Saturday, October 11, 2008

$6 for a Trail Map: Priceless.

Getting lost in the beauty of nature is great if you've planned it that way, if you have your pack of supplies to survive in the wilderness, and if you're prepared for whatever comes your way. However, getting lost in nature with your entire family with only a jackknife and a cell phone is a different story. And when your family includes a tired, cranky 4-year-old and the weight of a sleepy infant in a backpack carrier while traversing mountainous inclines...oh, and did I mention that while all this is happening, the sun is sinking inexorably toward the horizon?

Yesterday we headed up north to go see a waterfall, something Michael was intent on doing with his day off. I was all for a little adventure, albeit a family-friendly one, so I didn't mind in the least that we would drive 2.5 hours north, picnic in Conway and then head to Pinkham Notch where we would find the easy kid-friendly one-mile trail with its only boast of adventure being a small swift-running stream on our way to beautiful Glen Ellis Falls. It was a gorgeous sunny warm day, and our spirits were high. Unfortunately, the hike started off all wrong: though I questioned Michael's confidence in the direction he was leading us (Hon, maybe it would be a good idea to get a map?), we started on a trail that had the sensible name of Glen Boulder Trail. With a name like that, it only makes sense it would lead us to Glen Ellis Falls, right? Well, without a map, we couldn't tell that the trail we actually began hiking was a much longer, hazardous route with an unpronounceable name that eventually hooks up with the trail we initially thought we were on (though we never did get to the aforementioned intersection).

It started off nice and easy - the kids were enjoying themselves immensely. Jayce, being the Boy Scout wanna-be, was doing great as our "leader"; he insisted on being out front and leading us along the rocky trail that continued to rise up and up and up. With the highway always on our left, we knew with the noise of traffic that we couldn't get too far away from civilization. Our first clue to being on the wrong trail was when we hit a steep rocky incline that we all scrambled up while I grumbled, "This does NOT seem to be very family-friendly!" (In retrospect, that may turn out to be the understatement of the year.) About an hour into our hike, which seemed more like mountain marathon training, I finally listened to my gift of fear, as Mike likes to call it, and made everyone stop and assess our position as we clung precariously to the granite cliff face. We were about 1000 feet above the highway at this point with no clue where this trail led (OK, it was clear that it continued UP, a direction I was no longer interested in pursuing!). The sun was starting to set, Reagan was whining and tired, and I was concerned, to put it mildly. I began having visions of the police interviewing witnesses at the visitor center saying, "Yes, I saw a family of six enter the woods, but they didn't look as if they were going too far - after all, they had nothing but the clothes on their backs! Did you say they're missing? Oh, that's so sad."

Notice Jayce at top of climb
in Superman stance

The beauty at 1000 ft. up

After Mike put a call (who knew cell phones worked up there?) into the local sheriff's office to find out if they could give us some idea where the trail actually led (they were of no help, btw) and I put many calls into Heaven to ask God to get us all back to our car safely and securely, we decided to turn around and head back along the same steep, rocky trail. I was not thrilled about having to go back, but I was definitely not willing to continue going up a mountain trail with no end in sight; at least the steep, rocky trail was familiar. Mike earned a big red 'S' on his chest, as he scooped up Reagan in his arms, while still schlepping 30 pounds of baby and gear on his back and started scrambling back down the trail, leaping from rock to rock like a crazed mountain goat. We did actually make it out of the woods before darkness fell and found a map which not only helped us to see where we were and where we should have been (nowhere close!) but helped us to understand how many people die every year on their way up Mt. Washington due to sheer stupidity.

After our "brisk" exercise (thank goodness I skipped the gym that morning!), we decided to drive back to where Glen Ellis Falls was located and walk the 100 ft. down to the site. We sure as heck were going to see a waterfall after all that! It was beautiful, we got some good pictures and the kids enjoyed seeing their first waterfall, but in the end, I decided it just hadn't been worth it. {sigh}

Lessons learned: always pack for the worst when heading into the wild no matter how short or easy you think it will be, always have your cell phone on you (and pray it works!), and always, always, always have a map!

Signing off,
Crystal & Michael