Days 167-171 New Hampshire: Hanover to Moosilauke
After crossing the border we walked through the town of Hanover aka the Dartmouth campus. We bee lined for the post office, easy to spot because the place was crawling with hikers! Hanover is a popular place to have winter gear returned in preparation for the higher elevations and more dramatic weather in the Whites.
At least a dozen hikers were already at the post office when we arrived. Pack explosions were happening on the sidewalk and in any open space inside. We collected our packages and set about doing the same thing! We re-shuffled our gear, added a few things, sent some home, and threw some into the hiker box or to other hikers. We also gained some treats from other people’s resupply boxes!
When our post office chores were done we headed out in search of Free Food. Despite being one of the fancier towns, Hanover has a few businesses that give hikers free treats! Just a few doors down from the post office was a bakery that gives out a free pastry! We both got a delicious donut.
Then we walked across the street to get a fancy coffee from Dirt Cowboy Coffee Shop (not free but we couldn’t resist the name!) We also snagged a big box of day old pastries! We sat in some chairs on the street and enjoyed our snack.
Next, we went in search of more food. We headed over to Rosie’s, a restaurant famous for their $3 margaritas. We wanted a place to hang out, charge our phones, and catch up on this blog (lol! As if I’d ever get fully caught up.) We had many margaritas and nachos and fries. When we were finally ready to leave, the bartender even filled up our water bottles for us! What a gem, indulging us hiker trash.
It was about 3:30 so we didn’t think we’d hike very far. We still needed to stop at the co-op to resupply. Luckily, the co-op is on the trail on the way out of town.
Of course, we found more hikers there! They told us about a “tent city” just inside the woods, beyond the sports complex next to the co-op. We thought that sounded like a great place to stop for the night.
After a very fun shopping experience, we were sitting outside rearranging our purchases. A familiar looking man was strolling towards us. My brain clicked- it was Prophet! A man we had met way back in our first days in Georgia! We had just been talking about him with a Long Trail thru hiker we met at the Inn at Long Trail. She met him on her AT thru hike last year, and also ran into him again in Hanover! He finished this years thru hike in June or July, he is super fast!
Our minds blown by seeing Prophet, we finished packing up then headed over to the tent city. There were already so many people there! We walked back quite a ways and found a spot big enough for our tent. We were on our own for a while but before too long, Baloo, Uptown, and Sweet Loaf showed up and set up near by.
We could hear the sounds of some sort of sports game going on just beyond the trees, but it finished up before dark. Despite doing nothing but eat and drink for most of the day, we were pretty tired and got into the tent just as it was getting dark.
We woke up pretty early but it still took us a while to get on the trail. The sports complex had an unlocked, actual flush toilet and hot water sink bathroom!! It was just like a 10 minute walk from where we camped. There was also a running spigot on the way, so we could fill up our water bottles! Thanks, Dartmouth!
Even more people had come into tent city after us so we got to chat and say hello to several folks we hadn’t seen in a while. We hiked out with our buddy, Buttermeister. New Hampshire immediately hit us with the rocks and roots and some steep ups and downs. It was tricky, but nothing we couldn’t handle. There were also some nice flat bits through some bogs and fields.
We managed to cruise the first few miles. We stopped for a short break with Baloo, Sweet Loaf, and a south bounder named Square Peg. He told us about a game he plays and encouraged us to join in. The rules are simple- pick up 5 pieces of trash a day, and tell other people about the game! He was full of good energy and we enjoyed chatting with him.
Not too long after that we all stopped for a lunch break on the banks of a creek. Baloo kept us laughing and we wound up with quite a crowd sitting around. At one point a day hiker’s dog hopped in the creek, then hopped out and shook his wet fur all over us!! Poor Uptown was directly in the line of fire and most of her lunch got wet…
After lunch we still had many miles to go. We went over the Moose Mountains, saw no moose, then came down to a road.
There, we met a local trail angel. He was packing up to leave but immediately reversed course when we came up. He pulled out chairs and sodas for us then sat down to chat. As more and more hikers came up he kept pulling out chairs and sodas!
He told us about the Trapper John shelter being named for a character from MASH. We had actually learned of this earlier from Buttermeister. His friend gave him a copy of the book MASH to drop off at the shelter! The trail angel also told us that Dr Seuss went to Dartmouth! He first took on the pen name after getting in trouble for something he wrote in the paper and getting banned. The pen name allowed him to keep writing! Sneaky!
Finally, the trail angel told us the next hill wasn’t too hard… this was actually a lie and it kicked our butts. We still managed to make it about 19 miles that day (one of the last days we would hit Big Miles.) We finished up at dusk and set up in a parking lot. We were absolutely beat and basically ate dinner in silence. We could hear some folks further up a side trail having fun around a fire but we did not have the energy to go join them.
We felt better in the morning, as we often do. It was a good thing because we had another big day ahead. First we had to climb Smarts Mountain. At 3200 feet it was one of the biggest climbs in a long time. We could see the mountain ahead of us from the last peak the day before, notable for the fire tower on top.
The climb was pretty grueling. It was our first taste of the New Hampshire rock slabs and rebar ladders. We got some cool misty views on the way up and had a fun photo shoot with Bacon and Yukon.
Pinky’s water bottle jumped ship shortly after… it fell out of its holder on the side of his pack and we all listened to it bounce away down the mountain. Luckily, he had another bottle stored safely in the pack.
Sweaty as hell and very tired, we made it to the top of the mountain. On the side trail to the tower we saw a brave chipmunk hopping around. We watched him do his thing for several minutes, he was completely unbothered by us!! Finally, we broke the spell and continued up to the tower. We dropped our packs and climbed up.
At the top, visibility was mediocre. It was pretty humid and misty. Still a cool view, though. We looked our fill then climbed back down to eat a snack.
After snacking, we had a long, tedious descent. We got down to a water source, finally, and sat down for lunch. We took our time and tried to psych ourselves up for the next climb.
Next up was Mt Cube. It was a slightly smaller mountain than Smarts but no less of a climb. Plus it had a deceiving false summit. After many big rocks and long walks up slabs, we made it to the true summit.
Sweet Loaf, Uptown, and Water were already there. We sat for a bit, admired the view (still super humid looking) and started making our way down.
The way down was just as steep as the way up. When we made it to the water at the bottom we were Done. Two Step, Uptown, Xena and Postman were already there eating dinner. I sat down and started making dinner, too.
After eating, Uptown, Sweet Loaf, Xena and Postman kept hiking!! They wanted to get over Moosilauke the next day since it was supposed to rain the day after that. We figured we’d zero if the weather looked too bad, no more miles for us tonight.
We set up right next to the creek and loved listening to it all night. The next morning we had only about 11 miles to go. We had a package with Pinky’s new raincoat waiting for us at Hikers Welcome. We planned to stop there for the night and make a plan for Moosilauke.
The hike that day wasn’t too exciting. In fact, it was downright easy after the past two days. We cruised right along, only taking one break by a creek with Yukon, Bacon, Two Step, Pearwood and many red squirrels. We went over only one named peak, Mt Mist.
Shout out to the Dartmouth Outing Club for some of the best signs of the whole trail and the best maintained trail in New Hampshire.
The downhill to Hikers Welcome felt like the longest one ever but we finally made it there in the early afternoon. We were hungry and tired and cranky. The Far Out comments were accurate and the place very much had DIY summer camp vibes.
It’s one large log cabin plus a smaller log cabin bunk house. Most of the common spaces, including laundry and bathroom! Are outside. We couldn’t find anyone in charge, but got most of the info we needed from the copious signage (and excellent memes) posted everywhere.
The few hikers there were sitting outside drinking brewskis. They couldn’t offer much information about how to get our package. We had already decided to do a vibe check before deciding to stay there and so far it wasn’t passing.
We started trying to figure out if we could get to another hostel for the night- we were pretty sure we wanted to slack Moosilauke the next day since we wanted to do it southbound (we heard the northern descent was brutal.) Unfortunately it would cost us a pretty penny to get to the next town, and slacking from Hikers Welcome was only $20 per person. So, we got over our crankiness and settled in.
It didn’t take long for us to be happy with our decision. More people rolled through and the vibe got better. We found ourselves a good corner in the bunk house. We took showers and did laundry. The soda fridge got restocked so we got Cokes (always a mood improver.) We spent some time on the excellent front porch.
Eventually, and after much ado, we got on a dinner shuttle to Appleknockers, the local variety store, and probably the single most memorable store on the whole trail. It had your standard convenience store fare but with a solid beer selection, surprisingly good pizza, awesome sandwiches, potato salad, and baked goods, plus a good sized hardware section in the back!! We loved it.
Just as we were returning from the store run, the sky got really scary looking. It started raining shortly after we got in. We had planned to eat dinner on the sweet front porch of the bunk house but the rain was blowing in!
We retreated inside to the couches, loving being cozy and dry during this big banging storm. Panda and Spoons joined us after a little while and we wound up staying up pretty late with them. Our hang out ranged from Panda reading us The Cat In The Hat, kindergarten teacher style, to German/American/global politics.
We woke up early in the morning for our slack pack. We were on the 7am shuttle along with Mayflower, Pearwood and Franklin’s Mom. Between Legion and the girls we had a pretty fun ride. It took at least 40 mins for us to get to the trailhead, for a slack of only 10 miles!
We were excited and nervous for our first climb of The Whites. Legion told us it would be the easiest climb of the range ! He gave us a whole spiel about what to expect before sending us on our way. After a few minutes of getting situated, we headed out with the girls. We got into what would become our “standard formation”- Pinky in front, then me, Franklin’s Mom, Mayflower, and Pearwood.
We wound up sticking pretty close together for the whole day. Pinky and I had never spent the whole day hiking with people other than friends from home or family who’d come to join us. We had an absolute blast with them. Despite the challenging climb, it remains one of our top favorite days.
The trail climbs Moosilauke via a waterfall on the north side. This was what we were nervous about. It’s hella steep and stays slippery and wet from the waterfall. However, going up did prove to be much less scary than going down. We had to stay focused, but it was totally manageable. Plus it was BEAUTIFUL!!
As we were driving, we noticed a lot of clouds and the peaks of the mountains were socked in. During our climb we had several moments when we could turn around and see clear views out through the trees. We had high hopes that the peak would be clear by the time we got there.
After about an hour, hour and a half, we had completed 1.5 miles! The steepest part of the ascent was behind us, and we thought we’d earned a break.
We went into the shelter and met a pair of SOBO’s who were still packing up. They were delightful! Chaps and Mr Kitchen told us all about how much fun they’d had in the Whites. They became work for stay legends in the huts and basically hut hopped, living it up the whole way. This seemed to be their general MO, they said they were going for the FKT, “Funnest Known Time.” We all loved this, immediately stole the idea, and all became fast friends. Also, Chaps is from Charlottesville, just like Mayflower. Small world!!
Eventually, we left the shelter and continued on our ascent. Things didn’t get easy from here, but they did chill out significantly. The forest shifted into one we’d become familiar with but hadn’t experienced much of before now. It was all skinny evergreens, with little vegetation on the forest floor. It was misty and spooky, covered in moss and lichen.
Also, the trail was muddy as hell.
It took another hour or so to make it to the summit, which was completely socked in and Very Windy. Moosilauke, like many of the peaks in the Whites, has a tree line. This was our first time being in an actual alpine zone like this. We’ve been on other exposed peaks in the south, but those were balds, a completely different phenomenon. The combination of elevation and latitude means that trees just don’t grow on the top of these big boys. Moosilauke’s alpine zone is comparatively small, but it was no less magical.
Coming out of the trees, with nothing around us but clouds, was a magical moment. We couldn’t see just how high and exposed we were because of the clouds, but you didn’t have to see to know that you were in an altogether new kind of place. The trail was bordered by rocks and there were many signs asking hikers to PLEASE STAY ON TRAIL to protect the fragile tiny alpine plants. We paid close attention to the trail and each other so we didn’t lose our way. Visibility could have been worse, but it wasn’t great.
After quick photos with the summit sign we kept moving. We got back amongst the trees and continued along to the south summit. Along the way we hit 1800 miles!
Pinky wanted to go check out the south peak, the clouds were sort of breaking up and he hoped for a different view. Franklin’s Mom was not super into the idea and hung back a bit. The rest of us went up.. it was a long 0.2 and it was still socked in.
Waste of time, perhaps? We ran into Franklin’s Mom not long after we turned back, she didn’t need any convincing to turn right back around, plus it meant she could continue eating her pizza in peace.
Now it was time for the descent. It was beautiful but slow going. Lots of big rocks and roots. Slippery footing. And extremely jarring on the knees. The girls kept up a running conversation that Pinky and I mostly listened to, we were deeply concentrated. Neither of us likes a steep descent.
Part way down Mr Kitchen came running past us, shirtless. We caught up to him at a water source where we took another break- it had warmed up and we could see some sun by then. He didn’t stay long and we watched him trot away, amazed at how quickly he moved.
Not too long after that, Chaps showed up. He wound up finishing the descent with us. We had quite the party! We told him about all the good things he had in store for him now that he was done with the Whites. We walked through a field and he reveled at how pleasant it was.
The last challenge was a rock hop across a wide but shallow stream, just before the road to Hikers Welcome. We went across one at a time, gingerly stepping from stone to stone. Almost everyone made it across dry….
Franklin’s Mom, Mayflower, and I all dunked our feet. I went across almost last and watched everyone struggle with this one bullshit guy (what Pinky and I call a wiggly rock.) I got to it, it wiggled on me, I said “to hell with it” and just splashed on across. Better to choose my wet feet than have a surprise fall. We squished our way down the road, sun shining down on us, and felt immensely proud of ourselves for having completed one small part of the Whites.
That night at Hikers Welcome was an absolute blast. Everyone was in high spirits. A bunch of our friends were there. We had more pizza and potato salad, we stayed up late chatting and watched part of The Big Lebowski, being screened in the tiny, stuffy, indoor common room.
The Whites still loomed ahead but hiking Moosilauke had boosted our confidence. Everyone talks about these mountains like they are the boogeymen of the trail. I was so unreasonably scared the night before we hiked Moosilauke. But we had climbed it, and while it was harder than what we were used to, it was still just a mountain with a trail. And it was actually pretty FUN! We had hiked 1800 miles of mountains, certainly we could take on the rest of these guys.
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