I am sitting here at my computer writing, having just finished a week of hiking, and I am reflecting on the time I have had in the woods. I have, for the most part, been by myself. It is true, when one is alone and by them self, their thoughts become very reflective and introspective. Unlike Mr. Thoreau before me, however, I cannot say that my thoughts had any degree of profundity. To that end, let me apologize in advance for the blog I am about to regale you with. I usually like to have some twist or connection at the end of my blogs that ties the preceding paragraphs together and, often, my blogs have some not so subtle message. The blog you are about to read has no great twist, no connection to the beginning and certainly no moral or ethical message at the end. As I said, I am no Thoreau.
Throughout my hiking this past week, I have often thought of blogs I could write and how I could share some of what I have experienced here in the woods with my friends on line. Earlier this week, I met a young family on a summit with whom I visited while we ate lunch. The young boy in this family asked me what was the strangest thing I had ever seen while hiking. I smiled as I thought about the question for a bit and then shared my answer with him, but before I reveal that to you, my readers, I thought I would share some of what made me smile (which I did not share with the young hiker).
I have, in fact, seen a few things that have been quite strange. I have seen wasps the size of my hand on the bare summits of some of the presidential peaks. These insects did not appear malevolent, and I have seen them nowhere else, but they were definitely in the wasp family. In keeping with insects, once, when hiking with my daughters to Franconia Falls, we found, for whatever reason, that huge groups of yellow swallowtail butterflies chose to visit the falls that day. Many were drinking from the pools and like wildebeests at the watering holes in Africa; they aligned themselves wing to wing and drank from the puddles and still pools. They would land everywhere and I have pictures of my daughters each with a half dozen to a dozen butterflies resting on their arms as they stood near the falls. I have never seen them there since, despite more than a dozen visits to the falls since that day.
I have seen men in kilts, presumably bottomless below, and I have seen women completely topless. Now mind you, while I love breasts, (I think most men do), when confronted with them exposed on the trail, it is difficult to know exactly what is the proper etiquette. One cannot really look away and one doesn’t want to stare- it is just plain awkward- and so, while I generally would promote as much toplessness for women as possible, let’s keep that from the trails for a bit ladies, OK? As an aside, this past winter, in six feet of snow on top of South Hancock, while on a presidential traverse training hike, my group of hikers met a woman in a sports bra, mini skirt, and snow shoes. Unusual, to be sure, but as we have seen already, certainly not the most unusual thing I have encountered.
I have seen it snow in August and I have seen ice on the trail in the middle of the summer. I have also enjoyed a 60 degree day in the middle of February at Lake of the Clouds hut as I rested before hiking onward. I have crossed paths with men carrying skis in July on top of Jefferson and I have seen the entire sky light up red from the northern lights. I have watched the wind whip the clouds up and over the tops of mountains and I recently saw a cloud structure with three flat levels, likes lozenges, all stacked on top of each other with a small connecting stem; they reminded me of flattened olives on a martini toothpick.
I have found many relics of the logging days along the sides of the trail and there are buried railroad ties and even track, along many trails. It is sometimes fun to find personal artifacts in the old camps; a rusted old belt buckle here, a scrap of leather or riveted iron, there. One cannot help but wonder what life as a logger must have been like a hundred twenty five years ago. I have never found artifacts that pre-date the logging days, although I know that the forest holds many objects from the days when Native Americans roamed these woods.
Of all these unusual things I have seen, however, the strangest I think, by far, was the encampment I stumbled upon one summer day while scouting new hikes for my clients. Where the Bondcliff trail reaches the East Branch of Pemi as one descends from Bondcliff itself, the trail takes a sharp right. This used to be a “T” like intersection with another trail, but the section to the left, as you are facing the Pemi, has been closed for several years. It is wide and flat and in generally good repair, but there are signs at the beginning of this section of the trail that make it very clear the trail is not being maintained, and there has been some minor effort to block the way with trees and other fallen debris. I knew this trail, from the days of when it had been open, and it was where I needed to go, so I continued on despite the warnings that the trail was not being maintained.
I continue for a bit, and then the trail dropped down to cross a tributary to the Pemi, and when it came up on the other side, to my amazement and wonder, I found an encampment of more than a hundred people. There were large tarps strung high in the trees to make a large open area sheltered from the rain. There were tents everywhere and lots of groups of people mulling about talking, laughing and generally enjoying themselves. This was not a week in the woods with some friends, this camp looked like it had been there all summer and, with multiple fires going, it appeared to me to be some cross between what I might find in the hills of Tennessee and a church group summer picnic in a park.
It was unsettling to find that many people, holed up in the woods, away from civilization, from others, from authority, and I did not stick around long enough to find out who or what they were. I don’t know if I was ever spotted from the camp, or if they really cared, but for many hours after I had an uneasy feeling that I might have been followed (I never, ever, should have watched the movie Deliverance). To this day, I don’t know who those people were or what they were doing there, but it is safe to say that finding them there, away from everything, is by far, the, most unusual thing I have seen on my hikes.