Friday, October 29, 2010

The Good of Going to the Mountains Part 3

Continues From Part 2
After a saunter through the woods on a path of soft moss, we crossed a wooden bridge spanning a ravine where deep pools carved by the charging water serve as swimming holes for the intrepid in the summer. Soon, we arrived at the back door of the Mt. Washington Hotel. The last of the grand hotels, built in the 1800s, is a bit fussy for the Teva-set, but we were graciously allowed to enjoy a drink on the veranda. From there we watched the cog-train chug its way up the flank of Mt. Washington.

Mt. Washington was called the Place of the Storm Spirit by the Native Americans, who viewed it as the sacred home of the Great Spirit. The moody monarch, generally crowned with dark swirling clouds with a white cape on the shoulder was plainly visible in the cloudless blue sky. From the top of the mountain one may see Maine dotted with lakes, The Green Mountains of Vermont, the settlements of Bartlett and Conway, the four-toothed summit of Mt. Chocorua, and the other main peaks of the Presidential Range.

While relaxing at the hotel, our guide, Graham, who calls the Mt. Washington Valley home, shared the story of the Willey family with us. The Willeys were warned that they had built their home at the base of avalanche- prone mountain. So, they built a small shelter away from the house. When they heard the inevitable rumbling of a slide, the family of five went into the shelter. Unfortunately, the shelter, not the house, was crushed with all the Willeys in it. The site of the Willey family’s demise in 1826 was painted by Thomas Cole and is recognized as the best and most famous work of the White Mountain landscape artists.

Reading Gods in Granite, by Robert L. McGrath, a comprehensive collection of the art of the White Mountains is loaded with color plates and will deeply enrich your visit.

During our visit we hiked to Arethusa Falls, which at 200 feet is the highest of falls in the Whites, Sabbaday Falls, a picturesque series of cascades into a narrow channel, as well as Avalanche Falls in the dramatic Flume Gorge. But of the over one hundred waterfalls in the mountains, Crystal Cascade was my favorite. This most alluring rush of white plunges into staggered pools formed by boulders the size of a Volkswagen Bug. Twisted birch cling to the sheer granite walls that survive winters with snow so deep the cross country skiers have only the tree tops to find their way home. Nichol is one of the stout-hearted young men who carry their skis up to Tuckerman’s ravine, a huge glacier bowl above the falls, for a death-defying run down the mountain in the spring.

The bottom leg of the Basin-Cascade trail is a 2-mile mama bear run that follows the Pemigewasset River. It was to be our last stroll through burgundy and bronze, spiked with happy chartreuse leaves over head. Light streaming through the cathedral that is the woods spotlighted our path. I felt fortunate to have this quiet time free of cell-phone bleeps calling me back to duty. My internal tape had run clean during my week in the mountains, leaving me free to absorb the beauty all around me. I just hoped this calm feeling inside would stick. When we reached the Basin, a bowl gouged into solid rock from 25,000 years of hydraulic pounding, Nichol pointed to a rock formation under the water.

“They say that is the foot of the Old Man of the Mountain.”
“He must have been the first hiker to come here,” I said. “I bet it did him some good.”

New England Hiking Holidays offers all inclusive five-day trips from late June to early October. Prices before Sept. 18th $1,495. After Sept. 18th $1,595. In July and August they offer a gentle New England exploration that covers much of the same terrain of the other five day trips but focuses more on the rich history of the region. They also have 2-3 day trips available from May through Oct. from $885-$995.1-800-869-0949
for reservations or more information about the other hikes they offer about the globe go to e-mail

If You Go
The fall is the favored time to visit the White Mountains. If you want these dates you must book early. Late spring, in between the bugs of summer and the mud of later winter, is also wonderful time to go when the meadow are carpeted with wildflowers.

If you are unable to reach higher elevations on your own steam you make catch the scenic rail trip out of North Conway to the depot in Crawford Notch.


The Cog Railway, founded in 1866 chugs visitors to the top of Mt. Washington in Victoria era coaches.

The Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway in Franconia Notch runs daily, weather permitting.

I walk in beauty on the good red road
Linda Ballou

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