A quick stop at the port-a-pottie and a weather driven debate about which trails we'd try, and we were off at around 1pm. We saved the summit of Cardigan and Firescrew for the next day when the sun was supposed to come out, and did a 7 mile loop through a lot of boggy terrain, and over some rocky lower peaks. The guys tended to go first, as I was stepping carefully and using my hiking poles, so I'd learn where I shouldn't step. :) There was one stream crossing that presented two logs, one lower and one at about waist level. Forest was able to balance across the lower one, jump up over the higher one and make the bank okay, but I lost my balance as I started out and barely made it back to the bank. Cris and I moved up the stream a bit and crossed at a ford instead, but he slipped off of a rock and dunked his boots. I was able to make it across mostly dry though. Later on, Forest blithely stepped on what looked like solid soil and sank into mud up to his ankles. It was stinky mud too, with lots of stuff decaying in it. Luckily another fresh stream appeared soon after and that cleaned off his boot at least. The trails were pretty deserted, we ran into a small group clearing brush from the trails, and possibly another group of hikers that hit the same spot as we got there, though they were holding hand saws as well. They commented that we were muddy too and they knew what was in store for them. I think we saw one other couple, and that was it. We were actually worried when we heard the first sounds from the brushing crew, looking for large animals in the rustling bushes. The weather was perfect for hiking, a bit cool but we warmed up enough to hike in light shirts, and misty. The grey overcast was a bit depressing, but the forest was gorgeous enough to make up for it, lots and lots and lots of moss and lichen and mushrooms. We passed by a large beaver pond and saw dead trees standing in the water, and spotted the lodge at the other end of the pond. The trails were pretty easy to follow, a bit overgrown around the beaver pond, but well blazed except where a stretch had been logged. I took a lot of care walking through those areas, there were lots of branches and trunks left half buried. We saw quite a few orange lizards slowly crawling off the trail. We eventually got up neat the peak of Orange/Gilman mountain and onto more rock. Some was a bit slippery, but none of us slid more than a few inches. The clouds were really low though, we had to refer to the compasses a few times to figure out where Mt. Cardigan was supposed to be. We took a pretty direct route back after looping south and west on the way out, and got back to the camp site at around 5pm or so. Sunset was supposed to be 7:30, but with the overcast, trees and mountains, I didn't want to push it (despite carrying headlamps - the 10 essentials list in the port a potty was required reading ;) ).
The rain had held off all during the hike but it was starting to come down a bit once we got back to camp. I got a fire going before it got too heavy, or dark, and lit the candle lantern so we'd have a bit of light at the picnic table. I got two pots of water heating on the campfire grill and went off to the port a potty while it boiled (we should have waited to get coals, but we were impatient). Once they boiled, I popped boil in a bag rice packets into them, and 10 minutes later, we had dinner. I'd also picked up some seasoned fish pouches (tuna, albacore and salmon, with the mango chipotle salmon being my first choice) and we stirred those into the rice. Cris made up foil packets of cut up potatoes, onions, garlic and bit of Forest's bacon for the grease (I had put olive oil on my mental packing list, but it never made it into the food box), and those were ready to come out of the coals as we were done with the fish and rice, so we just portioned them out into the same bowls. Cris and Forest had some tea, but I stuck with water. We cleaned up and sat and talked for a bit, but the rain was getting a bit heavier, it was Dark, and we were Tired. We were probably asleep by around 9pm, or, well, I was lying down and staring at the tent ceiling. Insomnia hit me hard, I felt like I only slept a little bit (time for one dream) all night. But I'm very lucky when I get insomnia, it's usually only for one night and my body just doesn't need the sleep, so I was okay in the morning.
I'd been stretching and massaging my legs, but my knee was still very sore (knots in my calf and thigh pulling it out of alignment), so I had to nix the plan to go up the Holt trail (most challenging in New England!) and we went up Mount Cardigan via the Cathedral and Clark trails. They were still pretty challenging, especially near the top where all the trail descriptions included "scramble over marked ledges". At least it was drier, which was very good, as there were quite a few places where we were going up or down bare rock slabs. I still inched down on my butt in a few places though. More people on the trail today, we passed a group of 10 young girls with their chaperones fairly soon after setting out, when they stopped for a snack, and never saw them again, even though I was going very slowly. If I didn't bend my knee at all, swinging my leg from my hip, I was fine, but straightening the knee after taking a step sent a stab of pain up my leg each time. But I got used to it, and only had to stop and catch my breath from the pain when I'd stub that foot against a root or rock. Going up was much easier than heading back and having to step down constantly. The weather was a delight, I was hiking in shirtsleeves and only sweating when we were climbing a steep section. We came out to an overlook and it was a revelation to see what the geography of the area looked like after just seeing white from the top of Orange yesterday. While I rested, ate a Clif bar, and took in the view, the guys took a short detour to check out the High Cabin and I think plans will be made to rent that out sometime with a group. I had to put light long sleeved shirt on when we got to the top, the wind was fierce. I was impressed with my Tilley hat though, it stayed firmly on my head. The last bit to get to the peak was pretty steep, all over rock slabs, following painted slashes on the ground and cairns of rock. I tried to get a picture of Forest and Cris climbing above me on a huge open expanse of rock, but didn't get my camera out in time to use them as scale comparisons. At one point, Forest was in the lead and spotted a garter snake. Luckily it went back into the bushes on the side of the trail before I got there (I'm terrified of snakes), but he made the mistake of saying that it was lying in wait for me. I retaliated by reminding him of the huge spider that was on the tent screen by his head that morning. We're both scared of spiders, so that sort of backfired (and was mean).
The view from the top of Cardigan was great, though we stayed in the shelter of the fire tower since the wind was cooling us off fairly quickly. We could see down the mountain, a line of cairns marking the path over the huge slabs of rock, though I didn't go and check to see just how steep the Holt trail was. I managed to drop my camera on the rock and take a bite out of the lens frame but it seemed to work okay afterward. Quite a few people were hanging out on the peak, and we met some more coming up as we made our way over to the Firescrew peak (loved the scrubby trees along that section, though it was steeper than the map implied, there's a lot that can happen between 100 foot contour lines). We stopped at Firescrew to have sandwiches and gird our loins for the descent. We had a short debate about which way to go down, it was 12:30 or so, and we had the time to do the gentler 4 mile descent, but the Manning Trail was only 2 miles and would probably avoid boggy sections. I decided that I could handle the Manning, as the sooner I could stop walking, the sooner my knee could start recovering. Forest was kind enough to let me mooch ibuprofen pills off him as needed, I stupidly left my pills in my purse in the car trunk. We met an older guy coming up as we were heading down off the peak, he had two spaniels with him, one that was very friendly and the other that was shy (aka barking at us from 50 feet away). We also met another guy with an excited lab that accelerated when Forest crouched down to meet the advancing dog :) The dogs were well behaved though, and left me alone. I realised after meeting the second one that I hadn't taken my allergy pill that morning, and didn't need to. The air was wonderfully clear. The descent down Manning reminded me a lot of the Liberty Springs trail from last year, lots of rocks forming steps. We met a group of two men and a boy with their shirts off, and a woman wearing a tank top, who asked us when it would flatten out. I think Forest told them if they went up over the mountain and down the other side, it would be flat. We always seem to encounter people who are under prepared, so I felt a bit better about having my big pack with my 10 essentials. :) I actually finished my camelbak full of water (about 2L) before getting to camp, but we were close enough I didn't have to fill up from the 1L bottle I was also carrying. The Clif bars were great though, I kept getting hungry, about once an hour, and would remember to eat before it got too bad. We finally made it down into the trees, the guys ranging ahead and then waiting for me to catch up, and they reassured me that it was pretty steep and tiring, it wasn't just me. We had missed one of the side trails that we were using as a 2/3 of the way done marker, and came upon the first of the camp sites unexpectedly. I felt very proud of myself for making it up to the peak and back down again, that morning I wasn't sure if I could even walk a mile on the flat.
I set up the little spirit stove and put a pot of my home made pea soup on
to warm up, and went to get a wheelbarrow to aid us in packing up. Forest
and I struck the tents (gah, mine was infested with daddy long legs) and
got them packed up as Cris tended the soup. We ate, cleaned up, did a last
sweep of the site and headed out on the trail to the parking lot. Got the
car loaded up, saw two motorcycles parked next to us with riding boots on
the foot rest/running boards, did one last bit of stretching and we were
off. We kept the car windows open most of the way home to enjoy the fresh
air. We stopped at an apple orchard stand and I got a half peck of apples,
and Cris and I both got slices of home made apple pie. It was delicious,
though a bit heavy on the mace I think. Cris went through a Dunkin Donuts
drive through to get coffee to sustain him through the drive (we were all
pretty tired), and we had pretty clear sailing down 93. We stopped briefly
at the NH liquor store (more gin for my birthday party, and Forest got
himself some nice tequila for his birthday - Cris's birthday had just
passed, but he got some nice rum anyway :) - if we do this again next
year, it'll be called the birthdays camping trip). Mem drive was closed to
traffic, but a quick loop around and we dropped off Forest, and then
headed home. Stopped at the grocery store, and Cris continued the cooking
with fire them and grilled swordfish kebabs for dinner. I unpacked and put
away everything that didn't need to get cleaned (the tents were dry once
we got back to the site, but I unfolded the ground sheet to dry in the
basement), and put stuff that needed to be cleaned in to-clean piles. I
could barely stay awake to eat dinner, and went to bed at 10pm.