Last Friday I hiked out of Glencliff, NH and over Mount Moosilauke, the first peak going north that one reaches in the White Mountains.
The day before I had hiked 10 miles into the Hiker’s Welcome Hostel in Glencliff and spent the rest of the day lounging on the hammock, watching movies, napping. The space was welcoming and cozy, but it wasn’t really a place I felt like zeroing, especially with the 25+ other hikers there. So when we all woke up the following morning to a forecast calling for 2+ inches of rain and flash flood watches, I thought, “We can probably beat the worst of it if we leave now.”
My friends Handstand and Apollo were in similar frames of mind. First of all, for a few bucks each, the guy who ran the Hikers Welcome was willing to shuttle our packs to Glencliff, which was on the other side of the mountain. So we were unburdened of our heavy packs. Second, it promised to be extremely steep, but it was only a nine mile hike. So we reasoned that we could go at a snail’s pace, as necessary, and still make it by early afternoon. So the three of us set out in the rain to climb Moosilauke.
The climb was steep and persistent for miles, but it felt like it flew by since Handstand and I hiked in lock step and chatted the whole time. When we got above tree line, the wind started whipping freezing fog in our faces at an angle parallel to the ground. In fact, at times, it even seemed like we were being pelted by bits of frost coming from below.
The trail conditions were definitely less than ideal, but I had an absolute blast. I was soaked head to toe, had goose bumps and got chilled whenever I stopped moving. I was sloshing in my boots. The descent was steep and treacherous as we trod over slick rock, and a raging torrent of a waterfall threatened us to the left of the trail. But I legitimately loved the hike. It was a thrill. And I never felt like I was unsafe, especially since I carefully planned every step along the way.
When we got to the other side, we hitched a ride to a hostel in Lincoln at the home of a Mr. Chet West. Chet runs the hostel out of his garage, and it was crammed with hikers that were waiting out the rain. We gladly joined them and spent the rest of the day cleaning up and resting.
The following morning Handstand, Apollo and I hitched back to the trail and did a 16 mile slackpack between Kinsman Notch and Franconia Notch. The way that the trail wound through this section allowed us to make our way back to Chet’s in Lincoln at the end of the day.
This time the weather worked with us. However, the trail was still bogged down from the day before. After a few miles, we all completely gave up on trying to keep our boots dry.
And the other bit that I didn’t anticipate was how strenuous the hike would be. I think we all figured that it wouldn’t be much of a challenge without our packs. But between rock hopping around the bogs and climbing (ie pulling oneself up with arms) over steeper parts, this 16 miles took it out of me. Don’t be deceived by this picture. Actually, if you look closely, you can see all the bruises and scrapes on my legs from the challenging terrain. You can’t see the ache in my knees, though. By the end of the day, I was thoroughly pooped. I even questioned if I’d be able to hike out the next day.
I did manage to hike out the next day. And I hiked over Franconia Ridge and up to Lafayette Mountain. It was gorgeous. Large, puffy clouds. A cool breeze. And I was so tickled to be able to see the trail on the ridgeline I’d just hiked.
(And for good measure, here’s a photo of me sporting my puffer jacket and modeling the windswept look while taking a break.)
Logistically, the only tricky part about hiking The Whites has to do with places to spend the night. It costs $8 a night to stay at established campsites. It costs $125 a night to stay at huts, which are like bunkhouses. And park officials are fairly intolerant of stealth camping, so one has to plan carefully. (A list of stealth sites is well circulated among thru hikers.)
The day I hiked Franconia Ridge, I managed to find the stealth site at Garfield Pond along with seven other hikers.
The following morning I started early, hiked up South Twin Mountain by 11am, and managed to hike 18 miles to Ripley Falls by the end of the day. The reason I pushed so hard is that the forecast for the next day (Tuesday) was calling for rain, and I was hoping to get to Crawford Notch and then hitch to North Conway in time to dodge it.
Ripley Falls was a half mile off trail, which means I was the only person there. It was only my second night completely alone in over five months. Can you believe that this was the view from my tent? The cascading water was mesmerizing. And it was all mine.
On Tuesday I hiked the mile to Crawford Notch and hitched a ride to North Conway. It wasn’t the easiest hitch since mostly tourists were driving by, but after a half hour a local picked me up on his way to work. Not five minutes later did it start pouring. Success!
I spent the last two days in North Conway with a family of trail angels. Yesterday, they even took a couple of us canoeing/kayaking on the Saco River for a few hours. (I’ll get back on the trail tomorrow. I promise.)
As the miles to Katahdin begin to dwindle, I’m starting to realize how much I don’t want this trek to end. I know I pushed a few heavy miles in the past several days of hiking, but I think I’m ready to change my strategy and actively slow the heck down. That’s one reason I decided to hang out in North Conway for a few days. And I think I’ll do the same when I get to Pinkham Notch and maybe again when I hit Gorham at the end of The Whites. And while I’m at it, I may do shorter mile days throughout The Whites. I’m still on my way to Maine, but I’m certainly in no rush.
I’m having such a great time, yet I know it’s probably time to start thinking about life post-AT. I’m not really sure what I’ll do next, but a few crazy ideas are starting to creep their way up toward the top of my priority list. At this point, I’m still taking one day at a time, living in the present. I suppose I can figure the rest out once I kiss that sign at the top of Katahdin.