Wilderness Heals

Thank you for visiting the Wilderness Heals blog. Wilderness Heals is an all-women, three-day annual pledge hike that benefits the Elizabeth Stone House (ESH), a Boston-based emergency shelter, transitional housing program, and therapeutic community that provides services to women and children who are escaping violence and overcoming trauma. By encouraging hikers to set challenging physical, emotional, and financial goals, Wilderness Heals mirrors the experiences of hundreds of women who have sought help from the Stone House. Committing to hike is a way to grow personally while simultaneously standing in solidarity with women of the Stone House and women everywhere who are working to overcome the effects of violence in their lives.
Wilderness Heals 2011 will take place July 15-17, 2011. Registration materials may be downloaded here.
Go here to view the 2011 routes, and visit our Who's Who page to meet this year's team leaders and Recruitment Committee members.
Want to learn more? Visit our list of Frequently Asked Questions.
Still have questions? Contact Erika Whyte, Wilderness Heals event coordinator, at 781-726-0551 or ewhyte@elizabethstone.org.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

On Ethan Pond

Three-year Wilderness Heals veteran Susan Genatossio led last year’s Backcountry excursion. The following excerpt was taken from her journal.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


Becky sits alone at the water’s edge. The boulders at this end of Ethan Pond are perfect perches for watching the new day unfold or an old day come to closure. Her smile is her only greeting to me. A human voice would seem discordant amongst the early morning summer symphony of the mountains. As the mist evaporates off the water with the rising sun, bullfrogs call their song in the quiet pools along the shorelines, and the birdsong fills the air—winter wren, mountain chickadee, white-throated sparrow. Occasionally, circular rings appear and grow on the surface as a fish rises to capture his breakfast bug. I spy a pair of ducks bobbing and cavorting. They are unaware of our presence as we watch their playful romance. Some other members of our team were fortunate to observe a moose here in the dusk of Friday evening. I think Becky and I are hoping for a second glimpse right now.

This peaceful moment is a welcome reward for our having met and conquered yesterday’s hike along the Willey Ridge. The team convened for breakfast yesterday as Friday night’s rainfall slowly diminished. We fired up the backpacking stoves and boiled water for coffee and tea. Oatmeal with raisins and grilled bagels with cheeses, peanut butter, and sunflower seeds were the menu offerings for the energy needed and for getting an early start. We departed for the trail about nine-thirty…those boulders at the pond beckoning us to stay, dawdle, and while away the day.

We hiked back out the Ethan Pond Trail and made our way on to the Willey Ridge Trail. Our goal was to summit Mt. Willey, evaluate the time and progress, then consider pushing on to Mt. Field and Mt. Tom before turning back and retracing our steps to our campsite. After several small stream crossings, the trail became noticeably steeper and very rough. Gravel slides and washed-away sections became the rule with intermittent trail improvement efforts of water bars and stone steps.

Liz proved to be a natural hike leader. Her sure step, agile strength, and remarkable pace kept us all motivated to go forward. Emily, Gaynor, and Alice seemed very able to match her momentum, and those four were often out ahead for most of the day. Karin, Danielle, Becky, and I made up the slower half of our group, but our steady steps found us near the others as we came around each bend in the trail. We talked and shared our stories the entire day.

About half way up the steep climb of Willey, we came across an awesome work of mountain engineering—a multi-tiered, step ladder built to aid our ascent up sheer rock ledge and twisted tree roots. At first it was a bit unnerving, but it wasn’t long before we all felt deeply appreciative of the ease it allowed for us to climb this vertical piece of trail. Alas, the ladder was too short (where’s the escalator?), and the remaining trail to the summit was an arduous continuation of “steep and rough.”

Though this section of trail is only 1.1 miles long, it gains an elevation of 1,600 feet overall. The summit was mostly tree covered with two small outlooks—a disappointment at this late morning hour because the only view was of the inside of a cloud. After a little break and a snack, we voted to continue on to Mt. Field. The trail went gradually up and down through the col, and the overcast sky started to burn off. We could glimpse the wilderness of the Pemigewasset briefly through the trees.

By now it was one o’clock, and a longer break for lunch was in order. As we parked alongside the trail and shared our food, several other hikers passed by on their way to Willey and beyond. Sweaty, bug-bites, and hunger were the general focus points of our team, but spirits were revived with rest, food, and water.

Packing back up, we unexpectedly found the summit of Field just around the next bend. The sun had done its magic and had lifted the mist almost completely. We had phenomenal views across Crawford Notch to the Webster Cliff and the Presidentials marching off to the Northeast. From another vantage point, we saw Mt. Tom in front of us, and the Zealand area beyond. We waved to all of our Wilderness Heals sisters who we imagined negotiating their own challenges in both those regions of the Whites. We then gathered ourselves in a special spot near the summit and recognized the moment in a small ceremony of sharing.

The time on Danielle’s watch said it would be wise to get going for an optimum return to camp before the day’s end. Tom would have to wait for our visit another day. So, we reluctantly hefted our packs and retraced our steps thru the col to the Willey summit. There, in a cloud of black flies, we shared our remaining water with Emily, whose Nalgene bottle was dry, and I cautioned everyone about focusing on their descent. Fatigued and bothered by growing, small discomforts, I was concerned for everyone as we made our way back down the “steep and rough.” For a second time, those ladders were a welcome sight—not only were they a brief respite from the rigors, but also a marker to how close we were to camp.

Having successfully negotiated the downward challenge, the lovely sound of running water greeted us back at the stream crossings, and we took the opportunity to filter and refill our water supply. We bathed our trail-weary feet and bodies, and never before had a cold “head dunk” felt so good!

The trail approaching Ethan Pond is fairly level with many planked sections for protecting the boggy ground under our boots. Those of us at the back of the line were startled to come to sudden stop…a very “manly” ruffed grouse stood right in the middle of the trail, giving Liz the eye and making it very clear we weren’t welcome! His plumage was in full array as he strutted back and forth along the plank ahead. He actually made advances toward us and necessitated our retreat! Who would have thought that a creature the size of a chicken could get the adrenalin of eight women with backpacks running through their nervous systems so completely that they had to consider a bushwhack back to camp! Even our shrieks and foot stomping on the planks didn’t deter his stance! But, AHA! There was the object of his desire…not eight sweaty, stinky women…just one small female ruffed grouse. There she was, coyly making her way alongside the trail in the brush, appearing every so often as to catch his devoted gaze. Finally, she seemed sympathetic to our gender and moved deeper into the trees with her suitor close behind.

Our campsite and tents came into view. This part of the day is always so welcome. Small luxuries become huge…drop the packs, wash and change to dry clothes, change socks and footwear, Ibuprofen, hot tea, maybe a little baby powder…it all feels so wonderful…even heavenly! And after recouping a little energy, we gathered at the cooking area for our evening feast of Pad Thai with fresh veggies, tempeh, chicken and a dessert of “Chocolate Decadence”….Backcountry Dauntless Gastronomes are Us!

So now, the morning sun has revealed the entire surface of Ethan Pond, the groves of trees along the shore, and the surrounding ridge lines of this wilderness area. Some other team members have joined Becky and me at the boulder “bleachers,” and soft conversations about yesterday’s hike are overheard.

I guess it is time for me to close my book, put away the pen, and rejoin the human race. But there never was a nicer group of humans to have shared a backcountry experience with. Not less than two days ago we hardly knew each others tales, individualities, and desires…we have been companions of the mountains and of each other…this weekend will never be repeated, but we will carry what is in our hearts on to future Wilderness Heals Hikes and share the mountain spirit with new and old friends.

Peace and Go Wild,

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


As I was trying to take a break between appts. I came across yuor marvelous jurnal entry. I Did not intend on reding the whole thing but I found I could not stop reading. You are a very engaging writer. I almost wish the hike was next week. Even though my physical trainning is serously lagging behind. I have done the hike four times and missed last two years. If there was a doubt in my mind to return, you put it at ease. Happy hiking !!! Rosa