The White (gurl) Mountains
Okay now its mile 442.1. As I sit here at 1 in the afternoon in the library in Hanover, NH, my backpack is brimming with food, my guidebook is in pieces to my left and I’m multitasking writing and housing a $5 lunch special from Stinson’s Deli and loving it. The “hardest” part of the Appalachian Trail is behind me and I only have 1747 miles to go. Hard to believe.
Welcome to the Whites
The White Mountains are the highlight of any Thru-hiker’s journey, it seems. Majestic views, huge climbs and huts every 15 or so miles that will give you FREE food. Sounds awesome right? It was awesome. And it hurt my feet.
But it wasn’t as hard as everyone made it out to be. Or maybe my body was already so destroyed from starvation and constant abuse in Maine that it didn’t even matter. Every day was an ass kicking, and I think I began to accept that after Mount Madison. A 2000 foot climb into the Presidentials was matched only by 60+ mph wind gusts at 4000 feet. As we climbed up and over the summit, balance was no longer possible. Wind threatened to throw us off the mountain every step we took. And once we made it down to the beautiful Madison Spring Hut, we were greeted by $2 soup and leftover pancakes for breakfast. I have never been so thankful for a puffy jacket and Tabasco as I was then.
A quick side note on “The Huts”
The huts are the Appalachian Money Collectors, err, Appalachian Mountain Club’s alpine version of Disney Land. For a small fee of $140 a night, per person, you can be fed Dinner and Breakfast, sleep in a warm bunkroom and enjoy entertainment from “The Croo” at the hut. Needless to say, Thru-Hikers don’t sleep there. But I still love the huts, and here’s why.
Rich people are funny. They shell out big money for an alpine experience in the whites, and don’t finish their dinner. I can’t imagine what their mothers would say. Thru-hikers are given the opportunity to arrive at these huts around dinner time, wash some dishes and eat the leftovers of the philanthropes. Oh and even better, we get to sleep on the ground in the dining room. This all sounds awful if you’re, say, a normal person. But if you’ve been sleeping in a tent and eating Ramen and Tuna for the past week, its amazing. And if you find an abandoned, ice cold 25 oz beer while you’re cleaning the bunks of the wealthy, it makes it even cooler.
The rest of the Presidential range (and really the rest of the Whites) was consistently less difficult than anything we’ve done to that point, with the exception of Mount Madison of course. And while the work was still hard every day, the views were unprecedented. Our 10 mile day over the Mount Madison, Jefferson, Adams and Washington consisted almost entirely of hiking above treeline, which is super rad. And once we summited Washington on July 3rd, waiting in line to get our picture with the sign wasn’t even so bad. I remember wishing that the train that shuttles tourists to the top would break down, just 100 yards from the summit, so they would
have to EARN the summit like our merry band of brothers had. 1,000 people at the top of a 6,000 foot mountain isn’t as cool as you would think, especially after a 9 hour hike to get there. But there were chili dogs. And that was also super rad.
So I’m not a purist. At all. Not even close. I regularly miss sections of trail while heading to the shelters, I wander off to explore areas that aren’t trail. If a ride drops me off a mile past where I was picked up, I don’t go back to hike that section. Some people frown upon that. Some people are dedicated to walking the trail and seeing every white blaze on every tree. I don’t criticize these hikers (much), but I’m over following the path most traveled. I’m hiking the AT to be separate after all. But my blue blazing isn’t usually intentional after all is said and done.
Mt. Moosilauke is a 4802 foot mountain. The big start of the White Mountains for northbounders and the last glorious 4,000 footer for us Southbounders. The norther climb is incredibly steep, littered with a number of ladders, railroad ties and waterfalls that cascade directly down the trail (neat!). After a solid 2 hour climb up this monster, I spent an hour chatting up the alpine steward on top, thinking about all of the time I had to get down the mountain, and spend the evening at Hikers Welcome hostel at the base, a short 5 mile trek from where I was sitting. I left the mountain top, skipping, jumping and happy as can be. The day was nice, my pack was light and it was all downhill from here. I stopped to take a picture that I thought you make an excellent cover photo for any sort of southbound ANYTHING, and continued on my way. The trip down the trail was smooth, gradual, and unlike anything I’ve hiked on the AT to this point. It was a bit unsettling, but I continued, and picked up my pace. After 2 hours of walking down this path that was more like a road and cursing the trail maintainers for their lack of white blazing, I realized I had made a mistake. A 5 mile, directly downhill, end of the day mistake.
Mt. Moosilauke is historic for a number of reasons, the most popular being the carriage house that once rested upon the summit. Until 1942, the carriage house served as a place for upper-class rich folks to spend their days and nights with other rich folks. Then it burned to the ground and was never rebuilt. Nice right? The road I spent 2 hours skipping down was the old carriage road that was used to transport the wealthy townspeople to the carriage house. It makes for an excellent historic blue blaze really. It would be a much better option if it reconnected with the Appalachian Trail. Luckily for me, I found an awesome pair of ridge-runners that pointed me in the wrong direction again, and very confused New Hampshire resident who had only half finished his dinner to drive me to the Hostel. I celebrated my last 4,000 foot mountain of the Whites with a historic blue blaze to the opposite side of the mountain, a couple miles of hiking down a class VI road, and an 18 pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon, which I happily shared with a slew of Northbounders at the Hostel. Oops!
And so I sit here. Mid July in Hanover, NH. The bubble is crossing into NH as we speak and I don’t anticipate much extra room in any shelter for the next few weeks. I can’t even try to remember the names of all of the Northbounders I’ve met. But with them comes trail magic (it does exist!), experience and new friendships! And while I’m a little bit bummed that I’ll have to set up my tent more often and race to the Hostels to secure a bunk, I’m STOKED to meet these “seasoned hikers” that have hiked all of the dirt and rocks that still await me. And someone told me that the bubble is the “party section” of the AT hikers. Which is, well, rad. I’ll bring PBR.
SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION
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