Archive | July 2012

From the Top Down

ImageGenerally speaking, when one sets a goal, they initiate their journey from the bottom up. This is mainly in order to accustom oneself to the strife for that goal, so as to get in the habit of the attempt to achieve it before tackling the most difficult aspects toward the end of its fulfillment. One would argue that this scenario is the rule when it comes to achieving goals. But what would life be if one had to conform to each and every standard that society laid out for you? Booooring. As somewhat of an adventurous individual, the exposition of the story of the ascent of the White Mountain 4000ers had to be a memorable one. And thus, my two best friends, Jon-Scott and Curtis, accompanied me on my first hike since pledging to complete the 48 4000 footers in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. On the tallest of the 48. Mount Washington.

Having completed Mount Flume, Liberty, Lafayette and Lincoln of the Franconia Ridge, my White Mountain hiking prior to Washington was just as exhilarating and challenging as my intended target. As alpine summits, each one is completely exposed and offers a 360 degree view of the surrounding landscape. Case and point, the views are magnificent, almost ethereal. And the trails themselves aren’t too shabby either. Between Lincoln and Lafayette, the Franconia Ridge traverses, with a bit of scrambling and near-perfect views of the Whites. Flume and Liberty are the same, and the infamous Flume Slide trail is used to reach the summits, one of the steeper trails I’ve ascended in my life. But the trail that we would be taking to the summit of Mt. Washington was like none I have ever done before. They call it, the Huntington Ravine Trail. It runs parallel to the densely crowded Tuckerman Ravine Trail, and offers some of the best solitude on one of the most crowded mountains in the Whites.

My friends and I began on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, which eventually links up with Huntington in a little over a mile. We saw ten times as many people on that short stretch than on all of Huntington, a clear indication of Tuckerman’s popularity. But after reading an article in Backpacker magazine, we were told to avoid Tuckerman on the way up. And boy was this a great suggestion. Regarded as one of the toughest trails in the Whites, Huntington Ravine possesses class 3 scrambling with some scary off-trail climbing that Curtis and I participated in. Curtis, a lover of all things pertaining to climbing, is not much of an exerciser due to his occupation as an engineer student and worker, but was so far ahead of me at times that I could not believe it. It was as if he had superhuman strength, climbing up some difficult boulders that sometimes necessitated the use of solely upper body strength, a department that I clearly beat Curtis in. But for whatever reason, a light flicked on for him, and he was performing at a higher level than I climbing up Huntington and the boulder surrounding it. JS on the other hand, was following the trail, so as not to do something stupid, which Curtis and I did a lot of on the way up. When we reached a stretch where we could only continue by following the trail, things got interesting. The Fan, as they call it, is a class 3 climb where if you take the wrong step, you can tumble down the mountain. But so long as you’re careful, there is no worry. Of course, we weren’t careful, and were trying to ascend in a place where we weren’t supposed to. As a result, The Fan was one of the most challenging and intimidating climbs we had done on a mountain thusfar.

Eventually, we reached the summit, and were graced with a whole bunch of clouds and cars. No views, and the constant din of industrialization. As Curtis deemed it, it was one of man’s greatest travesties to nature. The top of Mt. Washington is home to an observatory that hosts a gift shop, food court, and countless tourist attractions. For a group of hikers, this was blasphemous, and we couldn’t believe that we were sitting amongst people who had driven or taken the railroad to the top of the mountain. But as a product of America’s obsession with mountains in the 19th century, roads began to pop up that led to the mountain, including the Cog railway that can be taken to the top. If I were lazy, I would appreciate the luxury of being able to get to the tallest point in the Northeast. However, it wouldn’t be as much of a feat, and not nearly as satisfying. We had ascending the highest point in all of New England, but it was quite anticlimactic. Even the views were skewed as we headed down because of the heavy traffic of people on the trails. All in all, it was a trip well worth it up the Huntington Ravine Trail, but the summit and the descent of Tuckerman were nothing to dwell over.

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Morals of the story:

  1. Climb up Huntington if you aren’t afraid of heights. You will be graced with perfect solitude.

  2. Try to find a different route down, as the Tuckerman is crowded.

  3. Don’t get too fed up with the tourists on top. There are plenty of other opportunities in the presidential range that are off limits to such high traffic.

One State Highpoint, One Revelation, One Dream

You’ve heard the expression a million times. Often in a shrill, pre-pubescent pitch. Seldom is it whispered. Rarely is it misinterpreted. Most often, when one utters this expression, it is at the top of their lungs.

I’M ON TOP OF THE WORLD!

We all take this phrase for granted, because, frankly, we’ve all felt like we were there at one point or another in our lives, especially in our youth, when innocence reigns supreme and naivete governs all of us. What does it mean to be on top of the world though? For a child, all that it simply implies is that one is in a favorable position, most frequently used to refer to the stature of said child, whether their actual height or their advantageous position amongst their friends, ie. the leader of the group or the kid with the best grade in the class. For a developed individual though, being on top of the world may or may not bear a whole different meaning. For further reference, assume that the phrase “developed individual” refers to a person over the age of 21 who has completed their education and has spent a decent amount of their last several years working a job. Now for this individual, being on top of the world would generally suggest that this individual has been promoted and has subsequently received a raise at their job. As most of the population of this fine country in America works some sort of job and actively seeks a pay raise, this situation would seem to mirror that of the child’s in terms of satisfaction. You make more money, you feel as if you’re looking down at the larger population. As you stand at your highpoint, you can barely make out the infinitesimal creatures that lurk below you, calling out your name to revere your great accomplishment. But the reality of this situation is that you can always get higher and higher up, even if you don’t think that’s the case. Individuals get richer and richer and never quite reach the same apex of satisfaction that a young child experiences when they stand atop a giant boulder and scream that they are on top of the world.

What’s the point of this complicating scenario though, you ask? To make lengthy discourse brief, this is the prologue of my story. A story that has been in the works for well over a year now. It began with a college class, followed by a book (Jack Kerouac’s On the Road), a few mountains, and most recently, a state highpoint. Still not processing the comparison? Put simply, my goal in life is to not be the “developed individual” who seeks to always get a pay raise in order to appease themselves, and more often than not, their material desires. Sure, I’m going to need some monetary aid on the way, but be that as it may, I will pursue my lifelong goals by living a humble lifestyle. With aspirations to be an attorney, it seems paradoxical to make such a statement. But let me elaborate.

Since the spring of my sophomore year in high school, I’ve wanted to leave our stable society in favor of an impromptu lifestyle, at least for an extended period of time, which in my case, will be roughly 3 months of the summer following the year I graduate from college. While pursuing said lifestyle, I want to experience America as it should be: spontaneously. Just as Kerouac’s cross country adventures in On the Road, I want to drive across the country to start what will be the first of many many ambitious excursions. Accompanying me on the trip will be my best friend Curtis, and potentially others depending on what the near future holds in store for the parties interested in participating. As would be expected, such a trip will be costly, with food and gas expenses being at the top of the list. Working at a retail job for the last several years has allowed me to earn enough money to fund these two aspects of the trip. But here’s where the money really comes into the picture.The twist to the cross country adventure that I am planning lies in its very name. It wouldn’t be adventurous if I didn’t plan on being adventurous. As the title of this blog post implies, a dream was had after a revelation on a state highpoint. And the dream involves purchasing a lot of gear in order to aid me in my ascent of all of the mountains I plan to hike on my cross country trip, including, but not limited to tons of clothing, sleeping gear, rain gear, navigation gear, emergency gear, winter gear, footwear, hiking poles, a roomy backpack, and so on and so forth. Case and point, I need to cough up some dough, not for things I want, but things that I need in order to make my dream into a reality.

The state highpoint that I’ve mentioned thusfar is Katahdin, the tallest mountain in Maine. Located in Baxter State Park in Millinocket, ME, about a 6 hour drive from Worcester County, one of the most picturesque peaks I have ever stood upon in my life resides. In each direction lies a multitude of distinct mountain peaks, along with lakes, several river systems including the Penobscot River, and of course, trees. Lots and lots of trees. And no civilization. Because in that part of Maine, there is no civilization. Just an everlasting paradise of lush green forest surrounded by towering mountains and miles of azure, pollution-free water. Aside the peak of Katahdin lies one of the most notorious mountain ridges not just in the Northeast, but the entire United States. Appropriately named, Knife’s Edge is a class 3 scramble across a narrow path with thousand-plus foot drops in each direction. One wrong step and you could take an anticlimactic tumble down the mountain. In all honesty though, the ridge is only as unsafe as you make it, and is easily manageable by anyone who has two functional feet and a decent amount of coordination. That is, if you’re in good enough shape. The hike is not for the faint of heart, as it possesses very steep inclines over a short period that would make any sedentary individual cry.

That was the highpoint. The revelation soon followed, as I sat still on a rock on the infamous Knife’s Edge looking back upon the mountain I had just ascended, tracing my hike from the very trailhead I started at, followed by the hut I passed through, and the steep climb I made on the Cathedral Ridge trail, one of the steepest in New England. I sat motionless, soaking in the unfathomable views that stood before me, while my friends plunged deeper into the hike along Knife’s Edge, until I could just barely make them out over the jagged rust-colored rocks that made up the entirety of the ridge. What was so appealing about a bunch of rocks and a mountain that was essentially inaccessible to anyone who considers themselves severely out of shape? Just that. The fact that I could make these hard to get to destinations accessible to me by virtue of my self-determination and willpower was what made the journey so appealing to me. As I sat on that ridge overlooking the great feat I had just accomplished, I envisioned myself doing the same in other parts of America. I saw myself hiking 14000ers in Colorado, traversing along the Grand Canyon, reaching the top of the tallest mountain in the lower 48, Mt. Whitney, viewing some of the most scenic glaciated peaks in the world in Montana, and climbing some of the most difficult non-technical mountains in the world. All of this appealed to me. And as a got home from a flawless weekend in the middle of nowhere Maine, I had a dream. That I would make my love for nature flourish into something more than love. I would make it a part of my life. A part of myself. For so long, I had neglected what matters the most in this world of ours. Enjoyment. Doing what one cannot do without. So many people let their careers get in the way of their most coveted goals. And I won’t make that same mistake. I won’t sit idly by as my life withers away from me and I am no longer able to pursue my dreams. I’ll do what I can, when I can, and capitalize on my great opportunity to jumpstart my adventurous lifestyle with a cross country trip for the ages.

The one, the only, Knife’s Edge

But before doing that, I have a degree to earn, and, as a more lifelong goal than immediate one, I’ve decided that I want to make peakbagging a hobby of mine. Peakbagging is simply a hobby that involves reaching the summit of a mountain without the aid of machines, and there are many clubs that honor those who have hiked a significant amount of summits. For instance, there are badges for completing the 48 4000 footers in the White Mountains in New Hampshire, or the 46 4000 footers in the Adirondacks in New York. For now, I would pursue the former goal, with the intention of completing the latter, in addition to the hundred highest peaks in New England, amongst others. For now, such a goal would occupy my time leading up to the trip, and satisfy my urge to explore nature and reach new heights. Literally. I want to experience the struggle of reaching the top, and the exhilaration of sitting atop that summit, looking down upon the world as if those below me are on a completely different level than me. Because that is what I truly believe. They attempt to seek new heights in their ways, while I attempt to seek new heights in my own. They may think that they’re on top of the world, but who’s the one who’s looking down at who?

-Justin Raphaelson