Friday, October 22, 2010

Old Hutman of the mts hikes again

Old hutman of the mountains hikes again.

Copyright Terry Wright 2010

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this is a trail?? Aug 2010

Franconia Ridge in fog 2010

It sounded like a great idea, a return to my roots in New England from the deserts and mountains of California, new girlfriend in tow, to meet family and relive past triumphs in the huts. And it was in principle, with a few quirks thrown in. The plan to hike to Greenleaf from Lafayette place, spend the night, then cruise the Franconia ridge, down Falling Waters and up to Lonesome to meet sister

Cindy for more nostalgia and good times. Return to the trails of my youth 40 years later.

The memories floated back over the years from 1963, when I spent sterling summer at Lakes with Tom Martin and an eclectic croo, spent a stint as opening hutmaster at the old Lonesome Lake hut, helped close Carter. got fired by George for being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong woman, and all the time operating from the family compound behind the church in Franconia.

Because Middlebury started later than most schools, I worked my way into the system by working closing at Carter with Alex MacPhail, an old mountain buddy from Wellesley, meeting George at Lakes on a big closing weekend , injuring my leg and getting a ride with him down the mountain to my car.

I applied the next winter for a hutman position, and got a spot on the construction croo for the next summer 1963. I showed up early and ended up the opening hutmaster at Loch Lone, the old log lodge on the north end of the lake, now disapeared by the magic of the usfs. The others left me there after 2 pack trips, fighting off the black flies and contemplating a pile of food and other supplies. I was just kicking back, anticipating a beer on a gooferless night when 5 people show up with reservations. I had no plan for dinner, but rummaged around in the provisions we had just brought in, found a veal loaf and some veges, made some bread and we were golden.

Rodger Gaboon Field showed up 2 days later to take over, and I cruised back to Franconia, called Pinkham and found they wanted me there tomorrow, oh well, a short break. I fired up the black bastard, my 47 Chevy roadster the next morning and headed east, neatly blocked by a blowout in Crawford notch, but a Parnelli Jones tire change set me on the road again. Entering the old TP a craggy familiar face was lounging in the corner, my old friend Tom Martin, hutmaster at Lakes the year before. He had liked my hard work packing 2 loads, washing dishes on an injured leg, and had requested me to fill a vacant spot on his hut croo for the summer. So I was gonna be a hutman, cool, with all the experiences available there to.

Many adventures and fun times with the Lakes Croo followed. I remember chasing a frozen turkey down the slides in a sleet storm then picking it up and hugging the cold carcass back to the hut, digging the gaboon naked and having a troop of girl scouts suddenly appear, runs down the ammy to Dr Green’s in the black bastard with a ride back up the cog with the booze safely stashed under the coal car. Every evening we had a hoot singing songs of the day, Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and mounds, and old standards….the crowds loved it. Great times with the mountain girls: Kathy Shed, Midge Collins (Ralph), and Barbara Livesy (now Ricker).

But I digress. The return of the Old Hutman of the Mountains, me , Terry Wright, at 67, with Judy from Tulsa, the new girlfriend, on a jaunt to the Huts in 2010. Sister Cindy now lives in a palatial mansion on the old family turf behind the church in Franconia, so we prepped there, borrowing equipment, taking preliminary hikes and reliving the mountain life. We debarked in the teeth of a moderate storm, raining hard all night, and still pittering as we pulled out of the driveway, through town with Bode posters all over, and off up the freeway, only to see a cute black bear wandering across the highway, taking his time, turning slowly and back into the woods in the middle of town. Bears used to be found only in the mountains, but they have discovered human food and bird feeders and are now part time residents of the town.

Summits in clouds, I know its raining up there, but we are outfitted, rain gear, panchos for the packs, good boots, hiking poles, clif bars and my recorder for tunes. We headed up the bridal path, Judy loving the woods especially the stand of white and silver birches along the way. The going was easy as I remembered through the woods, but then we hit the rocks, much steeper than I remember, how did they get horses up here? Fine footing in the granites, coarse crystals grabbing our boots. Then to the dike, here the rock is slick, fine grained from fast cooling of magma, with slopes going every which way and really steep. Plus it started raining, adding to the slick and danger. I have my rock climbing helmet on, and am really careful, being somewhat unstable on balance. I live in fear of falling and breaking a hip, both parents died from that affliction. Judy is game, a rock climber in the past and we work our way up, many people coming down and up, quite a crowd, again not remembering it this way, this rocky or this steep.

Conway Granite left with folded Devonian Littleton fm

We have time, so take it easy, resting frequently, talking to people going by, great conversations of the mountains; the weather, love those new Asolo boots, a construction croo guy sails past, and we have a Limmer conversation.

The Nawtch Aug 2010

Finally we top the last rise, solar panels on the roof and a windmill whistling in the breeze, fog everywhere, still in the clouds. Enter the hut to the usual boisterous crowd, a new refurbished hut, clean boards, big kitchen, great space. We check in, Hilary asking if we’d been in the huts before, I mention I’m an OH and she says, not much has changed. Find a bunk, Judy above and change into dry warm clothes and down for a much deserved nap.

I awake to stirrings in the main room and roll out to explore, to the overlook of Franconia, in and out of the clouds and peek a boo views, not enough to see Cindy’s house, but I know it is visible on a clear day 4 gables pointing skyward to god. The generator is on, and I see the stash of propane tanks through the trees. We used to pack tanks down to Lakes at 120 lbs per, and empty tanks up to the summit 70 lbs per; now its all done by helicopter. It was the last year we could say everything at the hut was packed by manpower, or the donks.

By the hut a gathering is in progress with a hutman giving a tour of the infrastructure, Solar and wind power, no more gaboon, all solid waste packed out, a composting system, and composting toilets make this a green machine. A black pipe on the roof was once a preheater for the hot water system, but the Forest Service has refused its use, for the reason it is an eyesore. Its still there, but not used, strange are the ways of bureaucracy.

We troop inside, and clear the tables for dinner, still family style, no napkins. We sit with a jovial family group, which offers wine and we sip and tell stories of our lives. They are impressed that I was an OH, and I tell a few stories met by enthusiastic response. Ravioli night, the same meal throuout the hut system, the result of some adminstrator trying to cut costs. I remember we had free reign, requisitioning what we wanted and then cooking as creatively as we wanted. The fresh rosmary bread, and veges and cookies for dessert, all delicious. After dinner there are pep talks about pack it in, pack it out, and announcement of a history of the huts meeting with the head hutman. One of our group announces that there is a really old hutman in our midst, and I smile and wave at the applause, surprised at the reaction from all.

I look for signs of the past, and find pictures of Linus Bob Story and Tommy Deans, both old friends from way back. And in the journals, comments from the old days. I sign in the present book “Terry Wright, Lks 1963, FPMandMMS”. Those of you who know, know.

We repair to the bunk and snooze a little then back to the fray, I join the hut history group and tell stories about pack trips, especially the one above mentioned about chasing a frozen turkey down the slides in the teeth of a sleet storm. We were packing in the usual 4 25lb turkeys for the full house on the 4th of july, when one of mine slipped out of a soggy box, through the ropes and bounced down the trail several hundred feet to the bottom. When I retrieved the gobbler, I grabbed it in my arms and took off down the trail, not wanting to spend the long cold minutes it would take to put it back on the packboard. It must have looked weird to people on the trail, and when I arrived at the hut crys of astonishment echoed from the croo.

The generator off, lights dim then dark, and we found our way back to the bunkroom and settled in for a warm comfortable night after a conjugal kissing session on the narrow bunk.

A boatman’s shanty sung in definite tones by the head hutman shakes me out of the bunk, dressed and groggy headed for the coffee. Another great breakfast, with delicate coffee cake, another hut standard. It is raining out, we hear the heavy drops pounding on the roof. Doesn’t look like a good day to hike, but the weather report says a clearing trend is on the way. The BFD skit is good, two climbers simulating a fall, dressed in climbing gear and using ladles as ice axes. We straighten up and get some good advice from the main hutguy, I am still determined to do the Falling Waters despite my gut knowledge that it is major steep rocky trail.

Off into the fog, not bad with fleeting views of the valleys and the hut as we wend our way like Mallory and Irvine up into the clouds. We reach Lafayette summit and hunker down into the shelter of the old corral. I get down on my knees and propose marriage to Judy, no big surprise, but her reaction is that it would wreck her finances, she would lose her past husbands social security payments and effect her independence. Oh well, we still love each other, geezer love at 67 years, and that’ll stick like superglue.

Off into the fog soup to the Franconia Ridge, and gradual clearing to see great vistas of the notch, the Pemi and a ridge trail longer than I remember. Judy comes around a corner and comes out with “Do you have any string?” I look and her boot sole has become completely separated and is flopping like a flag in the breeze. Never seen that with a Limmer boot. I have given up my old Limmers, hard heavy and painful, for some Asolo mountain boots, great, stiff as a board soles and very comfortable.

I reach into my pocket for the bootlace I found on the floor at the hut, good and stout and make the repair, wrapping it around the ankle like a long thong ski binding. Old instincts still remain, and when I saw the broken lace lying there I thought “moop” the Burning Man concept of matter out of place, I scarfed it up, knowing that there might be a use.

Great views down the steep slopes and ravines into the notch and the Pemi, Owls head rearing its back above a carpet of green. A raw landslide scar on the east side of Lincoln looks new and long, a mute reminder that the hills move, the Willey slide the main example.

The ridge is longer than I remember, and have several map reading mistakes, but people point out the top to the Falling Waters, out there at Haystack. My legs and knees are feeling tentative, not looking forward to the precipitous descent to the notch.

We take the plunge and it is worse than I ever remember. The last time up here was more like 20 years ago, with a body still strong from years of hiking, skiing and being the mountain man.

Descending into the short forest we find a rock climb down, each step a stretch down, searching for a good foothold and hand hold, placing the hiking sticks to balance the high center of gravity. Slippery roots to be watched and always the awareness that a fall might mean a break and a nasty rescue. I remember several fetches of injured hikers and an arduous evac with stokes litter of a 200 pounder. I don’t want to cause that.

I rest frequently, Judy seems to be unstoppable, I’m beginning to think we may have to rethink logistics at the car, my legs and knees are starting to feel like spaghetti. I consult the map and the store map shows no detail at all, and the AMC guide shows a number of switchbacks to the waterfalls. We lump along, wondering where the falls are, finally traversing over to a small retort and Judy talks to some German hikers and comes back with the report it is 5 pm and we are still 2 miles from the highway, and another 1.5 miles to Loch Lone.

Terry takes a break

Try a slow descent over cliffs and rock climbs along the falls; a group of young hikers bounce along and party at the falls, bathing in the torrent from above. At one point I lose it and start a major fall, stopped only by grabbing a stout tree and finding a lucky foot hold. The falls are beautiful, and I recognize the first cascade from the last trip, my high point then in a driving rainstorm.

It’s getting dusky, but beautiful with the sun backlighting the trail and trees, hard to believe I am dragging ass, now resting every 15 minutes. We find some hikers, and try a call on verizon to Cindy, now up at Lonesome, eating dinner, to no avail. Now down the easy road trail, sounds of the highway, finally the bridge and a picture of us after our loop to the ridge. The car finally comes to view and we load up, I painfully lever my self into the drivers seat and we are off to greater glory, back to the Franconia house, to prep for a return to California, Benton house in the high desert, Burning Man (read also Burning Truck).

Terry and Judy, the victors

Copyright 2010 Terry Wright

2589 words

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