How does one accidentally hike a 4,000 footer you may ask? Well, you’ve never met me and Maverick then.
So my schedule has stayed crazy busy between my jobs and online classes lately and I’ve been suffering the consequences of not being able to get outside. So you have to make-do with what you’re given. For me, that meant when we had an early release this past Thursday I already had my hiking pack ready to go with our stuff the night before and a plan in place so I could bust ass to get home, grab Maverick, and head up to the mountains. I had never done a sunset hike before and I was excited to try it, but per my mother’s urging (and my own caution, I know…shocking to find out but I do indeed have it) I planned to do a short, easy hike for our first sunset. I had never hiked by headlamp before and didn’t want to bite off more than I could chew.
So at 3:15, we arrived at Lafayette Place Campground in Franconia Notch and set off up Lonesome Lake Trail. I’ve heard great things about this trail up to an AMC hut right on a gorgeous lake nestled in the White Mountains but I had never actually done it before. Being so late in the day, we had the trail to ourselves until just before the hut, where we ran into an outing club group of some sort with kids no older than 10 all sitting next to packs bigger than they were journaling about their hike so far. It was great to see young people getting out and getting educated by the woods. And then, around 4, we had already reached Lonesome Lake. The sun was still high in the sky, it had only taken us 45 minutes, and we were far from tired. So it seemed like a simple decision to say let’s head on.
We continued up Lonesome Lake Trail, passing by the hardworking crew members from AMC who were out building steps. These ended up being the last people I would see on the hike, and they enjoyed the reprieve from work by throwing a stick for Maverick. By the time we reached the junction with the Kinsman Ridge Trail, I had to take off my long sleeve because I was sweating so much but was also steaming in the cool fall air. Maverick was still a bundle of energy as we turned for the final ascent up Cannon, which was far steeper than any ridge trail I had encountered so far. While it was fun to climb the boulders and steep rock up that last bit, I have to say I was a bit worried at times for Maverick. I guess that comes with being a “mother”, not being able to have control over if he’ll slip or not. But just like always, he did amazing. It’s funny how I somehow managed to get a dog just like myself. Almost as if he relishes a challenge and it’s fun to watch him try different ways or think through how best to get over new obstacles. But also whines about it the whole time. I guess we really are so similar.
When we finally did summit, we got to see hints of a sunset beneath the cloud coverage. The foliage hadn’t really popped yet, but we got to enjoy the fading light all to ourselves. I’m not sure if Maverick fully gets the accomplishment of summiting peaks like humans do, but he understands my enthusiasm. So if anyone was around to see us reach the observation platform on Cannon, we probably would have looked crazy, running in circles and bouncing and playing. It’s one of those rare times when you feel completely and totally alive and free. I guess that’s why I hike. For that feeling. To share that with my dog.
As we started down, I made the decision to take Hi-Cannon Trail back down instead of retracing our steps. While the ascent wasn’t too too bad, I was worried about how Maverick would do descending some parts of the Kinsman Ridge Trail. I thought we might as well try the Hi-Cannon Trail, as the AMC guidebook seemed to talk of both trails being difficult it shouldn’t have been too different. For the first hour or so heading down, it was even better. Much more rock ledges than climbing down boulders and we made good time. Until we hit the ladders.
We’ve come across ladders before hiking, though they are normally just short ones against the rock and Maverick has a tendency to just bound up the cliff instead of taking the ladder. These, however, were not short. It was two back-to-back ladders to descend a very step cliff section. The ladders were so steep, there was no way I could carry Maverick down it and stay on the ladder without falling backwards. In case you haven’t noticed, he’s not exactly the size you can just tuck under your arm and go. It was too far of a drop for him to just jump. At this point, last light was only minutes away and we had already come down at least a mile of Hi-Cannon Trail. Our only options were to find a way down this, or to hike back up to the summit of Cannon then turn to go back down Kinsman Ridge Trail, this time in the dark when I hadn’t been comfortable trying it in the light. So I made the decision that we could do this. I backed my way part way down the ladder, and called Maverick to come. He didn’t want to put his paws on the rungs, and instead would keep getting his legs caught through them before backing his way to the edge of the cliff again, whining the whole time. After lots of back and forths, I got him down a couple rungs and perched with his front paws on an outcropping of the cliff next to us. Then I had to pick him up and tuck him between the rungs down to a little ledge of the rock face that was relatively flat right at the point where the two ladders met. Off to one side, it was about a seven-foot-drop down to a pretty level forest floor and I knew this would be his only option, he would have to make the jump. Of course, he had to cry about it at length before I finally had to give him a shove off the edge, landing and shaking himself off, then looking up at me as if I was the one causing all the issues. Of course, I scrambled down the way I had just pushed him, because if he had to do something scary so would I. As if it was all no big deal, Maverick led the way forward and I eagerly followed, ready to be back to the car after that ordeal.
We had about another hour or so left of hiking down, all of which was in the dark at that point. I’m used to being in the woods in the dark from all my hunting time with my dad, so I wasn’t really nervous at all like most people assume. There’s just a different feel. And I’m not exactly a fan of night hiking I found. I love the trail as much as the summit, so not being able to take in my surroundings was a bit sad for me. It just becomes more of a chore, make it down the mountain, than something exciting.
We finally reached my car around 7:40, where Maverick wasted absolutely no time in hopping in and passing out immediately. Will I say it was my favorite hike ever? No. Will I be doing another sunset hike alone any time soon? Probably not. But it definitely was an experience. And any experience in the woods with Maverick is a good one.
If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that you’ll never get an ideal moment. You can wait around all you want for perfect timing, but it won’t come. Nothing is ever going to be perfect. You just have to take what you’ve got and do your best to make something of it. For me, that means putting the focus of life on the bright spots, the things that make me happy. It means rushing home to drive two hours into the one place in the world that makes me feel completely whole with the one thing in the world that means the most. Have you found your place? Have you found your thing??