|One of the first views as seen from Little Bigelow. Flagstaff Lake in the distance.|
|Stanely and I taking it in from the top of Little Bigelow. At this point, Stanley was going 2-3 miles to our every one. He would continue to do this for at least 10 miles of the journey.|
|The golden sunlight through the trees was surreal. One day, I'll get a camera that can capture how beautiful the light was.|
|Summit selfie. I appear to be really excited to be on the Summit of Avery Peak.|
|My best Marilyn Monroe imitation as the wind gusts grabbed my skirt on Avery.|
We made our way down off of the summit of Avery Peak in what was now complete darkness. Here was where I learned my first lesson of the night. As it turns out, dogs can't see in the dark. At least mine can't. In an attempt to hijack some of the light put off from my headlamp, Stanley now stuck so closely to me that I nearly tripped over him. When he wasn't in front of me, he was beside me squeezing me off of the side of the footpath.
We descended down past the Avery Col campsite and passed a few tents of sleeping hikers. In an odd twist, one of these hikers was our friend Waylon who we later learned had hiked up a blue-blaze trail with his dog to catch the sunset on Avery Peak. Unlike us, he would capture the breathtaking summer sunset on film from West Peak.
|Sunset from West Peak, with North and South Horn in the distance. Photo Waylon Wolfe Photography.|
We descended another rocky outcrop of boulders and roots toward Horns Pond. Stanley and I had created a system where I would climb down over a few boulders and turn the light backwards to illuminate a path for him to follow. He seemed content with the arrangement and we continued on in silence through the night. I was grateful that he no longer insisted on deflecting me into the trees that lined the trail. We passed the Horns Pond campsite in the dead of night, knowing that this would be the last possibility of encountering other humans on our adventure.
|Feeling a little blurry at South Horn. Good thing my Spandits! still look good.|
It was at this point that conditions began to deteoriorate. What started out as occasional blowdowns from the winter storms quickly turned into a tangled mess of debris obscuring the trail completely. Downed giant hemlocks with thousands of branches tangled in several smaller trees made forward progress nearly impossible. Dozens of times we found ourselves searching the night air with our headlamps looking for a blaze, broken branches or any evidence of human passage. This would continue for the next three miles of trail. It appeared as though a tornado had ravaged the forest and no one had passed through since, although we knew the damage was the result of storms from the previous November. Our pace slowed to a crawl.
|A typical section of "trail" from Horns Pond to Cranberry Pond.|
While the terrain was difficult for us, it took the biggest toll on Stanley. He convinced me to give him $10 of jerky and we continued on, climbing around and (mostly) over debris for miles before coming to a section of trail that had been cleared by a trail crew. I desperately wanted to know who had cleared the trail so that I could express my gratitude.
While I normally find Cranberry Pond to be one of the most scenic portions of the trail, in the darkness it came and went without much notice. The ascent up the backside of Cranberry Peak was also surprisingly washed out, rendering the trail nearly unrecognizable as the trail I have come to know. It was now nearly 3 am; the dog began searching for a mossy bed pleading with us for sleep. Fortunately, his loyalty drove him to follow along despite his better judgement. Dave and I also shared his disinterest in hiking at that point... until we reached the clearing of the summit of the final peak of the journey. The view from Cranberry Peak was another breathtaking display of all that summer in the mountains has to offer. The stars were spectacular and the air clean and cool. We celebrated with a summit snack (most of which the dog also scammed) and photo opportunity before beginning the final descent.
|Getting loopy on the summit of Cranberry Peak.|
While hours of 3am to 4am are usually the most difficult for me, they are also my favorite hours of the day. As we descended the Cranberry Peak trail, the chirps of tree frogs and the metallic songs of birds announced morning's imminent arrival. As we descended, I felt keenly aware of how the darkness heightens the senses and awareness of one's place in nature. In between the twisted ankles, barked shins, and superman-style clumsy wipeouts that sent me cascading several feet off of the trail, I felt increasingly grateful for the opportunity to be present in this place. How lucky am I to have the privilege to live somewhere that has not been conquered by humans? How lucky to be free to explore, to be, in this moment?
As we made our way to the car parked at the trailhead, the first few hints of morning light began to illuminate the distant sky in a deep hue of blue. As it would turn out, we would never have the chance to watch the sun rise over the waters of Flagstaff Lake. What I though would be a quick detour at home for a cup of coffee turned out to be a snooze fest for both Dave and Stanley, ultimately ending our adventure a little prematurely. I am OK with what we accomplished; Dave and Stanley were great sports to come along with me as long as they did. The Bigelow Adventure, however, continues to elude me. I am pleased to say that I did not conquer this mountain range, nor do I intend to aim to conquer it again, for conquests such as that are just an illusion anyway. I only hope that I will be presented with the opportunity to experience the range in its entirety and perhaps watch the sunrise over Flagstaff's waters someday.
Until then...Maybe next year?