Slept pretty well last night and woke up to the sound of my alarm at 4:45. I nearly turned over and went back to sleep, but the prospect of sunrise was too irresistible. I also figured I could get an early start just in case I wanted to do the longer option for today. I went down to the shelter, put my feet up against the outside wall and watched the beginning of a mediocre sunrise while laying down. I decided to score some not so private time at the privy before everyone woke up. I grabbed my food bag while I was down there and came back up to find influx (his name is actually 2 words but it’s confusing so I’m leaving it as one) sitting in the shelter about to eat his breakfast. We talked and shared long gaps of silence while we ate. He laughed when I said that I have an ancillary food bag for the first two days after resupply because my bag is too full to hold my cookware.
The mansplainer (who also wears a kilt, by the way) came over after packing up his hammock and started cooking his breakfast. He asked me annoying questions while I tried to eat. Something about his tone of voice rubs me the wrong way and he has an overbearing delivery. I gave him minimal responses that were a bit terse in content but not necessarily in tone unless you know me well. Then I retreated to my tent to change my shorts and pack up my gear.
I was ready around the same time as influx and pretzel. I asked pretzel to say hi to halfway if she runs into him. I’m not sure I can make their miles today because they intend to go a “short” 17.7 to a shelter called the hexacube. I will reassess when I get to the 12.4 miles stopping option on top of smarts mountain. As I left camp, who did I see standing together but Lewis and Clark! I had been confused and disappointed when i didn’t see them last night, but they were in their tents the whole time (they sleep in separate tents which they’ve joked is why they can hike together). I had accidentally interrupted their praying, so I waited until they were done. When they turned to leave, Lewis was surprised and happy to see me. She talked a mile a minute as we walked together for the next 90 minutes. Then Clark needed water and I didn’t want to stop, so I kept walking. Our paces are similar, but I figured it would be nice to have a social break and turn on music to help push through the dull terrain. Not much to see this morning. Although at a road crossing, I did see a sign that said “bears with tracking collars, don’t shoot them.” That doesn’t bode well on so many levels. Shortly after the sign, the trail went through a flat pine area then began the climb. The neverending climb. I had hoped to take a break at the top with a view, but I couldn’t wait. I stopped at a decent rock to rest my feet and stuff my face. About 30 minutes later, I got to an actual viewpoint and had another snack with these mountains in the distance.
I had a serious case of faux bottomless hunger from not getting enough sleep. I felt worried about how hard the mountain was and anxious about what’s to come in the whites. Lewis was talking about her white mountain anxiety too. There’s a buzz in camps and on the trail because we’re getting close. People are constantly asking advice and trying to gather information about how to get through them. Myself included.
After another viewpoint, there was a manageable climb down from the ledges. I zoned out and picked my way down the sporadically rocky hillside. I happened to look up at one point and saw a tiny colored figure about waist high. First I thought it was a deer. Then I thought it might be a wildcat (the innkeeper at mountain meadows mentioned a small resurgence in large cat population in NH). Then I realized it was just a big dopey dog who was more scared of me than I was of it. It gave me a wide circle, and I gave a quick hello to its owner.
I took a short break at the bottom of the hill, which is the intersection that used to be where you could visit the ice cream man. Otherwise known as a trail angel named bill ackerly, but he passed away last year. I felt sluggish today and the humidity did not help.
After my break, I went through a buggy, rocky section that tested my will. I eventually came to the road crossing before the climb to Lambert ridge. There was a sign at the trailhead warning of unreliable water sources on smarts mountain, but I didn’t feel like carrying extra water up the climb. I hadn’t committed to staying up there, and there had been so much rain a few days ago that I took my chances. About a half mile into the slog from the road, I heard leaves rustling off to my left. I looked up expecting to see a squirrel, and instead was met with a foraging bear cub. My brain said “oh what cute little bear” and then my brain said “oh FUCK. BEAR.” I actually started saying fuck,fuck,fuck under my breath as I scanned the forest for the mother of the cub. No sign of her as I hightailed it as quickly as I could up the steep hill. I kind of wish I had stood still long enough to get a picture, but fear kicked in before I thought of it. As I cursed and walked faster, the cub heard me and ran down the hillside.
I hiked faster for about 10 minutes and then had to slow down because it was just too hot and steep to keep up the pace. After about 20 minutes, I came to lambert ridge where I decided to stop for lunch even though it seemed uncomfortably close to the bear sighting. I camped out at a rock facing this view and made my wrap.
Then I lay with my feet up on my pack trying to figure out whether I needed to stay in two places or one to make it through the whites. I feel so anxious about how to navigate the logistics of it and whether I will physically be able to manage it. I’m also still torn between going long or medium today. A SOBO came down to the ledge as I lay on the ground. He was a meek young guy who said that if he can hike the whites, I can do it. When I asked him what made him say that, he said that I had more miles and thus self assuredness under my belt. If only. Although his comment did resonate a little bit. He moved on and I decided to get back to it as well.
I was on the ridge (saddle?) walk over to smarts mountain when it started to rain, and I wondered why I was heading to the top of a mountain in the rain yet again. Thankfully it was just a passing drizzle and not a full on storm. The terrain was manageable for awhile and then it got steep.
And then it got steeper and rockier (that’s rebar in the boulders):
I passed a couple of section hikers on their way down and asked about the terrain on the other side of mountain. I couldn’t keep going if it involved going down something as steep as this. The guy said it was much a more gradual descent with actual trail. I calculated that into my plans and kept going. Around every corner I hoped to see the trail flatten out, but it just kept winding up and out of sight. After another 40 minutes, I finally got the fire tower. I went straight up so I wouldn’t have to walk down the stairs with post-break cold legs. The views were incredible (top picture, along with this):
I strongly considered staying on top of the mountain to get another 360 degree sunrise and sunset, but I also didn’t feel like another night of staying up late and getting up early. I went down to the fire wardens cabin, which is now an AT shelter, and sat on the porch eating a snack trying to decide what to do. I felt claustrophobic and creeped out for some reason. It probably would have changed with the arrival of Lewis and Clark arrived, but I felt haunted. I put my feet up and considered my options. I kind of wanted to catch up with halfway and get to the hostel tomorrow (Friday) for a whole night of charging my phone and uploading blog stuff instead of just cramming it into a few hours in the middle of saturday. With that in mind, I decided to push on even though I felt wary about overdoing it.
I questioned my choice immediately, but I kept going anyway. The ridge was a muddy mess. Then came a long two hour trip down the mountain. I tried to zone out and tune into my banjo music. It very clearly helps with my pace because whenever I stopped playing it to check out the noises around me, my body felt heavier and I noticeably slowed down. I finally got to a road crossing around 530 and took a short break to eat more and rest my feet. They’re sore, but not terrible or nervy. My right achilles was also getting pretty cranky so I stretched and massaged both of my calves. Then came another steep climb that was shorter, but still intense, with this view as the reward:
Then even more climbing until it dropped down to a small stream where I got lightbeer-colored water. I met another SOBO going by the name of scout. He told me I would have some great walking in about 6 miles. That felt like a relief. The last .4 to the shelter was a rooty mess. Then came a steep .3 mile hike just to get to the shelter.
As I walked up, pretzel called out, “I knew you would choose us,” which made me laugh. There were two other guys there that I hadn’t met, one of whom I found incredibly obnoxious and gave a wide circle to. Cosmo was also there. We caught up for a minute while I dropped my pack and felt like a sweaty blubbering mess on the inside. The tenting options were terrible so I decided to risk it and sleep in the shelter. I also didn’t really have the energy to set up my tent. I immediately pulled out my sleeping pad and blew it up before I lost all resolve. Then I pulled out my cookware and boiled water for food. It was late and I had hiked too far.
As I ate, a group of SOBOs arrived and immediately began talking about how many miles they’d hiked and how many big days we could do in the whites and we could do the 100 mile wilderness and blah blah blah. Those conversations are so tedious and make me so annoyed with the people and with my body. Influx has picked up on my disdain for the topic and was laughing both with and at me after he made a joke about how long he’d been at the shelter. He finished today’s hike at 3p. A full 4 HOURS faster than me. I’m envious of how much less time he’s spending on his feet. But I’m stuck with this body, so I should just let it go (forgive the repetition of the topic, it might be awhile before I get to actually letting it go). Now I’m finishing this to the sound of pretzel lightly snoring and some dude over by the fire pit jabbering on about something.
Mile 1758.6 to mile 1776.3 (17.7)
Total miles: 773.1
Creature feature: the bear cub and a snake that slithered off the boards and into the marshy wildflowers as I rounded a beaver pond sometime in the middle of the day