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Beginning With Waumbek

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.” – John Muir

The workout today was pretty straightforward: hike a total of 7 miles round trip up one of New Hampshire’s forty-eight 4000 footers. I’ve hiked at least a dozen of them before , some multiple times, but I didn’t track it officially. So I’m simply starting over again. I’m not imposing a deadline on myself and I’m not in a race. I don’t go to the mountains to set distance records. I go to the mountains because I love the mountains. And I love who I become when I spend more time in the mountains. And so today was, officially, one. And some good tidings.

I chose Mount Waumbek in Jefferson, considered a good beginner 4000 footer. I’m not a beginner, but I’m beginning again. Waumbek was as good a place to start as any. At 4006 feet, its one of the shorter 48, but it counts just the same as Mount Washington on the list. And so I announced to the family that I was going and got one taker; my daughter committed to getting up at 4:30 and joining me. You know someone is serious when they commit to 4:30 AM, and sure enough she was ready to go by 5 AM.

Mount Waumbek is an interesting name. The White Mountains themselves were once called Waumbekket Methna, which either means “mountains with snowy foreheads” or “white rocks” in the dialect of the Abenaki. Or maybe some settler came up with that story after enough time passed. What I’m fairly certain of is that Mount Waumbek was once slated to be yet another ski area, but thankfully it fell through and was preserved. I imagine it would’ve still counted as a 4000 footer, as Cannon Mountain does, but it wouldn’t feel much like hiking then. I’ll take the New Hampshire rock and root tour, thank you.

I like to start hikes early, especially in hot weather. It’s generally less crowded, making simple things like parking a car less of a process. And early makes a big difference on hot, muggy days. Get it done before the crowds, before the heat, and before the inevitable thunderstorms that roll through the mountains on such days. We began our first steps at 7:45, a bit later than desired, and with a bit more company, but thankfully no raindrops. Instead we ran into swarms of ravenous gnats, flies and a few odd mosquitos. None of them cared much for social distancing. None of them got the memo that we wore generous applications of bug juice, or that according to the small printed label, they’re supposed to hate this stuff. No, they actually seemed to view it the way I view olive oil.

The only solution was to keep moving. Summit Starr King Mountain (now THAT is a name for a mountain), glance at the view, snap a picture, move. Summit Waumbek, sip some water and nibble on a snack (carefully brushing off the carnivores who made a reservation to dine on you), re-apply bug juice and get moving again. There was no getting around it, I chose the height of bug season to begin again. But a day of hiking, even with the swarm, is better than most workouts I can think of. 19,000 steps today, and I’ll surely feel it tomorrow.

And so it was, we checked off the first of the 4000 footers, I’ll carefully note it on the tracking sheet, and I’ll move on to the next on the list. Maybe it’ll be a we? After all, I’m not the only one who checked a box today.

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