Sunday, February 19, 2012

2-18-12 Lonesome Lake (again!) with a detour

What took me north, finally, after a too-long hiatus was a wonderful memorial service last Saturday (2-18-12) in Concord, NH, for George Hamilton (see last entry). It was like a gathering of the clans attended by hundreds of people who joined together for a few hours as one large family to celebrate the many facets of George's life and the love we feel for him. Some of us probably appeared as old as the Hills with a fair number, too, representing the next younger generation, and even George's grandchildren who were all dressed in their kilts. It was a lovely day and one of those occasions that brings together people who, for one reason or another, we rarely see or don't see enough of; old friends that have scattered over distances and time and make it back for these all-important moments. It was wonderful to see old friends like Tom and Penny Deans (in the photo) who are native to the White Mountains and that you're lucky to see once in a decade.

I met Tom and Penny in 1960 when they were students at the University of Maine and Tom was hutmaster at Greenleaf Hut on Mt. Lafayette. Tom was a few years older than I, and like George Hamilton, was one of my early mentors in the mountains and an important one. He was then and still is a down-to-earth person, a tireless, dedicated, and passionate man who is kind beyond measure. He's worked passionately over the intervening decades to preserve the land, the mountains, the forest; the natural environment of northern New England and after working in the huts he went on to become Director of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) for many of the crucial years when the Club was setting out on a new course.

Of interest to some readers Tom, along with Chuck Kellogg, attempted a Hut Traverse in the early 1960s going west to east. They left Lonesome at midnight and were on the summit of Lafayette around 1 o'clock in the morning with a startlingly full moon. Tom still mesmerizes me with his description of being on the ridge at that late hour, feeling like the only people on earth, gazing across those distances that were drenched with moonlight. Bad luck caught up with them on the Crawford Path in the early afternoon when they found mid-day temperatures had climbed into the 90s and they had to cut the traverse short at Lakes of the Clouds. Tom commented that, even with the hot weather, they made it to Pinkham in a little under 14 hours.

Life-long friends, part of a large contingent of my generation attending the ceremony: (from left) Mike Bridgewater, Joel Mumford and Stephen "Neubs" Neubert. We all started working in the mountains, in the huts, in the early 1960s when we were still teenagers with George Hamilton as our boss. Someone at the ceremony quipped "how come everyone here looks so old?" which caused a ripple of laughter from the now older generation. We are indeed growing old even if we don't think we are and the mantel is now on our shoulders. With George's passing, his sons, Rob and Chris and their children, all of us in that room have become the successors; the next generation of teachers and mentors. Looking around inside the church on Saturday and seeing us all congregated there (it was the congregational church!) I found comfort in how much wisdom there was in the room with the likes of Tom & Penny, Pete Richardson, Ken Olsen, Neubs, the Hamiltons, Dick Trefry, Bob Cary, Joel, Margery Collins, Mike, Gerry Whiting, and myriad others all brought there because of our love for the White Mountains and each and everyone dedicated to preserving them.

There was a luncheon punctuated with even more stories about George, more hilarity, and the great, great pleasure of being with friends, but true to form, I slipped out and drove north towards Franconia Notch with a yen to be on a trail, any trail, and to be moving uphill. It was late in the afternoon and Lonesome Lake was fairly close so I drove north towards the notch. Heading to Lonesome picks up where I left off in early December, almost three months ago. The weather was as mild Saturday as it was then. Here and there were meager remnants of snow to remind one it was still winter, but the light, the warm temperature, and lack of snow made it feel more like the middle of April and nothing like a traditional February. Cannon Mt. and Franconia Notch can be seen in the distance.

Closer to Franconia Notch there were snow banks on either side of the road. Cannon Mountain with the famous Cannon Cliffs is straight ahead in the photo.....

.....and at the trail head there was this scene that looked wintry enough! The hikers in the photo had just completed the Franconia Ridge loop.

Then there was the trail upwards and snow! It was heaven.

Hikers were descending in streams from both Franconia Ridge and Kinsman Ridge. This was "Joe" who, with a chum, were on their way down after hiking North Kinsman. A relative new comer he was delighted with his day's efforts and the snow.

Mt. Lincoln and Franconia Ridge through the trees with just a bit of sunlight left. I was hurrying because I wanted to be at the lake before the sun went down. It was a race.

Mt. Lafayette, too, with the last brush stroke of sunlight.

It took me a few minutes to make the height of land but the light was fading quickly.

The Lake with South (L) and North Kinsman in the background.

The ice on the lake was good and solid and offered an exciting short cut to the hut. With the ice, the lake becomes a huge opening, a field almost, that offers that dizzying feeling of a great open space to run around in, a playground, and to see everything around you.

Franconia Ridge.

Franconia Ridge with a telephoto effect.

The south flank of Cannon Mountain.

Sunset across the lake. Another reason I wanted to hike to Lonesome was to chop a hole in the lake ice and measure the ice thickness. In my perusal of old Appalachia, the journal of the AMC, I have read accounts of holes being cut in Lakes of the Clouds and Lonesome Lake back to the 1930s. I thought it would be a good research project to keep a tally of ice thicknesses each year now that the hut is open in the winter and there are folks here who could keep an on-going record. Because of the timing I postponed cutting the hole but George Heinrichs, who is the current care taker, enthusiastically offered to cut a hole in the coming week and measure the ice thickness.

Mt. Lafayette from the hut in the last light of day .

This photo gives an idea of the amount of snow that's accumulated this winter. It's a very small amount compared to other, recent winters. I think the accurate measure is 28 inches total at the snow stake.

It was a full house on Saturday night with several different groups in residence.

It was also George's birthday and festivities had been elaborately planned. Even the shy, retiring Miles Howard was due to make an appearance. Unfortunately, I had promises to keep and had to head down almost as soon as I arrived.

I met Miles just below the hut as I headed out and was sorry that I didn't have more time. After a brief exchange I headed back out on to the lake. Near the middle of the lake I snapped off my headlamp and stood there for 15 minutes while my ears and eyes adjusted to the surroundings. It was so still. A light snow was spitting, a flurry or some wind driven flakes of light snow that had fallen the day before, and the snow muffled all sounds seemingly to the edges of the universe. I was there alone, surrounded by Robert Frost's woods, in complete darkness, and there was no limit to anything. It felt vast and still and so alive and it was like water when you are dying of thirst the way it jolted me with the force of its simplicity and energy, just like the cool water as it reaches your throat. I've been dying for that sensation, for the peace that is the accomplice of beauty, and that was right there surrounding me.

I tried several times to get a night photo of the trail using my head lamp for available light.

This was the same scene using the flash. My small, compact Canon G-10 doesn't do well in low light. Even on manual setting it can't be rushed and it's a drawback to the camera and perhaps "point and shoot" cameras in general.

A hiker, sometime during the day, had created this face in the snow with a mittened hand in the dome of snow capping a trail-side boulder and probably didn't consider how it might look at night in the glow of a head lamp.

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