A Dog's First 4K: Passaconaway
Here's how Wilder and Adam met: Adam pulled into the driveway around five am and while he unloaded his gear from the open hatch, I approached slowly with Wilder on leash. Suddenly, Wilder made this hilarious bark-howl-growl-moan sound, defensive and a little frenzied. Adam's a tall dude with a big beard and maybe Wilder thought he was a forest monster. But soon they were best buds and the fluffy butt was wiggling while Adam petted him all over. This was a good outcome to the introductory meeting because we'd all be hiking Passaconaway together in just a few minutes.
Parking in the Ferncroft lot is always a challenge, even at sunrise, but this time I managed to u-turn and park facing out – I'd rather have quick escape than try to wiggle out when it looks like a grocery store before a football game.
We started out up Old Mast Road, talked and hiked, kept a good pace. Wilder was off leash indefinitely – his day to shine, as it was his first 4000-footer. Let the doggy run through the woods! Once we got into the Sandwich Wilderness, the trail began swinging around the base of the mountain, high rocks to our left. We began climbing Square Ledge. A few times I looked around and felt completely disoriented because the trail blazes were sparse, if nonexistent. No matter, just stop and look around. There we are, right-o!
The real climbing began after we passed the intersection with the super-steep Walden Trail. I pointed up and said, “That's why I picked Square Ledge Trail.” It's more of a wrap-around hike. Passaconaway is a straight shot if you go up Dicey's Mill Trail, but I wanted something a little more of a novelty – as long as it was dog-friendly. And with it being early morning, I thought being on the eastern slopes of the mountain would make for a doozy of a day. Square Ledge Trail still gets steep-as-sh*t, though. We took alotta water breaks. I make it a point to carry as much water as I can muscle and boy was I glad.
I tied Wilder up to my waist once we got into boulders-the-size-of-houses country. If he were to leap over a cliffside, let me go down with him. Wilder approached a sudden cliffside with a casual pluckiness that had me happy I could rein him in. He looked out to the Whites then looked back at me with the sort of grin that almost had me trusting him.
Just up the trail, we came to a five-foot-tall rocky slab that required a human to embrace the use of all fours to climb. No dice for doggies. So I deadlifted Wilder up – all 65 pounds of fluff – and he pawed himself up there. I grabbed a root and lugged myself behind him in a huff. I had a laugh after and wondered if I should have asked Adam to videotape that moment, thinking it would make a fun Instagram post or somethin'. But in retrospect, I'm glad I ignored the impulse. When I take a “leadership” role on a hike, I try to take it pretty seriously, staying in touch with every member of every species I'm hiking with. We don't need photos of everything. The team-building moment between me and my dog was more powerful, to be honest.
We met back up with Walden Trail, where the death march truly began. A rock staircase to the wooded summit. We finally started passing people – a few guys coming down. An older gent with poles stood aside for the dog and his human friends to hop past. When it levelled out and we felt ourselves in striking distance of Passaconaway's quiet summit clearing, we detoured down a side path for lunch and a view.
It's the only time Wilder sat still – there were steak bits and cheese chunks. I sampled one of his Zuke's Power Bones and mostly regretted it – it almost tasted good, but it was stuck in my teeth for an hour. Dogs like weird things. I do weird things. Wilder devoured every piece of food I stuck in his face. I lightly snacked while Adam vaped from a cliffside and we looked down to the Kancamangus Highway noodling through the trees, tracing the Swift River. With Mount Washington in the haze beyond to act as the North Star, I identified a few lesser landmarks directly below us: Sawyer Pond, Sugar Hill, Green's Cliff (a cool, violent looking ledge with no marked trails). “It's amazing how much wilderness is out there,” noted Adam, to the expected silence of gratitude after such a comment is made. It seems so crowded where all the people are, but it's still so easy to just....disappear.
Like all nice moments, however, the flies ruined it. So we skidaddled up the muddy path to the summit. Passaconaway's summit cairn is in the most boring spot ever, but that's why it's great. You gotta earn your first 4K, pup! “Yeah, yeah,” went the fluffy one, and we were gone a moment later. Something tells me Wilder was trying to say, “47 to go, old man!”
We headed down Dicey's Mill Trail, straight down all the way, baby. We passed a dad, a grandpa, and two little girls who wanted to pet Wilder. He sat for the attention (which he looooves) and I wondered if if it was their first 4000-footer, too. Near the site of Camp Rich, there is a marvelous little brook that begs for a longer visit, but we stayed just long enough to let the dog soak his paws. We stopped longer at the Wonalancet River crossing near the bottom. Soon we were at the backdoor of a summer house, walking down a dirt road through old farm fields, past Squirrel Bridge and knobby apple orchards back to the car, in the midst of an overflowing parking lot – already conveniently facing the right direction! Nice!
After a nice long nap, Wilder limped around the house a bit, his paws a little raw. Some triple antibiotic and a few easy days and he was fine again. He had a great attitude and ate everything in sight, so I knew he'd be okay. It was a tough hike for the little guy, but he was rarin' to go the next weekend for more adventures. We'll continue training on the smaller rocky summits in the Sandwich and Squam ranges before we approach our next big hike, get those paws toughened up, those muscles rippin' – and we'll go get those 47, pup. Yeah!