Saturday morning was Titus’s adventure: a group hike with friends (including Paws on Peaks) and three other dogs! That seemed exciting enough for me; Lilo had to sit this one out. Luckily the wake-up call was early enough that she didn’t mind too much (and I promised her a one-on-one outing later in the day).
We’d discussed a couple of possible routes before settling on Greenleaf trail up Mt Lafayette. We wanted a modular hike: my goal for Titus was 5-6 miles with his first real elevation gain, but other folks were hoping for a summit or four. (Normally splitting a group mid-hike would be verboten, but we’d accounted for the possibility in our planning and everyone involved was experienced, both in general and at soloing.) Greenleaf is a lesser-used route up Lafayette (on Franconia Ridge. The more popular Old Bridle Path is apparently an icy nightmare right now and Greenleaf goes through Eagle Pass, one of my favorite spots in the Whites. The AMC’s Greenleaf Hut sits in a pretty spot along the way and would make a suitable destination for Titus.
Unfortunately, the weather had other plans.
The thing of it was, we knew from driving up that it was sunny and bright just a few miles away. The Whites make their own weather! The notch was filled with a dense fog — the kind that sometimes makes it hard to tell whether it’s just foggy or actually raining — but the summit forecast had looked okay and we had a feeling the fog would burn off as the morning wore on, so we stuck to our plan.
And there are worse fates than hiking through a cloud! Greenleaf winds through pretty, mossy forest. Our New England boulders have remerged from the snow, at least at lower elevations. In some ways I really like hiking on foggy days; they give the forest a peaceful, mysterious feel. So I was in good spirits as we headed up.
We climbed and climbed. Titus started out lagging at the back of the group; having to sniff everything really does slow one down. He eventually figured out that his girlfriend Ty was up ahead and made better time after that. He did still have to stop long enough to dig in every puddle and stream, though!
The fog had not lifted in the slightest, alas. It was just as well that Lilo hadn’t come; she would have hated (as did a friend’s dog) all the wet. Half our group decided that the lure of sun a few short miles south was too great and opted to turn around. I don’t blame them one bit!
Eventually, though, the feel of the forest subtly changed. I mentioned to Krista that I thought we were getting close to Eagle Pass — and then we turned a switchback and there it was.
My last hike through the pass was on a fine summer day, but the experience this time was much the same. The trail suddenly opens up into this grand expanse, cliff rising to the left as the world drops away to your right. Even hidden by the fog, the sense of space is unmistakable. I had feared that reality wouldn’t live up to my memory — I hiked Greenleaf en route to my third (and fourth and fifth) 4,000-footer and have seen a lot of other cool spots since then! But I loved it even more than I had thought I would. It’s a wild, special, peaceful place.
Trail conditions shifted sharply above the pass, from mud and rock below to ice and rock — and sometimes just ice — above.
And unfortunately those of us who had continued on also had to call it a day before reaching the hut. We got quite close, but reached the point where it just wasn’t fair to ask the dogs (or inexperienced Titus and unambitious Tango, at least; I didn’t see Ty’s face at the time of turnaround but I hear she was quite put out!) to continue on. They didn’t get to help plan the route, so it’s our responsibility to make sure that whatever we do is working for them, you know?
Titus did handle the ice with impressive cleverness. After a couple of worried moments early on — he was perfectly safe, but couldn’t figure out how to navigate a few stretches; I gave him a boost using the handle on his pack — he discovered bushwhacking and was thereafter very clever about using rocks and the edges of the trail to bypass icy sections. Good hiking dog!
(This is something that Lilo, for all her hiking genius, does not do. She is a big believer in following the rules and staying always on trail, so I have to be careful about where I take her during ice season.)
As is usually the case, sketchy trail going up is even sketchier going down. Titus was pulling pretty hard at this point. Can’t blame him for that; the pack harness is easy to lean into and we’ve only just started training! I ended up handing Titus off to Krista (who had full-on crampons whereas I had only microspikes) for part of the descent to the pass and decided that he’ll be hiking in his front-clip harness for a while longer. I don’t love it for hiking — I’d rather he have total freedom of his front legs — but it’s an acceptable compromise while he’s learning about manners.
Once down, we regrouped at the Lincoln Dunkin’ Donut’s, because New England. Our friends who had turned back below the the pass had gone on to hike the wonderful Welch-Dickey loop; Paws on Peaks would opt to tackle another small peak on the way home. I called it a day with this dog. He’d handled himself absolutely beautifully, with minimal goofiness and lots of good instincts and willingness to learn. I figured his brain was tired now. Besides, I’d promised Lilo an outing of her own! So Titus and I took our leave.
And that’s the story of the cattle frog’s first White Mountain adventure! No dramatic view and no summit under his belt — not even the more modest intended destination — but a whole lot of learning. That goes for both of us, really! He learned about hiking and I learned about him. It gave us both a lot of confidence and led directly to another adventure. I’ll talk about that one next week!