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The Osceolas

(I first communicated with Brian McCarthy via email after he had purchased my Ebook, The White Mountain Chronicles. Brian enjoyed my collection of White Mountain adventures and ended up writing a review of that book for Smashwords.  Although we hiked in different decades, Brian is a true lover and aficionado of the White Mountains, as this letter describing an October ascent of East Osceola and Osceola will attest. Brian lives in Massachusetts.)

The Osceolas


I drove up to the mountains on Friday afternoon. Left work around noon and was on the road by 2:30 or so. This weekend is the Fryeburg Fair so I took 93 to the east side of the mountains instead of 16 into N. Conway. Traffic was light and the ride went by quickly. I took the exit for the Kancamagus and stopped at a store for some firewood and chewing tobacco, and then proceeded to the Hancock Campground.

Even though I arrived at about 4:30 or so, I got the second to last drive-in site. There appeared to be a few tent-only walk-in sites but I was tired and trying to make things easy on myself. It was raining steadily as I backed into the site. I set up my EZ-up and pulled the picnic table in underneath it. I then got back in my car and went and filled out the envelope, put my $40 in, and deposited it in the tube. On the way back to the site I stopped at the host's site and grabbed two more bundles of firewood as the rain made me think I might like to get that fire going earlier than usual.

Back at the site I got busy setting up a proper camp. The rain stopped just long enough to get my little 2 man backpacking tent set up and started up again as I was tightening up the rain fly. I crawled in, unrolled my sleeping pad, and then let my bag out to loft. While I was in there, I pulled on a pair of long-john bottoms for the first time this year as well as changing into a mid-weight top under my rain jacket.

Under the EZ-up (not sure if you're familiar but it's basically a 10x10 tarp system that sets up very quickly and easily) I set out my lantern, my backpacking stove, hatchet, knife, and a radio on the picnic table. I then fixed a small plate of crackers, pepperoni, and jalapeno jack cheese. As I munched on this, I listened to some bluegrass, whittled down some kindling, and split up some smaller logs in preparation for my fire. As it began to rain more steadily, I ventured out from underneath my shelter to find a fallen birch tree from which I would peel a small amount of bark. When I was done, I had a nice looking double-handful size tinder pile just right for getting a blaze going. I had a roaring fire going in no time at all.

As the day light disappeared I sat in my folding chair about 6 feet from the fire under my shelter and just enjoyed the sound of the steady rain and relished the comfort of being warm and dry while also being so close to cold rain. I fixed some brown rice and canned chili with a bit more cheese and was soon full, happy, and sleepy. It had been a long week. We started building a new house in Brookline. We worked in the pouring rain in knee-deep mud on Mon, Tues, and Wed. Thursday and Friday the weather had cleared but we were still trudging around in the mud. So around 8:30 or so, I was already seduced by the idea of a warm down sleeping bag.

I put my things away for the night, tidied up the site, and crawled into my tent. I stripped down to boxers and crawled into my silky warm sleeping bag. The sound of the wind, rain, and nearby river was simply intoxicating. I tried in vain to stay awake and savor the moment for as long as possible but soon lost the battle.

I woke early after a long comfortable night's sleep. The rain had stopped but it was noticeably cooler. Mid-30's by my best guess and the wind had picked up significantly. I reluctantly pulled my cold long johns back on and bundled up in my thickest fleece, along with a knit hat and glove liners. Hot coffee was calling loudly. I made my coffee and sipped it as I stared at the Franconia/Pemi map from my White Mountain Guide and tried to decide on a proper hike for the day. It was very windy and the higher summits (Washington in particular) already had 1" of rime ice, a -5 windchill, and hurricane force winds. There will be plenty of time for winter hiking, but today is not the time. I decided on the Osceola's. I texted my plans to my wife and boiled water for oatmeal with raisons and brown sugar. After breakfast, I put my pack together, tightened up my campsite, and headed east a couple miles up the Kancamagus to the Greeley Ponds Trailhead.

It was 9 am when I pulled into the parking lot, already about 80% full. However, it appeared that a majority of the spots taken were by two very large groups; one made up of 3 or 4 families. The other group was a bunch of father/son combinations with what appeared to be overnight packs. I quickly changed into my trail-worn leather boots and started up the trail. In no time I had a sweat going (I run like a furnace) so I stopped and changed into a wicking t-shirt and swapped my knit hat for a ball cap. As I climbed through the lower forest the sun rose high enough to give the forest that incredible glow you only see in the fall.... as the colored leaves filter the sunlight into citrus flavored colors. I could hear the wind roaring above me and the occasional gust made it through the trees and chilled the sweat on my body.

I quickly passed the two large groups near the trailhead and was pleasantly surprised to have the trail to myself as I climbed higher and higher. By the time I got to the summit of E. Osceola, I was in the zone big time. I felt simply awesome; I was neither too hot nor too cold and felt strong. I cruised down the backside of E. Osceola and quickly made my way to the chimney, which I attacked with vigor. At the 2.5 hr mark, I was on the top of Osceola proper with my feet dangling over the cliff while soaking up the magnificent views. It was pretty cold up there so I stripped out of my wet t-shirt and put on my mid-weight top, a wind proof fleece jacket, knit hat, and glove liners. Dry, warm, and happy again, I ate some nuts, a packet of gel, a little beef jerky, and Reese's peanut butter cup. After 30 minutes or so, the chill was getting to me, so I snapped a few pictures and began my descent.

At the bottom of the chimney (and out of the wind) I removed my glove liners and fleece jacket, and again swapped my knit hat for my sweaty ball cap. I enjoyed the trek down and was grateful that my knees didn't complain too much about the descent. Some days are better than others in that regard. I took my time and stopped to chat with the many people I encountered on my way down. A strong looking father and daughter team were especially friendly as was a group of three (quite cute) young women, trail bunnies as I call them. Down near the ponds is where the action really picked up. Lots of leaf peepers in cotton clothing, muddy sneakers, and bewildered faces asking me 'how much farther?'

Back at the trailhead, I changed out of my boots and back into my sandals. I also found a dry top to put on and returned the knit hat to my head. I scrolled around on my Ipod and came up with a Dead show from the 80s that I'm fond of. It was then that I decided to head further up the Kanc and take in the foliage. The combination of good music, incredible natural beauty, and a blood stream full of endorphins amounted to a truly spiritual experience.

I was on cloud nine by the time I returned to my campsite. Got the fire going again, boiled some water for pasta and pesto, and sat back to just enjoy being me for a minute. It was a great weekend. You would have loved it.

Brian McCarthy
October, 2010