Just 24 hours ago, many of us who were spending the night anywhere in a tent in Northern New Hampshire were cursing the weather people along with Mother Nature herself. The rain was supposed to end. Cooler than normal temps meant 50 degrees but not 40. These girls pictured above not only hiked for 5 hours heading uphill in a driving rainstorm; they also assembled their tents with wet, cold hands whose muscles and joints were stiff from the cold. Some were on the verge of tears; some just wanted their moms or dads to swoop in on a helicopter, glider, parachute– anything– to get out of this cold, miserable rain. Have I mentioned just how cold it was raining? We spent one night and hiked out this morning instead of following through on a hiking plan which would have led us across the Lafayette Ridge tomorrow facing 20-30 degree temperatures due to wind chill. We had prepared for the rain, but not for those kinds of temperatures only to return to wet tents. That decision would have been irresponsible. Sometimes, we need to know when to turn back, and this morning, we headed home with very tired, very tough, young women, whom we remain very proud of. Just when we thought there might have been tears, they dug deep in their packs and found strength amid their snacks and dry clothes.
Then, right before heading down the trail after breakfast, a lovely thru hiking couple named Detour and Izzy told OUR Girls of Summer that yesterday had been the SECOND hardest day of hiking they had encountered on the entire AT so far because of the rain. Hearing someone else (professionals, mind you, of the trail and not simply their middle school science or high school English teachers) remind of them of their “bad-ass-ness” made them stand taller, stronger, prouder.
“So we weren’t just being whiney and weak,” one of them asked.
“No way! You girls are so much stronger than you can even imagine being able to hike that– that’s one of the toughest 3 miles we’ve done and we had to do it in the rain. So did you.” Detour knew just the right words these girls needed to hear as they sucked down their hot cocoas.
They were not happy with Mother Nature, and I’m pretty sure they were having a domestic dispute with their feelings about the love we generally have for our White Mountains. In honor of not giving up and powering through challenging trails, I share with you the first batch of our “Dear Mary Letters”. They are being offered up to newspapers of the girls’ choices all across the country. I do hope Mary gets to read at least one or two.
Dear Mary Altz-Smith,
The trails of the White Mountains are very special. It truly is nature; there is no changing it. It is a part of the land that we humans will not destroy like we have in so many cities around the globe. The trails are kept clean and nice; however, we do not remove roots or put in unnecessary handholds. In my personal opinion, hiking is about the thrill and taking risks. I have to respectfully disagree with your point about the White Mountain trails being a disgrace. There is always something that can happen in the woods. Even if there are safety precautions taken. Hiking is about being able to put yourself out there and in a situation where you can push yourself to the limit. I have not hiked for as long as you, but I have hiked in the White Mountains my whole life. They are my home and what I have grown up on. The White Mountains are real mountains- they challenge me and my fellow hikers to put our physical strength to the test.
The Girls of Summer go on an overnight every year and I am in it. Last year was my first one and it was quite interesting. Let’s just say that I now have a decent sized scar on my shin from that hike. I don’t regret a single minute from it though. I had an amazing experience that I got to share with people. That’s what hiking means to be, putting yourself in danger for the view on the top. I think the thing that most people miss about hiking is the hard work that is attached to it. I have had to navigate and work hard to get to the top of many trails in my years. That pushes over into school too; I am a good student because I work hard. I got that from hiking at a young age. Hiking in the White Mountains is an experience that I think everyone should experience naturally, climbing the trails as they are.
Delaney J. Pickering, grade 10 Lin-Wood Public School
Dear Mrs. Altz-Smith,
I have written a response letter to you due to your recent letter to the editor of The Union Leader. The White Mountains are a beautiful place to hike and certainly not a “disgrace” as you called them. You claimed that, “These trails are dangerous and limit safe use to only athletes”. I’m sorry to inform you madam that this statement is false. You are missing the point of hiking here. Climbing over rocks and dodging roots is not very “dangerous” and can be done by people of all ages.
I am part of a youth hiking group called Girls of Summer. I believe that I don’t need steps to get over a boulder, or have the whole trail paved. These special challenges make hiking more difficult but that makes getting to the top that much more meaningful. The woods are very close to how they were when our ancestors first settled here. The trails bring you back to your roots and how the whole world would be if man-made development never happened. By paving or drastically changing the wilderness you are taking all of this away. As an experienced hiker yourself I am surprised that you have done such little hiking in the White Mountains. I know that from my experience hiking in the White Mountains that they are beautiful and not entirely dangerous and should be left the way that nature intended.
Jillian Clark, Grade 9 Lin-Wood Public School