The Beauty (and Struggle) of New Hampshire: Trail Update Nine

After a two-week stretch through the rest of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont,  I hiked 11 days of over 20 miles each (mainly to get on schedule after some unplanned days off and to see some of the trail family), so I was hurting a bit as I approached the New Hampshire border. Hops is from the Hanover area, so along with Sage, Ozy, Little Bear, and Nate, we took a zero thanks to a kind trail angel and her apartment open to hikers. It was a high of 94 degrees on our day off, so we went tubing down the White River and enjoyed a day of sunburns and foot soaking. Hanover itself has lots of hiker-friendly establishments, so we got free pizza, pastries, delicious coffee, and several confused looks from the Dartmouth campus summer tour groups passing by.

I was looking forward to New Hampshire and Maine for the whole trip, because I haven’t spent time in either state before and had heard the hiking was lovely, and incredibly tough and rugged in points. I can’t speak for Maine yet, but that is absolutely true about New Hampshire. One of my favorite early climbs was Moosilauke, because it was gradual, if long, and the views at the top were a nice intro to the open summits I’d start seeing in the Whites.

The first climb I had that made me realize things were getting tougher was Kinsman: for the first time on the trail, I had to put my hiking poles away and spend hours on some hands and knees rock-scrambling to get to both peaks. I definitely had a few moments of “No way does the trail lead there! Oh wait… it does.” To make up for it were some clear summit views of the Presidentials, which I’d start to hit the next day, and at least it’s mentally engaging to be climbing rocks. I would rather have that any day over an extremely steep dirt path.

The most memorable day so far has been climbing up Lafayette / Lincoln and walking over ridgeline for miles. I had known the White Mountains were meant to be beautiful, but I hadn’t realized that we had such majestic scenery on the East Coast. I was also thrilled to have great weather yet again, because the climbs in the Whites would be even harder with no scenery to break up the hard work. My group also did 20 miles, which we were proud of, and we climbed six mountains total that day.

The good weather continued as I stopped at the Lakes of the Clouds Hut right under Mount Washington to camp. We knew the weather would turn to rain in about two days, which left plenty of time to get over Washington and climb up Wildcat, which I had been told was a serious “growth opportunity.” After sleeping on the hut dining room floor with about 15 other hikers (we can do work for stay or pay $10 to stay at the huts, which is a huge bargain considering normal hikers pay $150), it was time to summit Washington. There was not a cloud to be seen as we hit the summit, which was frankly a little disappointing because there were so many building and structures, plus all the snack stations, bathroom, and visitors center were closed. Still worth it to get a clear day, though.

After another long walk down ridgeline, it was time to stop at Madison Hut and eat coconut chocolate chip cake (most of the huts have drinks and snacks for purchase if you’re hiking past). Climbing up Madison was rocky and reminded me of some of the Pennsylvania boulder fields, and we had a lengthy and very slow walk back down off the mountain due to the sharp rocks. Wildcat turned out to be a decent hike, but nothing close to as hard as Kinsman, and there were plenty of good spots to camp near the summits.

On the morale side, I have had a few ups and downs in the past weeks. It’s exciting to be less than 300 miles from finishing the trail, but these miles have been a challenge, along with some of the stretches of long days with no breaks in between. Part of me wants to slow down, but I’m tired and mostly want to keep pushing through toward the end. Plus, my body is starting to complain more than I would like: a sore knee given all the steep downhills, tired ankles, and of course the low-grade tiredness that doesn’t quite go away in the mornings. The views from these recent mountains have made the 1,800+ miles so far worth it, but I am definitely feeling ready to sit down for a looooong time. (I also now sit down i) in the shower, ii) any time I have to wait for more than a few minutes, and iii) anywhere remotely flat, just to give my feet a rest.) Thru-hiking is challenging work physically, but the mental angle of waking up, knowing you have 8,000 feet of elevation gain during the day AND 8,000 feet back down, then climbing up to ridgeline again the next day, is even more grueling, which I’d heard from people before the hike. Every time I feel that I’ve reached a limit, I turn the corner and see an even harder section, which pushes me further out of my comfort zone. I never thought I’d be able to cover over 30 miles in a day, or summit six mountains, or have over a week of consistently big days, but I have learned that I can do a lot more than I expected, and that’s an amazing feeling. Three more weeks to Katahdin!

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