrup and the freezing autumn winds of New Hampshire.