Switchback’s Are For Sissies

I am fortunate to live nearby the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The ‘Whites’ are a beautiful northeastern range that are highly popular with some world grade trails to choose from. Just about anywhere you go you are likely to hit a section of the Appalachian Trail. Although the Whites may not be very tall in elevation (Mt. Washington is the tallest at 1917m/6289ft), I learned very quickly that an easy trail in the Whites is not an easy trail by other standards (and I met several Appalachian Trail through-hikers that have attested to that).

AT trailhead

Why? The first reason is because they are all steep.

Apparently New Englanders don’t like switchback’s. They seem to think it’s madness to meander this way and that instead of just getting to the top in the quickest way possible. Maybe because they’re just that rugged (they’ve survived many a nor’easter you know), or just stubborn and in a hurry, or maybe it stems from some puritanistic need for punishment. Either way, not everyone agrees with this straight shot to the top idea.

Like me.

I would like some freaking switchback’s!

Although the rugged and hurried New Englanders who forged the trails may not like to hike back and forth, they have no trouble going up and down.

Nor will they give you a break approaching the summit.

summit

Although sometimes they’ll be kind enough to add some stairs or a ladder.

The other reason the trails in the Whites are not easy is because of all the rocks and tree roots that transform what could be a nice flat packed trail into an obstacle course.

Some trails offer a mixture of rocks and roots.

and required a bit of scrambling

Others just give you a steep pile of rocks.

2 steep rocks

Even the flat trails are relentless.

3 flat rocks

And why not just take a perfectly beautiful grassland and turn it into a field of rocks?

Those rocks are the trail!

Those rocks are the trail!

Needless to say there was many a moment that I cursed those mountains!

5 not happy on the rocks

But cursing at the mountain wasn’t going to get me to where I needed to go. It was just focusing on the difficulty instead of the reward and accomplishment. I had to learn to accept that this is the way things are in the Whites and to find the joy that they can offer. As world renowned climber Alex Lowe once said “The best climber in the world is the one having the most fun!” I had to find the fun.

So I embraced the rocks. They’re not always the bane in my foot. In fact, they can be a very good guide and offer a sense of direction.

Cairns (and sometimes chalk) mark the trail to the summit

Cairns (and sometimes chalk) mark the trail to the summit

Or offer shelter from the sometimes harsh and often unpredictable weather.

6 rock shelter

And the trails aren’t all about the rocks. Many run alongside and cross various streams, rivers, cascades, gorges, waterfalls and lakes.

So there is also joy in playing a game of hopscotch across the rivers and streams…

River crossing

…or splashing in and being refreshed by the many cascades and waterfalls…

Falling Waters trail is aptly named :)

…feeling the pounding and thundering rush of the gorge…

Running falls

…and sitting quietly and soaking in the tranquility near a mountain lake.

Lonesome Lake

Best of all, the level of effort is worth it to experience such stunning views.

I’m not generally one to side with the puritans, but I have to admit that this kind of punishment has been good for me. It’s made me stronger and more resilient…

… and less of a sissy.

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