Eight miles sounds like a short hike for a 4,000-footer. It sounds like a fast-paced bound up and around the ridge. A peak grab. An in-and-out.
What it does not sound like is heaving yourself over boulders, scrambling through ice caves, running out of breath. Eight miles does not sound like New Hampshire’s second highest peak. Yet it is.
Mt. Adams is steep from the start. Unlike many other hikes I’ve been on, there are no ups and downs. There is only the mighty up. The beginning of my hike on this muggy day in July was hot, humid, and sweaty, but fairly easy.
However, as soon as my dad, dog and I reached the treeline after a little under three miles, our hike flipped to steep rock scrambling and boulder climbing. Before we climbed above treeline, we met this comforting sign.
Although I’ve seen this sign many times, it still passes on a chilling vibe. As we rose on the rocks, Zealand, my dog, was happy, skipping up and over the boulders and leaping across gaps. It was not long before we reached the base of King Ravine. Standing in the pit of the Ravine was nerve-wracking. Three enormous walls of rock and dirt surrounded me, and I faced the steepest and mightiest; the center route up via Great Gully Trail. With a threat of thunderstorms in the late afternoon, we needed to get up and off the ridge as quickly as possible. We chose to hike through the caves on our way to the way to the wall of the ravine.
Even on this 80-degree day, when my sweat-drenched shirt was sticking to my back, I was making goosebumps as soon as we entered the ice caves. The relief of the cold was immediate when we took shelter from the beating sun. Trapped cold air washed over my skin, and cooled my blood. Inside, boulders were scattered on top of each other, creating difficult terrain. Even though it was the middle of the summer, snow still remained in the depths of the caves.
However, cave travel proved tough with a dog, and we were forced to turn around and find a different way to the front wall of the ravine. Zealand couldn’t jump up every rock face, and the boulders were too large for her to climb. Time in the caves was wasted, and I was worried about looming clouds.
At last, we reached the beginning of the ravine wall. Boulder upon boulder and rock upon rock built up an incredibly steep wall towering in front of me. It looked as if one falling pebble could trigger a rock avalanche, crushing and trapping us at the base of the ravine. With no trees, I could see far around me, but as much as I looked, I could not see the top, nor the end of this path.
Almost every step was a four-legged scramble and many required me to throw my trekking poles up the rocks and claim them after I ascended the boulder. Zealand was nervous crossing over and climbing up the rock. Several times, I had to heave her back legs up and over a rock, or carry her completely. My dad carried her even more often, bearing her weight on his shoulders as he pulled himself over mighty ledges. Our progress was extremely slow as we tried to coax Zealand to continue. She was losing confidence on the rocks, not wanting to make even small jumps she regularly would. We had gotten to the point on the trail where it was easier and faster to go up than turn all the way around, so we had no choice but to continue.
I wanted to take pictures of the rocky ravine, but I couldn’t stop because my dad insisted we keep moving. He was getting stressed trying to help Zealand, assess the weather, and make sense of our difficult situation. He had never been up this trail, and did not expect it to be this tough for a dog. It was physically exhausting for us as well. The Great Gully Trail was only 3/4 mile, yet it must’ve taken us 2 hours to ascend, carrying the dog up each rock. Map My Run, the app we use to track our pace and mileage, told us that our split pace was “not moving”. My salty sweat mixed with the blood on my leg, stinging my fresh cuts, and I squinted into the bright sun in exhaustion. My dad was losing his patience, the dog was refusing to hike any further, and the sun continued to beat on my shoulders. We were in the ravine for so long, I thought the trail would never end.
After hours of sweat and pain, we made it over edge of the ravine. Looking down into the bowl, I felt both relief and pride. Zealand was overjoyed, and back to energetically slaloming rocks and skipping up the trail. Usually, my dad’s and my pace slow down Zealand, who could do fifteen minute miles if she knew where she was going. However, coming up the ravine, our roles were reversed. We agreed not to travel this trail again, and would instead find an easier path for the way back down.
At last, the peak was in sight. There was no real trail towards the summit, instead a scattering of cairns to guide me in the general direction of up. The peak looked like a giant pile of rocks, and we made progess towards the top. After noticing a bit of blood on one of Zealand’s paws, we decided it was best for her to not summit. My dad had to hold her harness to keep her from bounding up the mountain with me as I went to summit first. She was not showing any signs of being tired, but we decided to play it safe with her paw. As I ascended into the clouds, I lost sight of my dad and Zealand waiting for me. Finally, I found the peak.
All I could see was moving clouds and the faint outline of Mt. Madison to my side. I quickly decended to wait with Zealand as my dad made his way up to the peak.
Together, we came down the edge of the ravine instead of straight down the middle. It was much cleaner and well-worn.
Lessons we learned hiking with a dog: Do not attempt anything with steep rock scrambling, and have an idea of what the trail ahead of you is like before you hike it.
We also keep a first aid kit in one of our packs and carry supplies for us as well as the dog in case of emergency. Carry lots of water and know the signs of heat stroke in a dog. Consider investing in booties or paw protection. We use Musher’s Seceret for Zealand’s paws.