Days 172-173 New Hampshire: The Kinsmans
We got an early shuttle out of Hiker’s Welcome. Plan A was to go over the Kinsmans (South and North) to the shelter just on the other side- an 11 mile day. Plan B was to stop at the shelter before the Kinsmans, an 8 mile day, and go over them the next day (another 8 miles.) I really wanted to do Plan A, but I was also ready to practice our Whites method- to go slow and take what the mountains gave us so we didn’t burn out.
We were less nervous this time, Moosilauke really boosted our confidence. However it was way colder than the day before and while it wasn’t currently raining, the sky did look threatening. We thought we were in for an easy hike up to the base of South Kinsman… but we were very wrong.
The trail out of Kinsman Notch is immediately very steep. Then it’s 8 miles of short rock scrambles, the trail relentlessly taking us up and down. If we weren’t rock scrambling we were hopping between rocks and roots. It was less than 50 degrees out and windy. Pinky was so cold. I was so frustrated because it felt like we were hardly moving. It sucked. But it was pretty, I guess.
We saw tons of cool mushrooms.
Most importantly, we saw our first moose poop!!!
At one point, Baloo trotted past us on a slack pack attempt. It’s only 16 miles from Kinsman Notch to Franconia Notch so it’s a very popular slackpack. However, those 16 miles are not “normal” miles. We were so glad we didn’t try to do it ourselves, and super impressed that Baloo was attempting it.
When we were about 2 miles from the first shelter, Spoons passed us. She dang near gave me a heart attack when she said she was “bailing out” and backtracking to a parking lot to meet her parents. At first, I interpreted it to mean she was quitting and going home!! I was about to be devastated. Then I realized she was just going to meet up with her folks for the night, she’d be back tomorrow! Several people around us were struggling with staying on trail, so I was quick to assume she was in the same boat.
After Spoons, we passed two people wearing overalls, galoshes, hard hats and vests. We asked them what they were doing out here. They explained they worked for the power company and they were out to take a look at the lines we were about to pass. We saw them at the lines pulling out a drone so they could visualize the top of them. We enjoyed talking to them. They both expressed how much they loved their jobs and it made me think of my sister, Julia, who used to have a job walking power lines to note problem trees.
Plus, from the open vantage point of the power lines we could see the peak of the Kinsmans above us! I always like seeing where I am heading.
By the time we made it to the shelter we were Over It. Pinky was freezing and we knew it would only be worse on the peak. The weather report said temps up there were in the 20s with the wind chill. No thanks! We decided to call it early (way early, it was barely 2pm!) and set up camp. We got our pick of a tent site since nobody else was around.
After setting up we huddled into the shelter to eat lunch. Bacon and Yukon rolled up while we were eating. We shared the rest of our Moosilauke experiences, we had passed them just before we summited/right after they summited the other day. We also told them that we were done hiking for the day. Which launched them into a discussion of whether or not they wanted to be done for the day… It didn’t take long for them to decide to stay put with us! We all worked together to gather wood and Yukon got a fire going.
While we were working on the fire, Franklin’s Mom arrived. The girls had gotten a later shuttle out of Hikers Welcome but we had been expecting them to catch up to us. When we left in the morning their plan was to stop at this shelter, but FM explained they had changed their minds and wanted to go to the next one, after the Kinsman peaks.
However, once she saw the fire, we didn’t have to work hard to convince her to stay. She went to the trail crossing to catch Mayflower and Pearwood. Before long, all of us were happily soaking in the warmth of the fire.
We were joined by 4 or 5 SOBOs and generally had one of the nicest evenings on trail we’d had in a long time.
The next morning we were slower to wake up because it was still quite cold. We hate getting out of the sleeping bags on a cold morning! When I finally emerged from the tent to visit the privy I was surprised to pass a group of about 10 college students all cowboy camping on giant tarps with their gear strewn about everywhere.
Apparently they had come in sometime in the middle of the night. We slept right through it but other hikers said they had made quite the disturbance. I couldn’t understand why they would have been hiking any of the surrounding terrain in the DARK. But to each their own, I guess.
We were the last of the NOBOs to leave camp, as per usual. We were in much higher spirits than we’d been the day before. An afternoon/evening of fire and fellowship had done us a lot of good. Plus, the trail was immediately beautiful!
We followed a creek up the mountain, passing numerous waterfalls. Unlike on Moosilauke, we actually had trail to hike on here instead of slippery rocks. We knew shit would hit the fan soon but focused on enjoying the relatively easy and beautiful trail while we had it.
We knew the good part was over when we got to the bog. This was our first but not our last experience with the terrible alpine bogs of New Hampshire. Everyone talks about the mud in Vermont but nobody talks about the mud in NH!!! Plus, in NH you can’t trust any of the bog boards, if they are even there. This one had a few useless pieces of rotten wood and a lot of deep mud. We tried our best to get around it without soaking our feet or losing our shoes, but we both got soaked.
Shortly after the bog, we stowed the poles and shifted into hand over hand rock climbing.
This tricky bit was only about a mile long but it took us a solid hour to do since it was so technical. It was the most fun hour I’d ever had!! I was 100% focused on what I was doing and was absolutely loving it. Whenever we got a break in the trees we had great views down to the power lines we’d passed the afternoon before, all the way across to Moosilauke, and beyond.
When we finally emerged on the peak we found Franklin’s Mom, Mayflower, Pearwood, Bacon and Yukon already there. We all cheered ourselves for making it. I had the biggest grin on my face and couldn’t get enough of the view. I took my shoes off to try to dry off my soaked socks and we took a snack break.
We delayed but we knew we had to get walking. Plus we did have the motivation of a stay at the Ski Lodge that night. I didn’t want to leave the incredible view, but I also knew there had to be more ahead.
Boy oh boy were there ever! We walked along a rocky peak, mostly covered with small trees. When we could see beyond them to the north we got the view that surprised me and took my breath away more than anything else we’d seen yet. We could see the iconic Franconia Ridge.
Before we started the trail Pinky and I talked about which parts we were most excited for. Franconia Ridge was my #1. I’ve seen photos of it for so long and dreamed of seeing it for myself. I knew there was no way photos would do it justice. I didn’t know we would be able to see it ahead of us from Kinsman. I probably should have expected it but I was totally taken by surprise! It was HUGE and I couldn’t believe we were so close. Our next day of hiking would be on it!!!
I looked and looked and felt I could keep looking at it all day. But we had to get down the mountain. This proved much more challenging than expected.
Prior to this point we were consistently slower going downhill than uphill. But this descent took us to a whole new level. It took FOREVER to get down to the Lonesome Lake Hut. We were butt sliding, climbing down sketchy ladders, holding onto trees and well placed roots. It was bananas. We did not enjoy it as much as the climb up.
Finally, we made it to the hut. Our first White Mountains AMC hut! It was cute!
The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) runs these hike in huts throughout the season as a warm and dry place for hikers to stop in for water, soup, baked goods, etc. Hikers can also pay an exorbitant sum of money for a bunk + dinner and breakfast. Thru hikers occasionally get work-for-stay in which they trade a few hours of chores for the chance to sleep on the floor in the dining room. The Huts are staffed by a “croo” of generally college aged folks. Sometimes the croo offers thru hikers leftover food throughout the day.
The huts are unique to the Whites and are extremely controversial amongst thru hikers. We were excited for our first one, to see what all the fuss is about. We were also excited for a break, we had never been so tired out by 5 miles of hiking!
We poked our heads inside and took a look around. A croo member greeted us and pointed out the self serve $1 coffee and tea. No leftovers were mentioned. We filled up our water bottles at the spigot outside and walked down to the Lonesome Lake to eat a late lunch and take in the amazing view.
While we were eating we were entertained watching a family of small children swim in the water! It was warmish out but they looked cold to me! There was also a very bold chipmunk who brazenly attempted to steal some crackers from DIRECTLY BESIDE ME. Luckily Pinky caught him in the act and shooed him off before he managed to snatch it.
A few thru hikers passed us… and told us they had gotten leftovers from the hut!!! I guess we didn’t look dirty enough to merit thru hiker leftover status. Oh well. There would be other huts.
More and more families with very small children kept showing up. I was sure this was a sign that the hike down had to be easy from here. Fortified by our snacks and ready to be at the hostel, we packed up and began the final 3 miles to the road.
The trail certainly got less steep, but no less technical from here on out. There must have been a different trail in for families. We plodded along. I don’t think we ever hit 2 miles an hour.
We came to a tricky rock hop across a wide stream where a woman was sitting on a rock on the other side. She looked familiar. As we got closer I saw that she was also looking at us closely. Then it hit me, it was our friend Snowy Owl!! She had been off trail due to a broken foot but I knew she was coming back to support her husband, Buttermeister. We had been hoping to run into her, and here she was!!
We gave her big, stinky, hiker hugs and quickly caught up. She told us we weren’t too far from the road, which was very encouraging news. We made plans to meet up in town for dinner later. Then we took off to finish up our day.
The trail truly did chill out from there. We crossed under the highway then found a side trail to the visitor center where we could get picked up. We called Jeff at the Ski Club and arranged to get picked up in about 25 mins. We had about a mile to go now and it was on pavement! We wanted to stretch our legs, we speed walked and got there in under 20 mins!!! It was the best mile of the day.
After a bit of a wait because we were not in exactly the right place… we got in the car with Jeff and 2 other hikers. He took us to the Old Colony Ski Club, which would become our new favorite hostel!
The Kinsmans were on another level from Moosilauke. The miles both days took way longer than expected. Our second day was only 8 miles and it took us ALL DAY. We had never had such a challenging hike. But, we had done it and, despite how difficult it was, enjoyed it, for the most part.
The Whites were delivering on beauty. Not just the views were spectacular, but the forest itself was amazing to be in. We were seeing tons of new mushrooms, everything was covered in moss, and it constantly smelled good.
We still felt up to the challenge the terrain presented, even though it was testing our limits. We actually enjoyed being forced to slow down. We had mentally prepared for it and decided to just embrace it. Even now, 6 weeks later, the climb up South Kinsman remains my favorite climb of the trail and the day before, when we hung out at the shelter with everyone, is one of my favorite memories.
We still had a ways to go before we’d be done with the Whites, but I was starting to feel like all the fear mongering had been a little extreme and maybe we’d be just fine, after all.
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