The Last Hike of the LangWorth High Alpine Expeditionary Mountaineers
The Last Official Hike of the LangWorth High Alpine Expeditionary Mountaineers
A lot of things change in a period of 20 years. In 1989 the LangWorth High Alpine Expeditionary Mountaineers were at their peak. Though its core was small the given members at anytime were a loose confederation. Yet, its goals were simple and both readily and eagerly accomplished. Satisfied mostly with hikes of the Presidentials, other Northern Peaks, and the Franconia Range, it was more about the company you kept. All hikes included the mandatory boastful challenges, predictions of who would end up carrying who down the mountain, and the oft heard remarks referencing someone else's mother.
For this hike, myself and my sole core founder from my school years, had chosen (ourselves being either former or present locals) a hike and route that we are probably more comfortable doing than others may be. Just as in the times of old it seemed as if it would end up being just the two of us. In the passing of just one night it now consisted of the two of us, my brother and his son, my brother-in-law, a family friend, and the two children of my fellow founder. Oh yea, and one dog.
As all other days of the week would turn out, this one too was rainy, grey, and overcast. One of the wettest June, July, and now August any of us can remember. Being quickly soaked, some opted to return to drier sanctuary, but for the rest of us there was no thought to turning back.
When we passed from local road to logging road, then to trail, its amazing how the years peel away. Hiking does that for you. It had been 18 years since our last hike together. The usual progression of conversation was family, jobs, sports, and weather. Typical New Hampshire talk. Catching up on how everyone is nowadays. Who we've seen or haven't seen. Through the tall grass and onto narrower straits the talk would ebb in and out. A wise idea, seeing how the grass and undergrowth hid opportunities for some of the best mud post-holing available. I struck up conversation with Davey, the 7 year old son of my fellow founder. Though he dosen't know me too well (only the tales), he's like family. It went like this.
"So, you went to school with my dad?".
"Yes I did.", was my reply.
He seemed to pause a bit.
"Hmm...", he said, almost with a bit of hesitation, "What was it like?" he asked.
I proceeded to give the condensed version of our years together. A taste of the always juvenile, entertaining, yet somehow productive years of youth in the 80's. Suffice to say there will be editing, revisions, and damage control my consort will have to sort out when he gets home. However, as I watched this 7 year old trudge through mud that turned others back, getting sucked into mud up to his knees, and vainly lifting his pants to avoid more of it, I learned something.
When fellow NH'ers gather to hike, the topic of what we need to do to protect this area we call home inevitably arises. Most of it about what we on a personal level must do. So I watched as actions spoke louder than words. Young Davey was careful not to drop litter, stay on the trail, and avoided trampling on or crushing the forest around him. It was a beautiful thing.
We reached the brook indicating one hour more to the summit. Here my friend and his children decided to stop. The inclement weather had taken its toll on the boys. They had come this far before, and were now, despite the weather, content to play in the brook. Over time they will return on this trail and continue ascending to the heights above. For the remainder, however, there would only be two of us summitting. I thanked Davey for guiding us this far, wished him well on his new school year, and goal of playing hockey for UNH someday, and off we went.
The deciduous forest now melted to boreal. My favorite indeed. There would be no awe-inspiring views today. No majestic visual sweeps, not even a foothold, handhold scramble. That was alright I thought. As each rock passed under my feet I felt I had witnessed something wholly better. We reached the summit, encountering few hikers en route, took the obligatory pictures and soon turned downward. We reached the brook where my friends had turned back and followed their tracks in the mud. Sometimes those little boots were following his father's, sometimes in front of, sometimes behind, sometimes spinning out in the mud, and sometimes dawdling as ( I can only assume ), his father stopped to adjust his younger brother riding on dad's back. That's when it hit me.
Hiking accomplishes a great deal. In one day, perhaps hours even, you can revisit the past, discuss the present, and gain hope for the future. Those tracks in the mud reflect how hiking requires self-reliance but also an unselfish desire to assist others. It requires bravery and teamwork. It requires patience, endurance, and hard exertion, along with focus and a desire to achieve. The desire to help, coupled with the humility to accept it. All this with responsibilty too.
As I walked back to the vehicle I realized my beloved state of NH is safe in the hands of young up-and-coming children like this. We come to these mountains we call home not for what we gain, but for what it gives us on so many levels. I didn't see myself reflected in this young one, I saw something better, a future generation of NH hikers and stewards.
My now mud covered boots had one more stop. A few miles down the road rests the gravesite of a dear friend and past neighbor of ours. He it was who launched my love of the woods, mountains, as well as the stewardship and hiking of NH. I had no trouble finding the site. It was damp and rainy like the day he was committed to the soil of NH. I cleared out the accumulated moss and lichen from his name, and as I stooped down I noticed something peculiar. The date of his passing had never been engraved. How appropriate. How symbolic it was. To appreciate that people like this are never really gone, they never leave us really. I thanked him for the legacy he had passed on to me, and I assured him verbally, that I was doing my best to keep it alive.
As it once was, the rock-hopping, stump-jumping, root-sliding, show-them-how-the-locals-do-it days of the LangWorth High Alpine Expeditionary Mountaineers are gone now. It was inevitable, and I welcome it. They have been replaced with the greater sense and duty of stewardship that comes with age. We all knew it would happen someday, and now I'm proud to see it.
Perhaps that explains the hopeful gleam in my old neighbor's eye that accompanied a stern, but loving lecture received after some crazy, but youthful mistake or damage I had done years ago. It was a look that told me that eventually I would grow out of it and appreciate what I have, and then, believe it or not, I would put aside other concerns and frivolous things, and work hard to protect that which has shaped me. He was right all along. Now I know, more than ever, that legacy lives on.
The hike was just under 8 miles, 7.8 to be exact, according to what I'm told. But, ask me how lomg it took, and I would say, 37 years, 7 months, and 29 days. It was a long time, but I learned a lot today.
All because I went for a hike.
PS- The date was August 4. The peak a secret to us, yet some can figure it out. I provided a link to a few pics, but since the weather was bad, I didn't take too many.
"LIVE FREE OR DIE...DEATH IS NOT THE WORST OF ALL EVILS." Gen. John Stark. "by reason of much foule weather and Extreme Bad Woods to travel in..." From the letter of my Great Uncle, Samuel Willard (accompanied by my grandfather Henry), to Governor Dummer on August 16, 1725, explaining the reason for his return, being instructed to "range all the country", of the Wawobadenik (White Mountains) July 19-August 16, 1725. I am a 13th generation New Englander and proud of it.