“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.” – Joseph Campbell
The last 4000 foot peak on the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire before entering Maine is 4049 foot Mount Moriah. Hiking it as a single day out and back, it became a 9 mile round trip that felt just a little bit longer because the ankle objected to the angle of descent, which in warmer months means walking down exposed granite slabs with feet flat, toes down and weight distributed as evenly as possible, but slightly back on the heels. With good footwear this serves to spread the load across the sole of the boot or trail running shoe (for those who choose to endure a higher level of pain). This creates enough friction to keep you upright and in a controlled descent. But it also beats the crap out of your knees and ankles.
But all that complaining doesn’t change the fact that I sat above treeline eating lunch with the White Mountains clearly visible all around me, and feeding Gray Jays who are well-known opportunists on this particular summit. I didn’t mind offering up a bit of my trail mix for the jays – there’s a certain thrill in interacting with wild animals, and a few almonds, peanuts and raisons were a small price to pay. And my heartbeat matched the universe a bit more today than it might have had I stayed home doing yard work. Aches and pains fade over time, but summiting Moriah remains a forever check mark and a step closer to matching my nature to Nature.
The first half of the hike from the trailhead is very easy, with a gradual incline and minimal erosion compared to what you see in other parts of the White Mountains. Unfortunately the loggers have been busy on the lower hills, clearing much of the forest away. This is what happens when the land isn’t preserved, it becomes a “land of many uses”, including logging everything except a strip of land on either side of the trail. The logging served to preview the views that we’d see later, though it was marred by the clearing.
The first wow moments come on the granite ledges of Mount Surprise, a 2194 foot gem that lives up to its name. Views of the Presidential Range were glorious, and served as a nice appetizer for the views we’d see later from the summit of Mount Moriah. They say on a clear day you can see forever from the summit, and it seemed we could. If there’s a drawback to the summit its the very small footprint that many people want to enjoy, and in a time of social distancing I was disappointed in the unmasked proximity of several people from a group of twenty-somethings. But lingering on the summit meant you were going to have that kind of company, so we made a point of wrapping up lunch and clearing the way for others.
Mount Moriah is not a hike to do on a wet day, which is why I hiked it today instead of last week. But its a worthwhile hike to complete on a beautiful day. I look forward to doing it sometime when it has a heavy snow blanket to cushion the unforgiving granite. I’ll be sore tomorrow in the usual places, but it’s the price you pay for dancing in the clouds. Another 4000 footer checked off the list and a few memories worth celebrating.