With the explosion of fall foliage reflecting in our wide eyes, and the sun glistening off the lake on our right, we pulled into a parking area in the White Mountain National Forest. I had planned our hike down to every last detail. The group I was with was going to hike up Falling Waters, make a right along the ridge and hike another 1.8 miles to the Liberty Springs Campsite where we’d meet up with our other two friends. The next day we would retrace those 1.8 miles, hit Haystack, Lincoln and Lafayette before we descended down Greenleaf and onto Old Bridle path. Meanwhile, our friends were set to do the entire Pemigewasset loop.
I had this all memorized.
And I had a hand written copy of the itinerary in my pack.
And a map.
And an extra map.
And I made sure I charged my phones in case we needed GPS.
I was prepared. I was going to crush this thing. We stepped out of the car, donned our layers, hoisted on our packs, synched them to our bodies and started to walk. To where? Just about 10 steps before I lost total confidence that I was in the right parking lot. For all the effort I made to figure out what was going on once we got on the trail, I had failed to figure out how to get us to the trail. We had just gotten lost on the highways and were roughly an hour behind schedule as it was. We decided to wander around with our packs until we saw a definitive sign that we either were or weren’t in the right spot. We went up a trail for 10 minutes and turned back having no more or less indication that we were where we were supposed to be. We were in New Hampshire, we were in the white mountains… that’s all I knew. Without great signage and the inner feeling that I let my whole crew down I decided to begin problem solving. I opened up the map that my friend’s dad had given us. It was no less than 30 years old. I found the parking area we were supposed to be in on the map. So now where the hell were we in relation to it? The lot we were supposed to be in didn’t have any exceptional geographic landmarks around it to help us navigate. None! No lake! This meant now I knew for sure that we were wrong. This was great news, because our period of total inactivity had come to a close. We threw our bags back in the car and drove maybe another half mile until we found a very obvious, incredibly well marked parking area. Perhaps my planning ego had grown too big, so the universe did a really nice job of totally crushing it before we set off. The hike was absolutely gorgeous, the weather was prime, and the company was ideal. We marveled at the waterfall, the oranges, reds, yellows and browns of the leaves and made our way to the campsite. We were about two hours behind schedule at this point due to my oversights in planning. This along with the fact that the other car was being driven by a speed demon caused me to think that that we were going to roll into the campsite and see our two buddies waiting for us. Not the case. As we descended into Liberty Springs campsite (which is .3 miles straight downhill after the false relief of the sign that says campsite) we were greeted by many campers. Each platform was full of tents cramped together. We wandered around for a while looking for our two friends or an open spot, whichever appeared first. A big hello came from behind us from a man with a worn red puffy and a clipboard. He introduced himself as Declan, the caretaker. We said we were a group of six total and he brought us up to a platform that we had not been able to find ourselves. One of the last platforms still available. Before he left I asked, “Has an incredibly energetic blonde guy and an athletic looking Asian kid rolled through here yet?” He assured me that they had not, for he would have remembered them. Where could they be? We were very delayed getting in and had about the same distance to hike as them. Within 15 minutes we all heard the discernable jubilatory shouts of our friends. We could not see them, but the “yahoos” and “Parkour!” could only really belong to our friends. Before we even had a chance to go down to help them find us, we saw Declan. “These have got to be your friends,” he said as he led them up to our platform. We smiled in agreement and began chatting with Declan about his responsibilities as caretaker. This was my first time ever camping at a site with a caretaker so I asked, with zero tact, “be straight with us, are we supposed to tip you?” Declan said that usually people don’t tip. So we gave him five dollars. The trip was an absolute blast full of a failed attempt at making one giant pancake, freezing cold winds, Siracha on tuna, and some incredibly spectacular views. It was so hard to convince myself to go back to campus instead of doing the whole loop with my two other friends. They ended up doing their four day trip in two and a half days. I highly recommend hiking the Franconia ridge or doing the whole loop. And if you stay at Liberty Springs… tip your caretaker. They stir the compost all day. They deserve it.