wardsgirlParticipantOctober 16, 2005 at 1:34 amPost count: 14
Finally, a rainy weekend to finish this Flags on the 48 business!
My son, Ethan (aged 10), and I were planning to hike on the weekend of September 10-11. Ethan has only a few 4,000 footers left to climb before he will finish the 3-season White Mountain list. Those who know me know that I finished this list many years ago, summer and winter. I have been working on climbing the peaks again, since in my mid-life I was rewarded with my wonderful son who I groomed as a lifelong hiking partner by leaving Springer Mountain on an AT hike while 4 months pregnant. Fortunately, my plan worked! Ethan loves backpacking and hiking as much as I do. On Friday, September 9, I happened to look at a calendar and realized that Sunday was September 11. Remembering the “Flags on the 48” events of the years past, I looked online and found that only one peak remained unclaimed. Unbelievably, it was one of the peaks that Ethan had yet to climb. We quickly signed up and were welcomed as the peak coordinators for Whiteface, replacing the person who had to drop the peak at the last minute.
We drove north, reaching the Ferncroft Road parking lot in less than an hour. There was nobody else in sight, so we assumed that the Passaconaway contingency had already left, since they were planning to start their hike at 7:30. The clock struck 8:00 as we finished tying our boots. We were soon joined in the parking lot by Ranger Keith, wearing full USFS regalia. He asked if we were involved in the “Flags on the 48″ thing. We must have looked pretty sketchy to him, because after he found out that we were going to Whiteface, he decided to go to Whiteface as well. “I’m not saying that the American flag is litter, but I’m just going along to make sure nothing gets left behind,” Keith said.
Although we left the parking lot before him, Keith soon passed us as we made our way up the Blueberry Ledge Trail. I had not hiked this trail in summer for many years. I had forgotten how beautiful it was. An easy grade was carpeted in soft pine needles for most of the way to the steep ledges near the top. Last winter, Jay (my spousal equivalent, who sadly was not available to hike today) and I hiked the trail last winter, camping near the upper Tom Wiggin Trail junction. In my opinion, the Sandwich Range is the most underrated part of the WMNF. Lucky me, it is less than an hour from home.
About halfway up the trail, we were joined by Marty, who was on his way to Passaconaway. He kindly offered to carry our flag paraphernalia, but this was unnecessary. We were happy to see him in the Passaconaway album days later. When we reached the summit, Ranger Keith was talking with two dredlocked backpackers. Without a word, Ethan and I set up our flag. It would be of use for future “Flags on the 48″ participants to note that Whiteface was the former site of a fire tower. As a result of the tower’s removal, there are deep holes drilled into the rock that served as a perfect stand for our flagpole.
The backpackers soon left the summit, leaving only Keith to admire our flag. A plane flew close by and we wondered if the pilot was taking photos of the peaks. With Keith babysitting the flag, Ethan and I headed off to the true summit of Whiteface with our minuscule flag (pictured) to plant there. On our way, we encountered a group of gals who said that they were going to erect a flag on Whiteface too. We talked and I discovered that they had never heard of the “Flags on the 48″ website. I invited them to erect their flag next to ours, since there were plenty of holes drilled into the rock to serve as a stand. After we parted, Ethan and I soon reached the true summit of Whiteface and stuck the tiny flag into some moss.
By now, it was noon and the official time for the flags to be on all of the peaks. Ethan said it was amazing that right at this point in time, there was at least one person standing atop all of the 48 summits. Alone, we thought about the victims of 9/11.
I vaguely knew one person who died on 9/11, and although we were not close, his death has had a profound impact on me. In the 1980s, my friend Barbara Carr, the Director of our local Humane Society, introduced me to her friend Andrea LeBlanc, a veterinarian. Andrea’s husband, Bob, a UNH Geography Professor, died in one of the planes that struck the World Trade Center. Strangely enough, although I had only met him once or twice, Bob’s impact on my life came years later. As a result of 9/11, my company downsized and in summer 2002, I was laid off from my job. I looked at this as an opportunity to finish the college degree I had started working on in 1979. I was accepted as a full-time student at UNH, albeit a 44-year-old undergraduate. I had several “General Education” requirements to fulfill. Remembering Bob LeBlanc, the UNH Geography Professor, I took a class in Geography to get one of my “Gen Ed’s” out of the way. I remember thinking that maybe Bob would have been my professor if he hadn’t died in the terrorist attack. Well, one thing led to another, and one course led to another, and another. I eventually ended up graduating with a minor in Geography and currently plan to attend Grad school for Geography. All because of Bob, well… kind of… sort of….
When Ethan and I arrived back at the ledgy summit of Whiteface, we discovered that the aforementioned gals had not erected a flag, but had already descended via another trail. Only Keith sat atop the summit, catching some of the beautiful summer sun’s rays. Ethan and I made lunch and talked more with Keith. Apparently, I know Dave Neely, the USFS boss who hired Keith. Dave used to work the front desk at Pinkham during the 1980s. Keith and I reminisced about our experiences with Dave. It truly is a small world. Realizing that Ethan and I were not likely going to leave litter on the summit, Keith hiked back to the parking lot long before our 2:00 curfew.
Ethan and I stayed alone on top until 2:00 when we dismantled our flagpole and began the hike back to the car. On our way down, we ran into a few people who had gotten a late start and were making their way up to the summit. We reached the car at about 5:00. Unfortunately, we would have to drive too far in the opposite direction to attend one of the “Flags on the 48″ post-hike celebrations, not to mention the fact that it was a school night for Ethan. We settled for a pizza on the way home. I am grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of this year’s “Flags on the 48.” I feel truly lucky that I checked the website when I did, and that my son and I were available to provide coverage for a peak.
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