Mt. Osceola is located in the White Mountains regions of New Hampshire. Rising 4,000 feet, it’s one of several mountains that form the town of Waterville Valley. The other day, several of the cohorts and I attempted to climb it for the second time.
Why the second time? We had previously conquered Sandwich Dome, another Waterville monster that comes in at just under 4,000 ft, and we’re no strangers to the summit of Mt. Pemigawasset (Indian Head, in Woodstock, NH). So why did we fail this one? Well, during our first attempt at Osceola, we left unprepared and took too long trying to locate the trail head. We drove 45 minutes to the town of Lincoln (where we previously lived), and then traveled along Rt. 112 looking for the correct trail. As it turns out, we had to enter at the Greeley Ponds Trail to find the Mt. Osceola Trail. By the time we got there, it was too late in the day to attempt to climb.
Before we left for the second attempt, I was concerned. I’d been experiencing a lot of unexplained joint pain, muscle aches, and other phantom symptoms. I’d even had blood drawn to look for Rheumatoid Arthritis or another bout of Lyme Disease (I’ve had it before). Even worse, the second attempt was plagued by delays that caused us to arrive after 3:oo PM, ensuring that we were once again too late to head for the summit. But the hike did wonders for me. We got further up the mountain, I got a better feel for the trail, and the experience was like a panacea.
Just past the entry point of the Greeley Ponds Trail lies a beach of sand and stones formed by a rough stream. Crossing can be difficult, but there are options for the sure-footed.
After that, it’s pretty straight-forward for a while. The trail is well-maintained near the bottom, including a number of man-made bridges over the boggiest areas or places where the roots are excessively tangled.
I pulled up Led Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away ” on my iPod, guessing correctly that the song would make for good hiking music. About that time, we stopped for a breather. Scotty asked for some water to cool down, but he got more than he asked for when Becky tossed the contents of a bottle in his face. After that, it was more rocks, roots, and river for a while.
There was a spot where the trail split left and right, with a forward path heading down to the riverbank. Believing the Greeley Ponds Scenic Area was to the right, we headed left, which eventually took us to another intersection. A sign pointed the way to the Osceola Trail. At this spot, we ran into a woman coming down the mountain with her daughter. Although profusely apologetic, she seemed to suggest that we weren’t in good enough shape to climb the damn thing, and went on to detail her daughter’s athletic exploits and her own mountain conquests to illustrate just how tough the hike was. I thought she was trying to be helpful, but Becky seemed to think she was sizing us up. As a result, we wanted to reach the summit even more.
I went on ahead while the cohorts came along more leisurely, and I wish I could have gone all the way up. The trail was stunning that afternoon, particularly with the way the sun was hitting it. There were a few places where the treetops turned the woods into a premature dusk, but as I ascended, rays of sun broke through and illuminated the trail. At one point, a vista opened behind me, and it triggered one of those “I AM ALIVE!” moments. Though it wasn’t a great view, there was just something about turning around and seeing those mountains peeking through the trees, something to remind me how far up I had come.
It’s the sort of reminder we all need from time to time.
I know what it’s like to get tired on a steep hike, but this climb rejuvenated me. All the joint and muscle pain I’d been having seemed to vanish. The higher I went, the further I wanted to go. I probably would have gone all the way to the top had I not lost vocal contact with the others, so I started back. I experienced a brief moment of horror when I’d been descending for more than five minutes and they neither showed up nor answered my calls, but I finally found them down by the vista. As one of the cohorts wasn’t feeling too well, we chose to head back down.
I think another try is in the cards. We might even be able to ascend from another direction, as we later discovered a southern access point to Osceola on Tripoli Rd. This one looks a bit more promising. Even better, a trail for Mt. Tecumseh lies across from it; that one is also on our bucket list. If we can get on the road earlier, either summit should in reach!