Wetfoot and Arry, Vol. 16, Days 34 and 35: Mountains and Moose

Day 34: 10.9 miles

We climbed Mount Washington!!!

Last night we planned to summit more than Mount Washington. The plan was to hike out the mile up spur trail to Thunderstorm Junction, where at that point we’d finally be back on the AT. There we would drop packs and climb Mount Adams and back, only .3 miles each way. Later in the day we planned to do the summit loop trails over Mount Jefferson and Mount Eisenhower.

I also planned to wake up and see a beautiful sunrise. Lots of planning, but as they say, no plan survives first contact.

Foggy and rocky ascent on the ridgeline.

We woke up to clouds covering everything. There wasn’t much of a sunrise. A couple staying in the hut also planned; they planned to climb Mount Adams as a sunrise hike. They were fast asleep when we got up.

The climb back up spur trail wasn’t too difficult. About halfway we entered the clouds. Everything became foggy. Once again, I knew this was going to happen when I looked out the windows of the hut. I berated myself for not putting contacts in.

The winds picked up as soon as we were above the treeline. We followed cairn to cairn behind Arry for a while. It felt like that scene out of Up when they are in fog and can hear Doug’s voice and see a rock that looks like a dog. Eventually I worried the winds would drown out my voice and she wouldn’t hear me so we switched to an Arry sandwich. I led, then Arry, then my boyfriend.

Enjoying a quick break!

At Thunderstorm Junction we looked up and couldn’t see the top of Mount Adams. We decided to skip that summit for today.

It was honestly a nice hike along the ridgeline. Or rather, it would have been if it hadn’t been so foggy and windy. We skipped Mount Jefferson for the same reason we skipped Mount Adams. I eventually took off my glasses, realizing even if I could only see clearly a few feet in front of me in the fog, it was better than not being able to see the few feet because my glasses were foggy.

The rocks were a bit slippery and I slipped, jamming a finger on my right hand. It hurt to grip my walking stick, but soon my fingers were frozen in that curl and I couldn’t straighten them fully.

Fog as Arry and I climb Mount Washington!

We didn’t see a soul until we reached the Jewel Trail. After that point we saw all sorts of hikers, even a couple in boat shoes! Yikes!

Finally we began the climb up the final summit to Mount Washington! As we walked sometimes it seemed like it was raining, sometimes it felt like we were getting hailed on. I couldn’t decide if the weather was changing, or if the rain felt like hail from the high winds, or if the rain was just from the clouds we were hiking through.

The higher we climbed the harder the winds blew. I thought the winds were strong on Mount Katahdin, but the wind climbing Mount Washington literally pushed me over.

Taking refuge from the weather on the Tip-Top House!

We heard a noise that sounded like a car. It seemed strange and I wondered if it was a helicopter. Turns out it was the train they use to transport guests up and down Mount Washington so they don’t actually have to climb it.

Then we came to the railroad that went straight through the trail. It seemed the cairns wanted us to cross the railroad. Strange. We didn’t see a ladder or ramp to guide us up and over the railroad. Strange. We walked over the tracks.

As we neared the summit it started raining. We saw a building and dropped our packs outside and dashed in to get out of the wind and rain. A few moments later the rain subsided but we stayed inside our building of refuge for a moment, the Tip-Top House. It was a restored hotel from 1853.

Gathering up courage to face the winds again we ran to the summit and had our picture taken. There wasn’t a line for once! However, after our picture a line formed; whether the weather subsided just enough or our courage encouraged others I’m not sure. I didn’t take a picture with my grandma on the summit as I was worried she would blow away. But she was there in my heart!

On the summit of Mount Washington!

From there we blindly found our way to the visitors center. It was a zoo in there!

We couldn’t bring Arry all the way inside the heated, crowded tourist area. There was a hallway section we sat in, mostly out of the winds except the automatic doors never seemed to close because people walked inside in a continuous stream.

My boyfriend bought hot drinks, which warmed the soul and the hands. I found and mailed some postcards—they have their own post office up there! Just like Mount Fuji!

Just walking around the visitors center I felt claustrophobic. There were people everywhere. People in flip flops and jeans buying lunch and T-shirts. They stood everywhere and while I was sad to leave the warm and dry area, I was glad to escape the madness.

Mount Washington summit sign.

After finishing our drinks and a snack we were off! We stepped outside and around the corner and I almost got blown down! I forgot how intense the winds were.

Slowly we found Crawford Path. It led us down Mount Washington to the famous Lake of the Clouds hut. It was like an entirely different path from the path on the other side of the mountain! There was a legit stone pathway, with walls guiding you down. The stones were even and flat. We were down to the Lake of the Clouds hut in no time!

We saw the lake, in the clouds. Barely. If it had been better weather I can imagine it is a lively spot to sit and stay a while.

We considered grabbing a free baked good from the hut (with my AMC thru-hiker’s camping pass I can get two free baked goods). Once we arrived we discovered they were offering free breakfast leftovers! Cold eggs and oatmeal. I’ll take it!

Fun fact: dogs can stay at the dungeon. The dungeon is the basement of the Lake of the Clouds hut and acts as an emergency shelter. We considered staying there for a half second but the winds had died down considerably since we left the summit, and we were excited to continue on.

The lake at the Lake of the Clouds hut.

We headed out toward our campsite for the night, Nauman. As we continued to descend in elevation the weather continued to improve. I’m sure all of New Hampshire had a lovely day today, except for those of us in the clouds.

At one point I looked out, and you could see! By that I mean you could see farther than a few feet in front of you. And it was green, blue, and brown instead of gray and white. It was an awesome view to see the cloud ceiling and all the colors, which seemed more vivid somehow.

Seeing colors and the cloud ceiling as we descend to our campsite.

Although we covered just under 11 miles of the AT, we really did about 12 miles. My legs were tired and my finger was swollen by the time we made it to our campsite. After a warm dinner we curled up in the tent early. Despite being out of the wind it was still chilly and our clothes were damp from the rain/hail/clouds.

Day 35: 9.3 miles

We saw a moose! Two moose I think! It was an exciting day!

I woke up and my finger was bruised. I think it is going to take awhile to heal.

As I waited for the privy to be free for my morning numbah two, I chatted with an SCA volunteer. They have been working on bog bridges. My boyfriend and I had thought they looked fresh! Once again, I thanked her for all her work making the trail what it is for hikers.

Pointing out Mount Washington.

We had a slow start to the day, but not before we went to Mizpah hut to see what kind of baked goodies that had! They had fudge oatmeal bars, and they were delicious; a great way to start the morning hike. The worker who gave them to us said it was a recipe his family always made for Santa!

There are certain campsites you have to pay for, run by the AMC. I know a lot of thru-hikers don’t like paying the fees, but they are really well-run campsites with lots of amenities, and they provide a great service to all hikers. When you are thru-hiking you can pay $10 (the normal fee for a night) at one of the campsites and you get a little orange ticket. This ticket allows you to pay half price at the rest of the campsites, plus get two free baked goods and a bowl of soup from a hut, among other deals too!

The morning was sunny, and there were great views, unlike yesterday, as we hiked the ridgeline across Mount Jackson and Mount Webster. As we looked across the mountains at one of the viewpoints we saw the top of Mount Washington! Crazy how the weather is so drastic.

After the view from Webster cliffs it was a long downhill to Crawford Notch. The first half was extremely steep and rocky.  My knees began to hurt and it started to drizzle.

Enjoying the view from Webster Cliffs.

Before we crossed RT302 we found a little campfire pit to take a break at and eat snacks. I was bummed out because one of the deals on your thru-hiker card is a $6 soup, bread, and beer combo at the Highland Center in Crawford Notch. Except I checked the map last night and the center is WAY out off the trail. I needn’t have worried.

As we walked along the road to where the AT began again on the southern side of RT302 we saw two giant tents. Great, we thought. Tourists.

Arry watching the cars along RT 302.

Turns out it was trail magic! Mark, Ali, Allie, Debbie, and their families (sorry, I don’t remember everyone’s names) had a nice little oasis for hikers to relax. Mark’s nephew and brother-in-law thru-hiked in 2009 and 2007. They originate from Cleveland, OH, and now take a family vacation along the trail every year and spend a day doing trail magic in their honor.

They had brats and cookies and lots and lots of fresh fruit! Although perhaps the most exciting part was that they offered to take all of our trash. We sat and enjoyed their company as my boyfriend kept eating bread after piece of bread. He joked that he was going to bring some with him in his pockets and they’d end up soggy from the rain. Sweetpea dubbed him “bread pockets.”

Alas, we had to say goodbye to these wonderful, giving people and step out from the safety of their tent into the rain and climb to our campsite. The three final miles for the day were extremely well manicured and a nice gradual uphill, much different than our journey down from the other side.

Trail magic!

About a quarter mile away from the campsite I saw what looked like a giant moose statue standing on the side of the trail. And then it moved! I grabbed Arry. Thank goodness I saw the moose first as she was walking behind me like a good dog. We stood and watched the moose amble silently along the trail, munching on greenery. He looked right at us, like he knew we were there and didn’t have a single care.

Silently, or as silently as possible, I clipped the leash on Arry. Moose seem quite nimble for their giant size. He was almost silent as the walked his large frame into the woods.

Trying to stay quiet so as not to disturb him we slowly continued toward the campsite. Just as my boyfriend finished telling me to make sure we didn’t sneak up on the moose, there he was, about three feet away in the treeline, munching, and staring at us. His eyes were amber and seemed strangely wild.

We froze and watched him until he sauntered silently farther away.

Moose on the trail!

It’s been 35 days and we finally saw a moose! We didn’t just see one; we were so close I could have reached out and touched him! I remember hearing that moose like areas full of ponds and lakes. I suppose around Ethan Pond, our campsite, is a great place for moose.

Finally we arrived at the campsite. It was still drizzling so we expediently set the tent up. As we were basically out of water, I ran down to the stream to fill up. As I neared the water source another hiker motioned to be quiet. Then he pointed out into the lake.

A moose (I choose to believe it was a second moose, not the same one) was up to his neck in the pond. Just chilling. It was amazing to watch him in his natural environment. Let’s just say it took me awhile to get water and back to the tent.

Moose in Ethan Pond.

I lie now, listening to the raindrops as it continues to steadily rain, thinking about how you can’t plan everything out. Sometimes the best things are things that just seem to happen. Like the trail magic. Like the moose. It’s one of the things I’ve found on the trail: the most important part of life is to just be present.

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