Answer....... A LOT!
I had mentioned to Jim (Silentcal) that I was interested in swinging down his way to visit Mt. Tom and the Mt. Tom Reservation. He had made many comments about how interesting the area was, and combined with pictures I had seen of the mountain and its number of attractions, it was a no brainer. However, he told me Sunday was out since he had plans already, and he normally works Saturdays (that is, when he is not feeling too sick to work, but not sick enough to hike
.) No problem, I told him, how about we make this a late start and get ourselves a nice little sunset? So the plans were made and the word got out. We were lucky this day to have a number of wonderful friends join us.....
Jen and I rumbled down I-91 at 70 MPH. This was the deepest into the state of Massachusets we had ever penetrated, and it was interesting to see how different things can be (or are percieved perhaps) when a boy of 27 years who has lived every day of his life in the next state up ventuers outside his "normal" zone. I took every little nuance in as it was both exciting and interesting. I bet those of you who live in Massachusets never notice that in places in New Hampshire, when a higher speed limit road has to make a climb up a steep hill the lane diverges into two lanes, signs that say "slower traffic keep right" appear on the side of the road. In Massachusets the signs say the similar, but they are clearly stated "Climbing lanes: Slow traffic keep right." How I noticed this, and other little things, I do not know. But that did not stop me from grinning as I thought about these oddities. With the 1:00 meet time slowly closing in I hit exit 17 for the short trip to the entrance to the Mt. Tom Reservation.
We pulled in to find Ron (Rocksnrolls) sitting and waiting. I got out for a quick handshake, hello, and congrats on the 48 finish. We decided to start getting ready while we waited for the others to show up. Ten minutes later Ron saw two people walking down the road. It turned out to be Jim and Erin (ScenicNH) who had parked up at the overflow lot a few dozen yards up the road. Not too long afterwards Nilsa (HikerAmiga) and Bob (Yes, the not-Bob Bob from last week
) arrived in his pick-up. We sat chatting while Bob and Nilsa readied themselves under some incredibly blue skies. There was barely a whisper of wind blowing, and the temps were surprisingly warm. The forecast had called for above 30 degree temps, and the slight melting indeed confirmed it was quite mild out on this day. All these things were the numbers that were adding up to the equation of a spectacular day. With everyone ready we set off along walking up Christopher Clark Rd.
Jim had picked out a nice route that offered us some highlights of the park as well as depositing us in a prime spot for sunset viewing. He intended to take us up the road with the option of taking a side trail that paralleled the road itself if we decided not to stay on pavement. But a quick glance showed no one had broken it out, and thus we kept to the blacktop. The roadwalk was a long one at almost three and a half miles even before hitting a trail. Anyone who knows me understands I HATE roadwalks. But today was different. Perhaps it is that the usual White Mountains Roadwalk tends to be devoidof stimulation. I can nit be sure. What I can be sure of is this roadwalk proved to be quite fun. We moved along at a pretty level grade, the cliffs of Tom rising off to our right. Occasionally a cleared turn-off would appear to the left, affording expansive little vistas to the surrounding flatlands below. It was quaint and heartwarming to see building upon building, town upon town, spread out like a little carpet woven by the hand of industrious humans. We would stop at these vistas to gather up and take stock before moving on. About halfway down the road we came upon one of the parks more interesting and historical artifacts, a stone crusher used by the C.C.C (Civilian Conservation Corps), the same C.C.C. that built a number of the roads we drive on in the White Mountains.
We moved along, switching positions every so often and getting to talk with different members of the group. Its always great to catch up with people you knwo and don't get to see very often. And its even more of a pleasure to have "old salts" along to mystify you with tales of adventures past. It was not long when we found ourselves standing outside a non descript, stone walled building that serves as a visitor center. Outside is a kiosk with some wonderful information and pictures of the Reservations history past. In front of the building, flanked on either side of the walkway, are these impressive old english style lamps. This building truely serves a purpose, and is rather pleasing (architecturally) as well. We gathered up once again and made the final leg of the roadwalk up to the remains of the old Eryie House.
Where the road ends the trail, and snow, begins. A short path leads you up along to the stone ruins of the old Eryie house, which served many people as a small hotel. According to the history, the state offered the onwer $2500 for his property. He wanted $5000. No one would budge, so what to do? Well, times never change I guess, since the state decided to take the property through eminent domain. The $2500 was deposited into a ban account under the owners name, but in protest he never withdrew the money. So the lesson he learned then is one that still rings true to this day....you fight the government you will probably lose
After a number of pictures we picked our way slowly back the way we came. Back down on pavement we took the side path off to the right that would start the second half our our adventure. The rest of this hike would be on a section of the famed Metacomet-Monadnock trail (or at least somewhat near it.....more explination comes later
), which extends from Connecticut to Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire. Of course, we would not be going THAT far this day, but none the less we would be treated to some highlights for which this trail is famed. From here on it was pretty much snow travel all the way but for a short couple yards of road. The snow was crusty, crunchy, hard on top, but soft below. This would make for more exertion than was expected, and our pace slowed greatly. Plodding along we climed gently up to the interestingly named Goat Peak. Im not sure who got to name these peaks, but when I heard the name "Goat Peak" all that I could picture was Giggy with a horned helmet on, sacrificing goats by the firelight to Oden.
Instead what I got was an interesting little observation tower, much reminiscent of the tower on Carrigain (albeit smaller.) While the hills surrounding Goat Peak are not as prominent as those around Carrigain, what can be said is the view was just as awe inspiring. Unlike the vistas on Christopher Clark Rd., the tower provided views in a 360 degree arc! Hills dotted the distance while the artwork laid out by the paintbrush of civilization swathed from horizon to horizon. The giant buildings of UMass (tounge-in-cheekingly referred to as "ZooMass") rose up from the white speckled ground, while hartfords buildigns poked up in the opposite direction. Jim was put to test as we battered him with more "Whats that over there" questions than any man should be posed. But he handled it with stride as he proved his knowledge of the self proclaimed "backyard" to which he has lived many years. With the light starting its tinge to orange and pink we decided to beet feet out to the Cliffs area to hunker down for the sunset.
Back into the trees we continued the tough trek up to the North ridge of Tom finally topping out on Whiting Peak. Jim laid up at the first open area he found and we all sat down to watch the fading light arch across the sky. I am not a religious man. In fact, I am probably as non-religious as they come. I answer to no man or creator, pray not for salvation or forgivness. That does not mean I do not sit at some altar to find my spirituality. For me, sunsets and sunrises are when I feel my inner peace the most. This started long before I ever stepped a foot on trail. Perhaps it stems from all my years fishing with my Uncle since childhood, or the number of years I spent in persuit of game animals as a hunter. As you can imagine, I proably have seen more sunrises and sunsets one year than the average 10 people have their entire lives....COMBINED! Today would be no different. As the sun finally dipped below the horizon, and the orange glow of lights began to come on below, I felt the inner peace that fullfills me any time I kiss a day goodbye. With the sun gone, headlamps out of the packs, and warmer clothing donned, we headed off to finish the rest of the hike.
Now that the sun had disappeared the light faded quick. Jim was afraid that with the crusty, slippery ice, combined with the darkness, walking the trail proper would lead to some safety issues since the trail skirts awfully close to some sheer drop-offs on the cliffs. This lead to the beginning of the TRUE adventure. We started by followign the faint tarcks of others from the previous day/s. Occasionally we faded off to the eastern side of the trail, avoiding risky spots and losing the trail completely. We sometimes circled, sometimes pushed forward in a zig zag, all to find the trail again. We would walk along a few dozen yards, find a tough spot to negotiate and repeat the off-trail experience again. Normally in a situation like this I would get aggrivated quickly. Under normal cirumstances in a situation like this I would get cranky. But as I plodded along by the faint glow of my Black Diamond Zenix I.Q. (one HELL of a great headlmap by the way) I found myself enjoying the sillyness of the moment. Occasioanlly I was moved to an outburst of lyrical inspiration, but was told quickly (and by more than one person) not to quit my day job. Jeez, I know I am no American Idol, but I aint THAT bad.....am I?
But all fun and games aside, we did have one issue pop up that posed a potential problem. Nilsa had run out of water and when the tail of the group disappeared behind Jim, Jen, Ron and I we knew something was wrong. It turned out Nilsa was startign to dehydrate and bonk. Her legs began to cramp up on her and Bob and Erin began draingng of their water reserve to give to her. We were still a good half hour away from the summit of Tom, so things got interesting for us as we continued our zigging around the woods. At one point we found ourselves in the middle of a big clearing, which I found out was a quaint little mountain top pond in the sumer months. Now it was a brick of solid ice. Bob pulled out the map and compass to confirm the blinking lights to the south were the ones we were aiming for and we set off to finish up this puppy. To help Nilsa out, Bob decided to take her pack and carry it for her. Slipping it up above his head and on top of his pack he looked rather humerously like an American version of a sherpa. He took it in stride, though, proving he is not only a strong hiker with good stamina, but a gentleman as well.
Another 15 minutes of disjointed wanderings and we were all happy to find ourselves standing at the foot of giant towers that marked the summit of Tom. Jim gave Erin the "pitch Black, poor mans" tour of the summit and the remains of the old summit house/tower. We let Nilsa get some more water in her as we idled about taking in the sights of a million orange lights below. Car headlights zipped about and the sounds of the world filtered up to us. Above, stars glowed bright, and Orion marked the sky as the most recognizable constellation. By now it was getting a bit late, so we picked things up and started down for the final descent.
We used the M+M for a ways but eventually picked up a powerline cut that offered a more direct route to our vehicles below. Jim led the way, at one point glissading down a stretch of trail. I don't expect him to be running up Washington in the dead of winter, but I think the winter bug has been planted in him. The rather open woods kept offering us glimpses of the lot below, and unlike the ascent, our drop down from the summit took no time at all. We emptied out onto rt. 141 with cars screaming past us, probably perplexed at these odd people with shiny lights on their heads and backpacks. With everyone safely down into the lot we moped around a bit, talking some before those of us up at the entrance of the park moved along to make the trek home. With hearty good-bye and promises to see each otehr again Jen and I faded off into the darkness and lonliness of the night, making the long trek back hom. A little after 10:30pm, tired, beat and hungry as hell, we pulled into the garge and marked another successful trip into the record books.
P.S. Pics and GPS stuff later