The Appalachian Trail from the South Peak of Kinsman Mountain twisted relentlessly down, passing Lonesome Lake with its fine views of the Franconia Range down to Franconia Notch. The Notch is a mountain pass running north-south with 4,000-foot Cannon Mountain to the west and the 5,249 feet of Mount Lafayette guarding the east. It is an impressive geological region, particularly when viewed from the road.
The trail heads east up 4,459-foot Mount Liberty and then cuts north over the narrow ridge that separates the Notch from the 45,000 acres of the Pemigewassett Wilderness to the east. The ridge is steep in places, but never dangerous and when the weather is good, the views are some of the best in the eastern United States.
When I finally summited Mount Lafayette, I could have headed down to Greenleaf Shelter but decided to troop on to the next tent site near Mount Garfield, another 4,500-footer. This section from Lafayette to Galehead Hut is some of the roughest hiking on the entire Appalachian Trail.
I reached Galehead the next day and though the mileage was minimal, I was a bit tired. Luckily, I had choices: I could struggle up the 4,900 feet of South Twin with a full pack or I could spend the night at Galehead where I would get a bunk and be fed dinner and breakfast. While I had not been planning on staying at Galehead, the decision was ridiculously easy. I dropped my pack on the porch, found a nice bunk and settled in.
Often, the things a hiker remembers from the trail are the difficult or dangerous moments: A lightning storm, getting lost or even getting hurt. The normal daily grind of churning miles fades into the deeper recesses of memory. That would have been true of my Galehead stay, except for one thing that happened early the next morning.
The dawning light outside the window of the bunkroom suggested the sun would rise on a clear and mild mid-summer day. I lay awake in my bunk, savoring the moment and complimenting myself on the choice of staying at Galehead rather than pushing up to the summit of South Twin. Just then, I heard someone singing “Morning Has Broken.” I had not heard this song before (it was originally an English children’s hymn, “The Morning Song”), but from that moment the lyrics became imprinted in my mind and heart. Every time I hear it sung (usually by Cat Stevens) I think of that day in that place on the hike that would not end until forty-four years later. Here is the first stanza from the actual hymn:
Morning has broken like the first morning,
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird.
Praise for the singing,
Praise for the morning,
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word.