2019 – Three Small Section Hikes
Inching Toward Katahdin
I didn’t have one single long period of time off from work this year. Instead, I did three small section hikes, one each in June, July, and August.
In which I finally finish Vermont!
It does not seem like I should require three different years to finish off Vermont. But finally it is done.
In which Reilly and I get drenched.
A short day with a late start, as I had to drive from my home near Syracuse, NY, to the end of my hike, then shuttle back to Route 4 in Vermont, where I left off in 2018. It seems as if it always rains when I am in Vermont. And no sooner did I start out with Reilly—my little border terrier—in tow than it began to pour. (Boomer, alas, is now 12.5 years old and has some heart trouble, so his AT days are over.) We arrived at Gifford Woods State Park in the evening. It seemed deserted, but we found the caretaker at the office. I decided on a cabin, assuming I would have plenty of opportunities this summer to sleep in a wet tent this summer.
In which Reilly demonstrates she prefers not to be a long-distance hiker, and I destroy important equipment.
We hiked ten miles, which was perfect, as my goal was to to average ten miles per day. It was alternately humidly warm and drizzling. During the warm times, Reilly decided to flop down every 15 minutes and pant. So I ended up putting her pound of dog food into my pack. Eventually we passed Thundering Falls ,which was beautiful. Later in the day came a big ladder to descend. Uh oh. How to accomplish that with a dog?! Later—always it’s later—other hikers told me that it is easy to hike around. My solution was to first toss my pack down. Then I attached my stretchy bungee leash to Reilly’s pack harness and lowered her down. (The leash was a cheapish Amazon purchase that was sturdier than brand name fancy bungee leashes; the pack is by Ruffwear.) Finally I climbed down.
All seemed well until I stopped a few hours later to treat water with my Aqua-Mira drops. I carry the bottles on a pocket on my left shoulder strap. Usually I carry a spare set but, before my departure, I thought to myself, what could go wrong? Lighten my pack. I couldn’t use up an entire new set of Aqua-Mira drops in less than one week. True. BUT bottle A was empty! I cracked it when I tossed my pack down. It leaked slowly, and bleached a six-inch blob, ruining my favorite T-shirt, “The More the Terrier,” made by Teddy the Dog. And burned my skin. Just a minor burn.
So now I had no way to purify my water in Vermont, where farmland abounds. Well, I would have to drink untreated water. Because, as someone later in the summer told me, hydrate or die-drate. I survived unscathed.
We ended up stealth camping near a stream. It poured all night but we stayed snug and dry in the tent. The heavy rain didn’t start until my tent was set up and it stopped before daybreak. Perfect for charging up the water sources.
In which the blisters start.
Another ten-mile hike, with cool drizzly rain all morning. The afternoon was cool and sunny. But my wet feet started to blister. No fair! My Keen boots were broken in and I have hiked in Keens before, blister-free. Aaargh!
I met trail maintainers. I stopped at the Winturri Shelter, and met one hiker who was busy getting stoned. I stealth camped that night among white pines, listening to barred owls.
In which the water purification problem is solved.
An uneventful day marred by blister pain. I was able to visit Cloudland Market. It’s not really much of a store; it’s a farm-to-table restaurant that sells ice cream, cheese, and beef jerky. But I was able to empty out bottle B of my Aqua-Mira drops, and fill it with chlorine bleach so that I had a means to treat my water. I bought ice cream—of course—and sat on the beautiful porch with Reilly to eat it. Along the way I saw a tree that looked like a creepy face. I found a morel mushroom but didn’t have any olive oil with me to sauté it.
I hiked to Thistle Hill Shelter and tented nearby. I did have a nice chat with other hikers at the shelter.
In which trail magic happens.
I hiked nine miles to Happy Hill Shelter. All day I saw only two other hikers: one SOBO section hiker and two NOBO thru-hikers.
In West Hartford, some super nice folks who live along the trail had trail magic—muffins and soda. I prefer water, but I filled my water bottles with cold fresh water and ate a yummy corn muffin. Thanks! And there was a dumpster so that I could ditch my trash.
At the shelter that night there were barred owls again. Since there was no one else around, I slept in the shelter rather than setting up my tent.
In which Vermont is FINALLY completed.
Hiked into Hanover, NH, today. FINALLY FINISHED VERMONT!! I planned to go a little farther but called it quits, due to blisters My friends Jim and Peggy, who live in Vermont near Hanover, picked me up, even though my poor timing had me arrive during Dartmouth graduation and a major traffic jam. I listened to some graduation speeches while waiting. Reilly mostly slept under a shady bench. She does not like hot weather. And the last part of today’s hike was in direct hot sun on pavement.
Hot and dry all the way for five days in southern NH. It’s a two-edged sword. No wet gear but hot and thirsty and most seasonal streams dried up, which means carrying a lot of water.
In which travel and shuttle happen.
Today I drove up to Dartmouth, left my car in the A lot, and met a great shuttle driver /trail angel, David Avery. He’s a professor emeritus from Dartmouth. We took the scenic route to Hikers Welcome hostel in/near Wentworth, NH. I got a tour and history lesson. My nephew’s wife—whom I adore—is a Wentworth from southern Maine, descendant of Bennington Wentworth, for whom Wentworth, NH, is named.
In which Moosilauke is slackpacked.
My first taste of the White Mountains. I slackpacked Moosilauke southbound back to the hostel, nine miles. The good news, dry weather. The bad news is that I took a little more than eight hours, alas. (A sign at the hostel states the hike is typically four to eight hours.) But I wasn’t the slowest slackpacker on my shuttle run, so there’s that. It was great to be able to shower at the hostel, and take a ride to the deli for a sandwich.
Trail magic again.
I covered just eight miles today in the heat. Good thing Reilly stayed home. I stealth camped at Bracket Brook. It was funny, one of the hikers that I met reported that there were beautiful big pines there. Not quite. Hemlocks! But that’s what I expected, watching the forest as I hiked. The first trail magic—a big cube of drinking water. And even more trail magic. At one road crossing a former thru-hiker and her husband had a trail magic station. I ate cheeseburger.
Switchbacks? What switchbacks, Jersey boy?!
While I was at the hostel, a section hiker from New Jersey, who came complete with the requisite accent, told me that I would love Cube Mountain because the trail had switchbacks. No. THERE ARE NO SWITCHBACKS. Cube Mountain is tough in the heat. And the next mountain, Smarts Mountain, is tough. Maybe even tougher. I spent the night at the Smarts Mountain tenting area with a gaggle of chatty young women and another woman with a big husky-shepherdish type dog. While we were there, a strong young trail maintainer replaced the roof of the privy that apparently had blown off in a recent storm. Thank you again, trail maintainers.
In which it is simply just too hot.
I descended the slick rocks down Smarts Mountain. Whew. The insects are out in full force and my bug repellent is running low. Reilly is on to something with her distaste for heat. Eventually I was able to stealth camp at the South Fork of Hewes Brook.
In which I pick up speed when insect repellent runs out and thunderstorms rumble.
My original plan for this day was to hike to Velvet Rocks Shelter, spend the night, then hike the less than two miles back to Dartmouth the next day. I was already two miles short of my original itinerary. And it was hot. But my DEET ran out. I borrowed some from hikers that I met but sweated off all insect repellent quickly. And I was thinking I might try to stealth camp two miles before the Velvet Rocks Shelter. But that spot is so-so and perhaps buggier than average. It was still earlyish. Could I muster the energy to haul myself up and over the steep Velvet Rocks to the shelter? Because once I started, the terrain was unlikely to permit stealth camping. I went for it and, three-quarters of the way to the top, I heard the distant rumble of thunder. Go go go! I made it over the summit. On the way down it was so steep that one click rock requires you to descend while clinging to a rope. But with mosquitoes and thunder at my rear, I was over that relatively quickly.
By that point there was still plenty of daylight left and it was pretty much downhill the rest of the way to my car. With the possibility of a home, a shower, a warm bed, and a restaurant meal. So I did it! 14.7 miles, I did not think I was up to such a long day. I reached my car and drove for about 30 miles. I found a Holiday Inn Express. The only nearby restaurant was a Chinese restaurant, so after a shower I had a hot meal. The restaurant looked sorta sketchy, but I clearly survived that.
This was sort of a semi last minute hike. A women of similar age reported on one of my FB groups that she had reservations at huts in the White Mountains for a four-day, three-night hike. And her partner had backed out. Would anyone be interested, before she canceled the reservations at the huts—which can be hard to get on short notice. YES! How did it happen that my schedule at the urgent care gave me those days off, as well as travel days before and after? It was meant to be.
In which first minor mishap occurs.
This was travel day number one. I got up at 3:30 a.m. and drove to my nephew’s house in Southern Maine. They had agreed to let me spend the night. And—best of all—it was their daughter’s first birthday party at noon. So a mini family gathering, with my nephew, his wife (the Wentworth descendant mentioned earlier in the blog), their three adorable kids, my sister-in-law and brother-in-law (who I’ve known since we were kids), and other relatives on my nephew’s wife’s side since they’re from the area.
After a fun party, one guest in a large pickup truck backed up to leave, and hit my car. Oops. The problem was that his bumper and my car were now intertwined, so that if he pulled forward, it might rip off my headlight. Luckily we are all calm people. So with tools they cut out a piece of my already damaged panel, and with some other fancy maneuvers, the cars were disentangled and my headlight remained attached.
In which the second screwup occurs.
I drove to Pinkham Notch, NH, to meet my new friend Barbara. We left her car there at Joe Dodge Lodge and drove my car back to Dry River Campground near Crawford Notch to spend the night. After checking in we set up our tents. We had made reservations separately, but were much delighted when the caretaker showed us that the sites were across from one another on the camp road. Soon some disgruntled people arrived to claim my campsite. It turns out that I was supposed to be at site P7, not site 7. We simply walked my tent across to my friend’s site 24 as there was plenty of room for two tents.
I also discovered that I could not find my tent stakes. Normally they’re in a pocket of my backpack. But I had packed the items that I would not need when staying in the huts in a separate duffel bag. My tent, poles, stakes, sleeping bag, inflatable pad, inflatable pillow. Luckily my tent can be assembled without stakes, and Barbara had a few extras that I could borrow. So where were the stakes? Did I drop them at home while packing? Did I drop them at my nephew’s—amid the jumble of toys and kid paraphernalia—when I took out my inflatable pillow? After returning home, I discovered the missing stakes in their bag had slipped under a false bottom of the duffel bag.
In which we go up-up-up and the third error occurs.
We drove, early in the morning, to the Ripley Falls trailhead near Crawford Notch. Time to head up into the mountains. And it is straight up as one heads north. The weather was warm to hot, sunny, a bit humid. But not as hot as on my July hike. Still, I should have carried more than one liter of water. Once we were up the steepest part, there were some small kind of brackish-looking streams. I scooped and treated some water, and again, I survived unscathed.
At Mizpah Spring Hut, I was assigned to a bunk in room five. I unpacked some stuff. I read and looked around to kill time until dinner. A few hours after arrival, croo member Kevin sought me out. Again I had been given the wrong berth, and had to move to a different room, upstairs from and at the opposite end of the hut. But at least Kevin helped me move everything. My new room six was in the noisiest possibly spot, near the main room/dining room and the library. But it was too hot to close the door and diminish the noise and light. Eventually everyone quieted down.
Yet another minor mishap.
In the morning I vowed not to make the mistake of taking too little water. So I filled up my water bottle AND my bladder. And this bladder—new this season, and purchased only because the back pocket on my new backpack won’t stretch sufficiently to accommodate more Smartwater bottles—my new bladder broke. It leaked all over the floor. So I had to mop the floor and purchase an overpriced AMC Nalgene bottle.
It was warm but a bit cooler than the previous day, and breezy. Perfect! We made it relatively early to the beautiful Lake of the Clouds Hut. But a new dilemma arose. The next day was predicted to turn rainy with thunderstorms. Although it was early, I knew that hiking seven more miles to Madison Hut that day would be beyond my capabilities to achieve before darkness.
As the day progressed, the weather prediction deteriorated. We made the executive decision that we would hike only as far as Mount. Washington the next day, and shuttle back to Pinkham Notch. This would avoid being caught in a thunderstorm on a dangerous, rocky, above-the-treeline ridge.
Lake of the Clouds on a warm sunny day is a terrific spot to hang out. And, as you can see from my picture, there were NO CLOUDS at Lake of the Clouds! I finished my book. It was the first day on the job for a new cook. Maybe she mixed up the teaspoon and the tablespoon, or maybe the top fell off the pepper shaker. But the mushroom soup was inedibly over-peppered. Whew! The entree—billed as taco filling?—was also over-spiced. But the homemade bread was excellent.
I found a headband in the front yard and turned that in, but I don’t know if the owner ever found it. I also found an AMC fleece beanie in my bed, clearly left behind by the last occupant. I tossed that into the hiker box along with the uneaten lunch foods I had packed. I wouldn’t be needing them since out hike was being cut short by weather. I did find some dark chocolate in the hiker box that Barbara and I and others shared. I had forgotten to pack chocolate!
In which we finish this year’s section hike.
After breakfast, we set out for Mount Washington. It was cloudy, damp, cool, and breezy. For the first time this summer, I hiked in long sleeves. Eventually, near the summit I even added my raincoat as a windbreaker as the temperature dropped and the wind strengthened. We did it—arriving at Mount Washington by 9:30 a.m. We had to wait until 11:30 for the shuttle. So I wrote postcards, ate snacks, and we visited the museum. The shuttle fee includes museum admission. In case anyone reading this isn’t aware, Mount Washington has some of the worst weather on the planet. Really. I know that we made the correct call to can the hike to Madison Hut. The pouring rains arrived shortly after we reached our cars.
I drove home, electing to travel through Rutland, VT, and avoid the traffic in the Capitol District. I picked up a pair of soaking wet bedraggled thru-hikers near the Route 4 trailhead and drove them to the Yellow Deli Hostel, right on my way. Later I discovered that one left behind his hat, but several calls to the Yellow Deli failed to turn up the owner.
Stay tuned, I hope to hike some more next year. Only about 350 miles left!
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