When I was a kid growing up in New Jersey, early Spring was the season for baseball tryouts. We were not allowed to call it Little League because my town did not participate in the actual Little League Association, but town-wide all the boys my age got together on the high school football field for “tryouts” where the organizers tried to balance the teams in terms of ability. Towards the end of the week they posted the results and every boy was happy to see they “made it”, however, in truth, every boy who tried out, made it. One year a girl tried out. She was pretty in a tomboyish way, and towards the end of high school I would end up dating her for several months, but at the time, she was a groundbreaker and it was big news; in Montclair, New Jersey, for the first time ever, it was the season for baseball for kids of both genders.
During college I remember a Spring when, after breaking up with a woman I had been seeing, I took a walk down Commonwealth Avenue to the Boston Common and the Public Gardens. I walked about and marveled at the disproportionate number of young couples walking hand in hand, snuggling close to one another on the park benches, or lying together on blankets laid upon the bright green of newly sprouted grass. They seemed to be everywhere and I, alone, felt terribly wronged by not having someone to share the flowers and grass and still somewhat crisp Spring sunshine in what was obviously, the season of love. The sunshine was bright, the sky blue, the strong fragrance from lilacs was heavy in the air, and bulbs splashed red and yellow in every direction in an effort to obliterate the grey of the long winter. The season of love was truly a beautiful time.
In college I raced on the BU ski team. This time of year, when the snowpack stayed deep in the mountains but the crowds had grown tired of winter sports, it was the season for Spring Skiing. There were many great days spent zooming unfettered down the slopes with my friends, clad in short sleeves or even shorts as we picked up a tan and skied in the soft mushy snow beneath our feet. Back before the days of when it became so popular to do such, for my teammates and I, it was the season for Tuckerman’s as we all climbed up to ski the famous ravine one spring. What a great day that was.
About 15 years ago, I got into whitewater kayaking. Here in the northeast, in the summer, that means planning visits to rivers that have damns that schedule releases. These water releases are posted and when the water is allowed to flow, the rivers rise and the fishermen and the kayakers come out; the half dozen hours of high water make our local rivers fun for sportsmen of all kinds. In other states, where the rivers have not been damned as much, the flow of water is tied more to the weather, and the forces that control when one can kayak down a river are natural instead of man-made.
During the early Spring, however, as the snow in the mountains begins to melt and the damns are all wide open, nature takes back the control of the rivers and the water runs high and fast. It is the season for whitewater kayaking and paddlers bundle up in their drysuits and kayak down rivers all around the state. What dictates whether a kayaker paddles a river is measured in courage and skill, not the availability of water through a controlled and measured release from a damn. The connection to forces of nature is strong and paddling the spring melt is always more exhilarating than playing in the spray during a summer release. It is the season for kayaking.
Two weeks ago, I, and group of hikers, strapped on the microspikes and started the training hikes for the single day Presidential Traverse hike I do every June. I start the training hikes pretty much the same Saturday every year and in many ways it is the kick off for the summer hiking season. The season for baseball that had transformed itself into the season for love, the season for Spring skiing, the season for Tuckerman’s, and the season for kayaking, had now transformed itself into the season for hiking.
All that transformation aside, this last summer when I joined the Pemi Valley Search and Rescue team, I began to get a different perspective on hiking in the Whites, and the season for hiking, as it turns out, is also the season for rescues. More rescues happen at this time of the year than any other period during the hiking season. The temperatures warm up in the southern parts of the state and people get the itch to get up in the mountains to go hiking, but they do not prepare for the very deep snow pack still on the trails. Hikers embark on trails equipped with sneakers and trail shoes and slip and fall on the snow and ice covered trails they encounter further up the slopes. Hikers sometimes find it easier to run down slippery downhill slopes and can be surprised to suddenly find themselves postholing through the surface and breaking a leg or a knee. It happens routinely, unfortunately.
There was 16-18 inches of new snow this last week in the Whites. As I write this, there is a severe avalanche alert in Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines. It is a beautiful time to get out and hike, but there is a lot of snow still in the mountains and hikers have to be prepared for it. The snow is deep in places, under the snow on the trails there is a “monorail” of ice down the center of the trail, and in other places the snow has eroded from below and has become “rotten”. If you travel to the mountains to indulge in the beauty of early Spring, do so with the knowledge that rescue season is upon us and be prepared with proper footwear and traction or snowshoes so that this remains the season for hiking for you, and not the season for rescue.
Thanks, as always for reading, now go out and enjoy the season, no matter what it means to you.