Thursday, September 24, 2015

67 in 67, Best hike ever? Galehead, South Twin, and Zealand Mountains, New Hampshire (summits #27-29)

Hike #27: Galehead Hut to Zealand Hut
Elevation: 4,024 (Mount Galehead); 4,902 (South Twin Mountain); 4,260 (Zealand Mountain)      
Date: September 5-7, 2015
Location: Grafton County, NH
Distance: 15.7 miles
Time: 13:02 (49:48/mile)
Day 1: 5.6 miles in 4:04; Day 2: 7.2 miles in 7:24; Day 3: 2.9 miles in 1:34)

As a dad, I want the best for my girls, see them as wonderful, and worry about them. As a divorced dad, I worry about maximizing my time with them, and about giving them enough guidance and support for them to have the skills and tools to achieve the lives they want and deserve.

Prior to our Labor Day Weekend hut-to-hut hike in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, I knew they weren’t excited. They were surprised when I acknowledged it and said I didn’t care. But I explained that the biggest goal is to put them in a challenging, stressful situation and to make them work at managing through it. They can decide the whole trip is miserable, cry, and trudge slowly along. But it will only make it more miserable with more hours hiking then it has to be. The alternative is differentiating between the parts that suck and the parts that can be joyous. They understood the point but questioned why they couldn’t just have one awful day instead of three. Now that they’re getting older, I can be more candid with them. The good news, I replied, is that it’s only three days long. I’ve had a couple of different things going on that has made the last month blow, with the potential of another ten months of stress. It didn’t excite them to become a grown-up, but was honest.

Hiking's version of the pre-game experience.
We drove up that Friday, contending with traffic and spread across two cars because of needing to car cache since the hike wasn’t a loop. It gave a chance for Sara and I to each have some solo time with each girl and see how their school year was starting off. They were a bit wound up, chattering and enjoying settling into the hotel that night, near the start of our hike.

The next morning led me to need to reiterate my points to my oldest daughter, who was miserable at the thought of the hike. We spoke earnestly, and I didn’t chastise her for her tears. But the message was still clear: feel how you feel, but if the event is still going to occur, you have a choice on the storyline. It’s fair to acknowledge the tough parts but important to practice letting go of that negativity when better moments present themselves.

Trailside yoga!
The first leg of the hike started gradually, which presented a chance to settle in. We moved at a steady pace, until late in the hike when there was a steeper climb, essentially climbing a staircase for about forty minutes. But then it levelled out for the final stretch to AMC’s Galehead Hut. We’d started after a group of varsity boys from a nearby private school. We’d caught them, leapfrogging but now moved past them and hustled to finish first. The girls had noted the techniques they’d use this hike to help manage their mindset, and this was yet another way to distract themselves. It also was a source of pride and high-fives as we checked into the hut. The girls were happy to get settled in bunk beds in one of the bunk rooms, as Sara and I bagged the Galehead summit a half-mile away. We returned to find the girls content and a bit tired, but happy to hang in the dining area at one of the long tables, playing cards, reading maps, snacking, and chatting. After a delicious dinner, we took in the beautiful view into the Pemigewasset wilderness from outside the hut. 

Admiring the view from Galehead's summit, on the north side of the Pemigewasset Wilderness

Group hugs at sunset outside of the Galehead Hut!
A colorful sunset and gentle breeze was nice before the falling temperature drove us back inside. Secret surprises such as the choose-your-own-adventure book that Sara packed in helped keep the girls interested and engaged, before they excitedly snuggled into their sleeping bags. The girls had managed themselves well, containing their dislike mostly to the staircase section of the hike and chafed shoulders from their packs.

The real challenge was the second day of the hike: over seven miles across their first two four-thousand-foot summits and a couple thousand feet of elevation gain; all during a hot, sunny day. But both girls showed me something they don’t often demonstrate: true strength. This was a rugged hike regardless of age, with a serious climb in the first mile. 

South Twin's 4,902-foot summit offered amazing views!

The girls bagged their first summit!
Over the day, my oldest routinely pushed the pace. She was strong, she effortlessly navigated rockier sections, and seemed downright fast for the first few hours before slowing down to being merely quick later on. But she chatted amicably, occasionally slowed or waited for the rest of the group, and happily paired off with whomever would join her at the front of the line. At the end of the hike, seven hours in, she was passing other groups of experienced hikers. My younger daughter was slower, but tried to keep up as best as she could, and maintained a good attitude even though she was so worn out that she couldn’t even walk straight by the end of the hike.  It’s one of the best displays of perseverance and toughness I’ve ever seen from them. Afterwards, they found some rewards at the Zealand Hut.
Yep. We've gotta hike a bunch of that.

Waterfall at the end of the hike? Score! We're having fun now!
Right by the hut was a waterfall that leveled out before another big drop-off. With the sun still shining down, we soaked sore feet and legs in the chilly water, washed grime off of ourselves, dried off on warm rocks, chatted, laughed, explored, and admired the view. 

After dinner, wearing glowstick necklaces, we all climbed into the side-by-side third story bunk beds that Sara and I were in, with half-walls sealing these two beds off from the rest of the room. The girls laughed and lost themselves in the simple joy of mad libs, and later enjoyed the three story bunk beds as they nestled into beds again, glow sticks casting faint light as they quickly fell asleep.

Triple bunk beds at AMC's Zealand Hut meant three times the fun at the end of the day.

The final day was easy. Three miles used to seem far too long to them but now it represented a short walk. Packs didn’t seem as heavy. And with most of this leg being flat trails, they found it easy, with a chance to chat and see some of the mountains they’d hiked.
The girls are walking out over much easier (but still picturesque) terrain.
Stopping for lunch partway home, they noted that they could feel pride in their accomplishment. They could see how the miserable parts could be compartmentalized and not affect the whole trip. They could appreciate how they persevered. They also lost themselves in the experience, never complaining about needing iPhones or lamenting not being with their friends. The lessons we attempted to teach did register. But, for me, there were memorable moments, too: the group excitement of finally solving the choose-your-own-adventure mystery of the Lost Jewels of Nabooti; Sarah’s stuffed animal taking credit for bagging Zealand’s summit; the girls chilling out on their first 4,000-foot summit, answering questions from Appalachian Trail through-hikers about state capitols; Sydney’s commanding pace for hours; Sarah’s eternal good spirits; Sydney’s laughter at the waterfall; the excitement of triple bunk beds. It’s a rush of memories competing in my head that leave me with an emotional crash going back to work, but one that wonderfully combined tough parenting and a great experience.

See you on the trail,
Jay Bell, AKA Rock Hopper
Sara's secret surprise for one daughter
summed up a major lesson from the hike!

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