Although Colvin had been up to Thunderstorm Junction (~5,000ft) just below the summit of Mount Adams this winter, he had never been above treeline in the snow free season. The difference between the two seasons is stark and incomparable. Having had "Wonder Dog" for 10 years I forgot that not all dogs can effortlessly cruise over boulder fields like a mountain goat. Yet, Colvin is actually way ahead of Caney in almost every milestone for a trail dog. He's hiked more miles, spent more days car camping or at a hut, and ascended higher peaks than Caney by almost 9 months! By the end of this summer he'll have paddled at least 200 miles before Caney ever saw the inside of a boat, and he's already done well mountain biking. The only thing Colvin technically hasn't done yet is a backpacking trip, although you could consider his overnight trip to Grey Knob in New Hampshire a backpack.
So my initial disappointment with his fear of negotiating the boulder fields was tempered by the fact that he actually did really well. Caney set a high bar, and it's not reasonable to compare him to any other dog. Caney's FIRST trip to NH he effortlessly summited Mt Jefferson via the 3rd class Ridge of the Caps carrying a loaded backpack without any help whatsoever. Thinking about this in hindsight it is simply remarkable, and now I realize why I was often asked as I hiked above treeline in New Hampshire with Caney what I thought was a stupid question, "how does he do scrambling on the talus?"
To be honest, I never thought Colvin could complete the traverse. When we started planning it I didn't even have him yet, and once we got him I was immediately concerned about the time frame.
Athletically any young Border Collie can hike 20 miles of easy terrain in a day. They have the VO2 max almost 4X that of Lance Armstrong's super human statistic, and were bread for consecuctive 20+ mile days over rough hilly terrain. However, heat, abrasive talus and scree on the paw pads, as well as the mental demands of ascending and descending steep bouldery terrain in 30+ mph winds and 100% humidity, is altogether another factor. At 9 months Colvin is the equivalent of a 14.5 year old child in developmental terms. Putting it into perspective, forgetting the ancillary demands of a 20 mile alpine traverse, not many 14.5 year old humans could handle 16 hours and 18,000ft gain and lost on the trail.
Regardless, as the trip got closer, I gradually started facing reality. I knew his paws at best might hold up for a minimal (summitless) traverse if I protected them with booties. After a while I realized that was probably still unlikely, so I thought we would bail at Mt Washington with or without summiting Adams and Jefferson. Technically, all the elevation gain is over by Mt Washington, and the southern traverse is really just about mileage, but the hike out via the Tuckerman Ravine snowcat trail at the base of Mount Washington is easy enough that I could have carried him out without much difficulty back to Pinkham. Whereas the hike out via the Souther Presidential's is quite a bit more demanding in the descent back to Crawford Notch.
In the end, even that plan was a bit optimistic. However, there is a silver lining, despite dropping my hat and losing a couple of minutes (as in 2 minutes), and then prodding Colvin for almost 2 miles of above treeline hiking, we beat book time from Dolly Copp over the 5,367ft Mount Madison to the AMC Madison Spring Hut by over 20 minutes. Factoring in wind and humidity (creating slick talus and wet paw pads) that is pretty impressive considering Colvin literally started turning around to tell me we should go down at treeline, at times he wouldn't even continue without me going back for him. Basically, when he was moving he was moving pretty quickly.
As we descended Madison it was clear Colvin was mentally frazzled from the stress of rock hopping over and around the jumble of boulders that is the foot path above treeline. Worse, his paws were already showing signs of abuse, and he'd been wearing booties since the start of the descent, which is most rough on the front paws.
At Madison Hut we met back up with Mandy and Kevin who were ahead of us by at least 10 minutes, I raised the white flag. Although it was much less a surrender than the right decision. It was Colvin's hardest single day on the trail (although he actually gained about the same elevation during his winter trip to Grey Knob) and his first 5000ft summit. With the return trip it was just shy of a 10,000ft gain loss day, and just shy of 10 miles. Although he only gets credit for Madison, he essentially did a half traverse.
On the way down we were able to relax, take our time, and enjoy what turned out to be a spectacular day. We spent at least 2 hours just enjoying the day stopping for lunch below the summit and then enjoying the sunshine and clearing views from Osgood Junction for almost an hour!
After our hour long break at Osgood Junction I really wanted to take the Osgood Trail down to the Great Gulf trail, and then the Great Gulf Link trail literally back to our campsite at Dolly Copp. However, as we started on the Osgood I realized the extra 2 miles might be a real issue. Besides that the Osgood continued up and down on the ridge moreso than the Daniel Webster Scout trail which was mostly a straight down descent from the junction. In reality I'm almost certain the Osgood to Great Gulf Link would have been no harder because the Great Gulf Link trail is essentially a double track forest trail for 1.5 miles. Despite that, I couldn't escape the feeling that I was pushing him a little too hard with the extra mileage and we turned around about 5 minutes down the Osgood Trail.
Overall it was a good hike, and nothing to be ashamed of. Colvin was definitely pushed to his limits, he wouldn't even get out of the car Friday night. I had to carry him to the tent, and then feed and water him in the tent because he was too sore to walk on the rough ground.
We picked up Mandy and Kevin at Crawford Notch at 9:20pm. They made excellent time and had absolutely outstanding weather from Mount Adams onward, plus they got a little taste of just how bad an average day above treeline can be in the Northern Presidential's.
Saturday we took a short walk along the river, but Colvin mostly rested in the tent while I tried to dry out our gear from a typical rainy NH/Great Gulf stay. Following the 4.5 hour drive home Saturday night he had enough energy to get his toys out of the bin, and even chase them a few times. Sunday he was ready to play indoors but still tender outside, but I thought a short lowland trail to a lake would be OK. Colvin ended up hiking/bushwhacking about 4 miles and almost did his first swim after playing in the water for about 20 minutes.
Monday, June 7, 2010
Posted by Justin Serpico at Monday, June 07, 2010