Cameron Shook

A Short Trip in the North Woods

Cameron Shook
A Short Trip in the North Woods

“Never meet your heroes”, I whispered to myself as I continued to drive north on I93, past Concord New Hampshire towards the White Mountains. Earlier in the day, one life goal had been achieved (to have a large, swarthy man who spoke no English make me a sandwich: the Royal House of Roast Beef comes highly recommended) and now I was on my way to a second, a trip through the Presidential Range. After reading about the North Woods since I was a child, I only hoped I wouldn’t be disappointed.

The Presidential Range of the White Mountains is home to some of the most incredible rock climbing and mountaineering on the east coast. Rumney is home to some of the best trad climbing east of the Mississippi and Mount Washington holds the distinction of having some of the worst weather anywhere in the world. Until 2010, it held the record for the highest recorded wind speed anywhere on Earth at 231 miles per hour; so often does the wind reach extremely high speeds, the weather observatory on top of the mountain has what they call the “100 Mile Club”, who’s members are inducted when they are able to walk around the outside deck unassisted when the wind speed is 100+ mph. Dad and I have long talked about trying to climb Mount Washington in the winter and we’ve never been able to make a go of it.

This wasn’t my dream trip to see them though; I was trying to make the most out of the only afternoon I had free on a business trip. I flew in to Boston on Sunday morning for 5 days of training which would run from Monday through Friday. By 2pm I had eaten my Royal Roast Beef sandwich and dropped off my bags at the hotel, and braving the madness of Boston traffic again after leaving it so soon seemed like an even deeper madness. Instead I looked at the map and did some quick calculations to find that Mount Washington was only several hours drive away so I jumped in the car and started north.

For a simple southern boy used to 2 lane roads, Massachusetts traffic is probably the most frustrating thing I’ve ever experienced; no wonder road rage is a thing up there. The easiest way to make other drivers leave you alone though is to use your turn signal; it’s a foreign concept to them and frightens them off your bumper. Merge lanes don’t work the same up there. Instead of you accelerating and moving over as soon as there is an empty spot, instead they drive below the speed limit to the very end of the lane and then swerve in regardless of anything that’s occupying that space. I don’t mean to complain, but to warn you in case you decide to take a similar journey.

The first 2 hours of driving was about as boring as 2 hours of driving down 77 towards Columbia: nothing very interesting to see at all. Once I passed Concord (pronounced “Con-Kerd” by the locals) it finally started becoming more mountainous and the birch trees that I associate with emergency kindling from a childhood spent ready Jack London novels started filling the landscape. Moose Crossing signs became a common sight even though the moose I was warned about decided to disappoint me and never show up. Finally though, I93 approached Cannon Mountain and the hours of driving were suddenly worth it.

Unlike the mountains of the south which were formed by geologic forces and erosion, the White Mountains were carved out of the earth by glaciers and the view is achingly beautiful. Almost as if a giant hand scooped the middle out of a mountain and created a giant valley with huge exposed canyon walls. That’s the sight that came into the distance as I approached Cannon Mountain and the Flume Gorge, and I realized that New Hampshire is really just a mini Alaska. It looked like pictures that I’ve seen of the Kenai Peninsula, just…smaller. Thank God it was smaller too, because if it was any bigger I probably would have wrecked the car because I was already swerving side to side as I tried to take it all in. Once I drove through to the other side, I pulled over at the Echo Lake section of Franconia Notch State Park which was the 2nd most touristy place I pulled in to that day. If looking on the back of the New Hampshire State quarter made you think, “Man! I really want to go see this smudgy outline on the side of a mountain that looks like a dude’s face” that’s the place to go. Since the Old Man crumbled due to erosion they now have an alternative viewing experience to try and recreate the view; either it doesn’t do the original justice or it really wasn’t that impressive. The lake beneath it though, complete with several fly fisherman, was worth the short hike.

By this time, it was 4:30pm and with tall mountains to the west of me it was going to start getting dark soon. I back tracked to the small ski town of Lincoln and then cut down highway 112 which cuts through the heart of the White Mountain National Forest and follows several rivers that are filled with white granite rocks and crystal clear water. Even the bogs looked beautiful, except they were missing moose, and the forests were filled with the gleaming white birch trees covered with green foliage. I even saw a baby porcupine, but thankfully I was alone and my manliness was not called into question after the high pitched squeal I let out.

I made it the rest of the way to the base of Mount Washington after passing through the Gatlinburg of New Hampshire, North Conway. (Santa Land in Cherokee has nothing on Story Land; creepiest children’s themed park definitely goes to Story Land.) Those high winds that gave it the world record also have scrubbed every bit of vegetation off of Mount Washington so it is the bleakest mountain I’ve ever seen on the east coast. I wish I had been able to take the road up to the summit, but the road closed at 5 and I didn’t get there till 5:30 but that’s okay; I sat in the parking lot and called my dad letting him know that  we needed to come back soon. 

With everything on my list taken care of and the sun going down, I jumped back in the car and drove back to the hotel, not getting in until after 10pm for a total of 8 hours on the road and almost 400 miles under the tires. I have the tendency to not do something unless it’s big and well planned but it’s funny that even 8 hours in a car by myself can be an amazing experience. So open a map, fill the car with some gas, and go find something incredible.

 At this juncture, I would ask that if you would like photos showing all of the things I’m talking about to please just Google these places. I only had a horrible cell phone with me and it would only do a disservice to what it actually looks like; there was no room for camera gear in my luggage.

 

Amish in the sense that, at one point, my family helped others raise barns.
Now I build websites to help others build their businesses.