When five New England women set out for the White Mountains, they share more than trailside PB&Js. Drawn in by the area’s glistening granite, lush plant life and storied summits, they craft a new community and find within themselves the sense of true presence they’ve been seeking.
Each turn of the trail revealed parallel curves and falls of the Ammonoosuc River, glistening over granite ledges. Ammonoosuc means “small, narrow fishing place” in Abenaki, and it was easy to imagine trout basking in shaded pools. We marveled side-by-side at how lush it all was—the verdant fiddlehead ferns, the golden chanterelles mushrooms, the deep pillow-like mosses. August was a month of abundance in the New Hampshire woods.
It was clear from the first half-mile of observing trailside splendor that our team of five women shared an enthusiasm for small wonders of the natural world. As we meandered up through the pines, we created other connections through talk of homes, travels, and partners, but the conversation always circled back to recognize the shared present moment.
The group was a mix of old friends and peripherally-connected buddies; a few of us had met for the first time at a local brewery the night before we began our hike. We came together with goals of immersing ourselves in the rugged White Mountain topography, unplugging, and tuning into the natural world. The beauty of the trail, of course, was that stone step by stone step, the group became a community. We all noticed the ferns, mushrooms, and mosses. We all lived in small-town northern New England. We all wanted to hold tight to the last days before the leaves changed. We all navigated the world as women and carried both the difficulties and joys of that label in our everyday living; for example, we felt persistent patriarchal biases that we lacked strength, but found light in creating a space free from that weight where we could be our fullest, strongest, and most silly selves.
By the time we crested the ridge to the Lakes of the Clouds Hut together, sweating and grinning, we were zipping each other’s pockets shut and referring to each other’s dogs as if we knew them.
The Hut was built in 1915 on a broader landscape first inhabited by Abenaki and Wabanaki people. It’s the highest in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s system, perched at 5,030 feet above sea level between Mount Washington and Mount Monroe. Kodak Wadjo, one Algonquian name for Mount Washington, translates to “The Top is so Hidden in the Clouds,” and Algiochook, another Algonquian name for the peak, translates to “Home of the Great Spirit or Mother Goddess of the Storm.” We felt extra grateful for manageable wind and expansive views given the range’s propensity for impassable weather.
We unloaded our packs in the hut—our destination for the night—and devoured lakeside PB&Js, then hiked along Tuckerman Traverse. The crisp, layered, blue rows of peaks looked as though they’d been cut from construction paper and propped up against a postcard sky. The overgrown landscape where we’d begun our hike had given way to barren expanses and hearty low shrubs. It was an afternoon with nowhere to be but right where we were: a wholly welcome phenomenon in a time when the demands of our jobs and constant virtual bids for our attention make the world feel like it’s spinning too quickly.
We retreated to the cozy hut for crazy eights, Bananagrams, watercolors, and a three-course meal, including stuffed shells served by the wonderful “Croo” (the hardworking hut caretakers). We watched the orange sun sink low and celebrated its setting and our presence with mugs of boxed merlot. Trail-tired, we crawled into bunk beds.
At 4:15am, we crawled back out to shuffle up Mount Monroe by headlamp. As the clouds turned purple then orange again to the east, I recalled words from the writer Byrd Baylor: “Some people say there is a new sun every day, and that it begins its life at dawn and lives for one day only. They say you have to welcome it.”
We rubbed our sleepy eyes and let the warmth slowly reach us. We shared exclamations of awe that I like to think were suitable welcomes for the new day’s neon sun. The glow of laughter and camaraderie from my fellow women, greeting the fresh dawn, stayed with me as we turned from the summit to re-enter the world below.