After a brief layover in Franconia Notch for laundry and resupply we headed over Franconia Ridge the next day in the rain. Franconia Ridge is a 2 mile, exposed ridge walk that, on a good day, offers extensive White Mountain views. This was not a good day. The only view was the moving mist of the cloud we were walking in, and it was throwing everything it had at us. The light rain pelted us at an angle and felt like needles piercing our face. The wind came across the ridge in such strong gusts that we had to physically maintain a strait line to keep on the trail. We stopped only briefly to snap a few pictures and a pack cover was ripped off one of our packs. Luckily it was tied on!
We scrambled off the ridge as quickly as possible, escaping with only soggy clothes and burning cheeks. From there we trudged up Garfield, once again to a viewless summit.
The next day we traveled on tamer topography and spent the night just off trail at Carter Notch State Park to pick up a drop my parents had sent. The two miles to our off trail destination was entirely motivated by the knowledge of fresh baked cookies in the drop. As the rain settled in once again, and as our pace quickened, the thought of chocolate chip goodness kept us warm even though there wasn’t an inch on us dry.
We waited out the rain in the park office, a small shack serving as a satelite location for camp check in. There was no attendant there, and we later found out that there rarely was; we took advantage of the shelter and met a variety of campers as they checked in, confusing us for someone in charge.
It was in this way that we met a retired camper/rv transporter out on a similar AT adventure: unable to endure the physical strains of a long distance hike, he was auto touring a route that took him to all the best spots along the trail. Not only did he give us a ride into a general store for some necessities: soda and chips, but he later asked if he could give me a gift: a bottle of wine. I’d be stupid to say no to that!
The weather cleared that night and we had sunny skies scaling Webster Cliffs the next day. Having been suffocated by clouds for the past few days, we were delighted to get a clear view of the Presidential Range. We stayed that evening at Naumen Tentsite, moving us into position for Mt. Washington the next morning.
The tentsite was positioned right next to Mitzpah Hut, one of 8 AMC high sky accommodations. These huts allow hikers to experience the Whites with the luxury of bed and meals at the end of the day. Thru-hikers are often allowed work-for-stay at these locations: free lodging and leftovers in exchange for 2 hours of work. We unfortunately didn’t get this option during our New Hampshire stay because the facilities aren’t shark friendly. However, because the camp area was so close to the hut, we were able to camp for free and scored a 1/2 dozen fresh cookies from the camp/hut croo. For a little amount of work, we were generously compensated!
The next morning we were up with the sunrise, heading for Mt. Washington. We broke treeline within the first few miles and there began our epic day. Our journey across the Presidential Range began with Mt Webster (was he a president?), followed by Jackson (both prior to Mizpah), then Pierce, Eisenhower, Franklin and Monroe before summiting the 6288 ft Mt Washington. The trail, although rocky, was well graded. The care and effort put into the trail on this assent was evident. We had some hot cocoa and donut holes at the summit (yes, because there’s a snack bar on top), before snapping a summit pic and heading on. It was here that our day turned into a quite literal rocky horror.
The White Mountains are rocky but the remaining trail scaling Mt Clay, Jefferson and Madison was nothing short of a rock scramble. It was as if at one point the range had erupted like a volcano, spewing jagged boulders everywhere. There wasn’t an inch of dirt to be found, nothing but a sea of stones stood before us. It took us 12 hours to hike 14.5 miles; the climbs up offered a little more relief then the crawls down. The only thing that kept me from crying that day was the sun and miles of panoramic views; had it started to rain while we were exposed, stranded on that brutal, rock nightmare, I would have surely lost my mind. It was the most horribly beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced.
We made it to Osgood Camp minutes before the drizzle began. We were able to eat dinner before the rain turned to a steady pour. We shared our camp with a momma moose that was not in the least amused with us (even with the Landshark’s incessant badgering). We also met our first Sobo- Thirst- an eager hiker hoping to set a time record for fastest unsupported hike. This hiking season seems to be a year for record- breaking as an ultra marathoner is currently on que for setting the time for fastest supported hike. Additionally, there is a Nobo anticipating a record unsupported northbound hike who plans to start in July.
I often wonder if people just hike the trail anymore… Just the old one-foot-in-front-of-the-other strategy; the non competitive approach?! I worry that the magic of the trail is lost in this seek and conquer mentality.
We headed out Pinkham Notch the next day and made an unplanned stop at White Birches Hiker Hostel. We took care of our resupply and decided to take it easy the following day by slack packing the Wildcats and Carters (both mountains boast multiple peaks).
It was a beautiful day for mountain climbing as we treaded lightly over Wildcat and Carter Dome. One of the best views in the Whites was seen from Mt Height, offering 360° views including the entire presidential Range on one side and the mountains of not-so-far-away Maine on the other.
Then we got a case of the lazies. We didn’t hit the trail the next day until noon and made it to Trident Col Tentsite, merely 6 miles of the 12 we had anticipated. It poured that night and the tent almost set sail on a sea of drainage. The next morning was another slow start, and we fell short of our anticipated stay again with little more excuse other the we didn’t want to go further. We crossed our final border, entering into Maine, and perhaps our recent apathy is related to the very near and apparent end of our long journey.
Now is NOT the time to be slowing down. For the first time on this trip we have a timeline. Scruffs was able to regain employment at his former job, and we’ll be heading back to reality on July 12th. It is because of this that we need to finish by July 10th. Again, I reiterate, not the time to be getting lazy. The shelter was fuller than usual that night. We were accompanied with a retiree, dedicating a life to service work and ensuring the security of some of our most important assets; Lifeguard was out on his final section of his end-to-end section hike of the AT. We were also accompanied by a mother, about to turn 40, and her 15 year old son out to complete the AT section from Franconia Ridge, NH to Katadin, Maine. And then, pulling in late was Bowie, a Nobo who started with Good Knight, using the most of his day, strolling in just before sunset.
The next morning, for the first time on this entire trip, everyone was up at 5 am. Actually, I think that the majority was up at 4 b/c we had a snorer in the shelter, but regardless, it was a bustling shelter by 6 am. We were all aware of the impeding rain and I think that we all intended to jump to the next shelter and then see what happened.
We made a run for it up Mt Carlo and the Goose Eye peaks being stung by a steady sheet of rain. We moved fast and often carelessly over slick slab rock. I bit it more times in the past two weeks then in the entire trip. We found shelter before the floor dropped out of the impregnated cloud that was following us. We laid over at Full Goose Shelter where we met another south-bounder- one of too many we’d be soon to encounter.
After the rain passed we decided to gain some ground, and headed on for Mahoosuc Notch. Mahoosuc Notch is a 1 mile boulder jumble that has the reputation of being the most difficult or most fun mile of the trail. Having survived the experience, I would categorize it as neither the hardest nor most fun. It was tedious but not difficult; it was remarkable but not fun. I would qualify it as the LONGEST mile of the trail.
It wasn’t the climbs and crawls over the boulders that got us, it was the long, hard climb up Mahoosuc Arm that was the literal slap in the face. The 1600 foot vertical climb was reminiscent of Mt Kinsmen, and we were near faint by the time we made it to Speck Pond.
We spent the night with Bowie again that night and although thunderstorms were promised, we got little more than strong winds. The next morning we headed down Speck Mountain, feeling the repercussions from the difficulties of the day before. By the time we hit bottom, my stomach was cramped from hunger and, although there was a cooler of trail magic at the parking lot, I hesitated for a brief second to grab a coke before I b-lined it to a picnic table to make lunch.
As we sat scarfing our food, an older gentleman pulled up and started to walk over. At first we thought it was yet another unsuspecting victim lured in by the Landshark, just before the attack. He came over to us and told us that he’d really like if we stayed with them for the night. We realized he was the owner of a local cabin/hostel. Not convinced, we told him we were headed to Rangeley and not expecting to stay in Andover. He pointed out that he’d get us right back to where we wanted to be; yet still unconvinced he continued, ” What do you want for dinner?” He began to sound quite appealing. He lured us in with the tasty sounds of spaghetti and garlic bread, eggs and sausage for breakfast. We told him we’d call him at the next trail head when he suggested: “well, then I’ll take your bags.” What?! Sold! We’ll be staying at “The Cabin!”
Earl and Margie, better known as Honey and Bear, took us in for two days. They fed us more food than we could eat, shared stories and information that proved to be very helpful and took the load off (literally) by slack packing us over Mt. Moody and Old Blue.
After our stay in Andover, we headed into Rangeley for a resupply before heading up Saddleback Mountain, enjoying 3 miles of alpine exposed views on an absolutely gorgeous day. The beauty continued over Mt Spaulding the next day before losing our weather window.
A trail angel picked us off the trail to bring us into Stratton to avoid the rain. All the locals kept warning us about a complete wash out so we decided to take the next day off to stay dry. We spent the next day waiting out the rain that never came. It was frustrating wasting a perfectly hike-able day but it was nice sitting in bed and watching countless episodes of Roseanne and Saved By the Bell. Back at it tomorrow with only 12 days to go; we’ll keep you posted!