One Down, Forty-Seven Left
September 30, 2012

By Matt Putnam

On August 22nd my daughters (8 and 10) summited their first “4,000’er” by hiking to the top of NH’s Mt. Jackson. Reaching the summit marked the achievement of an open ended goal my older daughter set a year ago after we discussed some of the hikes I had recently completed. Upon looking at the topographical map in the lobby of the AMC’s Highland Center, she said, “my first 4,000’er is going to be Mt. Jackson”. Two hours later, when I pointed out Mt. Jackson from the summit of Mt. Willard, nearly 2,000’ feet below Jackson’s summit, she visibly paled and re-considered her decision. We talked about it and agreed that it didn’t have to be done any time soon and that it was an excellent goal to have.

Earlier this year, while researching spring hiking options I saw that the Crawford Path could be taken to the Mizpah Spring Hut. From the hut, Mt. Jackson was a fairly level 1.6 mile hike away with a moderate ledgy climb at the end. It would be a stretch for the girls but definitely within their range. I discussed the route with them and they somewhat grudgingly agreed to add it to the itinerary of our annual pilgrimage to Clark’s Trading Post, Santa’s Village, and Story Land each August. The Crawford Path, cut in 1819, is the oldest continuously used footpath in the United States. The grade is constant but reasonable making it a good choice for children.

To prepare for our ascent, we section hiked the Skyline Trail in Boston’s Blue Hills Reservation during the spring. hiked Mt. Wachusett with the girls’ grandparents, and generally stayed active through the summer. I was amazed at how much progress the girls made in such a short time. These were very different hikers than the ones I hiked with just the year before.

The week of the hike we headed to NH and visited our usual spots. We saw the trained bears at Clark’s, visited Santa at his village, and retired to the Highland Center and its new outdoor inspired playscape each night. As much as it is a hiker’s destination, the Highland Center is a conveniently located and reasonably priced (wonderful food included) place to stay for any northern NH adventure, family or otherwise. Better yet, kids stay for dramatically discounted rates as part of the AMC’s effort to get more kids outdoors.

After two nights at the Highland Center, we filled our bellies at the breakfast buffet, donned our packs and caught the Crawford Path right from the parking lot. The trip to the hut is about 2 miles and it climbs about 2,000’. Along the way we passed the remnants of a concrete dam, stopped at Gibb’s Falls, saw a field mouse, checked out a well camouflaged caterpillar, and tried to figure out why certain trees grew into the shapes they did.

The hike up took a little over 3 hours and we arrived at lunchtime as planned. We checked in, got our room assignment, and picked out our bunks before unpacking anything we didn’t want to bring to the summit. As usual, the hut had freshly made soup and baked goods (cheddar cheese bread and blueberry crumble) for $2 a serving. Unfortunately, we arrived between pots of soup and still needed to reach Mt. Jackson so we ate our peanut butter and Jelly sandwiches, split some cheese bread, and packed a blueberry crumble for our summit snack.

The trip to Mt. Jackson had a few minor ups and downs, a well bridged high bog, and a few brief views of the summit ahead of us. In about an hour we reached the final ledgy pitch to the summit and I had the pleasure of watching two tired faces light up as they neared the summit of their first “big” mountain.

The closer we got to the summit the faster the girls went until I saw them both, arms upraised, by the summit cairn about 100’ ahead of me.

I quickly joined them and spent about an hour looking up at the Presidential Range, looking down at places we had been, making friends with bugs, and practicing our latest dance routines.

As much as I knew the girls would enjoy summiting I was surprised at the amount of joy and excitement they exhibited. For the first time, this wasn’t just “Dad’s thing”; it had become a true family experience.

With about 2 hours left before dinner at the hut we took a last look around, snapped a few pictures, and headed back to the hut. The trip back was a joy with both girls chattering along happily the whole way.

Dinner was a wonderfully prepared chicken entrée preceded by soup, fresh baked bread, and an alpine garden salad. Dessert, always announced as a surprise, was a delicious gingerbread.

After dinner, we made our way up to the library where we met another family and began what turned into a 2 hour and 15 minute game of UNO not including time outs for an informative Alpine Zone presentation by the hut Naturalist, bed, and breakfast the next morning.

The game lasted until just before we headed back down to the valley and the other family proceeded to Lakes of the Clouds and an ascent of Mt. Washington.

The trip down was an hour shorter than the trip up. The girls did wonderfully and were particularly proud of the newly placed Mizpah Spring Hut pins on their pack straps which joined pins from their previous adventures to Zealand Falls, Lonesome Lake, Crawford Notch, and Pinkham Notch.

Overall, the entire experience was a great one but my personal highlight was my older daughter, 10 years old, saying, “Dad, next time can we stay over for 2 nights? I’d like to explore more of the area around the hut”. For a father who genuinely appreciates the lack of outdoor experience in children’s lives today sweeter words could not have been spoken.

Every journey starts with a first step. Why not start yours today?

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