Day 138: A New Plan
The Old Plan
In my original itinerary, the next four days looked like this: (1) Hike to Carter Notch Hut – 5.9 miles, (2) Hike to US2/Gorham – 15.2 miles, meet our son and family, (3) Skip ahead to Maine and hike Grafton Notch to East B Road – 10 miles, and (4) Hike East B Road to South Arm Rd with my daughter-in-law and granddaughter – 6 miles.
It was a lousy plan. It had the following problems:
- My legs were shot. I finished yesterday unsure whether I could hike at all today, let alone do nearly 40 miles in the White Mountains in the next four days.
- No one in my son’s family was up for the 10-mile hike on Sunday.
- The Monday 6-mile hike turned out to really be 10 miles in tough terrain. That FarOut mileage error bit me again. Regardless, even at six miles, it wouldn’t be the kind of hike to take an infant in a backpack. Southern Maine is just too rugged for that.
- I didn’t really want to skip ahead to Maine and then have to come back to fill in a gap later. I like moving continuously north.
After crashing in the van for an hour … no, not that kind of crashing… resting … I talked through the options with Northstar, who helped me come up with a better plan. I needed rest. My daughter-in-law had her heart set on seeing three generations hike together on the AT.
We concluded I should hike tomorrow, but only if I felt drastically better after a night’s rest. I had non-refundable reservations at the hut which I didn’t want to waste. Also, it’d be a shame to waste this weather. Finally, finishing at US 2 would put me at 1899.9 miles, just shy of the 1900-mile mark, making it a great place to take a break.
That was all the wisdom we could manage before I fell asleep.
A New Day
I woke up ready to hike. My legs felt much better, and I only had 5.9 miles to the Carter Notch Hut. Even with 3,700 feet of climb, including one of the steepest climbs on the entire AT, I could manage 5.9 miles. In fact, at 5.9 miles, I had no need to get an early start. So, I went back to bed.
Northstar dropped me back at Pinkham Notch just before noon. Even if I only managed a paltry 1 mph, I’d arrive at Carter Notch Hut just in time for dinner. If I got there a little earlier, I might have time for a pre-dinner nap.
The Rest of the Plan
As I hiked along the Ellis River for the first mile after leaving the Pinkham Notch trailhead, I had a brainstorm. This section would make a great family hike. It’d be easy to get to and would be tough enough for everyone to get the flavor of New Hampshire’s version of a flat, easy section, i.e., rocky, muddy, and ankle-busting. Plus, they’d get to see a river, some wetlands, woods, and the beginning of a nasty climb. Solvitor ambulando.
Then, as I looked back up at Mt. Washington, I figured out the rest of the plan. The day after they arrived, I could drive everyone over to the Mt. Washington Cog Railway, drop them off, and drive around and up the road and meet them at the summit. Gus couldn’t ride the railway, but he could hang with me on the drive, eliminating the need to board him or leave him in a parked vehicle all day. Even better.
After our little break to the Maine Coast, we’d come back to US2 and hike north to Maine. Then, I realized, if they met us at the US2 trailhead when I came down from Carter Notch, we could all hike the 0.1 mile to the 1900-mile marker and capture me, my daughter-in-law, and my granddaughter logging an important milestone. Perfect.
All I needed to do now was revise my remaining hiking itinerary to reflect the reality of Maine miles. But I had a week to think through that.
I finished the easy part of today’s hike, took a left and hit the wall. I didn’t know what the rest of the climb would be like, but the shocking transition from the river trail to the climb was as abrupt as anything I’d seen on the AT so far. Except possibly the change in grade from the parking lot to the stairs at Amicolola State Park in Georgia.
The freaking steep climb included lots of tricky rocks, a few hand-over-hand scrambles, and a little bit of exposure. But the views made the climb worth the effort. Every few hundred feet, the trail would pop out of the woods on a rock outcrop that looked out over Pinkham Notch.
At one overlook, I stopped to talk with a section hiker, also heading to the hut. Just as I turned to leave, I noticed he was standing next to a snake sunning itself on the outcrop. I pointed it out and saw another one. And then another. Fortunately, they were all garter snakes, though neither of us loved snakes enough to hang around them any longer than we had to.
I really enjoyed the climb. My legs felt great, and the weather was perfect. It took me 1:40 to finish the two-mile ascent to the Wildcat Mountain Ski Lift. Not a stellar time, but not bad for a 2,000-foot climb. Even better, I only had three miles to the hut and more than four hours until dinner. I could smell a nap in my future.
The two-mile walk through a spruce forest to the summit of Wildcat Mountain was as pleasant a hike I’d had in New Hampshire. The grades were mostly easy, the mud pits and puddles were plentiful but mostly avoidable, and most of the trail junctions were labelled. The peak even had some views.
Carter Notch Hut
I checked into the hut about 3:30 pm after a steep, rocky, 1,000-foot descent off Wildcat Mountain. None of my roommates had arrived yet, so I got my pick of bunks – lower level, by the window, with plenty of pegs to hang my sweaty gear. Then I stretched out on the bed and drifted off.
This is the way to hike the Whites. Short days, hut stays, and afternoon naps.
- Start: Pinkham Notch (Mile 1878.8)
- End: Carter Notch Hut (Mile 1884.7)
- Weather: Blue sky, cool. Best weather in a month.
- Earworm: None. Audiobook marathon.
- Meditation: Jn 8:12
- Plant of the Day: Spruce
- Best Thing: Bluebird weather
- Worst Thing: Every day can’t be like this
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