Rock You Like A Hurricane (Days 142 to 145, North Woodstock to Pinkham Notch)
Start: Liberty Springs Parking Lot / Lincoln, NH
Finish: Galehead Hut
AT Miles Hiked Today: 13.0
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 1,829.0
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 360.1
I woke up smelling feet.
Reindeer and I got in to Lincoln late last night, so we had to sleep on our sleeping pads squished right next to each other on the floor. For some reason we slept head to toe, so we both ended up smelling each other’s feet all night long.
As I mentioned in my last post, Chet’s Hostel was just a garage with a bunch of hikers crashing in it. I was super happy to have a place to sleep out of the rain, so I’m not complaining!
We grabbed breakfast at an amazing local place. As we were walking over, I couldn’t help but notice what a gorgeous day it was. Chilly, but blue skies! I was happy.
We resupplied, I picked up a few bagels for snacks up the trail, and we called a cab to take us back to the trail.
It was easy hiking for the first mile or so, then it quickly turned rocky and steep. The temperature also plummeted as we gained elevation.
It’s 3,800 feet of gain from the gap to the summit of Lafayette, and I was feeling every foot of gain. I stopped partway up the mountain to put on my puffy jacket, the wind was bone chilling. The jacket didn’t come off the rest of the day.
We broke out above tree line just shy of Little Haystack Mountain, at 4,780 feet. As soon as I got above tree line, WHAM! I was pummeled by wind. Everything was socked in. I couldn’t see anything but the trail right in front of me, and the clouds whipping by.
The next 2 miles were above tree line. This would normally be unbelievably beautiful, but today it just gave the winds a solid hour and a half of drilling us.
So, about the winds: I cannot overstate how dangerous the winds were. I was getting blown around so much that I was crouching and running, head bowed and eyes tearing up, running until I found a rock to hide behind and catch my breath. It got worse as I went over Mt Lincoln at 5,089 feet. As I neared the summit of Lafayette it became absurd and dangerous. Any time you think you know where your foot was coming down, by the time it hit the ground, it had moved a foot and a half away from your plan due to the wind. I was leaning into the wind at a 30 degree angle just to stay upright as I ran from rock to rock.
As I came slipping and sliding and stumbling down from Lafayette, another older thru hiker named Floss and I started yelling back and forth. We were barely feet away but had trouble hearing each other. This was his second thru of the AT, and he spent 5 years living in NH hiking the Whites many times, and he said this was the most dangerous conditions he had hiked in. He said the winds were absolutely hurricane strength (76mph+), with gusts that felt like 100mph. I couldn’t help but agree.
I got back to treeline and was laughing like a maniac. That 2 miles above tree line in these conditions was absolutely the most alive I’ve felt on this entire trail. It was the most dangerous hiking conditions I’ve ever experienced. Now that the conditions were calmer I realized just how much adrenaline was pumping through my body, I was shaking with it. What a crazy day. The whites arr not disappointing, and I’m not even halfway through!
The rest of the day was tricky, wet and cold, but much less windy, as we were below tree line again.
The trail here is rugged, and I mean rugged. At one point the trail was a river flowing over boulders with dense trees on all sides. Slick and steep. Good luck!
I rolled in to Gailhead Hut around 6. The huts are $100+ per night for real people, but they accept thru hiker work for stays and let hikers sleep on the ground after they work a bit. Usually they only accept 2 or 3 work for stays, but tonight is supposed to be in the 20’s, so they let more thru hikers stay. There are 12 or so of us here tonight. I washed dishes as my work. It’s so cold outside, I can’t believe it’s August. I was shivering like mad even though I was inside the hut. It’s possible my core temp dropped as I was hiking in the winds earlier.
The people who pay $120 per night to stay in this hut were up until 9:30, which is far too late if you ask me. It was funny watching the hikers falling asleep waiting for the real people to clear out to bed. As soon as they did we scooted the tables to the side of the room, blew up our sleeping pads, and fell asleep.
My buddy is picking me up tomorrow 14.7 miles from here at 5pm. That means I’ll need to wake up early and hike fast to catch him.
Start: Galehead Hut
Finish: US Route 302
AT Miles Hiked Today: 14.7
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 1,843.7
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 345.4
There were two snorers of epic proportions sleeping near me on the floor last night, which kept me up half the night. Still, losing a bit of sleep is better than freezing my butt off. The temps got below freezing last night, just vicious.
We were up at 5:30 as the hut staff bustled around preparing coffee and breakfast for the real people. I went outside to pack my bag and was greeted by a fantastic view. Looks like the clouds all moved out overnight!
Reindeer and I were hiking by 6:45. It was freezing, and we started in gloves and hats, but we quickly shed them as we immediately climbed 1,200 feet up South Twin Mountain. As we summited, we got unbelievable views back towards Lafayette. Today would be an awesome day to be on that ridgeline.
Today couldn’t be more different from yesterday – Clear, and not windy at all. The only sounds as we climbed above tree line were our own footsteps and our breath. It was beautiful and the views we got were top 5 from the entire trail.
We got an early start, but I had a hard deadline to reach the gap so I could be picked up, and I didn’t want to have my friend wait. I hiked quickly and reached Zealand Falls Hut, which was about halfway through our mileage for the day, at 11. I realized we could let off the pace a bit, and we enjoyed a bit of time at the hut chatting with the real people who were vacationing there. The sun was getting hot, too! We were down to shorts and t shirts.
We deliberately hiked at a slower pace, but the trail suddenly became flat and smooth for the first time in the Whites! We had excellent views for a bit of the ridgeline too.
I got a bit tired at this point as I had run out of food. Nothing sinks a hiker’s energy levels quite like running out of food. Our bodies chew through whatever we throw in them so fast that if we miss a meal, our bodies rebel against us.
We got to the gap at 3pm, with 2 hours until my buddy picked me up and no cell service. I’m not complaining though, it gave me a chance to kick my feet up and do a bit of planning. I need to fly to a wedding in Wyoming on August 31st, and after some quick math and lots of checks with Guthook and AWOL guides, I determined I can make it to Grafton Notch in Maine for a pickup on the morning of the 31st. That leaves me with a fairly relaxed pace for the next week and a half. With that off my mind, I enjoyed the sunshine and napped under the trees until my friend arrived at 5.
I haven’t seen Ryan since college, so it was awesome catching up with him at his dad’s beautiful house in Franconia. His dad did the AT SOBO a few years back, so it was fun reminiscing about the trail South of here. He gave me advice for the upcoming trail in Maine. Sounds like the trail gets tougher from here!
We had a delicious dinner of local sausages and corn on the cob, and drank beer around a campfire until bed time.
We decided on going SOBO tomorrow to summit Washington to Lake of the Clouds while the weather looked good. Tomorrow’s forecast calls for clear skies and moderate temps, perfect hiking weather!
Oh, and it’s my 26th birthday today, so happy birthday to me, I suppose.
Start: Pinkham Notch Visitors Center (Going SOBO)
Finish: Lake of the Clouds Hut
AT Miles Hiked Today: 14.9
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 1,858.6
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 330.5
As we were eating breakfast this morning, I mentioned the dropoff point I had planned on Washington Auto Road, and Ryan’s dad told me that it costs a bunch of money to drive up the auto road. Hmm, that complicates things – I was planning for a 13 mile day starting at the auto road intersection with the AT. The only other option was to get dropped at Pinkham Notch and do a 15 mile day SOBO over Washington. I looked at my watch – it was already after 8. Uh oh.
We dropped a car at our exit point, US 302, then drove to Pinkham. As we started hiking it was 9:30. I was nervous. That’s a really late start, Ryan isn’t a thru hiker so we were bound to be going slower than usual, and a 15 mile day in the Whites is way too far. But, the weather was looking beautiful, so I decided to make a judgement call once I got to Madison Hut.
The first five miles flew by, it was easy, flat terrain and Ryan was hiking like he had 5 cups of coffee that morning. I was impressed! We cleared the first 5 miles in 2 hours.
Then, we hit Madison.
Madison is 2,900 feet of gain up extremely steep terrain. Once we broke out above tree line, it became boulder hopping, so we had to be careful with every step. We were moving at about 1mph.
The day wore on, and I kept pushing back our timeline in my head. Ok, if we summit Washington by 5:30 we will be fine. Well, actually, we have until 6:30, we’ll definitely make it up before then. What time does the sun set, after 7, right? We will be fine if we summit at 7. Right?
We got up and over Madison and down to Madison Hut at 2:30. Ryan needed a break, I was pushing him too far too fast. Honestly, the 8 mile day up to Madison hut should have been our full day. But I was greedy. I could see Washington, I could see the entire Presidential range, the weather was perfect, and we were right on the border of barely enough time and not enough time to summit. I decided to roll the dice and press on.
The entire section of trail between Madison and Washington was rocky. It was as if someone took the Pennsylvania rocks and moved them up to 5,000 feet above sea level. We picked out way over and around Adams, Jefferson and Clay, enjoying the views but wincing at our sore feet.
We couldn’t have picked a better day to do this hike. Soft winds, surprisingly warm weather even at elevation, barely a cloud in the sky. I only wish we had more time to appreciate the scenery. I kept glancing nervously at my watch. We were barely moving at a mile per hour, and at this pace we wouldn’t make it to Lake of the Clouds before dark. The trouble was, the terrain made it difficult to move faster, and Ryan is no thru hiker, so he was getting understandably tired.
In the last mile or so the terrain finally became less terrible. We crossed over the Mount Washington Railroad and climbed straight up to the summit. It was 7pm.
We were ecstatic at reaching the summit but we had no time to explore. The summit building was shutting down and we ran in to go to the bathroom and chug some water. I wish I’d had time to explore the museum. Ryan took forever in the bathroom and the impatient lady waiting to lock up told me to go check on him, to see if he had passed out on the toilet. (Apparently that happens to tourists who take the train up and aren’t used to the elevation!) Fortunately, Ryan wasn’t passed out, he is just a slow pooper. We left and made our way down towards Lake of the Clouds, which was visible from the summit.
One benefit of hiking late is that we got an unbelievable sunset. One of the prettiest I’ve seen in my life.
We got to Lake of the Clouds just as full dark set in, around 8pm. We did 15 miles today. That’s a long day in the Whites for thru hikers, and it’s seriously impressive that Ryan stuck it out and didn’t complain.
There have got to be 20+ thru hikers here tonight. We were given the choice of sleeping on the floor of the hut and staying hours tomorrow morning to do chores, or pay $10 each and sleep in The Dungeon. The dungeon is the emergency shelter for hikers on Washington, and it comprised of a prison-cell sized basement with two triple bunks so small that you can’t sit up on them without knocking your head on the bunk above. I chose The Dungeon, because I didn’t want to be constrained on time tomorrow. We have 11 miles back to the gap and I bet Ryan’s feet are really torn up.
Despite the stressful day, I am immensely happy that we summited Washington today. The weather couldn’t have been better and the forecast calls for rain tomorrow. We ate dinner outside the hut and went straight to bed.
Start: Lake of the Clouds Hut (Going SOBO)
Finish: US Route 302
AT Miles Hiked Today: 11.1
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 1,869.7
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 319.4
The morning dawned cold and clear, but clouds quickly moved in as we packed up. Ryan had forgotten to take a sleeping pad but didn’t say a word about it last night and slept on the hard wooden bunk without complaint. I think he would make an excellent thru hiker.
We were wearing our puffy jackets as we set out. The day was going to be almost entirely downhill. The hut was at 5,000 feet and the gap was at 1,250. As we looked back up at Washington, it was totally socked in by dark clouds.
As I expected, I pushed Ryan too hard yesterday. His feet have crazy blisters. What I wish we could have done was take 3 days to cover this section, it would have really opened up the days. We walked at around 1mph, me jumping ahead and waiting for him about a half mile or so on from our last meeting spot.
Around 11 we got to Mizpah Hut, and walking in I ran into a bunch of NOBOs I recognized. We all ate and caught up, and I warned them about the upcoming trail. It sounds like they were all heaed to Lake of the Clouds for the night. It’ll be another full house! The staff must be sick of thru hikers at this point.
The trail was so much easier today than yesterday. Lots of smooth sections, punctuated by some rocky descents. We passed by Monroe and Eisenhower, and over Pierce, Jackson and Webster. Ryan was setting a slow and steady pace, and I fed him Advil like M+M’s hoping that would help with the pain. I felt immensely guilty every time he hobbled into view, but he wasn’t complaining.
As we got to Webster,we looked down several thousand feet to Route 302, our exit point. So close but so far away! The trail down was treacherous. I am not ashamed to say I slid down several sections on my butt. At one point I accidentally almost hit some NOBOs with my trekking poles as I threw them down the cliffs and scooted down after them.
It took us 10 hours, but we finally made it the 11 miles back to Ryan’s car. We drove back to his place and drank a celebratory beer, then Ryan took off to drive back to Connecticut where he lives. I hung out with his family that night and went to bed early, exhausted but happy to have the presidentials behind me.
I have an easy few days coming up into Gorham, which I really need. The whites are tough and I’ve been doing them faster than many thru hikers do them. I’m sad to be on the back half of NH but excited to be so close to Maine – my last state!
Until next time, happy trails!
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