Ups and Downs Over New Hampshire and the White Mountains
New Hampshire is a proving ground for thru hikers. It felt like every mile up to this point was preparation for the brutality to come. It was punishing, it was trying, it was incredibly beautiful. As I crossed the Connecticut River into Hanover, a family scooped up this band of wayward hikers. What started as an invitation for a shower and barbecue turned into a week of slackpacking.
A Little Slackpack
Following the dinner, the showers and the sunset over the salt water swimming pool, I was dropped off in Hanover with enough supplies for the day. Slackpacking is essentially a day hike. A ride waited at the trailhead to the north. Once The Band arrived we traveled back to the Connecticut River valley for the night. In this way I was able to stitch together miles headed north via series of day hikes.
Over the course of the week we managed to hike 70 miles in this fashion. Get dropped off in the morning, hike a days section, get picked up in the evening. Earlier in the hike, I was averese to this mode of travel. It seemed cheap, unprincipled, like cheating in a way. Really I hadn’t had an adequate reason to slackpack. I was so fortunate for this opportunity for many reasons.
Rain for Days
The first reason being the weather. It was a wet week in the Southern portion of New Hampshire. Really wet. New England was in a slight drought up until then. Thanks to an inverted jet stream, there was nearly a foot of rain through July. Most of the fell as I was entering the White Mountains. It rained in sheets and hikers were taking refuge were they could. Some pressed against nature, others sheltered in a hostel for a better forecast.
Knowing there was a dry space in the basement at the end of the day was a huge psychological boost. Instead of wondering how I was going to stay dry or how packed a shelter might be, the focus of grinding out miles that day to make it to the trailhead was a huge relief. We were greeted with a warm smile at the truck despite being stinking and wet. As we reached the house it was a welcome in homecoming fashion.
In addition to the hiking, I experienced a side of New Hampshire I hadn’t anticipated. We visited the towns along the way, cooked meals, rode side by sides to the market and I bowled a few frames of candle pin.
On my descent down Mount Moosilauke, I stood looking down a rock face where the trail and paralleling waterfall were indistinguishable. Another hiker came up behind me. We stood smiling at each other and my feet came out from under me. I bounced a good ten feet down the rocks and crashed into a few shrubs below. I snapped a trekking pole in my fall and was mentally shook.
While I didn’t fall as hard for the rest of this stretch, the memory lingered every time I peered over a rock face. A fall like the one I had could result in serious injury. It could have been that fall that ended my trip.
Holding My Breath
The descents are downright terrifying. Each foot step required the utmost care and calculation. While trying to maintatin three points of contact moving down a rock slab, I would pray for my foot to stick. Numerous times througouht the day I knew that a fall would likely result in a broken ankle. It was slow going, an exhausting grind.
This level of concentration throughout the day was a drain on so many levels. With the added rain there were hikers on the edge of sanity. The rain over South Kinsman in particular nearly produced a psychological break in a friend on mine. The level of fear, anxiety, weather, and concentration pushed us all to a near breaking point. And the best, or worst, was still to come.
Above Tree Line
My slackpack came to an end as I was dropped off in Franconia Notch. I was headed up, up above treeline, up above the clouds. The grind against the trail wasn’t as bad as I had anticiapted. I reached the trail jucntion to Lincoln and for the first time since entering New Hampshire I got a peak of what was cloaked in rain clouds for a week.
The traverse across Franconia Ridge over Lafeyette was a scene made of dreams. Views stretched out in all directions and I could trace the trail along the spine. Then thunder clapped to the west and I was hurrying across the ridge. I scrambled to get below treeline as the gap between flash and thunder grew shorter. Thankfully this was to be the worst weather I had across the Presidential Range.
The Circus and AMC Huts
The AT follows a rugged travers across the Presidental Range of the White Mountains. Out of Crawford Notch the trail stays above tree line for 12 miles. To the east and west are a series of connector trails. These trails allow for relativley easy access to the area. A downright circus ensues. Between families up for the day, AMC guided trips and trail runners, the trail was overrun with people. The thru hikers are far outnumbered.
The AMC hut system has long had a contentious relationship to AT hikers. Without a doubt, we are the outsiders among this crowd of ecotourists and nature voyeurs. While the AMC tries to cater to the needs of hikers, the Thru’s are far outside their target demographic. Neither welcome nor unwelcome, we are like a stain on a white shirt at lunch when you still need to return to work. We are dealt with.
I did take a glance into the strange world of hut living at Lakes of the Clouds. For sweeeping the common area and washing dishes, I ate left over dinner and slept in the dinning room.
As Lakes of the Clouds sits just below Mount Washington, the sunset and sunrise were phenomenal. As the last to bed, I was one of the first up, as the hut stayers nearly climbed over the thru hikers to take a look. Evidently, we didn’t move at a brisk pace in our waking and packing. Before I shook the sleep from my head the dinning room was overrun with people gawking at that orb rising against the world.
Mount Washington to Pinkham Notch
I head up Mount Washington in the fog. The wind was whipping and shapes emerged from the clouds. It was an other worldy experince. Following a wrong turn off Madison I made it into the Pinkham Notch visitors center. The visitors center was an unwelcoming place as I could imagine. Dinner for thrity dollars with a limited number of plates for non-guests and no adequate camping in the near area put a sour taste in my mouth. And that’s the moment my trying to appreciate the hard working folks of the AMC went south.
The climb up to Wildcat gondola was an all morning affair. At the discharge area of the lift I was greeted by folks milling around trying to catch a glimpse of the neighboring mountain peaks. Done. Just done with the Whites and the tourists and everything else.
I’m tired and the fellow cohort of NOBO’s is too I believe. I took a day off in Gorham, trying to judge the dificulty ahead.
Alas, I climbed Mount Success in the rain. It was waterfalls on the trail in both directions. Trudge I must into Maine.
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