It’s cliché because it’s true — it’s not the end, it’s the journey. This sentiment could not ring more true than when I was ascending my first 4,000 footer in the White Mountains.
New England hiking enthusiasts will already be familiar with the goal of hiking all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000+ foot mountains in White Mountain National Forest. These peaks offer expansive and spectacular views on a clear day. However, unlike smaller summits closer to Boston (like at the Middlesex Fells or Blue Hills for example, more here), the elevation makes for slightly more involved preparation. In particular, one must be mindful of the fact that atmospheric conditions can be volatile and the temperature difference at the peak can be more than ten degrees cooler than at the base. For safety, this particular trail recommended a basic set of gear (pictured below).
On this day, I went to Mt. Garfield with a group of hiking pals. I was probably the least experienced in the group (though yes, I have completed wilderness leadership and first aid training, more here). One woman in our group has already hiked 33 (or was it 34) of the park’s 48 4,000 footers!
As per usual when it comes to making the two-plus hour car trip from Boston to the White Mountains, we hit the road before 6am in order to start hiking just before 9am. Carpooling, in my experience, is part of the fun, as you will likely end up spending close to as much time in the car as you will on the actual trails (so choose your companions wisely, I guess 😉 ).
It was cloudy on our wait up north, but the sky began to clear as we neared our destination and the impressive mountain heads peaked left and right from the clouds. The path to the top of Mt. Garfield was simple — one way up and one way down, easy peasy. Although this is a relatively beginner friendly hike, we still had to carefully cross three rushing streams near the base, which could be more dangerous in flooding conditions (which you shouldn’t be hiking in anyway).
Frankly, we were a silly group of hikers. We burst out into song both loudly and off-key at random points in the trek — Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Aladdin’s “A Whole New World,” Grease’s “You’re the One that I want,” Weezer’s “Beverly Hills,” whatever! We even attempted to perform “Row, row, row your boat,” in canon (not our best work, tbh). Raps were riffed and poems recited (more here). One member of the group also enthusiastically taught us an Irish drinking game (though she learned it as a fun kid’s game from a family member). At it’s core, it’s a memory call-and-response game. One person calls out the prescripted line “one white horse,” then person number two, three, four, etc. repeat it back. The first person, then adds a second line, “one white horse, couple a duck,” then again, the line is repeated. The third line is added “one white horse, couple a duck, tree brown bear,” then the others repeat. This goes on and on for twelve lines, which can be hard to memorize so quickly! Although I have attempted to find the full text online, I have failed to find the exact version that our friend recited to us. For this reason, I have type out (to the best of my recollection) her version of the game she calls “One White Horse” (online, I have seen “One fat hen” versions, FYI) below. Also, not everything in this Irish text is PC — so, consider this statement a trigger warning of sorts.
One White Horse
One white horse
Couple a duck
Tree brown bear
Four running hare
Five fickle female
Six simple Simons sitting on a fence
Seven Siamese sailors sailing the seven seas smoking cigarettes
Eight elevating elephants elevating on an elevator
Nine nibbling nooblicants nibbling gnats, nine in a nib
Ten too-too’s, two tone, two-ton transcontinentals traveling to Tuscon and back
Eleven emaciated immigrants eating edible edibles east of Ed’s eatery
Twelve twisted twins twisting and twiddling twigs twice at twilight
The ascent was gradual until the last tenth where it was a bit of a climb (lunging up large rocks). The summit was just magnificent. The sky was blessedly blue (which has not always been the case for me in the White Mountains, more here) and the mountains and hills were rolling. It was also quite windy and cold at the top, and although I was sweating on the way up, I ended up losing feeling in my fingers (thanks for nothing Raynaud’s!) while we were parked at the top. Adults and children were enjoying the view alike (which is to say that if you have a fit family, this is one of the more suitable 4,000 foot trails to enjoy together!).
Descending the mountain was naturally much easier (aside from the slow shuffle down from the large rocks near the top). The excitement for the hike also began to wane at this point. We encountered way more bugs coming down than we had going up (perhaps, this was because it was later in the day by this point). One person wore a net and others coated themselves with insect repellent. Even though the overwhelming majority of my body was covered, I still received a few bug bites (ugh). Also, at some point, we witnessed two long-legged, wingy insects engaging in what seemed to be sexual intercourse atop a large leaf — at least if they are having sex that means that they are not actively biting people! So, that’s a good, I guess.
It was a long day, but a good hike. Honestly, unless you love, love, LOVE hiking, it’s probably not worth it to come to the White Mountains from Boston in one day in anything less than beautiful conditions (and I was lucky 🙂 ).