The Whites Have Their Last Laugh

Author’s note: A post about the AT in New Hampshire in May? Yep, welcome to the North out of season. I finished my thru-hike in October 2023. Life has been chaotic since I got home and finishing my blog has gotten far down my priority list, but I still have notes to finish writing my story. My Aunt Kim keeps asking for the final chapters of my story and I’ve been busy writing lately, so here we go.

Day 181: 2,860 ft ascent, 7.3 miles

After getting into Gorham late the afternoon prior, Erik and I decided to take a half day in town the next morning before taking off on trail again. Breakfast at the hotel started at 6 am, so we were in the lobby at 5:55 am wanting to get in and out. Although it would be a half town day, we had a lot to do in that half day.

I had become a big fan of filling up on breakfast calories when I was in town and today was no different. I ordered and ate a much bigger breakfast than I would’ve had I not been hiking. We were fortunate that a group at the table beside ours picked up on the fact we were hikers (we had showered, so I don’t think it was from the smell?). Anyways they had an extra breakfast voucher and gave it to us! Score!

After breakfast we walked the mile and a half into the center of town to visit the Dollar General to resupply. I was really struggling to find foods that I wanted to eat on trail that weren’t completely sugar and trans fat. This Dollar General trip was the hardest resupply to date for me. I got very creative, adding shredded cheese and sliced pepperoni to the food rotation.

Back at the hotel, we got packed up and out to the road by around 11am. The trail was 3 miles from our hotel. We stuck out our thumbs on the road in front of the hotel hoping to get a ride. It took about 20 minutes, but finally someone turned around after they had passed and came back to give us a ride. I think he did it mostly for the story from us. He wasn’t a local and was just driving through. We didn’t look like murderers so he took a chance and picked us up.

Passed the 1,900 mile marker back on trail at the road where we had left off.

Back on trail, we started the hike with a nice flat road walk. The pleasant hiking didn’t last long. As soon as we hit the trail the slog started back again. We may have been past Mount Washington but we weren’t out of the White Mountains yet. Soon it didn’t feel like we had taken the morning off and I was back to my more normal state of exhaustion.

On a positive note for the day, we started noticing the start of the leaves changing! The 10 day forecast was looking perfect, and the long range forecast from NOAA was looking even better: higher than average temperatures and lower than average rainfall. We knew it still wasn’t a guarantee we would make it to Katahdin before winter, but it was looking like we would get some beautiful fall hiking in southern Maine.

 

Day 182: 4,360 ft ascent, 11.0 miles

(Note- I couldn’t stop taking pictures this day, more so than maybe any other day of the trail. I couldn’t use words to describe all I saw, so enjoy the plethora of pictures.)

Our next resupply was going to be at Grafton Notch. I was looking forward to getting there because it meant the end of the AMC guide I was using to navigate the White Mountains as well as the start of my last map on the Far Out app. I was glad I had that motivation because the trail was not getting any easier.

Months after the trail, I was comparing pictures with my dad. He had taken a picture at this same location about a month ahead of me! About four hours later, we had both taken the same picture again! Like father like daughter.

The day was filled with boulder climbing, ladders, mountain bogs with mud at unknown depths, and walking on boards you weren’t sure would hold your weight. The landscape was wild and rugged. It was almost too pretty to complain.

Yep, that’s the trail.

Erik and I were starting to get into a really good routine. We would get up and have coffee and breakfast so that by daybreak we were ready to break down the tent. We were taking about an hour break for lunch, then we were hiking until just before sunset, taking advantage of every bit of sunlight we could. It was starting to get noticeable how much sunlight we were losing each day. We had headlamps and could’ve used them, but we preferred hiking with the sun and resting with the moon.

I heard if you missed the board you could sink hip deep or deeper in these mountaintop bogs. I was careful where I stepped.



The terrain made things very slow-going. It was frustrating feeling like I was putting in more effort than I had at any other time on the trail but not getting rewarded with my mileage. It was hard for me and my little legs to make any time on the bog boards or boulder climbing. I had to be content with doing the best I could and be satisfied with that.

In the afternoon we passed the sign for the New Hampshire- Maine border! Wow. We had officially hiked from Georgia to Maine. Even writing that now feels insane. Our last state border.

I wore this buff as a headband during the shoulder seasons of my hike (spring and fall). It was perfect to help me regulate my temperature, covering my ears when I was cold and pulling down around my neck when I got warmer.

There weren’t many camping opportunities along this section of trail. We realized our mileage was off from what most people probably did after leaving Gorham since we started this segment mid-day. It was starting to get dark and I had read about a stealth site on my app. Those are hit or miss. Normally I like to see more than one person comment about them before I believe they might be something that would fit our 3 person tent. The spot I was targeting just had a comment from one person, so it was risky. We got to the mileage the comment had indicated and there was nothing, or at least no clearing that would fit even a one person tent.

I was so disappointed. I was tired and once my body thought we were almost done it was almost like my pack doubled in weight. We kept on hiking hoping maybe the mileage was wrong but nope. Nothing. It was another 2 tough miles to the next shelter. There was no way we would make it there by dark. On top of that, Erik was feeling nauseous as he did off and on during the entire hike and really needed a break. I really hoped we wouldn’t have to go that full two miles but I didn’t have much hope. We started up the next climb. About half a mile after we thought we would camp Erik spotted a clearing about 20 feet off the trail! We investigated and it would work! A couple of previous hikers had used this clearing for some ‘back door evacuation’ that we had to work around, but it was a flat spot that would fit our tent.

Day 183: 3,570 ft ascent, 9.3 miles

We were off right at daybreak in the morning. Today we would hike the notorious Mahoosuc Notch, effectively known as the slowest mile on the AT because the trail turns into a large boulder field you have to climb around. We also knew the Mahoosuc Arm would follow, one of the steepest climbs on the trail that punishes you after wearing out on the notch. We were in for a long day.

The morning consisted of Maine’s version of ridge walking, steep ups and downs with muddy bogs in between. One thing I wish I had stopped to do more often on the trail was compare my map to the terrain and try to see where we would be walking that day. Its hard to get a sense of just how far 15 miles is when you look ahead. This morning I looked up and saw a fire tower on what seemed like a far mountain. I checked my map and sure enough, it was the Old Speck fire tower. We should make it there tonight, or with any luck and a good pace, up and over to Grafton Notch on the other side.

There was no clear water to be found- we put a lot of faith in our water filters.

The trail in this section seemed to be either straight up, straight down, or flat across the mud bogs.

We stopped at a shelter for lunch before starting our decent down to the Mahoosuc Notch. As I made my way down with my knees yelling at me every step, I couldn’t help but think about the other side of the notch where we would go right back up further than we were going down. Although I wore knee braces on both knees daily now, they made it bearable to keep going but didn’t completely take away the pain.

This was one of my favorite pictures from the trail. We ended the day at the tall mountain in the background.

A typical spring for a water source along this segment of the trail.


We made it to the Notch around 2pm. I put everything I had, including my poles, inside my backpack. I had read plenty of sad tales from those before me losing items from their backpack pockets to the depths between the boulders. I sometimes have a fear of heights that kicks in at inopportune moments, but I knew I didn’t have time for that fear today. Within a few minutes of entering the notch I found myself completely horizontal with about a ten foot drop below me with my arms and legs completely outstretched between two boulders, inching my way across to a landing.



I didn’t get many pictures because I was worried about losing my phone, but there was all kinds of swinging and climbing and wrong turns trying to weave my way through the boulder field. It took about two hours for us to make it through. After a quick snack on the other side, I got my poles back out of my pack and mentally prepared myself for the climb.

The trail went across this beaver dam.

This was one of my favorite water sources on the trail. I loved the wooden cut out trough!

It was as steep as advertised, but not as mentally draining since I was prepared for it. We climbed up and up and up for a few hours. We knew we would be lucky at this point to make it to the summit by sunset. We made plans to take the short 0.3 mile side trail to hit the summit and the fire tower to camp for the evening. Further than we normally get off trail for a campsite but a fire tower was hard to resist.

Almost to the top!

We made it to the bottom of the fire tower with about 15 until sunset. We quickly set up the tent like the machines we had become and raced to climb the tower to watch the sunset. Just in time, we watched the sunset from what felt like the top of the world. The moon was rising opposite from the sunset, and Mount Washington could be seen in the distance between the two. The moment felt special, like a reward for continuing to hike north to Katahdin.

Sunset from Old Speck. One of my favorite moments from the entire trail.

Day 184: 80 ft ascent (2,460 ft decent), 3.5 miles

We knew the morning would be an easy decent into Grafton Notch. The fall colors were making their way up the slopes as we were descended into the valley. We had scheduled a stay at The Cabin, a long-time AT hostel. After a resupply trip into town, we took the afternoon organizing and relaxing, planning to slackpack the next day. I joined in with the family-style dinner, listening to Honey’s stories of hikers who had previously sat at the same table.

I got a picture of the fire tower as we were leaving.

Fall was in full swing as we descended into the valley.


We also got to catch up with Kitchen Sink, who was working at the cabin for the season. We had previously met him at Uncle Johnny’s hostel in Tennessee and hiked around him for a couple of weeks before trail days. It’s incredible how small the hiking community feels, you either know somebody or you both have a mutual connection of some sort.

The Cabin wasn’t our favorite of stays, being a little less tidy than we’d prefer. But we got a hot shower and a clean bed to stay in so we would be ready to slackpack 10 miles the next morning.

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Comments 1

  • thetentman : May 9th

    Thank you for the update on the longest hike journal ever.

    Cheers!

    Reply

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