I’ve Been Mean.
On my hiking trips to the White Mountains, Riley and Connor get equal treatment on who comes with me. On some trips it’s Rye, on others it’s the ConMan. Rye has been with me on some of the most glorious trips, like the three-day overnight to Zealand and the Bonds, the Kinsmans, and the South and Middle Carter trip. She’s also been on some of the more strenuous adventures, like last year’s Southern Presi traverse and the Dry River Wilderness.
But Connor’s been on some epic trips too, like Owl’s Head, the Wildcats, and the Willey Range. He’s done a lot of the grittier stuff, like a rainy trip to Mt. Hale, enduring the fog on Mt. Eisenhower, and an overnight on Waumbek where the temps got into the 30’s. He’s climbed the North Tripyramid Slide and the Flume Slide, as well as the steeps of Wildcat Ridge and East Osceola, where he waited while I found a way into the car without keys.
He’s the backcountry kid. He probably knows more about mound fires, catholes and hanging a bear bag than most three-year-olds. He’s also able to eat a Clif bar, GU gel and swig purified water. He also takes a lot more miles on foot than Rye.
And I’ve never written a trip report for him.
It just happens that way with trip reports. Sometimes I get a chance to sit and type them up, and sometimes I don’t. It just seems like it’s always Rye’s trip. That’s got to stop.
So here’s Connor’s first trip report. The Flume/Liberty hike wasn’t actually all that long. But it was a triumph for Connor and me because he was on his game. He wanted this hike, and once we got on the trail, it was the easiest, smoothest trip I’ve been on yet.
Since last year we’ve been in the habit of hitting the road at 4AM, which I highly recommend. There is nothing like hitting the trail within minutes of sunrise to reach two summits before noon, with plenty of time left to hang around at a pool in the stream or grab a late lunch. Connor knows the routine, and he woke up just enough to hop in the car and pull up his blanket.
When we got to the Flume Slide trailhead about two hours later, Connor changed out of his PJs into his hiking gear by himself, then climbed into the pack and waited while I painstakingly pulled on my compression socks and tied up my boots, tucking the double-knotted loops into the lacing. I shoog booged up the Whitehouse Trail, then the Liberty Spring Trail (part of the Appalachian Trail), as it crossed a bridge and made a switchback onto a logging road. I knew once we hit the Flume Slide trail it would be an easy traverse for about a mile and a half, maybe more.
I finally stopped at the first crossing of Flume Brook. This is the stream that comes from the base of the Flume Slide, and eventually becomes the tourist attraction known as The Flume, which I’ve never seen. To my surprise, Connor asked to be out of the pack, then he waved off the Froot Loops I held out. He wanted to eat what I was eating, so we shared a Clif bar and a granola bar instead. I had one GU Roctane energy gel that I was saving for the slide, where Connor had some of that, too.
Connor hiked on his own from the crossing. We looked at leaves, picked up rocks, put them back down, threw them into streams, and spelled several words and names. Connor also wanted a hiking pole, which was something he also wanted on Bondcliff. We picked up several sticks, and Connor held them next to mine, comparing the height. He wanted a stick exactly the same length, so this 41” little guy wound up hiking the next mile with a 63” birch staff. And he rocked it.
Time To Slide
When we got to the slide, we were just barely getting started up when we met a party coming down. I really thought we would be overtaken on the way up, but my fast pace on the lower 3 miles and Connor’s agreeability on the next one reduced that likelihood. The party questioned us about where we were going and asked if we’d done anything like this before. I told them about some stuff we’d done, and we headed on up.
A thought about this: This is a way that hikers keep each other safe. When encountering a parent with a small child in the woods, it really isn’t a bad idea to ask questions. It happened on Boott Spur, when another hiker waited for us at a junction before resuming his trip. It happened on Bondcliff, when we were asked where we were headed and where we were camping. It has happened with Riley as well.
Nobody wants to be part of a story in the Union Leader (New Hampshire’s newspaper that seems to cover a lot of lost hiker situations) illustrating that they were lost, stupid, inexperienced, unprepared, out of food, dehydrated, weakened, and needed rescue by Fish & Game; nor the target of a litany of angry comments by New Hampshire residents demanding that the rescued party pay a fine and face all manner of punishment. I’ve advised hikers to turn around (though nobody ever does), and I don’t mind being asked if I know what I’m doing. I bring experience, preparedness, knowledge and fitness into the forest, but I’d still look like a fool if I wound up in the Union Leader.
Back to Connor. I always thought the Flume Slide Trail went up the Flume Slide, the broad scars across the ‘front’ of the mountain facing Franconia Notch. But it doesn’t. Because I waited for a drought before taking on this trail, it was really rather easy compared to the North Tripyramid Slide and even the Owl’s Head slide. Like Tripyramid, the hardest sections were toward the bottom, and the worst was over long before I realized it.
I kept expecting to suddenly break out onto open ledge that would require me to decide whether to go back down. Instead, the trail graduates and finally reaches the Osseo trail before making the final traverse across the open ridge to the summit. Connor climbed the entire thing, and let the world hear it at the top.
We opened up our Hershey bar at the summit of Mt. Flume – a rough, narrow summit with a steep dropoff on one side and slightly forested on the other, though it was still easy to see a view east to Owl’s Head and Bondcliff. Connor suddenly got up and started heading down the trail toward Mt. Liberty, another pleasant surprise for me. We were at the bottom of the col and rising up the gradual slope toward Liberty before he finally asked to get in the pack. So he hiked nearly three miles on his own, rising probably 2,000 vertical feet. That’s badass!
Now we cruised to Liberty, an easy climb, where we opened up some more snacks and water, took some pictures of the Franconia Range, and tried to stay clear of that summit’s sheer dropoff. Because of the clear line of sight to Cannon Mountain, we had enough 3G signal to post a pic to Facebook. On the way down, Connor hiked over a mile of it, until I got a little scared that the tired little guy might stumble. His sense of balance has been noticeably strong since he was just months old, but why push it on such a triumphant day?
We reached the car in two hours, where two southbound AT through-hikers, Josh and Peanut (trail name) asked for a ride into Lincoln, which we happily obliged. Then we still had time for the water park on Route 3 and ice cream at Conehead’s in North Woodstock.
So the ConMan has been on Monadnock, Wachusett, Cannon, Chocorua, Pemetic, Sargent, Penobscot, the Hancocks, the Tripyramids, the Osceolas, the Wildcats, Field, Willey, Tom, Pierce, Cabot, Waumbek, Hale, Moriah, Washington, Owl’s Head, Bondcliff, North Twin in the snow, Flume, and Liberty.
That’s a lot of trip reports.