Hiking Fashla

This was really our last week to hike a major hike until next summer.  Next week we’ve been invited to a Shabbaton 2 hours away and in two weeks’ time it will most likely be too cold and snowy.  Our goal was to hike Speckled Mountain, which is the mountain facing our house, and the highest peak in the immediate area, known for its stupendous views.

We woke up early to a very clear sunny day but the temperature was only 22 degrees, so we decided to wait until the temperature hit 30.  We were wearing layers and indeed it warmed up quickly and we were able to hike comfortably in heavyweight long-sleeved t-shirts, and of course for safety, our neon orange vests to alert hunters to our presence.

at the beginning of the trail, when there was actually a visible path amongst the leaves (click to enlarge)

We decided to be very lazy and drive to the trailhead, which was only .8 mile from our house, but we figured we’d be very tired on the way home and any savings in distance would later be appreciated.

At the trailhead was the Gammon Family cemetery.  Most of the tombstones were from the mid-1800s, and the smaller tombstones were of children that sadly passed away at a young age.  Gammon Mountain is actually across from my home to the south, and until this past summer, old Mrs. Gammon, a widow, lived just down the road.  Mrs. Gammon was what one local called “the salt of the earth.”  She is feisty – you would never want to cross her – and she used to hunt and fish well into her 80s.  Now due to infirmity she lives with her only surviving child, a daughter, in another rural Maine town.

the rusty entry gate to a ca. 1800s rural family cemetery in the middle of nowhere, not even on a real road (click to enlarge)

According to both our trail map and topo GPS, we should have found the trail  to Speckled Mountain easily, but we did not.

Consequently, we attempted to climb up the region’s highest mountain via bushwhacking.  It was an extremely stupid idea!  We were literally hacking our way through miles of heavy underbrush, climbing boulders and rock cliffs, and pushing our way through thousands of branches of trees. We are scratched up, torn up, blistered and beaten.

That’s not to say we didn’t see some unusual things.  There were several clearings from which we saw magnificent panoramas of Kezar Lake, Horseshoe Pond, Sugarloaf, Gammon and Adams Mts.   We also happened upon an abandoned gemstone mine that was not on any map – clearly a “secret” location.  Beryl, feldspar, tourmaline, mica and quartz were likely mined there.

Old stone walls like this one date from Colonial times and are found throughout northern New England. They were used by Colonists for farming, as well as boundary markers. It's amazing is to realize how difficult they must have been to build, as they are often in extremely remote wilderness areas. Probably stones were dragged and placed with teams of oxen. (click to enlarge)

it's hard to believe we started at the bottom and slogged our way up to this viewpoint. That's Kezar Lake in the background. (click to enlarge)

All the while the topo map indicated that we could bushwhack up the mountain and finally meet up with the trail, so we continued onward and upward.  At one point, we were just completely spent, but of course, what goes up must come down, especially as we have one less hour of light now that it’s daylight savings time, and temperatures drop very quickly here in the mountains once the sun goes behind the highest ridge.

On the good side, at no time were we “lost” as we were at very high elevations with overlooks so we always had our bearings (with the nearby mountains and lakes and ponds that served as “markers.”).  Also, we knew we could have always come down the way we came up since we had recorded the route on our topo gps.  We had plenty of food and water.

That said, we really, really didn’t want to bushwhack down – it was literally STRAIGHT down and the fallen leaves were 2′ deep at spots and it made for very slippery going, not to mention sore knees, thighs and feet. Thankfully we had our hiking poles with us.  Without them there is simply no way we could have made it up or down the mountainside.

We called our son (who is recovering from a nasty case of pneumonia and was accordingly probably none too thrilled to take our call) on our cell from a high point, which was an all-granite overhang that had dried alpen moss strewn about (which made it spongy and not slippery) and asked him how far we were from the trail.  He assured us that according to our longitude and latitude coordinates read on site,  and the Google topo map that he perused online, that we were literally next to the trail.

the beauty of dried white lichen on granite boulders, mingled with scarlet leaves (click to enlarge)

We continued climbing up the granite side and finally, yes! we found a cairn, which is a marker of stacked stones indicating a trail.  The views were awesome.

But despite this and one further call to our son, we could simply not locate  a single painted trail blaze nor another cairn, even walking north, south, east and west 100′ each way.

Discouraged, and mindful of the rapidly approaching lateness of the afternoon, we realized that not only were we not going to reach the summit of Speckled Mt. (and we believe we came within about 600′ of the summit from our height of land) we weren’t even going to have the “luxury” of walking down the mountain on a “real” trail, despite our exhaustion.

I was so tired.  It was tempting to call Mountain Rescue but realistically, we weren’t in danger and we weren’t lost, just inconvenienced.  And because this was due to hiker error, we would have had to foot a very large bill for their services, not to mention becoming the laughingstocks of our little town and the surrounding area (where events like this are reported in the newspapers).

It was back to bushwhacking for us!  And so it was – we continued along at as fast a pace as we could manage, stopping once or twice to rest when my husband’s  thigh began cramping badly, as well as to rehydrate and snack on nuts and raisins.

Meanwhile we experienced several light tumbles into the soft leaf piles due to the slippery uneven surfaces with holes and rocks and even hidden streams of water coursing down the mountain underneath our feet.  We did not take the exact same route down as we had going up – until a certain part when we knew we were near an old logging and mining road and at that point we followed the gps topo exactly, crisscrossing the mountain so we would finally, finally get to steady ground.

We made it back to the car at sunset, and fortunately it was only .8 mile drive from there to our house (I was very happy that we had been so lazy about driving our car that short distance from our house to the trailhead).  Home had never looked so welcoming and comforting!

First order of the day:  remove hiking shoes and socks, and bemoan our ruined feet.  Tick removal (I found two:  yuck.)  From there a very hot bath and a mega dose of Ibuprofen, Neosporin for our abrasions, bandaids for the blisters,  a bowl of hot soup, and  a cold beer for my husband.  Even our dog was tired!

As I said, we were not “lost” B”H at any time, just off-trail.  But that said, if in the future I see that I am just not on a marked trail, then I am turning right around and going home!  It was 7.5 hours and 6.7 miles of constant extremely steep, slow climbing and descending, with almost no breaks whatsoever!  (This is a climb that, had we been on trail, should have taken 4 – 5 hours maximum to the summit and back).  Honestly, our climb many years ago to Mt. Washington (one of NH’s toughest climbs) was less strenuous than today’s “fashla.”

Here is a record of our misbegotten journey, showing our house, the trailhead, the wrong turn, the secret mine, where we ended up, and the summit we never got to see (click to enlarge):

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