Saturday I co-led my second Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) hike, this time with Robin, the woman who leads hikes all over the world, the one who got me interested in leading for the AMC in the first place. We were lucky with the weather this time, in that it didn’t rain.
We’d had to cancel our first attempt at this hike back in May. The trails on these two mountains, Welch & Dickey, near Campton, NH, frequently sport slabs, long patches of bare rock. Sometimes you go across them, sometimes down and sometimes up. In any direction, you don’t want to be messing with steep bare slab when it’s rain-slippery. Not if you want to come back with all your hikers intact.
It didn’t rain but there was a lot of moisture on the hike, mostly in the form of sweat falling from my forehead. The temperature remained in the high 80s, with what felt like equally high humidity and the sun blazed onto the rock. In other words, it was hot. Every little breeze was a blessed event.
The first dilemma arose before we took our first step. One of the hikers locked herself out of her car, but that wasn’t all. She locked herself out because she was anxious about her wallet, which had been stolen in a rest stop on her drive up to NH. No one’s cell phone got reception in the mountains, so she had to get down from the trailhead to the road to call in her missing cards before someone had a field day with them. Since she couldn’t get into her car, someone had to drive her.
With the pressure on, Robin remained calm. We agreed that I’d drive our unfortunate comrade to find help for her bank account and also for her car, while Robin led the rest of the group up the trail to our first summit, Mt.Welch. With luck, Charlotte and I would catch up with the group at some point, but if not, I’d leave a note on Robin’s windshield telling her what our plan was.
Charlotte and I successfully accomplished our missions. Now the trick was to catch up to the others when they had an hour’s lead on us. Did I mention it was hot?
Fortunately, Charlotte is a born hiker. I could hardly keep up with her. She didn’t eat or drink, hardly, she just hiked. She said it was nervous energy, but I don’t think so; she’s just strong. Here she is at the start of the hike.
I wondered as I mopped my face how Robin and the others were faring. Meantime, Charlotte and I did a little trail repair (replacing some moss that grew like a miracle in the middle of hot baked slab that somebody had dislodged). And climbed a cool crevice.
We also managed to help a stranded hiker whose group had left her while she clutched in a moment of fear trying to climb up some steep slab. Charlotte took her pack and I stood next to her and together we told her where to put her feet and hands.
Once she got past that hard spot, she was fine. So fine, in fact, she and her group passed us later, thanking us again over her shoulder as she sped by. I think actually it was the other way around. It gave me an energy boost to help her out.
Along the way we saw things both small, like this vivid toadstool in the woods and large, like the slabby side of Mt. Dickey that we would later hike down, from our perspective looking like the side of a slumbering elephant.
There are several reasons to hike the Welch-Dickey loop trail. The first is the views. So is the second. The third is the sense of what a mountain is that you get from marching on its bones rather than its skin of dirt and trees.
As we neared the summit of Mt. Welch, we turned to look back at the rocky plateau from which we had seen our first 180° spread of mountains, greenery and the twin ribbons of the Mad River and Route 49 winding along beside it.
After enjoying the gorgeous views east and south, we hauled ourselves up to the peak of Mt Welch. What to our wondering eyes did appear? A bunch of backpacks and gnoshing hikers, our very own group eating lunch at the summit!
On to Mt. Dickey
Our next mountain, Mt. Dickey, is perhaps underappreciated after the wondrous slabs and views of Welch, but it has its moments. Starting out to hike the half-mile to the top of Dickey leads you to the edge of a cliff. The trail disappears and one can only presume there’s some death-defying leap to doom in store. It’s a moment that instills excitement, or horror, depending.
We all made it down alive, then up again, which is the way “ridge” trails tend to go in the Whites, and stopped for a break. It’s almost impossible to drink enough water when you’re sweating so much. To wit very few of us required, in AMC jargon, a “separation break” to relieve ourselves.
The trail down from the top of Dickey is, I have to say, wonderful. There’s a fabulous view to the north and, despite some haze, you can see all the way to the Twin Mountains on the northern edge of the Presidentials, two identical little pale blue bumps against the horizon, roughly 50 miles away as the crow flies.
Then there’s the fun of the trail itself. Check out these slabs!
Our hike was billed as a beginner hike. Robin and I hoped that some people who were not old hands in the Whites would come try it out, and several did. They found it challenging, sometimes because it was steep, sometimes because it was scary, and sometimes because it kept going up, with much of the elevation gain coming in chunks. And, yes, it was also hot.
We got some friendly comments about how people now realized AMC stood for Appalachian Mountain Club, not Appalachian Hill Club. Or how they thought beginner hike meant easy hike. But they all stuck it out; everyone summited two not-insignificant mountains in the White Mountains, characterized by most through-hikers as the hardest mountain range of the whole 2,175 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
It was a great group of people that banded together to succeed in hiking one of the more beautiful spots in NH. Well done, everyone.