Starting The Whites (August 5)

Another rainy day, another McDonalds.  Unexpectedly, I’ve come to appreciate McDonalds in a new way as a thru hiker.  Often there are outlets here for charging my phone, and no one cares if I loiter for a couple hours or if I brush my teeth in the bathroom.  I’m amused to see a group of elderly local men out to breakfast here.  This is exactly what I saw at my last McDonalds.  I walked through the door, and a man stopped me and said, “Honey, are you hiking the whole trail with that big pack?”  Then he looked around the table at his friends and they all laughed.  They all joked around with each person who walked through the door that morning- a jolly local bunch.  This time I hear one man call a couple tables down to another, “Are you behaving yourself?” and the whole group of them laughs.  It kind of gives the chain restaurant a cozy feel.  You see all kinds of things on this trip.

At this point I’m in the middle of the Whites, the section of trail that runs through the White Mountains.  If there is one thing I’ve been told a million times recently, it’s this: “Don’t rush through the Whites.  Take your time and wait for clear days.  You don’t want to miss the views”.  This often comes from southbounders who have just finished hiking through that glorified section of trail.  Many a time I’ve heard a southbounder lamenting that he/she did not slow down and “take more time” hiking over the Whites.  So here I am in the town of Lincoln NH, waiting out the rain.
So far I have hiked over Mt Moosilauke (4802 ft) and the Kinsmans (around 4300 ft).  Hiking over these mountains is everything I had hoped it would be.  It takes me back to hiking through the Smoky Mountains a few months ago, and experiencing the peace and beauty of these higher elevations for the first time.  On the hike up all I see is moist green moss and loamy soil, rocks and fallen logs.  Hemlock trees stretch out all around me, and somehow they seem to shade and quiet the ground underneath.  I always think it is deeply peaceful up here, more so than any other environment I’ve hiked through.
Needless to say, the views from the summits are also stunning.  From Mt Moosilauke I was able to trace my path back, finding familiar mountains in the distance that I had recently hiked over.  It is always so invigorating to see your path stretch back into the hazy distance and see the sheer distance and remember those climbs.  I could also look to the mountains ahead.  A southbounder pointed out some notable mountains ahead of me.  Many of the names were familiar, as I’ve heard them mentioned by other hikers for months now.  Some of the mountains had jagged rocky outcroppings and bald spots on top, and everything was so stunningly beautiful.  There was so much to look at in every direction- the way the shadows played on the mountains, the way you can see everything on the nearby mountainsides, the dark clouds passing quickly overhead, forming and then disappearing again.  Entire mountains and landscapes before you, a new scene with every turn you make.  Not to mention, the actual top of the mountain was pretty with rocky cairns built up everywhere and stony paths and golden grass.  So much to take in.
The actual hiking is also different lately.  Hiking has become a full body workout as the path is steeper than ever before, winding up, up, up over steep, uneven boulders.  Even though it is more challenging than ever, I love it.  I take many breaks on the climb up, but each time I break I am rewarded by a beautiful view from higher up on the mountain.  It is amazing how much progress I can make now between breaks, as the path is so steep that you are forced to climb quickly.  It is much different than hiking up by way of switchbacks.
Hiking down these mountains is even more challenging than ascending, as the trail often descends down into harrowingly steep ravines.  I love this, it is so different and adventurous, though I can’t imagine trying to descend if I was scared of heights, or in rainy weather.  My first descent is from Mount Moosilauke down into Kinsman Notch, a sudden descent that follows Beaver Brook down to the bottom.  Often I look over to see the brook forming small waterfalls, splashing down into beautiful clear pools.  It is nice to have the comforting sound of falling water nearby, to soothe the nerves of anxious descending hikers.  I am also thankful to have a friend (Rocket) with me for my first two days in the Whites.  We both just have to stop and stare and laugh sometimes, the trail is so unbelievably steep.  Rocket scoffs at one set of steps and says, “What if you were short?”  It would definitely be difficult!  I often have to reach out to roots and tree trunks to lower myself from one rock to the next and stretch my limbs as far as they’ll go to make it!  At times we come to rocks with wooden steps drilled to the side of the mountain or steel rebar handles, where a trail crew has felt especially sympathetic and placed some aides for descent.
I plan to take the advice I’ve been given and take my time over these next mountains.  Apparently they will keep on coming- I’ve been told southern Maine is just as difficult as the Whites.  I’ll decide when I get there about that!  One thing I do know is that despite the physical challenge, this section of trail has been a refreshing change for me.  I love what I’m seeing and hiking over lately- it truly feels like an adventure again.
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