Whimsy in the White Mountains

August 11, 2017

This morning, Jay faced me as we packed up.  “What do you want to do?”  he asked.

I knew he was referring to yesterday’s panic on the mountain.  I knew I didn’t have to continue.  But if I stopped, I would give up the dream of this grand adventure.  Somehow, during the night, my decision had been made.  “I want to keep hiking.”  My voice sounded strong and sure.  “I might get scared again.”  My voice began to waver.  “But I think I can do this.  I really appreciate all your help yesterday.  If I keep hiking, maybe eventually I can conquer this fear!”

The trail led over Mt. Jefferson, past Mt. Clay, and up Mt. Washington, tallest mountain on the northern half of the Appalachian Trail.  I was delighted to see that for many portions of the trail today, someone had made an effort to change tumbled rocks into a path.  Numerous rocks had been moved, turned so the flat side was facing up, making steps and smooth tread.

Last night a thunderstorm had come through, and today the rocks were a bit wet, as well as the air around us.  Fog swirled, constantly playing peek-a-boo with sun and mountain peaks.  It cheered me, to see the playfulness of the weather!


*   *   *   *    *

As we hiked this morning, we met two hikers coming from the Madison Spring Hut.  “Were you outside during the storm last night?” one asked me.

‘Outside?’ I thought.  ‘Who would be silly enough to be outside in the night during a thunderstorm on a mountain?’

“Well, no, I was inside my tent,” I told the man.

The hiker waved impatiently.  “That’s what I meant.  Not in the Hut.  Outside.”

“Did the thunderstorm keep y’all up?” I asked.

“Yes, what a show!  We watched the lightning crackle over the mountain!  It was great … at least from the inside of a building.”  The man grinned with enthusiasm.

“I must admit, I watched the lightning from the inside of my eyelids,” I laughed.  “That was show enough for me!”

*   *    *    *    *

Later in the day, as we were climbing Mt. Washington, we met a group of young people shepherded by one adult.  Intrigued, I asked one of the teens, “What group is this?”

“Oh, we’re a Christian academy,” the boy answered cheerfully.

‘Wow!’ I thought.  ‘That is cool, a school that takes their students out hiking!  I wonder what academy it is?’

When the chaperone approached, I asked, “What religious affiliation are you all?”  The man looked confused.  I explained, “The student ahead said you were a Christian academy.”

The man laughed.  “Oh, he’s always joking.  We’re just a group of friends out hiking for the day.”

Just then the boy called back, “Come on ‘Father Paul’.  Don’t get too far behind us!”

“Shut up, you scalawag!” the man yelled.  “I told her the truth!”

I doubled over in laughter as the man passed me, still talking to the boy.  What fun!

August 13, 2017

This morning we saw Sasha and Dragonfly after several days of trailing behind them.  As we greeted them, Sasha informed us, “Dragonfly has been renamed to Firefly!”

“Oh?” I asked.  “How did that happen?”

“Well, when a hiker comes dragging into Lake of the Clouds Hut after climbing Mt Washington in the dark, we figure she’s really a firefly in disguise!”

*    *    *    *    *

Lunch time near Ethan Pond turns into a siesta.  It feels so good to just sit and rest, soaking in the warm sunshine!  As we finally marshal our forces to leave, I notice a spider spinning a web between my legs!  Jay laughs.  “You know you’ve had a long lunch when a spider manages to attach a web to your knees!”

*    *    *   *    *

There is actually a section of flat trail in the White Mountains!  Four miles of lovely trail lie between Ethan Pond and the approach to Zealand Falls Hut!  Even better, there are blueberries on part of it!  I’m in heaven as we stroll along the flat path, picking handfuls of blueberries!

August 14, 2017

We’ve met hordes of hikers today, and as the day comes to a close, more hikers appear!  We had been planning to camp at Garfield Pond, as we were sure the Garfield Ridge Shelter was full to bursting.  But approaching the pond, we could see a tent city springing up.  “Let’s keep looking,”  Jay suggested.  “There’s bound to be a flat spot somewhere before the next mountain.”

We hiked on, racing the coming dusk.  Jay pulled ahead, disappearing between the trees.  Suddenly he reappeared on the trail.  “I found a place,” he told me.  We followed a faint deer track a few yards until the trees opened in a perfect circle, flat and not too rocky.  ‘Oh thank goodness,’ I thought.  ‘But where shall we get water?’

“Do you think you could get enough water from the little puddle we passed a few minutes ago?” Jay asked.

I walked back through the deepening twilight and looked at the small pool.  Perhaps a gallon of water, with a sprinkling of frog eggs on one side, came from a slow seep on the side of the trail.  I dipped up a liter and looked at it.  Wow, clear, cold water!  We only needed three liters.  There would still be enough for the frog eggs until the seep replenished.  A perfect place for a quiet evening!

August 15, 2017

The trail undulates up and down between Mt. Lafayette, Mt. Lincoln, Little Haystack, and Liberty Mountain.  Franconia Ridge is so picturesque, it’s hard to know where to point a camera!  The ridge slopes steeply on each side, but the trail tread invites feet to walk safely, especially today, with bright sun shining!  “It reminds me of the Great Wall of China,” Jay remarks.  I look at the wall of the ridge, and find myself transported to China.  What a treat!

August 18, 2017

The fun thing about a day of rain is being able to decide, “Hey, we can quit walking anytime!”  At 3:00 p.m., as the rain continued falling, we stopped near Beaver Brook in the Kinsman Notch, and pitched our tent.  What a treat, to snuggle down into dry sleeping bag while the air outside is filled with water!

August 19, 2017

Mt. Moosilauke is considered the southern edge of the White Mountains.  We climbed from Kinsman Notch to the top of the mountain this morning.  The first 1.5 miles is notoriously steep.  It took us 2 hours!  But the climb was always in the trees, and wood blocks made easy steps up a few of the steep sections!  After that, the gradient gentled slightly, turning the trail to rocks, but not cliffs.


We marked the end of the White Mountains by staying at the Hiker Welcome Hostel.  They took us to a burger joint that served grass-fed beef, had live music, and a campfire!  What a way to celebrate some of the hardest miles I’ve ever hiked!

Timing is Everything

August 2, 2017

Slack pack:  Stash one’s gear at a hostel, utilize a shuttle, and complete a segment of one’s thru-hike as a long day hike, unencumbered with the weight of a full pack.

5:30 a.m. – Wake up.  Walk to a nearby deli for breakfast.  Get back to the hostel in time to grab our lightened packs and…

7:00 a.m. – Take the shuttle to Grafton Notch.

7:30 a.m. – Spend a few minutes puzzling over our direction!  We’ve been hiking south on the AT, but today we’ve skipped ahead, and are hiking 10.2 miles north, back to the hostel.  From which side of the trail head do we leave?

Our goal is to climb both east and west peaks of Baldpate Mtn before the afternoon thunderstorm hits, and hopefully catch the 5:00 p.m. shuttle to the hostel for the night.

We begin hiking, through birches, pines, firs, and spruce.  For a few hundred yards, the trail is flat, with mud and boardwalks.  A rather large green frog hops through the mud, pausing long enough for me to snap a picture.  We pass a trail register sign where someone has written, “Rewild your mind.”  I smile.  Yes, the AT can change one’s brain a bit!

The trail slopes steeply, with a 2,600 foot climb ahead.  We take our time, walking extra slowly for the first 30 minutes as our muscles warm up, then settling into our usual steady plod.  A hiker named Rob once told us, “I’ve watched the two of you going uphill.  It seems as if you’re barely moving, but you never stop!  My heart’s banging away, my lungs are laboring, and you just keep inching along, as if you could go forever.”

Blue sky above, dirt and granite below, light packs, and light hearts make the climb up the west peak of Baldpate Mtn feel relatively easy, though long.  We break out above treeline just as we reach the top, with 360 degrees of a gorgeous view!  The sight of most interest to me is the east peak of Baldpate Mtn ahead.

Looking to east peak of Baldpate Mtn.

The trail drops a precipitous 300 feet into a saddle, then climbs another 600 feet to a granite top.  Our path becomes bare granite, marked with rock cairns.  Jay calls this the ‘granite sidewalk’.  I say it’s a very STEEP sidewalk!  We come to one 25 foot vertical drop, peer over the edge, and I give a cheer.  Some industrious soul has built a wooden ladder to aid hikers!  Hurray!

Jay climbing down. It’s a looooong ladder!

The climb up the east peak feels longer than 600 vertical feet.  There are many bare granite ledges to scramble up and over, with lengthy pauses to look at the view.  I’m so thankful we decided to slack pack, thus climbing this mountain in the morning, when my muscles are fresh, the weather is still beautiful, and the rocks are dry!

The picture never makes it look quite as steep as it feels!

At the top of the mountain, our attention is claimed by ripe blueberries! Our forward progress slows still more as we pick and eat this most delicious trail treat.  With attention focused on searching out nuggets of blue among green bushes, we ignore the large black cloud coalescing in the air above us.  The sun is shining, my mouth is happy, all is well in my small world!

As we move down the mountain, still picking blueberries, we suddenly hear branches creak, and a loud exhale emanate from the middle of a pine thicket ahead!  What could it be?  Surely not a deer so high in altitude.  Could it be a bear?  We carefully move around the thicket, still picking berries, but giving a wide space to the mystery animal concealed there.

We finally reach taller trees, and the blueberries fizzle out.  I happily continue down the mountain, sometimes on the ‘granite sidewalk’, sometimes climbing down boulders, and occasionally getting to walk on a bit of dirt.  About 1.5 miles from the top, that large black cloud which had begun forming earlier decides it is time to take action.  First I hear rain spatter in the tree tops.  I know I am near Frye Notch Lean-to, but how near?  Just as the rain breaks the leaf barrier and begins to sprinkle my hair, I hear the unmistakable laughter of a hiker named Camel on the slope below me.  “Oh good,” I think.  “If Camel is laughing, that means he made it to the shelter before the rain.  It can’t be far.”  Jay is ahead, rapidly disappearing between the trees.  The rain increases in intensity, spattering cold wet drops across my shirt and pack.  I begin to run, just a little.  As the cloud opens its floodgates, with thunder and lightning accompanying, I see the roof of the shelter.  I tumble inside as the water sheets down!  Jay and five other hikers are crowded under the metal roof, with the rain battering above, and speech all but impossible to hear!  Whooeee!  Timing is everything!

Hikers waiting out the storm together.

We eat a late lunch as we wait out the storm, laughing and talking with the other hikers.  I’m so blessed, to be surrounded by other happy adventurers.  I reflect upon the gifts of technology, that we could plan our day around the storm, hiking above the treeline early in the morning, and now with only 4.5 miles left through wet trees.  Life is good!

5:05 p.m. – We reach the road just five minutes too late for the first and shorter shuttle.  Dang!  Nothing to do but wait.

5:35 p.m. – We catch the next shuttle, which makes a larger loop before getting back to the hostel.

6:40 p.m. – We stagger out of the shuttle van, our leg muscles protesting sudden use after being cramped in one position so long for the ride.

7:00 p.m. – We slide into a seat at the nearby deli a few minutes before closing.  The waitress and cook graciously feed our ravenous hiker appetites!

8:00 p.m. – We tumble into bed, worn out from our active day.