Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Lost in the Woods

This past weekend I got lost while hiking Mount Cabot.  Not “dangerously” lost mind you, but lost none-the-less.  I had heard all about the poorly marked, off-limits, portion of trail on the Lancaster side of Mount Cabot due to a Forest Service dispute with a land-owner.  But, as part of a last minute schedule change, I moved Cabot from Part Two to Part One of my Summer of 48 hiking extravaganza and was therefore a little bit unprepared for the task at hand.

Due to this dispute, the Mount Cabot Trail  has been permanently removed from the AMC Hiking Maps, however a description of the trail route itself is outlined in great detail in the AMC Guidebook.  Which, of course, I left at home.  Nevertheless, I boldly stepped out of my car, went around the gate which was clearly labeled “No Trespassing” and proceeded to make my way up the mountain - number 10, out of 48, on my itinerary.

Initially, I found the route to be very well marked with signs.  Unfortunately, those signs stated in no uncertain terms that this trail was “closed” and that I should really not be there.  Which, of course, made me want to be there all the more, however with just tad more giddy-up in my pace!  The signs were also spaced fairly frequently and only served to reduce the risk of trespassers (like myself) from getting lost. Sort of like angry breadcrumbs! How kind of them!

At some point along my route the signs disappeared, which should have been the first clue that I was off course.  However, at the time I just assumed that the landowner must have figured that after what seemed like a mile worth of signs, if those darned scoff-laws hadn’t turned back by now, no additional amount of signage would make any difference.  So, I proceeded onward and upward - past some logging equipment, a rusty car, an outhouse and a vacant shack.

Just past the shack the trail I was following got a little dicey. It ran alongside and then over a stream.  This is fairly typical for most hiking trails, so I just continued up and over the slippery rocks.  On the other side, the trail was a little more difficult to pick up.  This is also fairly typical since Hurricane Irene sort of made a mess of most trails near any kind of rushing water.  Further on, I saw a tree marked with orange flagging tape.  And then another.  And another.  “Oh” I thought, “This must be the way”!

Eventually the flagging disappeared.  Undaunted, I pressed onward.  I had remembered from my reading of the route description that a bit further on the trail was supposed to cross the stream for good and then head west up to the summit.  So, I decided to continue forward on the left (west) side of the stream in the hopes that I’d come across it again and get myself back on track.  Now I was in full on bushwack!

After going at it for almost a full hour I decided to change my tactics.  I figured if the trail didn’t happen to cross the stream for another mile, I’d be at this forever!  So I zig-zagged across to the east side and tried to find the trail again over there.  No luck.  Now, my shins were blooded and my spirit was nearly broken.  After a few more minutes of solo suffering I gave into that nagging urge to quit and headed back down.  A failure.

Full of anger, I steam-rolled back down the valley – kicking, cursing and stumbling over everything in my path.   I seethed, I shouted, and I beat myself up with every step.  How could I be so stupid as to not bring the book?  Who else would be so weak as to just give up like that?  Why couldn’t I find the right path?  What was I going to do now?  I was in the middle of trying to hike all 48 of the NH 4000 footers and now I had failed.

About a half mile from my car, at one of the many intersections along the route, I happened to break out of my "fog of self loathing" and glance to the right.  I noticed (just past a small road gate) another “trail closed” sign.  A sign which I must have missed seeing on my way up.  “No! It couldn’t be!”  Yup, it was the trail to the summit that I should have been on all along.  Smooth, inviting, and clearly marked as far as the eye could see!  What a fool.  It was right there the whole time and I had walked right by it!

The funny thing is, I honestly thought if I could just push a little harder, the right path would appear just around the corner.  But, I couldn't have been further from the truth - or the trail! And, as it turns out, if I hadn’t “quit” I would have never found the right way to go!  Which leads me to a very important question:   If what you’re doing isn't working, how do you know if  it’s time to try harder or turn back?   I’d like to think I would have turned around sooner if I hadn’t been tricked into thinking the orange flagging tape was leading me in the right direction.  But, perhaps I’m just too stubborn to see realities that other people might see right away.  And, if it wasn’t the flagging tape, I would have just looked for another sign that confirmed I had chosen right path.  Who knows?  Certainly not me.  I'm completely lost! :)


  1. Oh boy! I better lead the way on the Pemi:)

  2. I've done the Pemi. So, I feel pretty good about that one. :)