My White Mountain Emotional Rollercoaster: Part Eight, Pinkham Notch
Note: This post describes events that occurred on August 11, 2023.
The neighbors on my tent platform awoke early and their stomping aroused me to consciousness. Before I had the wherewithal to exit my tent and make coffee, they had left. I got up, not feeling particularly refreshed but glad that I had about five easy miles before my next town stop, Gorham, which I would access via the road crossing at Pinkham Notch.
I butt-scooted around the platform because I hated slipping around as I walked on the algal boards. After some breakfast and coffee, I packed up and got on my way. I hoped for an uneventful few miles to get to civilization, but the universe decided I needed some more challenges before getting out of the woods. 🙂
I arrived at a stream crossing that I was uncomfortable with. The downpour from the previous evening had elevated the water level, submerging some of the rocks that would otherwise make a dry crossing via rock hopping feasible. The rocks were covered by cascading water, which forcefully flowed into whitewater seemingly everywhere I looked. I would need to scout out a safe crossing.
As I was beginning to walk downstream to look for alternative crossing points, a day hiker appeared on the same bank I was on. He did not initiate conversation with me, but I could tell that he was unsure of how to cross. I asked if he had crossed from the other side earlier that morning and he said no, but he needed to get across now. His urgency to cross the water made me uncomfortable. I watched him look around and eventually begin taking off his socks and shoes, throwing his boots across the stream to the other bank. I was shocked at this decision, but I said nothing. He began to precariously wade across the rocks barefoot above a waterfall without the aid of trekking poles. I feared I was about to watch this hiker drown, but he made it to the other side safely.
I wondered if maybe it could work for me to cross there. I began tentatively to cross, with my shoes on and fully submerged in the stream, as I felt it best to keep my feet protected from sharp rocks. The large rock I needed to step on felt way too slippery. At this point I looked up and saw the day hiker watching me from the other bank. He had not said a word to me the entire time. I told him I wouldn’t cross if I wasn’t comfortable, and he could leave. He immediately turned and hiked on. I looked for better footing but couldn’t find anything that felt right, so I turned around and walked upstream to do more scouting.
A couple hundred yards upstream, I discovered some fallen logs that connected the banks above the stream. I imagined scooting across them ungracefully, but it seemed less than ideal. I checked the comments for this stream waypoint on FarOut and discovered a very helpful one. One hiker suggested walking under one of the logs and using the dangling branches as handholds for security. I liked this idea and noticed that at that point, there was minimal whitewater to walk through. It was a great crossing point. I stowed one of my trekking poles and made my way safely through the knee-deep water by using the hanging branches for support with one hand, and my trekking pole in the other. This was the first stream crossing of my hike that required some careful execution, and I was relieved that it went well because I don’t have any experience crossing deep streams.
As I hiked on, if I noticed southbound hikers with large packs passing through, I asked where they were headed for the night. If they were going to pass the stream, I informed them that it could be a tricky crossing and shared my experience. Some, but not all, of the hikers had already been informed by another NOBO. I was glad to be able to share what I felt was important trail information with other hikers. This may have not been a difficult crossing for more experienced hikers, but it had made me nervous. If I had been briefed about it ahead of time by someone who had safely crossed, it would have been greatly reassuring to me.
A few hours later, I arrived at the Pinkham Notch Visitors Center. As I waited in line to get a soda and some ice cream, a hiker was asking a worker how to get in touch with a park ranger. He was worried about some older hikers who had been struggling the day before. They were planning to tackle Madison that morning, and the hiker explained that even he had been struggling in the 60 mph winds and below freezing wind chill earlier in the day. He wanted to be sure they made it through safely. The worker was dismissive, saying it was impossible to keep track of all the hikers out there. I was glad I had pushed the day before, as miserable as it had been.
I walked to the dining area and found the couple from the Madison summit. We chatted and the other hiker joined us, sharing his concerns about the folks who were headed over Madison that day. I asked who the hikers were and I knew two of them. I hoped everyone was okay. The concerned hiker took the initiative to call the hostel that the other four hikers were due into that evening. He shared their names and explained that if they didn’t arrive that night, search and rescue should be notified. As I heard this conversation take place, I found myself feeling very grateful to be part of a community where hikers take the initiative to look out for each other.
I ended up hitching to town with the couple. I dove straight into chore-mode and headed to Dollar General to resupply. I sat outside of the store and packed up my food, then found some town food. Finally I hitched to my destination for the night, a hostel down the road.
As I ate my town food takeout at the hostel, I had the unpleasant feeling of being rushed. I needed to do so many things! Resupply, eat, shower, laundry, dry my wet gear, tape my weird foot wound, etc! I hadn’t showered in ten days, a personal record for me, but one which I was oblivious to. I was distracted. While it was nice to finally get clean again, I didn’t appreciate it or register it as special like some past showers I had enjoyed after being extraordinarily filthy. I was finding myself in a difficult mental space, where I couldn’t fully be in the moment but wasn’t sure what was keeping me from being present. I felt like I didn’t have space to process the difficult moments I had endured the day before and that morning, and that there might be more to tease out beneath the surface. While I did my laundry, I called some loved ones to check in. It had been hard for me to stay in touch with everyone since starting my hike, and I was in particular need of support at that moment.
While I was on the phone, another hiker arrived, and I knew him! It was John, who I met during a serious thunderstorm in Vermont and later saw again at Lakes of the Clouds. I was surprised to see him at the hut because his daily mileage is way higher than mine. I learned that he had taken twelve zeros, which explained how we caught back up. And Gorham can be accessed via two road crossings, which is how we met again: I arrived via the southern road crossing and he came in from the more northern access point.
After wrapping up my call, I caught up with John. I told him that Madison had been super hard for me. He commented that the Madison descent was the most tedious three miles of the whole trail to that point (and he started in Georgia). He said it took him three hours. This was such affirming news. I asked him if his normal pace was around 3 miles an hour. He said yes, down south, but in New England it decreased to 2.5 and in the Whites it was 2.0. So for him to go a mile an hour down Madison was significant. It was hard for everybody. I had really needed to be reminded of that.
I went to bed that evening feeling hopeful, but tired. I didn’t know if I would feel ready to hit the trail again the next day, but I resolved to just take it one day at a time.
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