ALPINE TREK ALONG THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.  (JUDE 1:24-25)

appalachiantrail-hiking-presidentialrange

Alpine  Trek   Along   the Appalachian Trail

James J. S. Johnson

 [from a New Hampshire hike in August AD1997, composed 9-17-AD1997]

  I.  DAY ONE

An epic, this is, of a venture begun

Of a hike, that was, by a father and son,

In greenest New Hampshire, to hike for three days

The Appalachian Trail, in rain or sun-rays.

Equipped for hiking, with water and snacks

Two guys prepared to tote their backpacks

Pausing by the trailhead — for goodbyes and prayer

Hearing wifely concerns — and motherly care

From near Crawford Depot; it’s too late to veto …

This is the time, the moment of truth

We’ll hike three days, as father and youth,

Through trees and tundra, — hot, warm, and chilling

And finish at Pinkham, if God be willing …

This was the plan — of the boy and the man

Time to be strong — to endure high and long;

A time to hike on — to be tough as a team,

A time to grow up — to incarnate a dream.

Upward and onward, and into the green

In instants the trailhead is no longer seen;

‘Twas now or never, hike up to the hut,

Mizpah was aimed for, no “if”, “and”, or “but”.

Crawford Path climbed up, up, – and rocks replaced dirt,

Footwork was critical, each step threatened hurt;

Other perils, latent, would also appear,

Such as the crossroads, some far, some near;

A wrong turn at this point — could spell out great loss,

Even if corrected, — ‘twould be at great cost;

Hardwoods, so plentiful, — so thick it’s half-dark,

Sun-rays, by filtering, — flicker on the tree-bark;

This world of green, through which the path’s cut,

Where will it end?  where is Mizpah Hut?

Each turn in the trail, has maples and birch,

With myriad branches for songbirds to perch;

Myriad stepping-stones, — oft broken, jagged,

Multiple resting-stops, — when feeling ragged;

Some rocks are striated, others are wrinkled,

Sky clouds are darkening, then it soon sprinkled …

Enough to wear ponchos?  Now hard it rains —

The rocky path flushes, as rain-flow it drains,

The path being steep, now washed as rains run,

A cascade-like stream, it now has become;

So up through the mud, as our legs wane weak,

The foot-path floods o’er, as it’s now a creek;

Beech, oak, and cherry, — drink in the rain,

As we two stumble and climb up again;

The trail is a run-off ditch, — step and beware!

Don’t slide, slip, or stumble, now, — climb on with care!

Despite our rain-ponchos, with which we are cloaked,

Rain-sponged our backpacks hang, as we trudge on soaked …

The rain became drizzle, and drizzle to mere drops,

Chartreuse forest glistening, as for now, the rain stops;

But then, it sprinkles, then pours down more rain,

And soon, cascading, it’s “ponchos on” again;

There’s no point in stopping, except for a rest,

So onward and upward, just give it your best —

As rainfall washes us, — it’s soaking our stuff,

We keep on, trusting God, — to make us be tough …

But, wait, here come hikers —

From where we now aim,

Let’s ask them how far —

To wherefrom they came …

 “You are just about through

About one mile or two —

And, as you go, do enjoy the view!

Be sure, as you go, to enjoy the view!”

 Though the hikers oft said “one or two” —

(And we made sure we enjoyed each view)

The miles seemed like more

I think — three or four.

At last, it’s stopped raining, — the steepness is less,

The trail’s switching back now, — it turns here, I guess!

The trail still is muddy, — step and beware!

Don’t slide, slip, or stumble, — canter with care!

The forest then opes, to a window-like clearing,

Is that our first hut, that we see (and are nearing)?

A light-hued roof, on rocks built with wood,

Mizpah Spring Hut! — how timely and good!

Smiling, — in a “milestone” mood,

Checked in, — for some rest and food;

Relief at last! — off to our bunk-room,

But then, aghast, — breathed we the funk-fume!

I climbed up to my bunk, atop layer three,

I switched on my flashlight, so that I could see;

Then pillow-placed my backpack, — tonight it must suffice,

Tomorrow ’twill be here soon, — with trees and rocks of gneiss;

Our rain-soaked clothing, below was hung

From makeshift clothesline, on hook and rung;

Some were snoring, — others shivered and coughed,

Body odors, — hovering, wafted aloft …

No cleansing breeze or ‘lectric lights,

Co-lodging as if troglodytes

(Should we sleep out — on bryophytes?

Beneath the stars — our acolytes?)

A dozen hikers, they and we —

Assigned to bunk-beds, layered three,

In our bunks — dark, damp, and dank,

We unbathed suitemates slept and stank.

mizpahspringhut-goodearl-photo

II. DAY TWO

Voices, voices, coming down the hall —

Singing, singing, as a wake-up call;

“You’re so bright, you coulda been a candle …”

(I’m climbing down, if I could find a handle …)

Time to wake up, pack all gear,

‘Twill soon be time, to leave from here;

Lace up those boots, after donning new thick socks

Foot-care is key, to challenge those gray rocks;

So, onto our breakfast, — served at crowded tables,

Then re-yoke our backpacks, — tied with bungee-cables;

How ’bout that breakfast, and coffee-like beverage?

(When did I last eat — <uh!> — something so average?)

How can backpacks gain weight o’ernight?

There’s no retreat, so scale the height —

So, are we, again, ready, — to ascend montane trails?

To stair-step bumpy boulders — which foliage-blanket veils?

Let’s stop, right here — my lungs need air,

Okay, let’s go, — on as a pair;

Onward, upward, using hands and feet, — yet always with due care,

The pathway twists and turns — a labyrinthine stair;

So, up the twisted staircase — yes, it’s hiking time,

As boreal forest’s summer — turns subalpine clime;

While red spruce branches brush us, and also balsam firs,

The forest has awakened, a squirrel looks and stirs …

Tree-limbs brush us on each side,

Each step gravity defied;

A twisted staircase, — gray weathered rocks,

Some broken, some smooth, — some chunky blocks;

Notice how the broadleafs have thinned,

Now it’s moss, conifers, and wind;

Is this now the Hudsonian zone?

The trial’s a mix of pine and stone;

A plateau opening — and what a view!

A valley vista — of emerald hue;

On this table-top of rock, we see our first rock cairn,

‘Twill be a welcome sight hereon, for me and my sole bairn…

O’er peaks and vales the sun does shine

Our second milestone:  timberline!

Let’s sit a moment, — my breathing’s fierce!

Almost we’ve made it, — to Mount Pierce …

On the winding path we two grope,

Oft scratchèd by scrub spruce;

Pressing, curving, o’er montane slope

On stepping-stones oft loose;

Oh, Lord, please guard our ankles, now,

This is no place for harm;

The piney path weaves in and out,

Throughout heath cover charm …

Through clearings leads the path, — the evergreens grow low,

Mountain-slopes the horizon spans, — pierced by a flying crow;

Crowberry and black spruce carpet, — like needly mats appear,

Snowberry and lingonberry, — like garden crops grow here …

This White Mountain panorama,

Our Creator’s art and drama —

Let’s rest awhile, — refresh our souls,

It’s breezy here, — in this krummholz ….

See those birds, sooty-hued, with furry necks like snow?

Stark black eyes, eyeing us, as if we were for show?

Canadian jays, perching so still, — watch us from firs of balsam,

I watch amazed, such alpine birds, — I must say they are awesome.

God’s own fingerwork lives here —  His Creatorship us astounds,

Throughout this ecology, —  with His artistry He surrounds;

Thank You, God, for this summer trek, — here at timberline,

(Of course, You know all this place, — even at winter-time !)

Look, the path descends — to my strained lungs’ relief,

Although, when it does, — ’twill only be so brief;

For descent now means “up” later,

In this montane “elevator”;

And up-down we go — dragging our frames,

As if we were playing — elevation games;

At four-thousand now, — one-thousand more later,

We seem stuck on “up” — in this elevator!

Don’t you feel tired, — you ready to eat?

I’m ready for snacks, — to get off my feet!

Let’s get past this curve, and rest on that boulder,

I’ll don another shirt, for I’m getting colder;

So, close to timberline, — at a bit past midday,

We stopped for lunch, — had we yet gone half-way?

Time for water and food bars, —  what else did we bring?

Time to change socks and rest some, —  and photo something …

But, wait, here come hikers —

From where we now aim,

Let’s ask them how far —

To wherefrom they came …

“You are just about through

About one mile or two —

And, as you go, do enjoy the view!

Be sure, as you go, to enjoy the view!”

Though the hikers oft said “one or two” —

(And we made sure we enjoyed each view)

The miles seemed like more

I think — three or four.

On felsenmeer, a sea of cracked stone,

We curved along the montane “backbone”;

So, on and up, — trudged on we two,

Along the path’s gravelly queue;

As beyond stretched the ridgeline footpath, markèd by each cairn,

We two trekked the alpine tundra, father and his bairn —

Sphagnum moss and dwarf shrubs, — patched in tundra-quilt,

Sedges, heaths, and lichens, — mixed with rocks rough-built;

Tracing the Presidential Ridge,

Trudging to Eisenhower’s mount;

Rocks form a meandering bridge,

More footsteps than any would count;

Find that next rock-cairn, that’s where the Crawford Path swerves,

It zigzags some crags, — then by Eisenhower it curves;

From switch-backs to ditch-cracks, — hike on!

From each rock-tier to felsenmeer, — hike on!

Throughout krummholz and stone atolls, — hike on!

Past ecotone edges and tundra sedges, — hike on!

By alpine-mead grasses and mica-rock masses — hike on!

Follow that rock-cairn, — keep hiking, my bairn!

And then, — a cairn, as if a pyramid-tower

We’re here, — atop, wind-blown on Mount Eisenhower!

Forty-seven sixty-one — is its elevation,

Swivel-view the mountainside, — what a great creation!

Trail dust and wind-gusts blow us, forward from there,

Remembering high Trail winds, we must take care;

The vertebral ridgeline winds on and on still,

This curving backbone’s like an ongoing hill …

Lo, the trail divides the grass alpine,

Bordering flagged krummholz timberline;

The trail changes, — here thin, there wide,

The rock-cairns aid, — a sure trail-guide.

Look!  That lichen-“painted” rock!

Flaked crumbly and sulphur-hued,

Parked, as if in bayside dock,

A winged one seeking its food …

Winged in pastel blues and ashen blacks

Camouflaged almost, by craggy cracks —

Rare wingèd one — blue, black, and spry,

It’s a White Mountain butterfly!

While hiking for leisure,

Who’d seek such treasure?

For such winged ones only live here,

In these mounts that shine like a mirror …

So-long, sporadic shrubs of spruce, (I think black spruce dwarfs)

The mica-laden rocks shine out, — mirroring sun like quartz;

Near sedges, grasses, and rushes, — a quilt of tundra covering,

Edgèd by sphagnum moss-mats, — while Oeneis flits by, hovering …

Franklin now crowns the horizon, a jut,

Who knows when we’ll reach the next hiker’s hut?!

The “topo” map shows it, — but when? — and how soon?

Perhaps we’ll arrive there, in the mid-afternoon …

But, wait, here come hikers —

From where we now aim,

Let’s ask them how far —

To wherefrom they came …

 “You are just about through

About one mile or two —

And, as you go, do enjoy the view!

Be sure, as you go, to enjoy the view!”

 Though the hikers oft said “one or two” —

(And we made sure we enjoyed each view)

The miles seemed like more

I think — three or four.

Passing alpine flora, and tundra lichen,

glancing peripherally, — keep on hikin’!

Crawford Path does curve and ramble,

We follow, onward, and amble …

The map guides us right, as we near Monroe’s peak,

‘Tis five-thousand high, so detour-cairns we seek,

There the cairns are, — convoluting down,

(Comfort it is, — when such cairns are found!)

The rock path meanders, to right and to left,

The trail cuts through mica, in boulders now cleft;

A warning sign says, “the tundra … don’t trample!”

We’re on the right track ( — how ’bout a rock sample?)

Let’s see the “topo” map, — where’s “Lakes of the Clouds”?

We’re curving ’round Monroe, — near cumulus shrouds;

Just beyond the bend, — down, where the trail’s cut,

It’s Lakes of the Clouds, — our next hiker’s hut!

In a jog-canter, — off went one revived lad!

So I called, “Hey, wait!” — (but he left behind Dad),

There the light-hued hut waited, — on Mount Washington’s slope,

It’s crude hospitality, — matched our need (and my hope) …

Air those feet out, — so, off with those shoes!

Eat food, no doubt! — then, lie down to snooze;

See th’alpine sunset, — through the glass window pane,

‘Twill soon be day three, — time to hike out again …

presidentialrange-going-uphill

III.  DAY THREE

To woodwind’s tune, we awoke in the morn,

Showerless still, wearing what we had worn;

At least the wind-gusts, blow here with clean verve,

I glanced out the door, to see our trail’s curve …

In order for us to keep up — our own vim, vigor, and verve,

We ate the hut-served breakfast (or as much as we had nerve!);

My son (and others) would discover, — hours later down the trail,

That something served as food, — deserved the garbage-pail!

We began on the path to Bigelow, not knowing ’twas off-track,

A few hundred feet higher we learned this, and so we turnèd back;

Curving east along Davis Path, — we climbed to its high mound,

Hop-scotching felsenmeer and stones, — we rested on tundra ground;

Still arcing east toward Boott Spur, we trudged by rocks and mats,

The winds blew fiercely, near freezing, and we secured our hats;

Fifty-five hundred feet high, — Boott Spur was cumulus-banded,

Blended lichen and boulders, — it was stark (to be quite candid);

Lo, the “topo” map had news — (not abstract, but “concrete”),

The trail would soon be dropping — thirty-two hundred feet!

My lungs dubbed this as good news, — but what about my legs?

Steep drops o’er this felsenmeer — could be like hikin’ eggs!

The winds were cold, so we wore ponchos,– as we climbèd down,

The footing was scarce, and quite perilous, — often not so sound;

Miles away from normal help, — a false step would be rued,

Praying for the Lord’s watch-care, — quoting a verse from Jude!

Comforting cairns and then a sign, — we’re rightly headed east,

When we get to Pinkham, D.v., — we’re going to have a feast!

But it’s still morn, with hours to go, — keep your concentration,

It’s felsenmeer, furlongs below, — watch that elevation!

There’re miles yet below us,  — I can’t see the road,

We’re above the clouds still, — I sure feel my load …

Whene’er we arrive, — I’m going to weigh this backpack,

(Assuming we live!) — it’s heavy, but I can’t back-track!

Hey, look north, — see that snow-drift o’er there?

It’s August, — but these mountains don’t care …

It’s krummholz again, see the wind-blown “flags”?

Stunted black spruce, — shrubs shielded in crags?

We’re slowly descending, one step at a time,

Were this some months later, we might be all rime!

It’s hard to imagine, how cold it is now,

In August we’re shivering, near freezing (and how!)

We rest at a large cairn, — as if some memorial,

And glancing, I notice, — alpine is now boreal;

As our elevation — drops step by step,

The biome transition — bolsters our pep …

For our slow descent — through vegetation zones,

Continues to prove — we are “conquering” stones;

We now see green pines, birches, balsam firs, and spruce,

As we focus our footwork — on rocks often loose …

Boott Spur Trail, below treeline meanders wildly,

By contrast, its tundra trail wove only mildly;

When the trail seemed to dissolve, ’twas time to pray,

We’d find a blaze-mark, or a cairn in the way …

Down went the dirt-path, steeply through the thick trees,

So, sometimes branch-holding provided us some ease;

The trail still was rocky, to the very end,

But through tree-branch-holding, each tree was a “friend” …

We were taking our breaks, for rest in the way,

Quite tired, we decided, to eat at mid-day;

We drank our dear water, eating food bars galore,

Our strength somewhat returned, though our muscles were sore …

But, wait, here come hikers —

From where we now aim,

Let’s ask them how far —

To wherefrom they came …

 “You are just about through

About one mile or two —

And, as you go, do enjoy the view!

Be sure, as you go, to enjoy the view!”

Though the hikers oft said “one or two” —

(And we made sure we enjoyed each view)

The miles seemed like more

I think — three or four.

As you (and we) guessed, as we went, in descent,

The hours passed slowly, yet we went, Pinkham-bent!

Though our legs were weary, and threatened to cramp,

There was no safe refuge, in this forest damp …

Just to excite us — (or me, at least),

A squirr’l would startle — (whew! a wee beast!)

Meanwhile, balsam fir blended with spruces,

Then they mixed with hardwoods (oh, what phûsis!)

After some rest-stops, on some felled forest timber,

We knew we must hike, ere we might cease to be limber;

Our goal — Pinkham Notch, — so stumble on we did,

Somewhere’s the trailhead, but for then it was hid …

This meandering path, — somewhere it converges,

With Tuckerman Ravine, — then soon it emerges?

What is that sound, — a water-fall, is it?

Crystal Cascade, — shouldn’t we go visit?

The path is so wide, we must be so close now, —

I’m hobbling as fast  as my legs will allow!

My feet want to rest, — my legs want to cramp,

But, no, here we are, — at Pinkham Notch Camp!

And so, God be thanked, — we checked in for the night,

And ‘phoned “we’re here, safe!” (’cause God gave us both might);

Our stuff secured (in our odorous suite), it was time for dinner!

For our God (by His great providence), made us each a winner.

krummholz.AppalachianTrail.jpg

IV.  QUEST QUESTION & GRATITUDE

I wonder, how much of this life, — is like that alpine tourney?

And, can we walk by faith with God — enjoying now the journey?

So, I thank Him — “Him that is able to keep you from falling …”

my Lord Jesus Christ, thanks for walking with us!

One day, due to Your grace, we’ll walk into Your presence with joy!

><> JJSJ

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.  (JUDE 1:24-25)

Lakes-of-the-Clouds-Hut.rock-cairn.jpg

3 Comments

  1. I didn’t know you were a hiker. I got a hip replacement about a year ago. I wonder if I could do some hiking as you are doing. I have a son too. I only read your first day. Do you write after each day? Do you write anything as you are walking–that would be pretty hard. I suppose you enjoy walking. Do you take pictures along the way? Sounds like fun!

  2. Yes, I took notes each day, whenever I saw (or otherwise experienced, e.g., weather changes — it gets cooler as altitude increases), plus I took photographs along the way, in order to remember the highlights of the trek. In the days after the hike I compared the hand-written notes to the photographs, plus re-checked a few photographs against guide-books (on trees, birds, butterflies, whatever), and then I composed the poem. Some aspects of the adventure (e.g., how stinky the first hikers’ hut was, and how strong some of the winds were above tree-line) I did not need notes to recall! And we did stop, on Day #2, to read and discuss Jude 1:24-25.

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