Mount (ME), Mount Washington (NH), Mount Mansfield (VT), Mount Marcy (NY), Ebright Azimuth (DE), High Point (NJ), Mount Greylock (MA), Mount Frissel (CN), Jerimoth Hill (RI)
22-Sep-01 (In High Places)
By: Burton Falk
On September 22, eleven days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, my wife, Jo, and I flew from Los Angeles to Boston on a United Airlines flight operating at only a 30% load factor. Arriving at the Logan Airport Hyatt Harborside hotel that evening, we discovered that it too was experiencing an occupancy slump, and that many of its personnel had already been laid off in the wake of the abrupt travel slowdown. The remaining staff members were gamely performing double-duty, and, in fact, the maintenance superintendent (who came up to make a minor repair in our room that evening) helped serve us our breakfast the next morning. Needless to say, everyone was unusually friendly and accommodating, and Jo and I both felt a bit patriotic about traveling, helping in a very limited way the troubled travel industry to get back on its feet.
Next morning, under a lowering sky with intermittent rain, we rented a car and headed north, stopping only for a tasty seafood lunch in Kennebunkport, ME, and then again at the wondrous L.L. Bean store in Freeport, ME, where we purchased a pair of hiking poles. That night we stopped at the Best Western Heritage Inn in Millinocket, ME, where, by asking for the hiker's rate, we got a substantially better deal than we would have with the normal AAA discount.
The following morning, Sept. 24th, leaving Jo deep in dreamland, I drove northwest 18 miles to the gatehouse at Baxter State Park, paid an $8 entry fee, then continued on another 7.7 miles to the Katahdin Stream Campground, where I parked in a day-use parking area.
Starting off just after 8 a.m. in a cool drizzle, I followed the Hunt Trail (which is part of the Appalachian Trail) northeast 5.2 miles, gaining about 4,200 feet along the way, finally reaching the 5,267' apex of Baxter Peak, the highest point on multisummited Mount Katahdin, the high point of the State of Maine, and the northern terminus of the 2,025 mile-long Appalachian Trail, at l2:30 p.m. On the top, alas, rain and raw, wind-driven clouds obscured my views. Tarrying only long enough to take one summit photo, I turned around and was back at the car by 4:20 p.m.
The jolting 2nd class rock-hopping during the mid-portion of the climb, both ascending and descending, had been hard on my arthritic right hip, and by the time I pulled into the motel parking lot I could barely extricate myself from the car, much less walk. Thank God for a vioxx and a long hot shower, followed by a toothsome Maine lobster dinner and a glass or two of chardonnay at the motel's dining room (claimed to be the best restaurant in town). Jo swears I fell asleep that night before my head actually touched the pillow.
Next morning, we had breakfast at the Appalachian Trails Café (famous for its squash doughnuts) in downtown Millinocket (a blue collar mill town, if there ever was one), and then started off on a gloriously bright and clear fall morning, (or as John Cheever might say, a "polished" morning), heading for New Hampshire's high point, 6,288' Mt. Washington, and points beyond. During my previous day's climb of Katahdin, the rain and clouds had kept the autumn's arboreal display decidedly subdued, but on this fine day, driving south and west across central Maine, the northernmost leg of our nine-day highpointing trip, we were rewarded with magnificent views of New England's famous fall foliage.
Arriving at the entrance to Mt. Washington's privately owned toll road about 4:30 p.m., just a half an hour before it closed to uphill traffic, we paid our fare ($16 per car and driver, plus $6 for every additional adult passenger) and were soon driving up the mountain's steep north slope, rapidly ascending through several climatic zones, reaching the above tree line summit at 5 p.m. Unfortunately, Mt. Washington is a stark reminder as to what can happen if a perfectly good wilderness area is left open for unsupervised commercial exploitation. Amid a forest of antennae, a slew of buildings, several ugly parking lots and a set of cog-rail train tracks, we rock-hopped some 10 yards to a sign proclaiming the actual summit, where we traded taking photos with another couple. Departing the scene of the crime about 5:30 p.m., we sped on to Stowe, Vermont, where we encountered one of those infamous good news/bad news situations. The good news was that our accommodations at the Golden Eagle Resort Motor Inn were very good indeed; the bad news being that our late dinner at the highly recommended seafood restaurant just across the street, The Partridge Inn, was pathetic.
Next morning, I erred in selecting a route up nearby 4,393' Mt. Mansfield, the high point of Vermont, assuming that the 1.2 mile round trip "Cliff Trail" would be easier than the 2.8 mile round trip "Long Trail." Although a gondola (part and parcel of the Stowe Ski Area) provided most of our elevation gain, the ensuing Cliff Trail was a bit too treacherous for Jo, who three years ago had a double laminectomy, and who consequently needs to be extra careful of her back. After bravely negotiating the wet, rocky path for about 15 minutes, she decided that the climb was just too much. I accompanied her back to café at the top of the gondola, and then made the high 2nd class ascent solo.
Although Jo was clearly disappointed in not bagging the peak, consolation turned out to be only moments away. Just a few miles south of Stowe, in Waterbury, VT, there lies a Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream plant (all of whose products are manufactured from milk and cream supplied by local dairies), where, after a guided tour of the plant and a tasting session, we downed two large, fast-melting ice cream cones, while sitting on a park bench, gazing out at the hills of New England, which on that warm afternoon were magically transforming from the soft green of summer into the bright finery of autumn. Later, continuing west, we ferried across Lake Champlain, arriving at the posh Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa, in Lake Placid, New York about 7 p.m., just as it started to rain.
To be perfectly truthful, I was not at all unhappy about the inclement weather, as at that point I was limping around like Chester on the old TV "Gunsmoke" series. There was no way, I thought, that I could make the 15 mile round trip, 3,600' gain ascent of New York's 5, 344' high point, Mt. Marcy, the following day. That night, on the 11 o'clock news, the weatherman called for up to 3"of rain during the following 24 hour period. We closed the blackout drapes and drifted off listening to reassuring pitter-patter of rain on the roof.
Imagine my chagrin the next morning when, throwing open the drapes, I discovered that, although it was still overcast, the rain had stopped. I considered making a late run for the mountain, but that notion lasted only until I put a little weight on my right hip. Ouch! Instead of making the climb, we spent the day doing laundry, browsing through the resort town's bevy of boutiques, and making plans to return to conquer the mountain the following summer.
On Tuesday, September 26, yet another polished day, we left Lake Placid, heading for Wilmington, Delaware. Early that afternoon, while speeding south on the Garden State Parkway, just west of Manhattan, we witnessed for ourselves that the familiar twin towers of the lower New York City skyline were, indeed, missing. And then the horrible realization sunk in that only a mile or two across the Hudson River lay a still smoldering funeral pyre. In neighboring New Jersey, an area so terribly affected by the dark event, virtually every car was flying an American flag. The cloud of gloom that descended on us didn't lift until later that evening, when we shared a convivial dinner with friendly in-laws in Wilmington.
On Wednesday morning, September 27th. we drove to the intersection of Ebright and Ramblewood Drives in the Wilmington suburb of Dartmouth Woods, on the southeastern corner of which we found a sign indicating we had arrived at Ebright Azimuth, Delaware's 448' highpoint. Unfortunately, as we subsequently learned, the sign is incorrect. According to the very latest information, the true state highpoint is located some 300 yards west of the intersection in a privately owned mobile home park. Because of the access problem attendant with this newly discovered high point, the Board of Directors of the Highpointers Club has unanimously approved a resolution deeming that a visit to the Ebrightl Ramblewood intersection will be considered an "official" ascent-at least until entry rights to the trailer park can be worked out.
After taking the obligatory "summit" photos, we then hightailed it north, in part via Pennsylvania SR 209, a beautiful highway that wends its way for 20 miles through the billboard-free Water Gap National Recreation Area, heading for the 1,803' apex of New Jersey, a forested, rolling hill, named, somewhat unimaginatively, "High Point." Bagging the apex of the Garden State, which overlooks the Delaware Water Gap, involves a scenic 5.7-mile drive south from 1-84, followed by a short walk from a large parking lot. Unfortunately, by 3 p.m., when we reached the huge obelisk marking the high point, the once fine day had been dulled by a high overcast, and a cold wind made up step lively. Back in the car again, we sped north, heading for Massachusetts' highpoint, 3,487' Mt. Graylock, located in the Berkshire Mountains in the northwestern corner of the Bay State. Arriving at the base of the 7.3 mile road leading to Graylock's summit just as the sun was about to set, we noticed a sign on the roadside gate stating that the park closed at sunset, and that the gate would be shut and locked shortly thereafter. I have been locked in on two previous occasions (once at the parking lot of the Palm Springs Aerial Tram, once on the Cahuilla Indian Reservation), but because I was carrying tools in my car in both instances I was able to remove the gates' hinges and make my getaway. With a rental car and no tools, however, I figured we could be stuck there all night. Deciding that discretion was the better part of you know what, we drove back to nearby Pittsfield, Mass, where, after finding a so-so motel, we enjoyed a surprisingly good dinner.
Next morning, on our ascent of Mt. Graylock-a virtual drive up, by the way-we talked to a park ranger who confessed they never bothered to lock the gate. We then began our drive south toward Mt. Frissell, on the south shoulder of which lies the 2,380' highpoint of the State of Connecticut (the actual summit of Mt. Frissell is in Massachusetts). Only 2.4 miles in round trip. and involving a mere 960' of gain, this was the summit that almost did us in.
The story here is that as just we were about to leave the car at the trailhead parking area, we heard the rumble of approaching thunder. Because we both had Gortex jackets and Mickey Mouse ponchos, however, we weren't particularly concerned with the prospect of rain. After fifteen minutes of level hiking on a good use trail, we encountered a steep slope of rather formidable rocks (or at least they were formidable for Jo, who hasn't had much rock experience). Gamely struggling up though the obstacle course, we arrived on the brush-covered summit of Round Mountain just as a mighty cannonade of thunder detonated directly overhead. My first impulse was to get off the top pronto, especially since we were both holding aluminum hiking poles, a.k.a lightning rods. The question was should we turn back, or should we continue onward? Not willing to give up what we'd already gained, we opted forward, quickly descending to a saddle just below Mt. Frissell, at which point it began to rain really, really hard, like the proverbial cow pissing on the legendary flat rock. And, of course, the wind began to howl. We pulled our yellow ponchos over our Gortex jackets, but we were still getting drenched. Water filled our boots, and we sloshed with each step. Coming to a stop, perplexed as to what to do next, who should come up from behind but two equally soggy highpointers, man and wife, hailing from the Washington, D.C. area. This provided us some comfort, as it seemed far, far better to drown in company than to drown alone. I was about to suggest a short prayer service, followed by a chorus of "Rock of Ages," when the Washingtonians splashed off-rather abruptly, I thought-toward the summit. Jo and I decided to continue on, too, and in 10 minutes or so we reached the brass stake and small rock cairn marking the Connecticut high point, where, oddly, our new acquaintances were nowhere in sight. A few moments later, while attempting to take summit photos-which really required an underwater camera-the sopping-wet D.C. duo reappeared, coming in from the opposite direction. They had overshot the easily missed high point, and had continued down the trail another quarter of a mile.
We quickly snapped pictures of each other, and then, in the continuing downpour, started back toward the cars. Unfortunately, we discovered that the steep rocky portion of the trail had turned into a waterfall, and that the footing was treacherous. Since we had to be ultra careful due to Jo's back, the couple from Washington got way ahead of us and finally vanished for good. By the time Jo and I finally arrived back at the car, we were soaked to the skin, and we had to change every stitch of clothing we were wearing. To add insult to injury, we'd missed lunch entirely.
But, hey, we weren't through yet. We were going to bag three state highpoints that day or bust.
Driving east through rural northwestern Connecticut, we reached Hartford just as the last light faded from the sky, and just as a new thunderstorm (or maybe it was the same old one) crashed down around us. Continuing east on State Highway 2, and then north on 1-395, it rained so hard at times that even the fastest wiper speed couldn't keep our windshield clear.
The highpoint of Rhode Island, 812' Jerimoth Hill, lies on private property, and as such it has become somewhat of a cause celebre. After years of acrimony and many a covert ascent, the Highpointer's Club reached an agreement with the owner of the property to allow for a handful of scheduled highpointer visits per year. If, however, it's not possible to make the "climb" on one of those few days, the Club has deemed that just parking on the highway next to the Jerimoth Hill sign counts as an official ascent-and that was what we intended to do.
We left I-395 at Exit 22, followed Connecticut SR 101 east for 4.7 miles, crossed the Rhode Island State Line, and then drove another 0.7 of a mile until we came to the Jerimoth Hill sign located along the north side of the highway. The exact time I "ascended" by 49th State highpoint was 8:15 p.m., on a very rainy Friday, September 28. If I had been able to bag New York's Mt. Marcy, I would have finished the 50 State list with Rhode Island-but it just wasn't in the cards. On Nov. 8, back home in Palm Desert, I had my right hip replaced. (I'm doing fine, by the way, no need to send cards or flowers). Next summer, along with a retinue of friends and family, including, hopefully, all three of our grandchildren, Jo and I will return to Lake Placid, where, on the ultimate peakbagging trip, I will conquer my pesky 50th.
From Jerimoth Hill we drove wearily back to the Harborside Hyatt in Boston, where at 10:30 p.m., after quick showers, we inhaled delicious Maine lobster dinners in the hotel's bayside restaurant. And even though we were bone tired, we were still able to marvel at the wondrous view of Boston's gleaming skyline, shimmering across the wind-swept, ink-black waters of Boston Harbor.
On Sunday, Sept. 30, Jo and I left Boston for Europe, where we planned to ascend a certain national highpoint located in a Jardin Exotique, overlooking the Cote d'Azure. But that's a story for another installment of "In High Places."
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