It was pouring rain here in coastal Massachusetts Sunday, and the forecast for Waterville Valley looked gloomy enough for me to start to regret my promise to hit the trails on Father’s Day no matter the weather. I was ready to hike but I was ready for a wet, miserable experience, too.
But then, miracle of miracles, the boy woke up on time — at 6 a.m. the day before the last day of school, no less — and declared himself ready to go. It was one of his three Father’s Day gifts to me: a wallet, a tie and a vow. I needed the wallet, the tie was snazzy but my favorite gift was the promise: To get up on time for hiking, not complain about how tired he was on the drive to the trailhead and not to whine during the first mile or so of hiking (after which he invariably wakes up and leaves me in the dust on his way to the summit).
So a little after 7 a.m. we were on our way to Mt. Tecumseh.
I had hoped to start my 48-summit attempt on Mt. Moosilauke but I want to save that peak for a sunny day, or at least one not as relentlessly gray as Sunday. Tecumseh’s 4,003 feet were just as close and offered no great summit views.
Tecumseh’s special to me, though, and it has nothing to do with the views. The shortest of New Hampshire’s tallest mountains gave me a hard kick in the pants last fall and part of me felt the need to set that right early on.
The short story:
I hiked a lot last summer, including a few 4,000-footers with the boy. After Labor Day, my fitness started to fade but my ego didn’t. When October rolled around, I took a crack at Tecumseh, figuring a short hike up a short mountain would be a walk in the park.
Everything that could have gone wrong that day did, all of it my fault:I ate too much bad food the night before, didn’t get enough sleep, had a doughnut for breakfast, got to the trailhead late, forgot my winter hat, spaced out and missed the first real stream crossing, didn’t fuel right early in the hike, waited too long to put on warmer clothes on a cold, rainy, windy day. And I totally underestimated the long, long uphill I read about in the AMC guide. The only smart move I made was to bail out about 80 percent of the way to the top and slosh down the ski trails.
It was a humbling experience, one I’ve come to be grateful for. It made me take my hiking preparation more seriously and respect whatever mountain or trail I’m on. More importantly, my failure on Tecumseh was one of the factors in my decision to climb the 48 this summer; the need to erase even a private embarassment can be powerful.
All this was going through my mind as we pulled into the ski area parking lot Sunday in a steady mist.
It’s 2.5 miles from the trailhead to Tecumseh’s summit, a short walk by most standards. The first mile is pretty easy, meandering back and forth across Tecumseh Brook a few times while not gaining much elevation. It was a nice warmup for the work ahead.
Most of the climbing is done in the second half, a steep, relentless pitch where you gain more than 1,000 feet in elevation in that one mile. There are no flat stretches to catch your breath, no views to remind you why you’re on the trail in the first place. For the average hiker, it’s just hard work, and I wasn’t up to it last fall.
Things went better this time. It was a slog, surely, but not overwhelming. A spring spent in the gym and on the trails made a big difference. With the boy in the lead, we made the link with the Sosman Trail around book time. This time, I remembered to put on another layer (it was still raining) before before heading the last 0.3 mile to the summit.
We didn’t linger — there were no views, especially in the rain. We took the Sosman Trail to the ski slopes and headed downhill, reaching the car in good time. The worst part of the hike this time was the ride home, down a wet, clogged Rte. 93. Still, it was a much more pleasant drive than the one after my last visit to Tecumseh.
After months of planning for and talking about my summer of hiking, it’s good to be moving.