Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Whites
I am. Or was. I was nervous about the White Mountains since before I even stepped on trail. I heard they were tough, that your mileage would drop down significantly, and I was outright scared I was gonna die.
Normally I’m the type of person that likes to do A LOT of research in order to feel more prepared for something I’m uncomfortable with. However, even with research, I still was uncomfortable with the scary White Mountains. In fact, the more research I did, the more nervous I became. I mean, come on, two people just recently died on Mount Washington in June. Not helpful.
Not the Worst, Definitely not My Favorite
If you have been hiking the Appalachian Trail, then the Whites are doable. They were tough and they left me with scrapes, bruises (a lot of them), and gashes, but they are definitely able to be conquered. I was glad to have someone to hike them with, but there was nothing in these mountains that was beyond my hiking skill level. I’m saying this now, after I finished them. In fact, I’m certain I thought I couldn’t do it many, many times.
For me, Moosilauke was cool. It was the first mountain and I have never hiked that high before. I took advantage of the slackpacking option and chose to go south. Yeah, I know, all the purists can stop reading now. I’m already a flip-flopper so I suppose it doesn’t really matter how I make it through the miles. The southbound option starts with a hike up the side of a waterfall. It was really pretty and I’m glad I went up it and not down. Gravity and I don’t mesh well. It was certainly a long way up. When Stitcher and I finally made it above tree level it was an unreal feeling. Since my spouse is off trail I made her hold my hand when the trail was wide enough for kicks and giggles. There was no view so we chose to sit behind some of the rock formations and enjoy lunch. We finally sumited and still had no view and had to hold on to the sign in order not to blow over. Still a very cool mountain and a great introduction to the feared White Mountains.
The Kinsman Mountains are also offered as a slackpack. THIS IS NOT AN EASY SLACK, but it was doable. I wasn’t happy with my decision, though. We climbed up from the road and hiked until we reached the Eliza Brook Shelter for lunch. Met a bunch of SOBOs and some other slackers like us. Immediately you cross water and climb next to the water for a while. The water was beautiful and I wanted to jump in if it weren’t for the terrible ‘squitos. It got pretty steep and numerous times we would say, “This can’t be the trail, right?” but yet it was. Lots of hand over hand and four-limbed hiking. Finally getting to the summit of South Kinsman was a nice view but not overwhelmingly amazing. It was a clear day and about the best I could ask for.
Mount Washington, Presidentials, and Madison
Wait a minute, what about Franconia Notch? Yeah, well I was supposed to summit Washington in the rain and decided to take the power over the weather for once on the trail. So we skipped up and hiked Washington, Presidentials, and Madison on the nice weather days. The hike up from the road was another one of those hand over hand, put your trekking poles away moments. I slipped and fell on some lovely slick rock. Cause everything is slippery when wet: rocks, pine, roots, and dirt. Lots of uphill to get to Mizpah Hut. Once we got to the hut they had a quesadilla lunch option… SOLD! Jen made us the most cheesiest quesadilla ever. Good idea for my hunger, bad idea for hiking uphill still. We continue on and hit ridge walking. It seems like it’s forever cause you can kinda see Washington but not the hut we were aiming for. After a very long day in the sun we finally get to the Lake of the Clouds Hut and even get a work for stay (although I would have been super OK paying the $10 to stay).
It’s now 4th of July and we get out early to avoid the tourists. Up and over Washington by 7 a.m. That’s about the only positive of the day. The Presidentials are exposed and rocky with lots of gnats. Madison Hut by early lunch and we think we are doing alright. What we didn’t know is that it was downhill from there… in the worst possible way. Once you get up Madison you can see the ridge walk down. Not only does it look terrible, it feels terrible. I lost all of the cushioning in my knees on that descent. Madison ruined me. On the hike to the visitors center I slammed my knee into a rock and got a lovely gash. Luckily Stitcher prevented me from rolling downhill in the fetal position I was in. I have never been happier to get off a mountain… so I thought.
I thought that Madison was terrible and it definitely broke me, but the Wildcat section took fistfuls of salt to rub in my wounds. This is also offered as a slackpack but we were smart enough to stay at the shelter two miles in from the road and have friends hike in some of our stuff. Although it was buggy, that shelter was a beautiful thing to see with a fire going. We did the Wildcat 19-mile section on the most humid day. Ninety-five percent humidity and everything stuck. Free chocolate chip pancakes at the hut were about the only good thing about this section. It starts straight up until you hit the end of the sky. Once you get to the gondola, you rethink your decision to hike instead of the scenic ride up or down. Then you go up past the sky and eventually head down. Which is the worst part. Your knees and body are already wrecked and yet somehow there is more abuse. By the time I got to Imp Campsite I didn’t think I could go on. This is where it was good to have company with misery. We made it, but barely. Next day were storms so we zero… kinda.
We ended the Whites with Franconia Notch. On top of Haystack Mountain was such a lovely view. I don’t remember much of the day. By no means were these last two days easy, but we just wanted to finish up this dreadful section. Best part: another work for stay at Galehead Hut. Hiking past it was basically unfeasible. The lovely trail down to the parking lot was confusing for our bodies. Not having to scale down waterfalls, climb straight up rock slabs, and boulder through wet sections was a shock and we ended up tripping more on the flat section of dirt.
I initially was not happy with paying for shelter throughout the Whites, but now that I’ve experienced the section it’s a silly thing to fret over. If you pay for one you get a card for a bunch of free stuff at huts. The croo at the huts are super friendly, if you are also friendly. They make amazing food and legitimately love their life and their jobs.
The Whites Huffed and Puffed but Didn’t Blow Us Down
Did you hear me shout on top of Madison? I frequently shouted: “This is not my favorite section of the Appalachian Trail!” and “I’m not having a pleasant time!” just to keep my language clean. I put my pieces back together at the beginning of each day to trek on. I changed up lyrics to songs to get me through such as: “On the trail I took an L but today I bounce back—thinking about pizza and I wanna slackpack” and “I feel the rock, move, under my feet—I feel my ankle rolling around, I’m going down.” This section might have ruined me but I’m not done yet. Whatever you have to do to get through… do it. I know you can.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.