Ohh What a Fright, The Whites!
Taking a zero in Gorham was a blessing and a curse. I gave myself time to heal physically but I also thought a lot about how tough the Whites might be. Luckily, I was able to tackle every challenge that they threw at me! The Whites were my favorite section of trail so far… even with all the pain it took to get through them. I think the stories and pictures in this post will make it clear why this section of trail blew me away!
Day 27 (8.1 miles)
Slept in until 6am. It’s harder to wake up early when the sun is blocked by a roof. Ate an English muffin with cream cheese and a banana for breakfast. Much better than a granola bar! Tenacious, Flatlander and I then got a shuttle back to the trailhead. Only 2 miles into the day we passed the 300 mile mark of our journey!
We then summited our first mountain in the Whites, Mt. Moriah. Although we gained almost 3000 ft. of elevation, the terrain was relatively easy. A well deserved lunch break was taken at the top. I packed out some avocados for this section. The first of which was inhaled on top of an english muffin at the summit.
The weather for the afternoon was not looking good. It was extremely hot and muggy all morning. Everything pointed to an afternoon thunderstorm. We decided to stop early and play it safe at the Imp Shelter. Storm cloud after storm cloud passed, but nothing dumped on us. It was nice to just relax for another afternoon and meet some other hikers! The shelter had a great stream and overlook into the valley.
I was able to get my “thru-hiker card” for the Whites from the caretaker Caleb. The card was $10 for the first night but gives thru-hikers a 50% discount at the other sites and 1 free soup plus 2 free baked goods at any of the huts. A pretty good deal if you ask me (without it all campsites in the Whites are $10 or $15)
Imp Shelter: T1, S2, P2, W1, B3
Total Score: 12
Day 28 (15.6 miles)
Apparently 5:30 am in the shelters means the last person out of bed. I still took my time and did my normal routine. The wind was howling up the valley that the Imp Shelter resides. It is mornings like these that make carrying a down jacket worth while. The first ascent of the day was rough. My legs were more sore than I had thought. Luckily, the Carters went fairly quickly and I was soon rewarded with endless views.
The terrain was rocky and steep but nothing out of the ordinary for the trail thus far. Fortunately, the views were non-ordinary. A constant stream of lookouts that stared down the Presidential Range. Washington and Adams dominated the ridge. It seemed impossible that I was going to summit them the next day. Distance in the mountains is mind boggling.
The reward for completing the Carter range is descending extremely fast from Carter Dome into Carter Notch. Inside the notch are a beautiful set of structures that, combine, make up “Carter Hut”. This is the oldest of the White Mountain huts and the first you come to as a SOBO.
After the hut I climbed up and over the Wildcats. Although on a map the elevation profile does not look bad, the ascents and descents took a toll on my body. I was thankful when I reached the final lookout on Wildcat D peak.
Unfortunately, the descent off of the Wildcats was absolutely brutal. My knees were in so much pain from the constant bombardment of hard rock impacting my feet. I tried my best to absorb the shock with my legs slightly bent but I’m sure I will feel this descent in 30 years (and I really felt it the next day)!
Pinkham Notch sits at the bottom of the Wildcats. There is a visitor center there with a small “hiker lounge”. I bought a sandwich and soda as a reward for the hard day. A fellow hiker, Timber, gave me some quarters for a shower there. I wasn’t sure whether to be thankful or take offense that it might be a sign I smell bad. A friend from college, Erik, and one of his buddies, Jake, were planning to meet me at Pinkham. They wanted to tag along for the Presidential Range and I was more than happy to have company. I was able to charge up my devices and eat dinner while I waited for Erik and Jake to arrive. They got there around 8 pm and we hiked a few miles to a creek where we setup camp. The sites weren’t the best.. both of our tents were on significant slopes. Some cold beverages that they graciously brought helped to level out the ground when it came time to sleep.
Random Stream Campsite: T4, S3, P1, W1, B4
Total Score: 48
Day 29 (12.3 miles, plus more to bag peaks!)
5:30 am came around quick! That’s what I get for having a few too many beers before a big day of hiking. Good thing Erik brought along real coffee and did a pour over in the woods.
Just after taking my first sip of coffee, Jake informs me that he brought a 30 liter backpack full of snacks for us to devour. The day was looking brighter already!
The day began with a huge climb up Madison. 3000 feet of elevation gain in just 2.5 miles. Normally hitting tree line indicates you are getting close to the summit, but on this climb you still have a long way to go. We set an extremely fast pace for the first mile or so. Erik and I pulled a bit ahead of Jake who was struggling with keeping his hydration up. The last mile is a giant boulder field. Good balance and a strong core go a long way in this terrain. We could see the ridge that we needed to follow for the day. First we would hit Madison, then Adam’s, then Jefferson, and finally Washington. It was breathtaking and daunting. It looked even worse than when I had seen it from the Wildcats.
As Erik and I hiked the long arduous rock scramble to the top we got to talk and catch up on life. COVID put an abrupt end to our last year of college and we hadn’t seen each other in years. When we reached the summit we celebrated with a beer and a snack. We expected Jake to be a long way back, but 10 minutes later he popped up looking more eager to climb the rest of the range than us! After his quads starting locking up he chugged 2 electrolyte drinks and realized his issue was dehydration. He was cruising the rest of the day!
After a break and a short down climb we ended up at Madison hut. Erik and Jake had the opportunity to meet Timber. They offered him a beer (see a trend when you have good friends) and he happily accepted. I guess that was pay back for the shower he paid for. The next climb was Adam’s.
The AT takes an interesting (absolutely stupid) route through the Whites. It goes up near the summits of mountains but frequently skips the summit itself. For some mountains this is understandable but for the presidential range, which has trails going across every summit, this is downright dumb. This meant that in order to summit Adam’s, Jefferson, Monroe, and Eisenhower we had to climb up to the summit, then back down, and then continue along the AT. This added significant elevation and mileage to our presidential range. That’s the end of my rant for the Whites. I realize not every one cares about bagging peaks but I know that many hikers wouldn’t mind getting some great views after a lot of hard work!
At a trail junction we dropped our packs and hiked up to the top of Adam’s. It was a giant rock scramble but my legs felt incredibly strong without my pack. I could tell my balance and overall coordination had greatly improved since coming on trail. The views from the top were amazing and well worth the extra effort.
Back at our packs we took a longer break for lunch. We hadn’t traveled many miles but the elevation and terrain was beating us up. A bit further down the trail we came to another junction. This one was to climb Jefferson. It was longer and just as hard as the one for Adam’s, but without packs it wasn’t too bad.
I don’t know how I have made it this far into the story without mentioning how lucky we got with the weather. Erik and Jake were only able to hike over the weekend. A small window for good weather (which is highly recommended when doing Mt. Washington). Somehow we had a beautiful cloudy day with minimal wind and a high of 63 degrees on Washington.
From Jefferson the next summit was Washington, but the path there was long and of course had more rocks and elevation to go over.
Due to the good weather and it being a weekend there were tons of other people out on the trails. Luckily, the presidential range is huge and it didn’t seem as busy as some of the other trails in the Whites.
The trains that go up and down Washington are rustic, slow and loud. A day earlier I could hear them when climbing the Wildcats. At the time I didn’t know what the constant mechanical grinding was, but it didn’t take long for me to connect the dots once I got close to them.
The top of the mountain looked close with over a mile of climbing to go. That really puts the overall size of the mountain into perspective. Towards the top I considered sticking my thumb out to get a hitch on one of the trains. I don’t think they would have picked me up anyway. Just before the summit I crossed the tracks which provided a great photo opportunity.
My body was starting to quit on me. I had already ascended a ton of elevation and my legs were saying “no more”. I pushed on anyway and basically ran to the summit. I got in line for a photo at the top. A minute later a train arrived with about 30 people who got in line behind me. I was happy to have beat the crowd.
Jake and Erik weren’t far behind me, but both of them had already summited Washington before. There was no need for another summit picture for them. We headed into the visitor center; excited for chili dogs. They were all out of chili, and pizza, and soup and pretty much everything that didn’t start and end with hotdog. So we ate some hotdogs and were glad to be done with the climbing for the day. Afterwards we took a short stop at the observation deck and then headed down towards Lakes of the Clouds hut.
The descent was fairly easy. Finally a break that was much needed. It was early evening and the sun was beginning to fall. The light struck the mountainside perfectly. Lakes of the Clouds hut is precariously perched in the saddle between Monroe and Washington. A beautiful location that attracts thousands of hikers every year.
We filled up our water at the hut and discussed our camping options. No one is allowed to camp in the alpine zone due to protected vegetation. We were offered a “work for stay” at the hut but declined because Erik and Jake weren’t keen on working on the weekend. I can’t blame them, I wouldn’t want to work on my days off either. But a hot meal and dry place to stay sounded amazing to a thru-hiker. We settled on heading down Ammonoosuc Ravine and stealth camping below tree line. This required a half mile hike down which my legs and mind weren’t happy about. Unbeknown to me at the time was that the sunset would be one of the best that I have ever seen. It was worth the effort to get down there.
We ate our dinner on slab rocks overlooking the valley. We drank the last 3 beers that we had and then went to bed. Our plan was to wake up early and hike up to Monroe to see the sunrise over Washington.
Ammonoosuc Ravine Site: T2, S1, P1, W1, B5
Total Score: 10
Day 30 (14.0 miles)
Our alarms went off at 4 am. Jake had the most annoying song playing for over 3 minutes while we scrambled to remember where we were. We packed the bags quickly and headed back up the ravine. As we got to Lake of the Clouds hut we saw a fire on top of Washington. A few minutes later we heard a pop and the fire got bigger. Then another pop and the fire grew again. We found out later that 3 cars had caught fire. Likely a car overheated from a sunrise drive up the road to Washington.
The sun was beginning to rise but we kept climbing until we reached the summit of Monroe. We hid behind a crevice to escape the wind. Erik fired up his stove to make some coffee to fight the never ending battle with sleep deprivation.
The sun rose slowly over Washington and casted beautiful rays across the valley. We were in awe and stood watching in disbelief. The pictures do not do it justice. The views were hard earned which made them even better.
The rest of the day was spent finishing the presidential range. The terrain was significantly easier than the day before but the views were just as gorgeous. We were blessed again with great weather.
On Jackson we took a break. A few birds wanted some of the food we were eating and perched closely to us. They did not get anything from us. I’m sure we are blacklisted in the alpine bird community now.
Jake’s brother, Ben, was in the area and decided to join us for the final portion of the hike. He summited Mt. Eisenhower and Pierce with us before we went up Jackson. Jake and Ben decided to head down straight to the car from Jackson. The AT goes across the road a few miles past where Erik and Jake parked a couple nights before. Erik and I continued along the AT until we reached the road. This involved going down Webster Cliffs; a descent almost as fun as the one off the Wildcats.
Near the top of Webster another hiker, Pretty Boy, said that he was manifesting trail magic at the bottom. No more than 30 seconds later a NOBO passed us and said “there is trail magic at the bottom”! Kind of crazy how everything just works out sometimes. At the bottom we reached Crawford Notch. There was indeed trail magic which included soda, beer, pancakes, bacon, fruit, and lots more. Tenacious and Flatlander were down at the notch enjoying the magic. They had made it through the presidentials a few hours earlier and had already resupplied.
After the trail magic Ben and Jake picked us up. Turned out that Jake forgot his car keys in Erik’s car… good thing Ben was there to save the day. He drove us to a deli and then back to Erik’s car. Erik paid for my massive “steak bomb” sandwich and then drove me to multiple stores for a resupply (plus Jake and him gave me all of their remaining snacks). They dropped me off back at the notch and we said goodbye. I was so happy and fortunate that they joined me for a portion of my hike. Great friends and even better memories!
I still had some hiking to do before I called it a day. 3 more miles to the Ethan Pond Shelter. It was uphill and later in the evening. I drank a final beer on the way up and listened to some tunes to drown out the pain of my legs and feet. I entered the tent site around 7 pm, paid the $5 fee, and then setup on the last remaining tent platform. I wasn’t hungry but ate dinner anyway and then headed to bed.
Ethan Pond Shelter: T2, S3, P3, W2, B3
Total Score: 108
Day 31 (11.8 miles)
Woke up at 5:30 am to rain and extremely sore feet. It was a slow morning. I made coffee in my tent and listened to the rain torment my vestibules. After my hot drink I got the courage to dismember my tent. Of course during this time the rain came down harder. My body, my pack, and my gear was soaked and heavier than ever before. In the midst of the weather rage I left my “poop kit” at the campsite. This contained my TP, hand sanitizer, trowel, wet wipes, and my precious vaseline. Of course I only realized this mistake 5 miles down the trail. I made the tough decision to leave it behind and hike onward. Maybe another hiker who needed one of those items was lucky enough to stumble upon it or maybe it still sits on top of the large boulder where I left it.
I didn’t get many pictures this day. My camera resided in my pack where it hid from the rain. The first 5 miles of the day to Zealand hut were easy and flat. The rain was coming down hard but I stayed warm. At the hut I got a coffee and hot soup, perfect for a rainy day! After a break the hiking in the rain continued. It was 7 more miles until Galehead hut, where I planned to stay for the night. I climbed Zealand, Guyot and South Twin mountains. I crossed paths with the Pemi Loop that I had hiked the following year. The AT shares roughly 13 miles of trail with the Pemi loop.
I had my mind set on getting a “work for stay” at Galehead hut. A work for stay is an offer extended to thru-hikers which includes hot food and a place to stay in return for some work to help out the hut croo. In order to get a work for stay you cannot get to the desired hut before 4 pm. I arrived to the Galehead hut area around 3:30 pm. Instead of heading right in I sat about 100 yards away in the pouring down rain. I felt like one of those soldiers in a Vietnam war movie miserably sitting with my head down and the rain pouring over and into every part of my body. The only difference was that my discomfort was self-inflicted and short-lived.
Just as the rained stopped the clock struck 4 pm. I eagerly headed into the hut and kindly asked if there were any work for stays available. The hut worker, Noah, said that they could use some help and shook my hand to “seal the deal”. I had to eat dinner after all of the guests finished, but this gave me time to dry my gear, write in my journal, and edit photos.
Dinner was amazing. I had some chickpea soup, chicken and veggies, homemade bread, and 2 cookies. I was offered more but couldn’t eat another bite, something that doesn’t happen often. A great end to a cold and wet day!
The sunset from the hut area was amazing. All of the guests went out to watch it together. The mud from the rain provided a rock hopping game for everyone!
After the guests went to bed I setup my pad on the floor of the dining room. It was great to have a flat place to sleep and a roof over my head. Just before bed Noah played guitar and sang a bit. It was soothing to hear live music, something that I didn’t realize how much I missed.
Day 32 (13.3 miles)
Another early morning as the hut croo began making coffee. I was feeling exhausted but had no choice but to get up and pack my bag. I spent some time picking up trash around the hut. I didn’t find anything exciting except for a sock that someone left from the night before. On my way out Noah offered me a few parting pastries. I gladly accepted a brownie and carrot cake for the road.
Shortly down the trail I ran into Tenacious who had camped just a half mile away. We ascended the steep Northern side of Garfield mountain. Part of the ascent is made easier by a gushing stream running over a steep rock pile.
At the top of Garfield there were stunning views in all directions. The weather was looking perfect to hit Franconia Ridge, one of the most popular trails in the Whites. I had done the ridge the previous year but it was completely socked in. It was amazing to see the exposed route for the day ahead of us.
We met a young lady at the top with her pup, Sherman. A short chat led to her offering us a tofu, spinach and tomato wrap. Tenacious and I split the wrap. I think I finished my half before he got to his second bite. We stayed up there for a good while and talked to the kind woman, but never got her name. The trail off Garfield is steep but short and is followed by a nice section of peaceful forests before the ascent to the ridge.
With the energy from the wrap I climbed up Mt. Lafayette, which marks the start of Franconia Ridge. The climb up wasn’t all that hard but multiple false peaks made it seem long.
I continued climbing in hopes that one of the false peaks would be the true peak. A large crow sat on top of a rock outcrop waiting for me to die. He was disappointed when I finally made it to the summit.
I knew I was approaching the actual summit when I saw about 20 people congregated at one high point. Being able to see your path forward can be a blessing or a curse. Today it was a blessing.
The only bad thing about beautiful weather and views are the crowds that they draw. I reached the summit and felt like I was in a crowded room. This is not to say that I mind sharing the mountains. Everyone up there had just as much, if not more, of a right to be on that summit as me. I am more so bringing to light the inorganic collision of crowds with natural beauty.
The wind picked up and dried the sweat that had accumulated over my body. Clouds came and went, blocking the warm sun rays. I found shelter along a man made rock wall. I set my pack against the rocks and quickly dug to my food bag. Tortillas filled with pepperoni and cheese were on the menu, but first I ate the carrot cake from Galehead hut. Tenacious wasn’t far behind me. I gave him the brownie as a summit snack. He had mentioned the previous day that he was craving one.
I watched as droves of people summited the mountain. Nearly everyone had the same reaction. First a sigh of relief, soon followed by the realization that they were hungry. The next few miles followed a well beaten path along Franconia Ridge. It was clear why so many people wanted to be up there.
The ridge summits Lincoln and Little Haystack as well. Smaller mountains but each with a unique beauty. After descending just a few hundred yards from Little Haystack the crowds died down. We were back on a portion of trail that no one talks about.
From the ridge the trail heads down towards a major interstate. There were a few creeks in the valley. One of which was large enough to drown out the truck traffic on I-93. A few well placed stealth sites provided a perfect end to a beautiful day of hiking. My inner ankle had been bothering me so I took the time to soak my legs in the ice cold water. Then a great night of sleep followed.
Whitehouse Brook Camp: T1, S2, P2, W1, B3
Total Score: 12
Day 33 (8.5 miles)
I use to struggle to get out of bed at 6 am, now I consider it sleeping in. The sun is a rather difficult alarm to snooze! I made my normal coffee but waited for the Lonesome Lake Hut to use the privy. You can’t make a bowel movement without some trowel movement, and I lost my trowel. The hut sits on a lake about a third of the way up Kinsman mountain. The first few miles were pretty easy and it knocked a good portion of the climb out of the way. Some beautiful stream crossings which further improved our rock hopping abilities. Tenacious recently received his Rock Hopping Master badge from the Boy Scouts of America. I am still waiting to receive mine in the mail.
The lake at the base of the hut is beautiful. The Franconia Range dominates the background. At the hut I ate two amazing pieces of lemon poppy seed cake with earl gray icing. They paired well with some hot coffee.
The remaining climb up Kinsman wasn’t bad at all. I might even call it a bit enjoyable. My legs and cardio are getting more use to the long climbs. I rarely need to take a break in order to reach the summit.
A short distance below the summit there is an opening in the trees. Franconia Ridge once again revealed itself to me. It was hard for me to comprehend that those mountains were only a third of the hiking that I had done the day before.
A bit of scrambling led to to the uninspiring summit of North Kinsman. I didn’t stop at the summit. Instead I continued another mile down and then back up to the more exposed South Kinsman.
I stopped for a few hours at the summit. Took of my shoes, stretched, and ate an early lunch. My Fiancé, Kara, was working hard taking her PT Board Exam until 1 pm. I waited patiently at the top where I had service so that I could call her after. I tried to send telepathic words of encouragement during this time.
After talking to Kara I descended the remaining 2.5 miles to the Eliza Brook Shelter. The first few hundred feet down was rock scrambling. More fun than difficult. Afterwards the terrain eased and eventually followed the gradual rocky tumble of Eliza Brook. There were probably 10 or more idyllic waterfalls with deep swimming holes at the bottom.
I tried to stop at a few of the waterfalls and practice my framing skills. I would take a picture, compliment myself, and then head to the next one. It was during this time that I had a weird thought train. Why are humans obsessed with falling water? I think most people would simplify it to beauty, but that seems too trivial. I deduced that it could be because hearing the movement of fresh water meant survival in our primal state. In reality, it is probably neither of the stated reasons, but I enjoyed this time of letting my mind wander on such an unimportant topic.
Time flowed as quickly as the water running down the stream. Before I knew it I was at the shelter. It wasn’t even 3 pm but I knew it was time to stop. My ankle didn’t feel great, but not any worse than the day before. I decided to sleep in the shelter because I planned to get up early the next morning and hike the 7.5 miles to the road. It was a good decision, the campsite area began to fill with a seemingly endless line of NOBOs. I went to sleep at 6:30 pm, apparently the Whites had fully exhausted me.
Eliza Brook Shelter: T1, S3, P5, W1, B3
Total Score: 45
Day 34 (7.5 miles)
Woke up at 5 am to an army of tents. A lot can change over 11 hours of sleep. There were a surprising number of people awake for the early morning. I made a double cup of joe to prep the mind. The trail meandered up and down with slightly more up than down which eventually led to the summit of Mt. Wolf. I was listening to tunes and cruising, completely passed the summit without noticing. The ankle felt better today but not completely healed. I suspect a minor case of tendinitis. Caught up to Tenacious with just a few miles to go.
We finished 7.5 miles before 9:30 am. I took a breakfast break at the road before getting a ride to the Notch Hostel where I had reserved a bunk for the night. Very clean and hospitable place. It had everything a hiker could ever want and more. I was able to shower, charge devices, do laundry, and resupply all before nightfall. I ate a 3/4 pound triple patty smash burger for lunch. Followed by an entire stuffed crust pizza for dinner. Great to have a restful afternoon and a zero planned for the next day. Going to let my ankle and body heal after doing nearly all of the AT through the Whites!
Thanks for reading this update of my journey so far! I apologize for the enormously long post but I hope you enjoyed my pictures and notes of sarcasm. I’ll be putting my zero day and the last mountain of the Whites in a separate post to not make this one even longer. In the meantime, remember to keep wandering in your own direction!
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You are doing great. Thanks for the post.
Thanks dude! I appreciate that!
Looks awesome….living vicariously through you, have fun.
Thanks Bruce! Definitely having fun out here!