New Hampshire: Hiking Just Got a Lot Harder
The end of Vermont and the beginning of New Hampshire felt decidedly out of place for the AT.
After all, it was all road walking from Norwich through Hanover. The state border is the Connecticut River and, unfortunately, the bridge was undergoing repairs. The VT/NH sign was behind caution tape and construction barrels, but a fellow hiker managed to get a photo for me.
This is Watermelon. He wasn’t afraid to step into the construction zone (like I was) for a photo of the state line.
Walking into Hanover was a bit surreal. If you didn’t know, Hanover is home to Dartmouth College, an Ivy League college which translates to a trendy, expensive town.
I walked into town on the most humid of days, sweating buckets, dropped my pack on a bench and walked into a smoothie place. I asked where the AT sidewalk plaque was located. No one knew.
I ordered a smoothie and sat outside. The student population (and the parents touring town before leaving their kiddos) gave me wide berth, which was kind of funny. Perhaps they feared I might wrinkle or stink up their clothes by proximity.
I headed to Lou’s Donuts, known for giving a free donut to hikers, and got a chocolate glazed. Once again, I asked about the sidewalk plaque. Once again, no one knew.
I wandered up and down the street and finally found it. Had I crossed the street when arriving, I would have seen it immediately. I returned to Lou’s, told them where to find it (in case anyone else asks), bought another donut, and headed north.
Same old same old
Once past the Dartmouth athletic fields, the trail returns to the woods, chock full of rocks and mud, not much different from Vermont.
But then the climbs become bigger and steeper.
If I recall correctly, the first 4,000-footer since Virginia was Killington Peak in Vermont. The first one in New Hampshire is Mt. Moosilauke. I had heard that the best way to tackle Moosilauke is SOBO, so I made a bee-line for Hikers Welcome Hostel, only .25 off-trail, to sign up for a southbound slack-pack.
On our way to the trailhead the next morning, a moose crossed the road in front of the van. As everyone scrambled for their cameras, the moose scampered (if scampering is something a moose can do) into the woods. But, hey, I saw a moose!
A light drizzle made the ascent along the cascading waterfalls a little slippery, but going up the slick, steep trail was preferable to sliding down.
The steps drilled into the rock face made the climb less dangerous for Hopper and everyone else.
Cascading waterfalls on the journey up Moosilauke.
Just before the timberline, the rain became more steady. Above timberline, the wind began to increase to the predicted 25 to 35 mph gusts. Only the left side of my body was pelted by the rain. I took out my phone and had trouble getting it to read my finger as rain hit the screen. I managed to get one selfie in front of the sign.
No photo ops
The next few days continued with rain. As I hiked, it seemed there was no point in attempting photos. From Moosilauke through South Twin, the rain didn’t let up. The summits were socked in with clouds, the trail was wet and muddy, and my clothes were wet. My only dry clothes—my sleep clothes—kept me sane at the end of each day. But putting on wet socks, clothes, and shoes each morning often brought me to tears.
I sent my husband a text that read, “Once I’m through the White Mountains I don’t care if I ever see them again.”
The worst moment was upon leaving Garfield Shelter and finding that the trail was a full-on waterfall. Nothing to do but sit on the rocks and carefully ease myself down the mountain while the water flowed through and around my clothes and pack.
At the top of the waterfall, I looked at my FarOut app over and over, questioning, “Is this the trail? This can’t be the trail…” Yeah, it was the trail.
Here comes the sun (do do doo do)
The sun finally appeared at Ethan Pond and, rather than keep hiking, I opted to spread everything out in the sun to dry. I spent hours letting the sun warm me and got the sunburn to prove it.
Drying e v e r y t h i n g out
Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
With a change in the weather my mood improved as did my opinion of the White Mountains. The forecast was for sun as I made my way toward the second highest peak on the AT—Mt. Washington.
I booked a night at Lakes of the Clouds Hut and arrived early enough to spend a little time exploring the lakes and looking for butterflies.
The hut staff provided the forecast for my summit: Clear with temps in the 40s and winds of 5 to 10 mph. After missing out on views at Clingman’s Dome, I was elated that I’d have spectacular views on the mountain known for America’s worst weather.
One last warning about 1.5 miles from the summit of Mt. Washington. It reads, “The area ahead has the worst weather in America. Many have died there from exposure, even in the summer. Turn back now if the weather is bad.”
Sunset from Lakes of the Clouds.
The trail and my objective.
A beautiful day to summit a beautiful beast of a mountain.
Years ago, my husband and I had taken our kids to Mt. Washington via the auto road. But hiking to the top was a thrill I will never get over. I stopped often on the way up just to take in the views over and over. What a spectacular experience!
More rain…and sun…and rain…
The next few days saw the weather deteriorate, but getting my moment in the sun on the big mountain kept my spirits high. Days of intermittent rain and sun, wild blueberries for snacking, moose footprints—all made my remaining days in New Hampshire much better than the beginning.
Someday I’d like to return to the Whites, but when I do, I’ll take the cog railway to the summit of Mt. Washington.
Morning clouds in the valley below Gentian Shelter.
I probably would have hiked faster if I wasn’t stopping to eat blueberries.
Good Job navigating tricky terrain.
This will be how I make my next trip to the summit of Mt. Washington. Someday…
Can it be true? I’m almost to the end of this hike?
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