“Wow!!” I grinned, ear to ear, as I gazed up at the sparkling white, snow-covered summit of Mount Washington, set against the most amazingly clear bluebird sky I’ve ever seen in the White Mountains. It was hard to believe that just a few days before the winds had been blasting across the mountains at 171 mph with temperatures dipping down to -13F (-25C) since today the sun was shining, temperatures were rising into the teens, the winds were calm, and there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. Not a single one!! I couldn’t have asked for better weather for me first winter overnight on Mt. Washington! (Trip report and gear list below)
In 1998 my brothers and I set off on an end-to-end hike (a thru-hike) of the 271.1 mile Long Trail in Vermont. For the majority of the hike the three of us wore matching blue shirts, and we were nicknamed the blue crew :) It was an awesome adventure. On that 19-day backpacking trip I came to the conclusion that I would enjoy thru-hiking. Although I dreamed of an Appalachian Trail (AT) thru-hike, I never could have imagined that 20 years after that first thru-hike I’d completer the triple crown of long-distance backpacking with the completion of the CDT (2018), PCT (2014), and AT (2013).
The tall meadow grasses brushed against my bare legs as I walked slowly, reverently, towards the granite blocks of Soldierstone. Soldierstone was described in Yogi’s Continental Divide Trail Guide as “the most unique, peaceful war memorial on the planet,” and the two veterans that were leaving the site when I arrived had both found the monument to be profoundly moving. I was thinking about those veterans when I stumbled onto the first of many Quote Stones:
I had water, but I walked down to the mountain spring to check it out anyway, almost as though I needed to make sure it was real. I leaned down scooped some up and splashed it on my face. It was cold and awesome.
“6 miles, it’s only six miles to the next tree,” I murmured to myself trying to convince myself that it wasn’t that far. I only had to hike six miles through the unrelenting heat and blazing sun of the New Mexican desert before I’d get to a tree and some hope of shade, after the tree it would be another 14 miles to get to the next water (a cattle trough).
“Is your pack full of rocks?” joked one of the other thru- hikers. At the time I could honestly say, “No, of course not.” However, less than 48 hours later, I was standing on the side of the CDT filling my pack with rocks.
I stood stood on the CDT, beside a cairn, scanning the horizon and looking for the next cairn, or any sign of where the CDT might be headed. I’d already looked at my apps and maps and knew the general direction that the CDT should be taking, but I also knew that somewhere hiding out there in the desert scrub was a cairn that would help keep me to the trail much more precisely than my general estimations.