Over Mt. Washington and Through the Wildcats

Author’s Note- Welcome to my delayed trail update. I finished my thru-hike on October 18th. Slowly but surely I’m finishing my story.

Day 176: 2,010 ft ascent, 2.7 Not AT miles, (Skipped 3,230 ft ascent, 6.4 miles)

From the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Highland Center Erik and I had two options to get back to the trail: hitchhike back to where we left off of the Appalachian Trail or hike a trail called the Crawford Pass from the Highland Center, which would intersect the Appalachian Trail about three miles away. The Crawford Pass has a lot of history as the oldest, continuously maintained trail in the United States.

Although we would be skipping about six miles of the Appalachian Trail, we decided to take the Crawford Pass. This wasn’t the first time we had walked a different path than the official trail. But this felt like the first time we had done it only with the intention to enjoy the moment rather than to detour around potentially dangerous terrain.

It was a cloudy, colder morning. We passed a few groups on the trail making their way down after spending the night at the Mizpah Hut. This was going to be our destination for the day. We didn’t have much opportunity to hike any further that day. Camping options were extremely limited for the next stretch of trail because most of it would be above treeline. The Lake Above the Clouds Hut had closed for the season a few days prior, and we weren’t excited about trying to stay in the dungeon available to thru hikers in “emergency” situations. Unless we wanted to backtrack down the mountain along the way (we didn’t), it would be too far for us to try to make it to the Madison Hut that day. On top of that, the weather was calling for warm, clear skies the next day. Exactly what you want when hiking over Mount Washington. So a short day it would be.

We quickly made it up to the hut. We went inside to warm up and got some soup of the day, a treat we got for free since we had AT thru-hiker camping passes for the White Mountains we had purchased at the Garfield Campsite a few days before. I asked the worker at the hut (called a croo member) more about the work for stay program. She explained thru hikers could work for up to two hours in exchange for a place to sleep inside on the floor and leftovers from dinner and breakfast. I had wanted to experience a work for stay at a hut in the whites as part of my hike.

While we qualified for this program as thru-hikers, she informed us that we had arrived too early in the day to claim the two work for stay positions available for that night. But if nobody else showed up, we might be able to claim them anyways. In the meantime, she let me scrub some pans in exchange for another bowl of chili.

There wasn’t much cell service at the hut. This made me chuckle.

The hours wore on, and not many people were in and out of the hut. We overheard that only 5 guests were registered that night for the 60+ capacity hut. No other thru-hikers arrived. Five o’clock rolled around and I asked again about the work for stay. The head croo member, who had been gone when we first arrived, decided that we could have the work for stay positions, but we would be asked to leave if any other thru-hikers showed up and asked about it.

I was so disappointed. This wouldn’t work for us. It was getting dark and we shared a tent. If one or both of us would have to leave, we didn’t want to have to set up alone in the dark. We made the decision to leave the hut together and camp at the maintained campground beside the hut.

Our campsite was in the middle of a bunch of downed trees.

The sky was clear that night and we were at a higher elevation, which meant it was colder than we were used to (maybe mid-40’s as the low?). But the clear sky also gave us a beautiful view of the stars. At first, I was upset about having to leave the warmth of the hut for our tent, but as the evening wore on I knew we had made the right decision.

I normally slept through the night on the trail, and the few times I would get up we would be in a forest without a view of the sky. This night the stars aligned. I woke up and the sky was putting on a show.

Day 177: 4,180 ft ascent, 11.9 miles

Erik and I had a big day ahead of us. The weather was supposed to be perfect for our trek over Mt. Washington. We set our watches to start the coffee before sunrise, and we were rewarded with the best sunrise view we had experienced so far on the trail. After the frustration at the hut the day before, the day was already off to a great start.

My favorite sunrise of the trail.

We quickly started climbing, winds whipping wisps of clouds around us. It was a mostly clear morning. The weather station on top of Mt. Washington was visible as our destination most of the morning. I didn’t often take the time along the trail to look at the view and compare it to a map to see where we were headed. Our destination was clear today, and it was fun to see how far we could travel in just a few hours.

Bc c

Most of the day we spent above treeline, a unique experience that doesn’t happen much along the trail. By the time we got to the summit, most of the clouds had burnt off and we had incredible views. Mt. Washington is a tourist destination and was crowded when we got there. I had been one of those tourists five years prior, driving up the mountain instead of hiking. Hiking was much more rewarding.

We asked a tourist to take our picture. Nope, this isn’t cropped. He didn’t get Erik’s head in the photo. 🤣

We ate lunch at the visitors center and I sent a post card from the post office at the summit. We took the obligatory pictures with the summit sign, then we were off again, plenty more miles to cover that day.

This sign wouldn’t mean much to most people. For me it was a reminder of my job back home. As a civil engineer doing water and wastewater work for public utilities, much of my work is funded by grants or federally-backed loans. This sign was for a project at the Visitors Center funded by a familiar grant.

I will let my pictures do the talking, the views we saw throughout day were only comparable to those we saw on Franconia Ridge a few days prior.

We finally made it to Madison Spring Hut around 5:30pm. Our plan was to inquire about the work for stay, but if that didn’t work out, we would most likely be hiking into the dark before we could get to a campsite. The hiking had gotten much slower and at times was more boulder hopping than hiking.

Lucky for us, we were able to get the work for stay this time! We scrubbed dish racks for a couple of hours in exchange for dinner leftovers and a spot to sleep on the floor of their dining room. I never would’ve been excited about this sleeping arrangement before the trail, but now a place for my sleeping pad inside with access to a toilet I could sit on was a luxury!

Many of the guests were curious about our trip and asked us a lot of questions. Although all of the guests had hiked in, we stood out by keeping our packs with us in the dining room and not storing them in the bunk rooms with the other guests. I didn’t feel like socializing, but I had to accept that was an unwritten part of the agreement.

Day 178: 1,280 ft ascent (4,040 ft decent), 7.8 miles

After a decent night’s sleep on the floor of the hut, I was ready to get going the next morning because we were headed into town! It looked like it would be an easy day compared to what we had been doing, and I started daydreaming about what we might eat for lunch in town.

I should’ve known better. The White Mountains always have the last laugh. The weather was nice, but the terrain was awful and slow-moving. The trail was all rock, and we had to keep our eyes peeled to find the next blaze. I have no clue how people find their way in anything but clear weather. After a couple of miles, we finally descended below treeline again, but the steep decent was only beginning.

My knees had been hurting since Vermont. The knee braces I had purchased in Lincoln could only do so much. I was delicate with every step I took, making sure I didn’t step in way that would make my knees hurt worse. Eventually we made it to the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. Instead of lunch in town, we used our AMC thru-hiker pass to get a $3 bowl of soup.

Now it was time to get to town and get resupplied. The only hostel in town had closed early for the season due to a family emergency, so we had booked a room at a local hotel. The only issue was how we would get there. Gorham was 10 miles from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. We decided to try our luck at hitch hiking again.

It didn’t go well at first. The first 20 minutes we had plenty of traffic passing us but nobody willing to stop. As we started discussing contingency plans a truck finally stopped for us. It was one of the guests we had talked to at the hut the night before! He only stopped because he recognized us. 15 minutes later we were dropped off at our hotel.

We walked into town from our hotel, got our resupply from Dollar 💵 General, mailed some packages, and I got some pumpkin fudge from a local souvenir shop. The trail would head towards Gorham over the next few days, so we decided to do a short 2-day resupply and planned to stay at the hotel again after we hiked the Wildcat section of the White Mountains. We normally wouldn’t stay in hotels back-to-back like this, but we were closing in on the finish line. If a few more hotel stays would keep us motivated to finish, the extra cost seemed worth it.

Day 179: 4,635 ft ascent, 7.9 miles

After our issues hitchhiking the day before, we were unsure how it would go getting back to the trail the next morning. We knew we would have a long day ahead of us and didn’t want to have a long delay trying to get back to the trail. Of course, as soon as we worry the trail provides. The first car that passed us picked us up. The woman was a local and was used to thru-hikers. We didn’t look scary, so she got us back to the trail.

I didn’t quite realize what we were up for with the climb out of Pinkham Notch that morning. It felt like the steepest part of the trail yet. Multiple spots the trail went up a rock face that seemed more like climbing than hiking. I was happy my shoes were made by a company that specialized in climbing gear. If I didn’t have great traction, I don’t know how I would’ve made it up.

We made it to the top of the first climb right around lunch. There was a ski lift at the top that some hikers opt to take when it’s operational. I don’t know if I would’ve considered it if we had the option, but it was closed when we got there. We ate lunch at a picnic table by the ski lift, admiring the changing leaves that were just starting their show at the higher elevations.

There were again limited camping opportunities available along this stretch. We headed towards a stealth spot I had read about in my app. When we arrived another tent was set up in the ideal spot, but we were able to backtrack about a tenth of a mile and find another spot that would fit our tent. It was the most uneven, tight spot we pitched the tent on the entire trail, but with limited options we took what we could get. I was excited we were on top of the mountain with cell coverage so I could watch a football game that night. But my exhaustion won out and I was asleep before the game kicked off.

The picture doesn’t give the slope of this campsite justice.

Day 180: 2,120 ft ascent (5,980 ft descent), 13.1 miles

I woke up early, a little after 5:00 a.m. I got the water going for coffee and looked at my phone. On a hunch, I looked to see if I had recorded the football game. YouTube TV for the win! I quickly brought up the game and went to the beginning of the fourth quarter. Erik is not the biggest football fan, but he tolerated me spending some time that morning watching my favorite team win a game that came down to the wire.

We got going around daybreak, knowing a hotel bed and hot tub were waiting for us that afternoon. The climbing wasn’t as intense as the day before, but it was still the White Mountains, so nothing was easy. Even the descent into town that should’ve been a welcome break seemed like it dragged on forever.

Late in the afternoon we finally made it to the road into town. We stuck out our thumbs and quickly got a hitch. It was becoming almost normal now to hitchhike. So strange.

I treated myself to a nice dinner out at the hotel. Erik wanted to fast through dinner, so it was a table for one. I was doing laundry, so I showed up to the cloth tablecloth restaurant in my packa raincoat. I got a lot of looks but my hunger made me not care. I devoured some chicken Alfredo. I felt like I had earned the meal by sticking with the hike. I knew we weren’t done with the Whites yet, but we were one day closer to Katahdin.

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Comments 1

  • Phyllis : Jan 27th

    Those photos were outstanding! I could not believe how steep the incline was to pitch a tent. Ya’ll are very brave and strong.


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