The Extremes of My New Hampshire Experience

I’m not sure how to explain all of what I’ve been through the past 16 days. It feels like so much longer, given the wild range of experiences and emotions I have gone through.

Since last checking in with you, I have successfully followed every mile of the AT on its unbelievable course through the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Why unbelievable?  Since day one in NH,  these mountains have let hikers know in no uncertain terms that the game has changed. Enjoy the smooth trails of the most recent section of Vermont?  Kiss those goodbye, except in very, very brief interludes. Never let your guard down. They’ll disappear in an instant when you’re confronted with a 20- to 30-foot hand-over -hand scramble up smooth slabs of stone or huge boulders. Or perhaps you’re going downhill. If you’re me, you cling with a death grip onto protruding tree roots or branches on the sides of the trail as you look for secure foot placement, or prepare to sacrifice the seat of your hiking pants as you cautiously slide down on your butt.

I’ve never said I like climbing cliffs. Mountaineering isn’t at the top of my list. Hiking and being in nature are what brought me out here. But the game has changed.

But the goal hasn’t.  Hiking every mile of this trail is still my intention. Oh, but it’s hard to not “cheat,” especially when there was a gondola ride that would have taken me to a mountaintop and skipped one of the hardest sections of the Wildcat Range. It was highly improbable that any hikers I knew would have seen me descending from the lift. But I would have known.

OK.  Now that I’ve got that out of my system, let me try to summarize my AT experience through the Whites for you.

First, I have gone nearly three weeks since an actual restful zero day. Big mistake in my part regarding personal energy, but I wanted to get the whole section done during optimal sunny weather. Mission accomplished. Just one rainy day and night of camping.  We have had exceptional weather here.

This part of the trail had several distinct sections:

Mount Moosilauke, which I tackled slackpacking (with a light day pack), heading south back to my previous night’s shelter because it was easier and actually fun that way…

Yes, this is the trail.

Wooden steps bolted into slabs of granite. Yet more amazing work by trail maintenance crews, all volunteers.

the Kinsman Peaks (whose names will never be uttered by my lips again), with their unbelievably challenging vertical slabs of stone and continuous uphill beds of boulders to climb…

The hours-long, quite popular hike up to the stunning Franconia Ridge, whose top looks flat in photos but truly isn’t…

the Presidential Range, named that because you go from peak to peak named after some of our notable commanders in chief, with soaring Mtount Washington as its cherry on top…

.

Mount Washington, enshrouded perfectly by clouds.

The endless hike over Mount Madison and then down its rocky ridge, picking the least dangerous footing in the boulders…

Follow the stone cairns, true lifesavers if in the clouds.

A work crew taking a break from installing stone steps. These folks are incredible.

the Wildcats, a hellish little range that no one thought to warn me about, perhaps for the best…

leading to the Carters, which aren’t as cruel, but exhausted legs and spirits still suffered…

which leads me to where I presently am, hiding out and resting up at the fantastic Rattle River Hostel in Gorham, NH.

At a few hostels, they have hikers leave their filthy, stinky packs in the entryway, to keep the hostel more pleasant for everyone.

 

With these dramatic mountains as the background for this drama, the settings for these two weeks were amazing.

I camped with new trail friend Kodiak by a stream, while the rain fell and what Kodiak believed to be a bear grunted past our tents during the night.

Setting up my tarp on a wooden tent platform at an AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) shelter/campsite was a successful challenge.  The shelters are manned by a youthful employee of the AMC in this stretch, keeping the campsite in good order.  Great system, in my opinion.

Tricky work making a tarp stay upright on a platform. But it did.

Typical caretaker’s tent/home for the summer. They have ten days on, four off, when they usually hike down to an AMC center or an AMC hut to socialize with other caretakers.

The arduous  day of summiting and descending from towering Mount Washington was made a bit easier with the knowledge that I had managed to snag a vacant, often fully booked bunk at an AMC hut at each end of that trek, as well a third bunk when transitioning from the hellish Wildcats to the merely tiring Carters.

 

The evenings at these huts were restorative, with their upbeat crews, delicious meals (customized for me, GF and dairy free), and mixing with families and day hikers.

This super kind man from Belgium had seen me very upset after a very scary climb up the side of a mountain, and gave me a bag of chocolates for “comfort food” that night at the AMC hut we were in.

Exceptional hostels filled many needs, with knowledgeable staff with good trail advice, laundry facilities, nearby restaurants and supplies, and the comradeship of fellow long-distance backpackers.

The cast of characters of this drama were all important.  As I grew wearier and wearier with each day,  my spirits bounced from sky-high elation with the mountaintop views, wonderful weather, and snaring the bunks at the huts down to sobbing alone and with poor unsuspecting southbounders who made the mistake of saying, “Hi, how’s it going?”

Who would guess how comforting and reassuring this bearded woodsman could be?

I staggered into the present hostel unable to do more than cry aloud and slobber on the Popsicle they gave me.

But I managed to get this far because of the marvelous people who were directed my way.

JW, who insisted on accompanying me down the mountain on one of my saddest days to our next hostel. A true gentleman and witness to his faith.

Jelly and her precious dog, Mabel. Jelly and I hit it off immediately and understood each other perfectly. My only regret is that we couldn’t continue together indefinitely.

Unfortunately,  most of these usually turn out to be just short relationships, given different speeds of hiking, zero days, etc.

But a new alliance has been formed, which I have great hopes for.  On my first day in NH, I met a Swiss couple that I immediately liked, Freeman and his wife, Maura, who was their English speaker.

Maura, Freeman and Kodiak.

Long story short, Maura is back home and Freeman is hiking on with his very limited English.  We have met up again at this hostel and have agreed to go all the way to Katahdin together.  We can both help each other. He is willing to go along with the modest mileage of the itinerary I have for the next month because it still gets him home in time for a family wedding.  I can help him deal with the English challenges of successfully completing this trail.

This partnership is saving my hike.  I was one step away from giving up because of  the challenges of the route  and a recently hurting right hip. I realize now that I was exhausted and frightened of much of the terrain during the 12 miles above treeline in the Presidential Range of the Whites.  But with a partner there with me now,  I feel I can make it.

Thank you, readers, for your support.  I have been approached three times in the trail by folks who have instantly recognized me and told me how much  they have enjoyed following my blog.  Words can’t express how much this has meant to me.  Each person came precisely at a moment when I was in dire need of encouragement.

Thank you for  being there for me, husband, son and daughter, sister, friends, readers.  I will give this my very best effort.

 

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 16

  • Cynthia Smith : Aug 6th

    I think you can do it.

    Reply
    • Ruth Morley : Aug 6th

      Thank you, Cindy. Now I think so too. The sooner the better!

      Reply
  • Theresa A Baer : Aug 6th

    You can do it, Ruth! I just came off my section hike, starting at the Bear Mountain Bridge toll booths in New York July 5th, and finishing up @ Rutland July 29th so I could take Amtrak back home and get my dog out of the kennel. Well, I’m home now and I have been for a week. And guess where I am going for 4 days next week? Back on the trail to finish up New York State and part of northern New Jersey, and I’ll be taking my dog with me for this short section. Why am I going back when I just got home? YOU KNOW WHY, RUTH!!! I’M GOING BACK BECAUSE THE TRAIL IS CALLING ME AND IT WILL CALL YOU BACK ALSO IF YOU LEAVE, SO DON’T QUIT!!! If you quit, as soon as you get home you will feel better for maybe a day, and then you’ll regret leaving the trail every day after that. You know you will!!! You got this, girl! The hardest part is behind you. Maine is basically flat except for Katahdin. Don’t forget that. YOU CAN DO IT!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
    • Ruth Morley : Aug 6th

      You’re so right that I’d regret quitting very soon after returning home. Today’s first hike with Freeman was very good. He is a patient man…lets me lead and set the pace. This is going to work out well. The anxiety in the pit of my stomach is slowly disappearing. Thank you for your enthusiastic support!!!

      Reply
      • Ross : Aug 7th

        Whew! I was getting worried. As you may know, another popular hiker on these pages, Sprout, is now off trail with a broken bone. A wet rock got her. But you made it! I am glad you are going to get through to the end. You continue to amaze and inspire us all.

        Reply
  • Barb Scott : Aug 7th

    You’ve got this! Of all the people I know, you are the one that can finish this, despite your doubts.
    I am so glad that you and Freeman found each other. Having someone that is going through it with you will be great.

    Reply
    • Ruth Morley : Aug 8th

      Thank you, Ross. I might have seen her on crutches, not sure. I’ve seen two women sporting those as they sadly head home. It’s a tough tough trail.

      Reply
    • Ruth Morley : Aug 8th

      Thank you, dear sister. Three days with Freeman now, and it has made all the difference in the world. I can’t believe I accomplished 1900 miles on my own. The fear in my belly in scary situations is now gone. What a relief.

      Reply
  • Helen : Aug 7th

    Ruth- you can do this! I have been following your journey on your blog- what an amazing woman you are! Can’t wait to see your smiling face at Katahdin as you complete this incredible journey!

    Reply
  • John Fisher : Aug 7th

    Ruth,
    So glad that you are still out there. I was wondering when we’d hear from you next. David and I spent a few days in NH years ago and came home humbled and not a little annoyed. Your post brings back all the feelings. It’s great to see that when you had to dig deep you had the strength and resolve to push ahead. Inspiring. Hang in there.
    Best,
    J.

    Reply
  • Val : Aug 7th

    Ahhhh… this post brought back vivid memories of our backpacking trip in the whites two years ago. I know exactly the challenges you speak of. It is a different kind of hike altogether. Glad you got good weather. Ascending Mt Washington in bad weather is no fun. We did and it was one of the most challenging adevrntures of my life- MJs long rides included. 😉 Can’t wait to hear more about it when you get back. Good luck on your finally through Maine!!!

    Val

    Reply
  • Turbo : Aug 7th

    The whites are TOUGH- you crushed it! I had my worst personal day of hiking on Mt. Washington- took a wrong turn afterwards and did an additional 8 mi and 5000 feet of climbs. Cried a lot.

    whoohoo!! Go chocaholic!!! Onwards to Maine!

    Reply
  • Dale : Aug 8th

    You have the most determination and grit of ANYone I know!! This is what got you through so many marathons!! This is what inspires me about you!! Congratulations on conquering the boulders, steep climbs, slippery stones, and weariness. You’ve got this!!

    Reply
  • Marika : Aug 8th

    You are the WOMAN!!! GO Ruth👊🏽👏🏽💪🏽👍🏽❤️

    Reply
  • Jon : Aug 8th

    You got this!!

    Reply
  • Beth jones : Aug 9th

    Ruth,

    You are truly an inspiration. I have been following your story since the beginning of your journey. I have hiked the AT from Amicalola Falls (the dreaded approach trail!) to Hot Springs, NC in sections. I’m a teacher, so have to go in the summer and plan to continue this schedule. But, I’m going to be 58 soon and my goal is to finish the trail when I retire. I loved this post because I am actually afraid of heights when I feel exposed, so the Whites have always looked intimidating. Thanks for your detailed description of this section! You make me feel like I can conquer it! Happy Trails for the rest of your adventure!

    Reply

What Do You Think?