Welcome to the North Country: Hanover, NH to Monson, ME
Welcome to North Country
Much has happened since my last post when we walked through Vermont. We were greeted with extreme hospitality in the wonderful trail towns of Norwich, VT and Hanover, NH. We met and played croquet with the Ice Cream Man in Southern NH, began climbing real mountains with views, and trucked through the mud in the vast green and brown tunnel. We traveled together with great friends who we met along the way and with friends who came to visit from home. We made it through the Mahoosuc Notch, which AWOL claims is “the most challenging or most fun mile of the entire AT.” Really, just making it through Southern Maine entirely was a great accomplishment in our eyes.
The White Mountains
We ventured into the White Mountains, which was one of the most challenging but rewarding sections of the trail thus far. We slowed down A LOT here. Most of our days in the Whites we walked between 7-11 miles. For most people, it’s nearly impossible to hike the normal 15-25 miles per day without going completely mad and deteriorating in the Whites. But props to the people who continued to hike big miles! We certainly enjoyed the slow pace and the break in the rain (for the most part) while we were traversing long, open mountain ridges with gorgeous views.
Our first “real” mountain, the Gateway to the Whites, was Mount Moosilauke, which we hiked with our friends who came to visit from Vermont. We chose to slack-pack it SOBO, which ended up being a great decision! The trail leading up to the top was extremely steep and slick. We were rewarded with a few views at the top (mostly clouds though), but mainly just enjoyed the whole experience of hiking with friends.
We felt fortunate to get views on Franconia Ridge, and on the ridge leading up to Mt. Washington. Many people we talked to never got to see any of the Presidentials or the surrounding area because they were socked in with clouds. StarTrek and I had to get off the trail for a few days for a funeral at the top of Mount Washington, and when we were dropped off at the top where we left off, it was a gusty day with 65 mph winds. I had never experienced anything like it in my life! It was scary at first, but then it became a constant adrenaline rush. We were pushed and pulled along the Presidentials, and finally made it down into Pinkham Notch, feeling grateful that we decided to spend the night with our good friends Sassafrass and Ascot.
The Huts, which are basically rustic lodges sprinkled throughout the Whites, are famous among thru-hikers, and they definitely receive mixed reviews. Thru-hikers can work for food or to sleep on the floor of the common room. The work-for-stays are pretty competitive, as most huts only accept 2-3 thru-hikers a night. We enjoyed our work-for-stay at Zealand Hut, although we ended up having to clean the inside and top of the stove, which is not a typical job. At many of the other huts, we just stopped in for lunch to wash dishes for leftover food. We loved this perk! It meant that we got to carry less food (meaning less weight) through this tough section. But by the time we reached Lake of the Clouds Hut by Mt. Washington, we were totally done with the whole hut experience (or at least the work-for-stay experience). We waited until after 8:30pm to eat (which is past our bedtime), and the common room was loud until about 11pm. Granted, the guests staying in the hut were paying good money for their bunk rooms, but it felt odd to be treated like a second (or third!) class citizen. Us thru-hikers felt like dogs watching the guests eat and waiting until it was our turn. So it goes.
This section was HARD. We had two friends join us for the first 30 miles of this section. They met us in Gorham, NH, where we stayed with the Twelve Tribes community. They’re really friendly folks, and they even invited us into their home for a Shabbat service. Olivia and Katie had to shuttle their car to where they would be getting off the trail a few days later, and couldn’t do this until about 9pm. Apparently driving in the “North Country” is quite exciting at night. They saw EIGHT moose within a few hours on the road. We really threw them right into it all!
It started with the Mahoosuc Notch, where we bouldered under, over, through and around huge piles of big rocks. That leads to the Mahoosuc Arm (basically a 80 degree vertical climb on a slab of rock), and it just keeps going from there. The Goose Eyes, Speck Mountain, and more. This section really challenged my resolve. The endless days of cold rain and mud didn’t help much. Some days I reveled in the gorgeous views, and some days I cried for hours. It was here that we realized we weren’t going to be speeding up at all until we flipped down to VA to do our southern portion of the hike. That decision to keep going slow ended up being a blessing. While everyone around us seemed to be rushing to get to the finish line, we slowly walked to Katahdin and enjoyed the moments (for the most part, hehe).
Rangely, ME to Caratunk, ME
This section, while still muddy, hot and very hard, was a lot of fun. Rangely was fun because we got to hang out with Chloe and her parents, who came down from Camden, ME. The Bigelows were also bomb. The only sad part was saying goodbye to our friends and fellow flip-floppers, Sassafras and Ascot.
My absolute favorite part of the trail so far was the 100 Mile Wilderness, which leads to Katahdin. But I’ll save that for another blog post! It deserves it’s own story altogether.
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