I Wasn’t Going to Slackpack, until I Did

In the beginning of the trail everyone had opinions about how to hike. Every person brings their own philosophy of hiking to the trail. The friends I made day one of this journey became my trail family. My tramily was, and is not, a slackpacking trail family. I was not a slackpacking hiker either. Until today.

Let me clarify—because slackpacking can make a hiker bubble separate like oil and water—my outlook on hiking from the beginning has been that each hiker must choose what is right for his or her journey. The hiker culture can get caught up in technicalities. The trail exists neutrally, and our actions while on trail are arbitrary formations of a culture and lifestyle. I do not believe there is a right or wrong way to hike (as long as your actions don’t harm others or the protected lands of the trail). 

Why I Chose Not to Slack

I chose not to slackpack for most of my hike because my closest friends chose not to slack, and because of cost. Slackpacking incurs the cost of two nights at a hostel or hotel and potentially the cost of the transportation. In addition, slacking keeps you in town longer and any hiker knows that adds up to more dollars spent than perhaps you can afford. 

Now that I’ve begun to defend myself already, I’m considering an additional post about the judgmental attitudes found on the trail. For now, though, I will stick to my goal of writing about my first slackpacking experience. 

But Then I Did…

It was wonderful. I hiked 21 miles over difficult terrain and am now sitting in a soft bed. Pizza and wine are in my belly. 

The Rattle River Lodge & Hostel in Shelburne, NH, offers a 21 mile slackpack of the Wildcat Mountain section. This section is still a part of the White Mountains, but Gorham is the northern gateway to the Whites, so it’s the tail end for NOBOs. The frequent elevation change make this section notoriously difficult. Most hikers I spoke to at the hostel split this section into two days. I was dropped off at 7:30 a.m. and finished the section at 7:30 p.m. A long day for 21 miles. 

The weather was lovely. The air was cool, the sun peeped in and out of the clouds rolling over the numerous peaks of the day. I even stopped at Carter Notch Hut for free leftover pasta and coffee.

What Led to My Decision

The White Mountains were the most difficult and technical hiking I’ve encountered on the trail. My daily mileage dropped and my pace slowed quite a bit. Hostel owners, trail angels, and SOBOs had warned of this for a weeks, so it came as no surprise. 

When I reached Pinkham Notch I was ready for town food, a shower, and a bed. After the many town visits and ridge-running terrain of New England, the Whites felt like a slap in the face, or the feet. I’d spent longer away from town, with little cell reception, than I had since the early days of Georgia and North Carolina. 

There are, of course, no complaints about that. The Whites offer the most epic views. These mountains are the first section of the trail I have committed to a return trip. 

That being said, at the top of Mount Washington I booked two nights at the hostel. A dual night stay included a shuttle back to Pinkham Notch for the slack pack. 

Getting to the End

At this point in the trail the excitement of finishing is mixing with nostalgia. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to complete in one day a section that most take two to hike. I couldn’t pass up the chance to carry a light load over difficult terrain. After the Whites I wanted a break but I didn’t want to sacrifice any more miles than I already had. 

For me this checked all the boxes for a slackpack: no additional transportation charge, the hostel isn’t directly in town so I kept my spending low, breakfast is included, I got to catch up to some friends that are ahead, and spent the night around a fire with friends I’ve made during the last section. 

Maybe I’m projecting a bit on my defensiveness about slacking. The hikers around the fire that I thought would react most negatively didn’t say much when I mentioned slacking. At this point on the trail, with just over 350 miles left, we’re all looking toward the end, enjoying the present, and don’t try to speak too much into other hikers’ journeys. 

We’re all trying to get to Katahdin and doing it in our own style. 

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Comments 2

  • George Turner (Old Growth) : Aug 22nd

    I think slackpacking falls safely within acceptable norms of HYOH, but I pretty much the same way. I took my first slackpack at the Hikers Welcome Hostel

  • Jane McCarter : Jun 12th

    Thanks for your posts Elise. You are a wonderful writer. I appreciate the detail and decision making processes you describe for each piece. And I truly appreciate the proper English and personal examples provided of your hiker thoughts and actions along with those of other hikers as well. Looking forward to more of your posts. Trail Angel Jane NOBO mile 999 area.


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