Shedding Blood, Sweat and Tears in New Hampshire
New Hampshire Made Me Cry
First, the good news…I walked out of New Hampshire and into Maine on Tuesday, August 29.
And there was much rejoicing. Yay!!!!
Because even though (or maybe because) I’ve been hiking the Whites every summer for over a decade, I wasn’t truly prepared for the experience of covering that ground as a thru hiker.
I worried about all the wrong things and neglected to worry about the truly troubling things. And I was oblivious to some of the magic that was in store for me throughout the traverse.
New Hampshire, for the record, is the place where thru-hiking the AT officially became the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
My mind goes to dark places.
They came quickly and without warning during the second climb In New Hampshire, up to Holts Ledge at mile 1763.7.
It was steep, sure, but totally doable. I’d been battling a cold, though, and was having trouble catching my breath on the climb. I ran out of steam and my mind went to dark places.
Places like, “I don’t have what it takes to finish this thing.”
And, “I’ll never make it up this hill, much less to Maine.”
And, “I suck at hiking. I’m weak.”
And the dreaded comparing myself to others and coming up lacking (while eating the dust of my hiking partner).
As if thru hiking were a competitive sport with actual gold medals in play.
But I went there. And, thankfully had the sense to call my husband (in tears by now) so he could talk me down off the literal ledge.
Holts Ledge. Mile 1763.7.
He reminded me that I was sick and sick people don’t hike like well people. He told me to drink a cup of tea, go to bed and that tomorrow would be another day.
He was right.
I was less sick the next day, and the tears were behind me so I could concentrate on more pressing matters.
Like how to survive the Whites, which were just around the corner.
Worrying About the Wrong Things
I won’t lie, I was anxious about the Whites, but for all the wrong reasons, it turns out.
Here’s what I didn’t need to worry about:
- My footwear. I hike in trail runners (Altra Lone Peaks, FYI), which I love. I worried that they wouldn’t be sturdy enough for the rugged terrain. In fact, they offered the right combination of grip, lightness and flexibility to handle the endless rock-hopping, the dancing across bog bridges and the scrambling up wet cliffs. I started the Whites with a brand new pair and I wouldn’t change a thing. Perfection.
- My non–freestanding tent. I stressed out for months about my tent (a Z Packs Altaplex) because it’s not free standing. All the know-it-all’s and mansplainers out there strenuously recommended a free standing tent because tenting in NH means setting up on platforms. I’m here to tell you you don’t have to go buy a new tent before you get to the platforms!!!!! You’ll have 1,000+ miles to get to know your tent and you’ll get to exercise your creativity and you will LOVE the platforms once you’ve experienced them. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get a three-on-one tent party!
Here are some ways I got creative with my setup.
- Mt. Washington. Seriously, the trek up from the Lakes of the Clouds hut was an easy climb and there were whoopie pies at the top. Don’t sweat this one. Sweat the trip down to Madison instead (see my tip below).
- Accommodation at Lakes of the Clouds Hut. First off, the Lakes of the Clouds hut is the last stop before going over Mt. Washington and I’d definitely plan to stay there before the stretch to the next hut, Madison Spring Hut. Second, they have this bunk room called the Dungeon, which NO THRU HIKER chose to stay in ever. Third, I worried that they would make us hike on, but they seemed to take everyone in (as evidenced by the 20 or so hikers sleeping in the dining room that night). Fourth, they have EMERGENCY BUNKS! OMG, how had I not heard of this? We’d heard they were sold out of bunks and I didn’t really want to do work for stay. I just wanted to stay. So we asked for a bunk anyway and they gave us three “emergency bunks!” This included breakfast and dinner and cost half the normal price. Score! (We got there around 3:30 and surely looked like emergency status, so make yourself pathetic if you’re vying for an emergency bunk.)
And here’s what I maybe should have worried about a little more instead:
- The trek to Madison Spring Hut. Dang that was unexpectedly hard, descending from Mt. Washington to Madison Spring Hut. Had I known, I would have spent less time waiting for the sky to clear over Mt. Washington (it didn’t), and more time picking my way down the rocks to the hut. The croo at Madison Spring hut sent a lot of people away that night. If they’d sent me away, I would have cried again and embarrassed my hiking crew. But they’re smarter than me and had called ahead for reservations or us, so the croo was spared my whining. If anyone asked my advice, I’d say reserve a bunk at Madison Spring so you don’t subject the hit croo to your tears.
- The wear and tear on my body. The rugged terrain started taking its toll in the White Mountains, starting with the Kinsmans. I tweaked my hip (the same one that took me off trail for two weeks in June) and the long descents started getting to my knees. If I could, I’d take a zero every 3-4 days. Seriously, how can I make that happen and still get to Katahdin in a timely manner?
- The Wildcats and Carters!!! Here’s another thing no one talked about before the hike, the White Mountains last hurrah. Or as I like to call it, the Whites giving us the middle finger our way out. This section included climbs over six 4,000 footers and a heartstoppingly steep descent down North Carter for chuckles. Okay, sure, it was gorgeous and there was trail magic at the end, but sheesh, enough already.
I can hear Maine guffawing from here.
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Congrats on your arrival to Maine. Beautiful pixes. I found your little card just this a.m. In my pile of things that are special. Need to look in that pile more often, methinks. Carry on. Almost there, yes? enjoy enjoy. lotsa wonderful memories and memory spots. xoshannon
Well, I’ve been watching this site since very early September. Alas, nada. Then One day, I hit upon a site where it showed people who finished on Sept. 15. There you were. Are you ever gonna catch us readers up? Would love to hear and see more tails of your trip. I think you might be doing the middle part at this point as I know you aren’t a ‘through’ hiker. Like that about you. We’re dying out here. we gotta know. Please fill us in. Or just me if that’s easier. 🙂 hope it’s more fun than ever. your spanish buddy, shannon