Mt. Pemigewasset. On the 52 With a View list. A fairly easy hike at 3.2 miles and 1253 feet of ascent. On a lovely September day. How did I manage to just “attempt” and not actually summit? By deciding I would try my first sunset hike as a solo hike on a trail close to the highway.
I took off a Wednesday afternoon and decided to drive up for a sunset hike. My first sunset hike. Because it was last minute, I wasn’t able to convince anyone to join me. No problem, I’ve solo hiked a ton. I picked Mt. Pemi because it was short and I’d heard relatively easy. I didn’t want to have to face tough terrain or water crossings in the dark. Shorter hike also meant I could time my hike better than a longer one.
However, Mt. Pemi shares a parking lot with the Flume visitor center. On this late September Wednesday afternoon, that lot was mostly empty. Normally, a good thing. The lot is also right off the highway. I’m used to much harder to get to trailheads. Great, I thought.
I parked the car. And headed out. Plenty of time to make it to the summit for sunset. I had my headlamp (and a backup), I was good to go. I saw a few people on their way out, said hello, all that. Then I saw a guy coming down the path. Wearing jeans, a t-shirt, sunglasses. Nothing else. He didn’t have water, or a pack. It was not sunny in the woods, so the sunglasses were odd. In short, he didn’t look like a hiker and he gave me a weird vibe. It was then that I realized how close we were to muggles. How easy it would be for a not hiker to pull off the highway, park in the lot, and just walk a bit up a trail into the woods.
Not helping my bad vibe was the fact that you have to go through three sketchy AF tunnels. Again, the trailhead uses the Flume center parking lot. The lot is on the opposite side of a huge highway from the mountain. This was the “nicest” of the three tunnels.
One of them had bushes leading all the way up to the entrance. Due to the light and length of the tunnels, there was definitely a point in the middle where you could not see the ground you were stepping on. I got through them fine, but my brain kept reminding me that I’d have to come back through those in total darkness later. Thanks, brain.
It began to get dark. Not dark dark, but the dark of the woods before sun set. I kept thinking about the weird vibe dude and those tunnels. Now I’ve been in the woods in the dark. It doesn’t bother me. I love the woods. The woods are my happy place. But I felt off. Everything felt off. My happy place was not at all making me happy. Every chipmunk sounded like a human coming up behind me. Every bird I saw out of the corner of my eye was someone lurking in a bush.
Also, I had to pee.
So at about 1/4 of a mile from the summit, I stopped to pee. And made a decision. And here’s what I posted when I got home, which just about sums it all up:
“I drove 2 hours and hiked 1 1/4 miles just to pee in the woods, then turn around and come home. #wasSupposedToBeASunsetHike #iChickenedOut #didNotSummit”
It continued to get darker and I was NOT looking forward to those tunnels. I completely had the childhood darkness thing where you walk through and you KNOW someone is behind you, but you can’t run because if you run, THEN THEY WILL CHASE YOU. Of course, no one was there (or they were but by the rules of darkness were not allowed to chase me, you decide), and I safely returned to my car and drove home.
This was a deeply disturbing hike for me, not because I didn’t summit or because I was afraid of the tunnels, but because my happy place was not my happy place. It hurt my heart a little.