Lange: Chipmunks and mountaintops

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(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange has been hiking in the White Mountains – with a daughter.

(LANGE)  There’s a chipmunk here on the top of Mount Lafayette, at 5260 feet above sea level and well above timberline.  This place freezes solid for several months every year, and is coated with ice in midwinter.  But the chipmunk’s apparently as much at home as if he were in  a suburban privet hedge.  I’ve met another one on 48-hundred-foot Mount Moosilauke.  How these little guys make it up from timberline without getting nabbed by hawks, I don’t know.

There’s no question why they’re here.  More than a hundred hikers will cross this peak today, and most will pause to eat a little lunch and toss a few tidbits to the chippie scurrying around their feet.  He pops from cracks and crevices and cruises the crowd.  He never pauses to chew, but dashes off to his cache with the crumbs and nuts stowed in his cheeks.  That means he plans to spend the winter here.  Tonight he’ll be snoozing in a hole somewhere in these ledges, while in the hut below, I’ll toast his health and envy him his view of the sunset, the meteors, and the moonrise.

This has been a hiking week, most of it vicarious.  Our older daughter flew East to spend a week on the Long Trail in Vermont and then join me for three days’ hiking to the AMC huts in the White Mountains.  On a sunny morning I dropped her off at the foot of Camels Hump.

I thought of her all that Wednesday – How was she doing with that pack?  Were the water sources running all right?  Sunday morning I checked my e-mail and got: "On Romance Mountain headed to Gillispie. All fine."   Not bad; 50 miles in four days, and "all fine" sounded good to me.  By Monday evening she’d made 25 more miles and turned east onto the Appalachian Trail.  Then it started to rain – really rain!

Now, all dried out and relieved of her pack, she’s hiking with me in the Whites and concealing beautifully her impatience at my plodding pace.  The effect of multiple prostheses and fractures is catching up with me.  Tomorrow we’ll descend to Franconia Notch and climb up the other side to Lonesome Lake, a total of only a little over four miles.  There’s a chipmunk there, too, who from time to time edges nervously over the threshold of the dining room door.

But for now we’ll just enjoy this magnificent mountain.  Franconia Ridge stretches away southward from the summit.  Not far along it is the spot where a good friend, an Outward Bound instructor, was killed by lightning years ago.  Beneath our feet is the tumbled foundation of the old Summit House, where long-ago guests of a hotel in the valley could spend the night after riding up the Bridle Path.

Haunted by memories, warmed by sun, cooled by a breeze… something moves by my feet.  It’s the little striped god of the mountaintop, wondering if we’ve brought him an offering.

This is Willem Lange reminiscing up on Mount Lafayette, and I gotta get back to work.

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