Hot, muggy August days create hazy, sweaty conditions for hiking, with a dash of risk for thunderstorms. But it’s been six long months since I’d last hiked a 4000 footer, and I was way overdue to notch one or two more. The question then is, who do you hike with? For me, the answer for this day was to hike solo. I needed to work out the rust of hiking on granite again without feeling the obligation of keeping pace. And more importantly, I needed the mental space that hiking offers after another half a year of working during a pandemic.
My thoughts on hiking alone aside, I didn’t want to drive an extra hour to find the less crowded peaks of the northern White Mountains. So my focus turned to Mounts Passaconaway and Whiteface, each part of the Sandwich range and relatively close with relatively good elbow room. And planned my hike the way most people seem to do it, to hike Mount Whiteface first and then loop around to Mount Passaconaway afterwards. Plans are lovely things, aren’t they?
When you’re hiking on a trail and come across a spot where you can either haul yourself over a boulder or bypass it entirely by taking the worn path around it, which do you choose? The answer is subjective, isn’t it? It depends on the size of the boulder. It depends on the condition of the worn path around it. And it depends on your mood at the time. My mood at the time I reached the Tom Wiggins trail was such that when I read the sign warning that the trail was not recommended because it was “steep and loose” I paused for a couple of minutes to consult my trail map, contemplate the implications to the overall mileage I’d do that day, and opt for the out and back option instead of the loop. This decision added almost five miles to my hike, and I’d second-guess it the rest of the day, but sometimes you have to trust your gut.
Decision made, I hiked the Dicey Mill Trail to the junction of the Rollins Trail, where I had another choice to make: knock off summitting Mount Passaconaway first, or hike over to Mount Whiteface via the Rollins Trail and save Passaconaway for last? And here I made another choice that I’d second guess the rest of the day. I chose Whiteface, and hiked the 2.3 miles over to the cairn that marked the summit, went past it to the next trail junction and then turned around and hiked all the way back to where I’d begun. Far simpler to have just knocked off Passaconaway while the legs were fresh. It would have given me the option of descending the Tom Wiggins Trail (which was admittedly advertised as steep and loose). I may still have doubled back, but at least I’d have the option. Anyway, these are the hindsight options you think about as you’re sweating through your hiking shirt and feeling your knees and ankles remind you of your choices in life.
This out and back hike wasn’t all that challenging, it was just long. And that’s exactly what I’d signed up for back at that sign. Sometimes you have to make peace with your decisions in life, and I’m okay with this one. Seeing comparable hikers who started right in front of me finishing the loop I’d contemplated after me, I recognized that either option was fine. I’ll hike the steep and loose section another day, probably in winter when the only part that matters is steep.
This was my non-traditional hike of two more 4000 footers. I know if I’d hiked with friends I’d have just done the loop I’d planned all along, but sometimes you’ve got to just go it alone. And live with your choices along the way.