By Guthook, Author of Guthook Hikes!
Even though hiking is my favorite hobby, sometimes it takes a lot to get off of my lazy butt and onto the trail. I often need someone else to push me out the door to go for a day hike. Like last Saturday, when I wanted nothing more than to sit in my comfy chair and waste the day reading the news, eating muffins, drinking tea, and daydreaming about going on big backpacking trips (yep, I was going to pass up a dayhike to think about another hike).
But that morning Yvonne set the alarm for bright and early anyway, our destination: Smarts Mountain near Lyme, NH. Smarts was highly recommended by Steve Smith (editor of the AMC White Mountain Guide), and was one of many mountains with a view that had eluded me on my Appalachian Trail through-hike several years ago, so I really should have been excited to visit it. Somehow, though, as seems to be happening more and more, I was fully prepared to lie down on a couch all day. No such luck.
After scraping the frost off the car and driving almost two hours from southern New Hampshire, we got to the familiar trailhead that I had last seen almost five years ago. The long drive after forcing myself out of bed had already sapped what little motivation I had, but once I saw the trailhead my legs took on a life of their own. Usually for me, day hikes are a time to relax and to be unambitious, leaving after a leisurely breakfast and returning home early in the afternoon. The white blazes of the Appalachian Trail must have awakened my backpacking spirit at this trail head, though. Or maybe it was the freezing temperature that spurred me to move quickly right from the start.
The Appalachian Trail (also named the Lambert Ridge Trail in this section) climbs steeply right away, which was a welcome start with the ground frozen solid underfoot and the air biting cold. I started the hike thinking I’d brought too few layers, but quickly changed my mind as I sweated my way up the trail. This is an Appalachian Trail hiker’s introduction to New Hampshire– steep, a little muddy, and full of ledges and granite.
Now that we were on the trail, I felt just as unstoppable as I usually feel while backpacking. For me, any car ride of more than fifteen minutes is a huge mental obstacle on the way to a hike. When I lived in Vermont, my home was only three miles from the trailhead to Hunger Mountain, so I climbed that mountain at least three times a month. In Maine, I was a quick drive from the Camden Hills, although at fifteen miles that was pushing it. Now, in Keene, I somehow feel the weight of the world holding me back from day hikes, even with Monadnock so close by. Most of my hiking since moving here would not have happened without Yvonne pushing me to plan a hike. She’s much more interested in long and rugged day hikes than I am. I doubt I’d be able to stay in hiking shape without her egging me on throughout this winter.
The Lambert Ridge Trail quickly arrived at several open crags with tremendous views of the region. Just to the south we picked out the Dartmouth Skiway, and more distant peaks like Ascutney, Cardigan, and Sunapee. Despite an empty sky and frigid weather, the views in the distance were a little hazy, but it’s hard to argue with any kind of clear sky out here. Another ledge gave us a perfectly framed view of Smarts’ summit, and, after an icy scramble at the top, the fire tower there provided plenty more views as far away as Killington and the Whites. Along the hike, I never thought about how silly I’d been to prefer sitting indoors all day– once on the trail, my mind pushes out all thoughts of sitting still. That’s why I usually prefer backpacking to day hiking– when I wake up already on the trail, there’s never a thought of sleeping late or missing an opportunity. I just get up and go, and try to pack as much wilderness and joy into a day as possible.
Yvonne and I soaked in the views from the fire tower until the frosty wind convinced us to head down again. As often happens, the trip down felt sleepy, and we arrived at the car perfectly ready for the day to be over. Between work and the holiday season, I don’t know if I’ll have much of an opportunity to get out for any serious hikes before the end of the year, but if Smarts is my last hike of 2011, it certainly isn’t a bad way to close the season. At the same time, I’m already looking forward to revisiting Smarts in the winter– Yvonne just got a new pair of snowshoes, and my pair has been feeling very neglected over the summer. I think my car is going to get used to the trip up to Lyme.
Guthook is a long distance backpacker from Maine, currently living in New Hampshire. Over the past several years he’s hiked the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the New England Trail, with plans to continue on many others. In the meantime, he explores ultralight backpacking techniques and the mountains of New England