I found myself asking this question recently. It just popped into my head while I was flipping through an album of pictures from this past year. I started taking them in January. How do you measure a hiking year? That was the question. I figure the short answer is in that picture album. There are pictures from all over the state, and in every season. Lots of pretty pictures, that’s a fairly good measure.
But it’s more than a bunch of pictures in an album. Scanning through the photos, I make a connection to the day they were taken and how I got to that spot in the first place. It was by hiking there, purposefully putting one foot in front of the other. No great adventure necessarily, just a hike in the woods or up a hill.
The first few scenes are of the Cadillac Mountain sunrise on New Year’s Day ’08. It had snowed a foot and a half the night before. The summit was as cold as a walk-in freezer and covered in white. I was about 20 minutes late for actual sunrise by the time I got there. I got off the trail by following someone else’s tracks ahead of me, who was also lost. By the time I got back on the trail, the sun was up. I still went for the top to finish the hike. It looks like we’ll have a lot of snow this year for that annual tradition, unless it rains. It’s always an interesting surprise. There are several pictures of winter trips to Acadia and Baxter State Park.
Flipping through the photos into spring and early summer takes me back to where fly fishing must have been my reason for hiking on those weekends. There are only a few photos of fish taken and kept for supper. That’s because I only caught a few fish. There are a lot of river and stream photos, instead.
The pictures don’t show the steep climbs that didn’t allow me to stop for a photo, because I’m either out of breath or my hands are busy grabbing for holds. Or the rainy days when the only thing I could see worth taking a picture of are mushrooms. It’s because they’re everywhere and I’m looking at the ground that I noticed them at all. I’m looking down to duck from the torrential rain of last summer. I took a surprising number of mushroom shots.
Some people measure their year in miles, or peaks climbed or nights out or walls scaled or some other standard of their own choosing. That’s just fine with me. Pick your own measure and hike your own hike. I do add up my miles, but only roughly, because I don’t log every hike. Just the major ones, like the several trail work hikes I took between May and June. The pictures from this year’s trips don’t show any black flies on the lens of the camera, because they were on my arms drawing blood.
The photos are visual cues, like a stage director’s prompts, to my real memory of the day’s hike. My hiking years are measured in time remembered. Remembering the scent of spruces and firs as trails are clipped out. Looking at a photo I recall the wildlife that just seems to appear out of nowhere in front of me. I got quite a few wildlife shots, including one of a bull moose in June — still rackless — in Baxter State Park, an eagle in July that soared directly over my head in Acadia, and another of a doe and an eight-point buck in Acadia in November.
It’s the pictures that transport me to the moment. One look and I can hear my footsteps and nothing more on my way up a trail to a newly remembered view, one I knew was there. The album contains portraits of some of my hiking friends, newly met and longtime. In the pictures my friends look like they’re having a good time, but you can’t hear the jokes or good-natured pranks or their laughter. I remember we had a good time and they must have, too, because we’re all still friends and they continue to go with me.
Most of the shots came from day hikes. My weekends are logged in the photos. Some of the best scenes, though, came from a three-day hike on the Appalachian Trail from Monson to Katahdin Iron Works Road. It was in September and the trees were just changing colors. The 30-mile hike took me past several ponds, across sev-eral streams and over the Barren-Chairback mountain range. The views from the range were astounding. Gazing at the photos takes me back to that hike. I can almost feel the late autumn chill in the air that accompanied me on the challenging trek.
Closing the album and looking outside is a jolt of reality. The snow that made it instantly winter last weekend looks ready for exploring. Whenever I head out on skis or snowshoes, I’ll have my camera with me. The first photo that I take for the 2009 album will be from the same location as this year’s, Cadillac Mountain at sun-rise. I can’t wait to get up there. If I get an earlier start I actually might make it to the top before the sun comes up.