Franconia Ridge to Mt. Washington
It’s always tough for me to sit down and actually type one of these posts out- not because I don’t want you to know how my trip is going, but usually because I’m some inexcusable combination of hungry, tired, and lazy . Not today. I’m sitting comfortably in a wing back chair at the Caratunk B & B with a hamburger in my belly and sweet smelling clothes to fold in the next room. I arrived too late to get the ferry and make the next shelter so I decided to visit with Paul at the B&B, a wonderful man with tons of stories to tell about the AT and PCT. It dawned on me tonight that there is another reason I have a hard time writing these: I want you to actually feel what I’m feeling, smell what I’m smelling, hear what I’m hearing and see what I’m seeing. I want a simple blog post to be a sensory experience for you. You probably know by now that I’m a very wordy person. “Be more concise” appeared way too often on my college papers. So, I promise I won’t let this go past 20 pages. Just kidding. My goal for this blog post is to (as concisely as possible) provide you with sensory snapshots of our experience from Franconia Notch to Mt. Washington.
In all my years of hiking, I have never seen anything as stunning and just plain cool as Franconia Ridge. The weather was perfect for it. We emerged from the tree line literally soaked with sweat. But that didn’t matter when we looked up. Before us, lay a sweeping expanse of rocks and alpine “shrubbery”.
Your depth perception gets all messed up when you can see miles away. Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Lafayette shot up into the sky like those burning beacons in “Return of the King”. We started out onto the ridge. Pretty soon I was a mile behind Kentucky and Ranger because I couldn’t stop gazing. It was as if I could reach out and touch the tiny figures clambering up mountains far in the distance….or squint a little and snatch a cloud from a summit. An exquisite blue sky accented the trees and dusty rocks. The sun was bright and warm. A perfect day.
After a grueling climb up Mt. Garfield, we ended our ridge experience by collapsing in a shelter for the night. The next day, we were to reach Ethan Pond Shelter, a good 14 miles from Garfield. For the second day, we woke up to glorious weather: cool, but sunny. Mountain mornings are incredible. In the beginning, you can’t find the peaks, they’re so wrapped in fog. Then, the rising sun burns through and layer by layer reveals the views.
Our fourteen mile day was arduous to say the least, but it was helped by a large bowl of leftover oatmeal at the hut. At the end of the day, we were welcomed with five miles of flat (unheard of in the Whites) and our second moose sighting. The sun was setting when we arrived and a couple hikers were gathered at water’s edge pointing excitedly. We squinted against the sun’s glare and there, silhouetted perfectly, was a massive bull moose, flinging the water about with his antlers. We were too tired to hang out and watch him, but I eventually joined him in the pond for a dip (don’t worry-I waited until he left).
After a needed zero day at the campsite, we set off toward Mt. Washington, praying for good weather and wondering if WD40 would work on knees.
We ended up pausing for a resupply at Wiley House, a historical landmark and cafe just off the trail. That could have been the most delicious breakfast sandwich I have ever eaten. And the coffee? Mylanta. Amazing. Barbara sent us off with packets of honey candies and best wishes.
Ahead of us? Mt. Webster, Mt. Jackson and Mizpah campsite. The climb up Webster was a quick introduction to hand over hand crawls that Maine promised us. I enjoyed every moment. When we reached the summit, the beautiful day had turned a little hazardous. The wind was insane! It whipped and lashed our packs and tried to tear our caps from our heads. I felt hoarse from shouting, but still couldn’t help whooping when Mt. Washington emerged in the distance, summit engulfed in fog. One of my favorite parts of the Whites was actually seeing where we were going.
That night, we set our tents up next to each other and listened to the rain pattering lazily, knowing tomorrow we would be summiting Washington.
The next day dawned chilly and damp. When we left Mizpah Hut, we were shivering and rooting for the sun. In an hour or so, it appeared, warming our faces and revealing our destination, immense against a blue-grey sky. By the time we reached Lake of the Clouds hut, the weather had completely transformed. My legs were red and raw from cold and a thick fog had rolled down from the peak, wrapping around us and taunting us. Inside the hut, we thawed out our hands and changed into long pants. The caretakers offered us pancakes if we washed some dishes. We gratefully accepted. Who knew washing dishes in hot water could be so wonderful? We wolfed down pancakes, oatmeal and fruit, sipping hot coffee and lingering in the warmth of the hut.
The trek up Washington was raw, foggy, steep and littered with boulders. For a moment, I thought we had somehow wandered across the sea to Scotland. Perhaps rain would have confirmed the image. I was still taken with the rugged scenery and quiet. I remember feeling so incredibly alive, bitter wind rough against my face, beads of sweat forming under my fleece cap as craggy rock piles rose out of the mist in front of us. When we reached the summit, it was like we had found Disney World; clamoring crowds of nice smelling tourists wearing t-shirts and jeans, vying for a summit picture. It was completely surreal, but still wonderful. We spent a couple hours in the visitor’s center, eating lunch and visiting with other hikers. I was on the phone with my brother and suddenly I saw people running for the door. I wondered if someone was injured or sick. But they were grabbing their cameras. I dashed to the first overlook and watched as the most miraculous thing occurred: the thick clouds were rolling back and the sun was peeking through. Mile by mile, the green valley below emerged, sparkling in the sun as if the fog was just a figment of our imagination.
When we began the hike down, we were elated, adrenaline rushing and lunch settling. Several hours later, three bedraggled, unrecognizable hikers stumbled into Valley Way campsite…..but I’ll save that story for next time.
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Corinne, I love reading your posts! Thank you so much for taking the time to write, my dear. I am praying for blessing and even more wonderful moments discovering His beautiful Creation. Lots of love, Haley
Put the piano down and finish this blog right now young lady, I have to know how far you made it!
Sounds like your chum has some explaining to do as well, bad knees? Bad knees?