Our house lies within 1 mile of the trailhead to Speckled Mountain, the tallest mountain in the Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness section of the White Mountains, but at 2,906′ tall, it is a less commanding presence than the 4,000+ footers that are iconic to the White Mountains. But lying in Speckled Mountain’s shadow and viewing it on a daily basis, it seemed ridiculous with all the hiking and walking that I do that I had yet to reach its summit. (I managed to climb Mt. Washington (6,288′) and Cannon Mountain (4,081′), but that was several years ago.)
Not that I hadn’t tried!
The first attempt, we bungled the directions. The trailmarkers had faded and we misread the topo map, so we missed a certain turnoff. We ended up at an abandoned mine, turned around, and then started bushwhacking our way up the mountain. Some seven hours later, bruised, scratched, and exhausted, we called it quits and returned home. (You can read about that day of mishaps here.)
The second time, in early winter, it was not really our goal to make it to the top, but simply to walk until snow or ice would prevent us from continuing further (this was before we owned crampons). We made it to the granite boulders and ledges, but the ice was not safely navigable in our hiking boots so we called it a day.
Well, the third time was the charm. My goal had been to build up to the challenge by taking smaller hikes until I was in prime condition, and then wait until September when the weather cooled and the bugs were gone to make the ascent.
Although my stamina level is reasonably good, I’ve been having problems with sore feet for the past few years. First it was plantar fasciitis. Then my heel suffered a stress fracture and I had to wear a “boot” for several months until it healed. Lately I’ve been suffering from Morton’s neuroma, where due to an inflamed nerve, after 2 miles my toes would go numb and by 3 miles they’d hurt so badly I was practically hobbling. I was convinced that if I could only find a hiking boot with a roomy enough toebox that wouldn’t squeeze my toes as they swelled, I would be able to walk without pain.
Living in hiker’s paradise in a rural area means that despite the absence of a Costco or Target, there are stores that cater to outdoor sports, and I spent the next 3 weeks trying on hiking boots. There is a whole new class of hiking boots out there, which look like glorified, ankle-high sneakers. Most people love them because unlike typically stiff hiking boots, they are super light and supple, and can be worn straight out of the box without the usual break-in time. These would have been my first choice if my feet were 20 years younger, but I found I required more upper ankle support on uneven surfaces than these could provide. But unfortunately for me, most traditional hiking boots were also rejected outright, due to a narrow toebox. Or, if the toebox was big enough, the rest of the boot also fit big and my narrow heel would slip out (a sure precursor for blisters). Still, a few possibilities gave me hope. But no sooner would I bring the boots home and wear them around inside for a day, that I’d realize that they wouldn’t work, and I’d have to return them. For another 2 weeks I ordered several pair of boots online at Amazon and Sierra Trading Post (the latter is my favorite outdoor store), but these, too, were sent back. The thought of never being able to hike any distance beyond 2 miles without pain made me downright weepy, but I was not about to give up.
Out of sheer desperation, I visited Limmer Boot Company. There are two divisions: custom and stock. The stock boots typically retail for around $400; the custom boots are $650 and are created from a mold of your foot. Peter Limmer is a third-generation Limmer cobbler, and all-around cool guy. While clearly Limmer boots are more than I need in terms of price and construction (he supplies hikers who climb Mt. Everest!), the boots did fit my feet and clearly, with the heavy soles and one-piece thick leather upper, they would outlast my lifespan (until 120). In between cementing, sewing, cutting, and resoling several pairs of boots, Peter took one cursory look at my feet and said, “You need a wide toebox. I have only one stock model that will work for you, or else you’ll have to order custom.” By telling him about my foot woes (he’s heard it all over the years), he was able to make suggestions that no podiatrist had even thought of. Actually, as I later learned, Limmer Boot is famous for its quality craftsmanship and personal attention, and hikers literally make pilgrimages from around the world to visit his old-world store, located only 35 minutes from my home!
But at that price, it had to be a last resort. As I stopped by Eastern Mountain Sports on the way home, returning yet another boot that didn’t work out, I spied one I hadn’t noticed before and asked to try it on. It seemed like it might work, so I took it home to try out for a day before committing.
Indeed, this hiking boot was quite comfortable, and it was hundreds of dollars less than the Limmers (though there was no comparison when it came to quality – – with the Limmers, you really did get what you paid for). It was good enough for me and my jaunts, however. I did a short walk of 3 miles pain-free, and felt super motivated to tackle some more serious hikes.
I thought I’d do an old favorite of mine, Lonesome Lake in Franconia Notch in NH, on Memorial Day weekend. It’s not a long hike, but it is quite steep and with gorgeous views. The trailhead is about 1 hour 45 minutes drive from my home.
But on Memorial Day I was feeling especially peppy, the weather was clear, the skies were blue, the sun was shining, and best of all, there was a breeze, which meant bugs would be at a minimum. I couldn’t wait to get out there and the long drive to Franconia Notch meant hours driving that I could instead be hiking. We decided to go for . . . Speckled Mountain!
There are three possible routes to the top of Speckled Mountain: via Evans Notch off Rte. 113, which is the most popular route; via the Red Rock Trail; and the Cold Brook trail. We followed the Evergreen Link Trail, which connects to the Cold Brook Trail, for several reasons: it is the closest to our home (we can actually walk to the trailhead), it offers amazing views on the way up from granite ledges, so even if my feet didn’t make it to the top, there would still be much to see; and it is the least traveled trail, which means we’d probably not run into anyone until we reached the summit.
Cairns (piles of rocks) mark the trail route to Speckled Mountain
The Evergreen Link Trail starts out very steep, but I was psyched. The minutes and miles (3.4 total to the top) flew by. The beginning placed us under the forest canopy, which was pleasantly cool. As we reached the first set of granite ledges, the views of Evergreen Valley, Kezar Lake and Horseshoe Pond were magnificent. Other than taking a few snapshots, we didn’t linger, and continued our climb up, up, to the top.
About 2/3 the way up Speckled Mountain. This view looks out onto Kezar Lake.
Looking down from the second group of granite ledges to the first set of granite ledges, about 2/3 of the way up to the top.
We passed a small lake – it looked more like a wildlife watering hole, actually – – and kept climbing. I couldn’t believe my luck – – my feet didn’t hurt at all! I should also add that I was carrying 17 lbs of gear in my backpack, but due to the terrific quality of the pack, and the added support of trekking poles, I didn’t even feel the weight. (We tend to be very generous when it comes to carrying first aid supplies, extra clothing, food, and emergency provisions.)
Soon we made it to the top. There were 3 other people at the summit. One gentleman had been on our trail, and asked if we saw the moose at the lake. Darn! We must have missed him by no more than 5 minutes.
The summit was absolutely amazing. The wind was blowing so hard at times that I had to steady myself to maintain my balance. The views were 360 degrees of Maine and New Hampshire. Two days before Memorial Day there had been some surprise weather, and in the distance, Mt. Washington was covered in snow. After relaxing for an hour on the summit (where my husband, much to his delight, was able to make direct radio contact on his ham radio with other amateur radio operators in New Hampshire), and with storm clouds gathering in the distance, we decided to head back.
My husband hangs on to his hat under extremely windy conditions while making a connection on his ham radio at the top of Speckled Mountain.
From my telephoto lens, Mt. Washington as seen from the top of Speckled Mountain. There was a snowstorm there two days before.
At the summit!!! Looking out onto the New Hampshire side from Speckled Mountain. Mt. Washington is covered in snow in the background.
It was our dog Spencer’s 10th birthday the day we climbed Speckled Mt. (He fared better than we did!)
That’s when I felt my age.
My ankles and knees felt every painful downhill step. My muscles were weak, and I had “Howdy Doody legs.” (If you are too young to know who Howdy Doody is, just imagine a marionette puppet’s jerky legs going every which way and you will get the picture.) Miraculously, neither my hiking boots nor my feet hurt, baruch HaShem!
We made it down the mountain feeling somewhat old and tired but without incident; both my husband and I were on a “high” from our accomplishment of 6.8 miles roundtrip, as well as from the stupendous beauty of HaShem’s world with which we were rewarded for our efforts.
After a hot bath and cold beer (not in that order) we were revived and planning our next hike, weather- and bug-permitting.