09/05/16 (Labor Day)
The summit of Rocky Peak Ridge, the prize of an impossible journey, is — as summits are wont to be — an interminable distance beyond, beguiling and hidden. Pat and Gordon have run ahead, their bodies thrown in relief of the still and stunted pine as the trail serpents upwards out of sight. “Savor it —” David sagely advises, “you only become a 46er once.” I can appreciate the truth in David’s advice: past milestones have left me wanting in their realization. As hard as I try to be present in the moment, I am out of form. A nascent cold — I have exasperatedly awoken with on the day of my finisher — makes swallowing a labor. This new job has incomprehensibly kept me off the trails for the whole of August, not one molecule of trail dirt was trodden by my hiking boots for the month. My employer has been kind enough to offer me a northwestern-facing view from my desk, of Saratoga Spring’s Congress Park and somewhere beyond the curve of earth the High Peaks lie awaiting my return. Every drowsy afternoon, laid waste by the morning bomb of caffeine, has invited fancies of the imagination; those mountains would, as if by the dint of CGI, break from the mantle of earth and rise beyond the uppermost planes of the buildings in Congress Park — the comely dome of Marcy, the jaggy contours of the Great Range, the slides of Gothics glistening in the midday Sun, all there. The instant my supervisor jars me from the revery, back into the earth they’d all recede and some quotidian end would arrest my mind until they return again.
Pat fuels up while Gordon takes in the early view from Blueberry Cobbles (or thereabouts.)
There is something poignantly anti-climatic about this finish, the headlong rush to 45, the wave of momentum to the day disrupted by those pesky obligations. It would take David’s prodding: “let’s get ‘er done,” to spur me to action.
The eastern approach of Rocky Peak Ridge, the one I have chosen for my finisher, is renown for its beauty and avoided for its difficulty. The trail follows a ridge from Route 9 or the hamlet of New Russia (if it is even large enough to be classified as such). The ridge is home to a list of destinations, like Blueberry Cobbles, Bald Peak, Rocky Peak (not to be confused with the High Peak) and then, of course, Rocky Peak Ridge and ultimately Giant and on down. All told, upwards of 5,000 feet of elevation gain is required for its execution. Slightly less if you embark from the other side. Why this hike is such a bear is two-fold. Most notably, it follows a ridge, which invariably entails a lot of up and down. The other half of it has to do with the starting point of the hike — a mere 600 feet or so of elevation. This is the closest to sea level of any High Peaks trailhead; by all accounts, one is expected to climb the entirety of Rocky Peak Ridge … with many demoralizing dips along the way. Word on the street — err, the trails — is that this route is stunningly beautiful at the height of Autumn. The preponderance of deciduous trees has me a believer.
No shortage of picturesque places for the sake of repast.
The most photographed glacial erratic in the Giant Wilderness.
This trail makes a pass of the sweetest tarn in all the High Peaks, Marie Louise Pond. Come to think of it, it is I reckon the only tarn in the High Peaks — a taste of the White Mountains, where there is no shortage of high elevation lakes and by which many sleepy huts rest on their shores.
Heart-shaped Marie Louise Pond with Lake Champlain and Vermont’s Green Mountains in the distance.
For being out of action for more than a month and fighting a cold, a hike of this magnitude is ambitious, to say the least. The palpable excitement of becoming a 46er has, to this point, buoyed me. Pat and Gordon running ahead has a purpose: they will document, with pictures and videos, my finish.
I scuttle up the bare rock, as if on a cloud. Gordon snaps a picture with my every fateful step. When later viewed on my computer, the collective of successive pictures would come to engender animation, like the pages of those old cartoon books you’d swiftly thumb through. On the summit of Rocky Peak Ridge, David is the master of ceremonies and bequeaths me a 46er patch. Among the celebrants is a biblical proportion of black flies, the likes of which I have never experienced on any High Peaks summit. They are all here, each and everyone of those winged bastards who caused me such misery over the course of this journey. No one is long for this summit, myself included, but I take a moment to let it sink in. Like Giant, Rocky Peak Ridge is at the edge of the region and affords an all-encompassing view of the High Peaks. I could imagine my former self, possessed with the conceit of becoming a Forty-Sixer, traipsing through those mountains and those at the moment unseen pushing towards the same goal.
As someone once told me, who illustrated with numbers the difficulty of the hike, the segment of the East Trail between Rocky Peak Ridge and Giant is the “pushing the envelope” part. Without being suspenseful, he was right. I am eager to face the section of the trail between the col and Giant, the part that turned me back when I had but three High Peaks to my name; now an emboldened Forty-Sixer, how could I possibly shrink from it? To my dismay and astonishment, it is scarcely any easier than it was back then. I can confirm that the trail from Giant to Rocky Peak Ridge is a doozy, with a full breadth of High Peaks experience or otherwise.
As Gordon, Pat and I plop down our depleted derrières on the summit of Giant, a holler emanates from the trees, “I guess I’ll visit my girlfriend!” David emerges from the trees. To him, Giant is affectionately referred to as his “girlfriend;” on which he found solace during many trying times in his life.
As we watch the late-afternoon Sun descend on the familiar High Peaks and the endless valleys now demystified, my adventure has come full circle, close to where it had all begun.
No shortage of nice views on the Giant side of the hike.