Only The One Choice: Kearsage North Solo

I sort of had it in the back of my mind the whole day before and that morning leading up to it. My days off are sacred. I don’t toss that word around lightly, either. It’s, actually, funny to me how differently people use their days off work or other obligations. I’d imagine that a lot of people use them to “relax”; or to go shopping, see some friends or family, catch up on favorite TV shows, or just mull about. It’s strangely opposite for me and my time. Me, myself, I use every possible ounce of it to seek the solace of the mountains.

Having an odd schedule often leads me to going mid-week to the mountains. Often that leads me to not have friends available to come on these adventures, and as a result making these trips solo. It’s not something I mind, quite honestly. In fact, there are times that I really, really enjoy it. I grew up being taught that we should always improve our own self worth just as much, if not more than improving the worth of our relationships. I think that is part of what drives me to still go out despite maybe not having the company to go out to the mountains with. 

Afternoon came, and the weather was shaping up, but not exactly in my favor. I knew I was going to go, regardless. Kearsage North. Kearsage North is the name of a mountain in New Hampshire that I’ve visited countless times. It’s also the name of a mountain that holds a fully-enclosed fire tower on the summit. It’s a rather neat and trending concept around the world. Staying overnight in fire towers, that is. My decision to go to Kearsage North, though, was wildly different than ‘because it is popular’. It’s, instead, just a place I’ve grown fond of while hiking the White Mountains in New Hampshire. I’ve spent several nights there. Seeing the storm that was approaching also made me come to the conclusion that this was a safe bet, considering it is a form of shelter.

By the time I managed to get my errands done and my gear together that day, I found myself racing daylight; a common enough phrase in my hiking dictionary being a photographer that always chases light. The hike up was smooth; altogether satisfying as I seemingly roamed the woods in my backyard. These woods have become oh-so familiar. When I came to the summit, my boots crunching through snow and ice, you could tell the storm was on its approach, and fast. My plan had been accordingly: to make it up there before it came to. I quickly made my way up to the tower and let myself in, just as quickly realizing I was going to get cold fast from having worked up a sweat right through some of my layers on the way up. As soon as I closed the door, though, I couldn’t help but pause a moment. The now dulled sound of wind reverberating as it came against the wood and glass of the tower. I almost got lost in this sound of the wind, absent from sense of feeling, as it became apparent that this sound would soon be my comfort through the night whether I liked it or not. I came back to a more conscious state, becoming more aware that minutes after my arrival, I still was carrying my pack and standing tall in the middle of the tower. I laughed at myself, and set down the weight reluctantly. The weight wasn’t so bad, not anymore at least. I remembered that I used to carry bulky gear and clothing not so long ago. It was fine at the time, but once you experience ultra-light gear, it’s true what they say, there is no going back. My first order of business, since setting down my pack, was delayering out of my sweaty mid-weight base layer, and putting on a new shirt as well as my Enlightened Equipment Torrid Apex puffy. Even though I was out of the wind, there was no escaping the cold air that had settled into the mountains for the evening.

There are so many details that I could go on about. That’s the thing. Up here, there is no hustle and bustle, but when you clear your head and actually use your eyes and ears, there is so much happening in the mountains. I could go on about getting colder than I first anticipated and needing to halt unpacking and getting my overnight gear set up for the night to put more layers on and warm up by pacing around the room as if I was nervous about something. I could go on about my routines in the mountains; observing first, moving about later. I could go on about revealing about these places, thinking they never get old no matter how many times you see them; reveling in a confused state as to why these mountains mean so much to me. I think I’ll jump to a bit after that, though, when the light faded low and the wind picked up even more.

I had finally set everything up, my sleeping arrangement (pad and bag) in my usual corner against the wall and the makeshift wood counter that is in the tower. Somehow it felt like the right place to cozy up. I had spent a good hour, after finally warming up to a comfortable state, taking self-portraits in the tower with my camera and tripod. It’s something I’ve been striving to do more, not to have photos of myself really, but to tell some piece of my story up here in the mountains. Stories that will one day be the only story of me. When I eventually sat down against the cold, wood counter to enjoy my lukewarm, freeze-dried macaroni & cheese, that same deafening sound of the dulled-out wind came to the forefront of my mind. With each bite, I looked from window to window to see the precipitation being blown against the glass only to quickly rime over. There weren’t any views to enjoy, but that’s not exactly what I had come for. I think I forgot to recount that bit: while it wasn’t a steady rain, the precipitation had started in a light form, not really visible to the eye because of the harsh winds. 

Jumping forward again to settling in. My watch only read 9:00 p.m. One thing that was different on this trip compared to my last time spending the night on Kearsage North was the one extra item I carried. A book. It had been too long since I last slowed down enough to pick up a book. I had boiled water on my stove and put it into my thermos, storing it for the night in my sleeping bag to help combat the cold. I sat up against the wooden wall of the tower with my lower half tucked and zipped into my Enlightened Equipment Convert Quilt. Just moments before I settled in, I had checked the weather forecast for the remainder of the night on my phone. It said that 50-70mph winds would be common, with gusts up to 80mph. My back shivered just reading that. It would clear late that night and warm up around 3:00 a.m., that was the relieving part of the forecast. I was in for a long night. With every gust, I could feel the tower shake. Here and there, I’d hear a giant crash as formed ice on the tower would break off and shatter on the ground below. I tried to concentrate on my book, though, as the storm grew more violent outside. Soon, I felt my eyes grow heavy under the illumination of my headlamp. I was warm now from a combination of the boiled water and my Enlightened Equipment quilt and puffy jacket. I turned off my lights, zipped the remainder of the quilt up, and laid fully down. I wish it was that simple, but I’d be lying if I didn’t toss and turn as the wind and crashes of ice kept me sleepless long afterwards.

Sometime through the night I must’ve eventually fallen into a deep sleep, though, because I didn’t wake again until I suddenly felt my eyes flash open to see slight color above me through the windows. Using my right hand, I searched my sleeping bag for my phone to check the time. It was just a little before I had set my alarm for, which I had done before falling asleep. Funny how that works, like a sixth sense, our minds know when we should wake. I quickly stretched and climbed out of my sleeping bag, grabbing my camera instinctually as I did. Lacing my boots, and relayering, I opened the door and stepped outside the tower. The winds had died down some, but by no means had they died completely. There was more color; completely stunning color. Clouds were burning off and blowing by the summit. They broke here and there throughout the horizon, making room for a view where the sun would soon come up. It was surprisingly warm now, especially when I rounded the corner of the tower opposite of where the wind was coming from. I stripped my shell jacket, just wearing my puffy, and threw it inside. Back out now, to take some more photos. I did this probably for another 30 minutes as the sun came up. I roamed the base of the tower and walked slowly. There was no sense of urgency in my head or in my body.

The rest of that morning I spent, as some might call, in a routine. Making breakfast, pacing around the mountain and tower, debating how long to stay, and wishing it could last forever. It might be abrupt, but, truly, it all ended there with the decision to pack up and go down back to my car; the notion that “my time” was coming to a close. I think as I trudged back down the trail, and awaited the time to look back on these photos I took, some part of me thought of these two meager things. These two meager thoughts or reflections. Pieces of experience, or maybe just pieces of my mind. Whatever they were, the mountains had not misguided me or let me down. They never have.

The need is no longer relevant. Choices disappear. Over complication is governed by choices. Up here, surrounded by granite, these choices disappear. You have morning, and night. You wake up, and you fall asleep. You move, and you rest. There are no choices of what to have for dinner, or for breakfast. There are no choices for how you spend your money, or manage your relationships. You have only what you carry in your pack. I brought instant oatmeal and instant coffee, so that is what I had. Choices become irrelevant. Living and breathing comes to the forefront. You use your eyes and your heart more because your brain is not muddled down with the multitude of choices. The need is no longer relevant. This is why I go out to the mountains. That is the only choice I need to make.

A lot of things happened before I think I understood fully what “my time” meant to me. A lot of time passed before I think I took it for its true value. I think I gave up a lot of it to do these things and chase after these ideas before I knew what my time was. A lot has happened. A lot I won’t get into. But, now, it’s my time. It’s been a while since I’ve picked up a book. So, I made the excuse to carry it along with me last night as I visited a familiar place. I made an excuse to go up, get cozy as the storm blew in, and read a book. I made an excuse to do a little to, in my definition, live a lot. I may have taken a while to get warm once here. I may have not fallen asleep due to the tower being shaken by the wind and rain storm outside all through the night. I may have taken time out of my days off. I may have taken time that I very well could have spent doing something completely different. But, it’s my time. Now, it’s my time.

I think I will return soon.

- Corey McMullen, Brand Ambassador