My alarm went off at 5:15. As I stuffed my sleeping bag into the bottom of my pack, what fell on the ground? My pocket knife! I had a vague memory of throwing the knife into my tent and seeing it land in the hood of my sleeping bag, but I couldn’t remember when or why I had done it. I’d gotten superstitious about having lost it, thinking it was somehow a bad omen for the whites. Finding it made me irrationally comforted. I finished packing up and went downstairs to eat breakfast. I gave the French man gruff answers to questions I didn’t feel like answering and attempted to eat in silence. I felt anxious and uninterested in small talk, especially at 545 in the morning. Walden and floater were up and moving around, which I hadn’t expected. I left before them, fully expecting them to pass me somewhere on the climb to moosilauke. I brought my pack outside and gave cosmo a quick hello. As I put my pack on, I leaned forward to seat my hip belt properly on my waist. This makes me look at my feet every time, which is how I noticed that I wasn’t wearing my gaitors. I’d left them hanging on a clothesline upstairs in the bunk room. That would have been a sad and annoying oversight because my shoes catch debris like velcro without the gaitors and I’ve become really attached to them, as with everything in my pack.
After one more check to make sure I hadn’t managed to forget anything else, I headed back to the trail to deal with the stream crossing. It’s a stream that requires fording, which I wasn’t looking forward to, but the detour to avoid it requires over a mile of road walking. No thank you. My shoes felt especially plush because I snagged flip phone’s brand new altra insoles from the hiker box, but I still had no desire to pound the pavement first thing in the morning.
I walked to the trail with a view of the rocks on owls head in the distance. At the trail intersection I took a right and was met with this view:
I took my shoes and socks off and crept across the stream in shin deep water. Thankfully the bottom consisted of mostly smooth pebbles. The water actually felt like a refreshing ice bath for my feet. I sat on the other side of the stream and dried my feet with my multi-purpose hand towel. One obstacle down, one giant mountain to go.
I continued into the woods, catching spider webs with my face. Wet leaves brushed against my elbows and calves as I tried to breathe through the anxiety of descending Moosilauke. After about a mile, the trail dumped me onto a forest road that led me to a paved road where I walked the shoulder for about a quarter of a mile. A nice breeze accompanied the sunny blue skies making for great hiking weather. I reasoned that my slow pace would give the rocks on the other side of the mountain even longer to dry out from the bit of rain we had yesterday.
I came to a split in the trail with a sign saying “moosilauke summit 3.7 miles.” My stomach dropped and I said aloud “okay here we go.” For whatever reason, my mind went to the scene in tri-wizard tournament where harry is in the cemetery with Voldemort and apparitions of his loved ones emerge while Harry fends off the spells from Voldemort’s wand. I reflexively started imagining comforting people from my life walking around me as the trail climbed. I felt a jumble of emotions because those people are all far away, which made me lonely, but imagining them on the trail made me feel safe and stronger. Enter the crying. But it’s hard to hike uphill and breathe while crying so it didn’t last long.
The grade of the trail got progressively steeper, but the footing was much easier than I’d imagined. I could take manageable steps on the rocks and the rooty sections were brief. I made it to the south peak junction surprised at how fast and non-technical the climb had been. Having said that, I had no desire to walk the extra 0.1 miles to see the view from the south peak. Instead I sat down on long flat rock to my breath and eat a snack.
The trail between the two peaks was flat and sandy at first, which was a nice break from watching every single step on the way up. The trail became rockier as it edged above tree line, and I got a full view of the northern peak and the surrounding mountains. My right knee felt achy and my IT band had the pre-flare tightness that concerned me. Definitely something to pay attention to because if it flares up for real, it will be torture on the long descents in my future.
Seeing the peak out in front of me felt so different from the myopic view of the rocky, green tunnel I’ve been in for so many miles/days. The shapes of people walking along the trail shed some perspective on the distance between me and the summit. the wind picked up as the trees grew smaller and I had to add my wool layer. The wind at the summit made it hard to keep my balance as I walked over to the sign I’ve seen so many times on social media. I took a picture even though it was kind of backlit.
As I stood there, floater came walking up the trail with her hat pulled low and her head down to fend off the wind. I thought for sure she would have passed me sooner, but she left about an hour after I did. We took pictures of each other with the sign. I had to turn my hat backwards as soon as I got above tree line because I was worried the wind would steal it.
We took shelter in one of the rocky wind blocks that sit on the summit (thank you to whoever constructed those). It was significantly warmer out of the wind, but I put on my raincoat for another layer anyway because I’d gotten so sweaty on the walk up. As floater and I sat ogling all the cute day hiker dogs and eating snacks, mantis and that guy arrived, followed shortly by Walden. We all sat in the wind block and hung out for about 40 minutes. I was in no hurry to head down the mountain and the company felt easy. Here’s that guy drinking a coke that he packed out from the hostel and felt overjoyed to drink at the summit. We hikers are easy to please sometimes.
Here are a few more views from the summit:
Around 11, I felt like it would be wise to get moving, so I made the first moves to leave the summit. Floater immediately pulled ahead and when we got to tree line she was out of sight. I ended up leap frogging with Walden for a bit until our paces lined up and we spent the rest of the day together. The descent started out mildly enough, which is to say it involved steep rocks that could be navigated with relative ease. The trail eventually got steeper and the steps larger. My knees started to protest and the distance left to cover felt endless. Walden and I agreed that lunch at the shelter was required to be able to make it all the way down the mountain. Here’s the view from the shelter:
A few day hikers filtered in and out as we ate. Walden cooked grits and an egg, which I felt envious of. A pair of teachers talked to us as we ate. I had hoped one of them would share her giant bag of chocolate, but instead she offered us toilet paper, which we both declined. Then we continued the long walk down the mountain. There were times when I felt like I was practically standing on my head, but the steps along the boulders were not as treacherous as they looked in the pictures halfway sent. He’s about a day ahead of me and warned me about the time and effort it took him to get down the mountain.
We eventually reached the point where the waterfall runs adjacent to the stream. I can see how the trail would become impassable on rainy days because the waterfall is literally inches from the trail at certain points. The focus and potential for danger made for an exhausting trip down.
At one point in the last half mile, Walden looked over a rocky ledge and gave a sardonic laugh. I said “does it get worse??” and she nodded. We had to go down the side of a boulder where the rebar handhold had pulled away from the rock.
I think this was the same point at which I tossed my poles down and one of them went skittering over the side of the trail. Thankfully it was easy enough to reach. Walden retrieved it for me as I inched my way down the boulder.
We finally reached a point where the trail evened out to a more gradual descent. The camping options at this point were super awkward. It was only about 230 in the afternoon, but the next shelter was about 7.5 miles away on the other side of mount wolf. I felt tired but relatively okay after the trek down moosilauke, and I didn’t want to hang out in a parking lot for hours in order to be able to stealth camp at the spots available by the streams. I sat at the picnic table in the parking area and ate a snack while I weighed my options. Walden continued on, with the loose intention of heading to the shelter. I sent a couple of triumphant texts to celebrate being done with the mountain that had given me so much angst. Then I decided to keep going.
The trail crossed the road that runs through kinsman notch where I got another view of moosilauke. Then came a very steep climb up from the road. I ran into Walden sitting on a rock taking a break. We quickly figured out that I’m faster on the hills, so I pulled ahead as we made our way up what I had expected to be a manageable mountain. Silly me. We ran into an older couple eating snacks on a rock in the middle of the trail. They asked how we were and I told them I was daydreaming about popsicles as the sweat streamed down my face.
The trail eventually “flattened” out to a neverending series of boulders that made for incredibly slow going and required just as much care and focus as descending moosilauke. The miles crept by as the hour grew later and later. Stealth spots were few and far between, and I didn’t really have enough water to stop short of the shelter. I also stubbornly wanted to make it all the way there so I could stay in line with floater and company.
I felt grateful to have good company for such a long day. Walden and I talked on and off as we walked into the evening. She has a dry sense of humor that resulted in much laughing while I cursed the bogs and the boulders and diminishing daylight. During one of my obsessive mileage checks, I realized that I had crossed my 800 mile mark. I rushed through making a mediocre sign with bits of nearby fern. I felt unsatisfied with it but too exhausted to make it better. I got back in front for the short climb ahead of us. As we walked, I noticed an abundance of tiny pine cones that seemed like much better material for my mile marker, so I stopped and redid it even though I felt ridiculous.
The light began to slant as the sun went down to our left. Walden commented on how she likes to hike at that hour because of the light. I agreed that it was beautiful, but I would much rather have been enjoying it while eating dinner at the campsite. I felt a hunger meltdown on the way, and I couldn’t picture how I would have enough energy to cook food when we got to camp after 8pm. I finally gave up on cooking and decided to eat cold food, which helped with the sense of urgency, but there would still be a host of things to do when we arrived.
The light to our left slowly went from golden to blazing orange, and a new sense of urgency took over. Sunset. A set of powerlines were about a half mile away, and I pictured us getting there right in time to see the sun drop below the mountains. I picked up the pace as best I could, but when we got to the powerlines, we had dropped just enough in elevation for the sun to be out of sight. I felt crestfallen, but tried to appreciate the beauty in the sky that was actually visible. As I turned to look towards the eastern horizon, I noticed a pair of legs at the edge of the trail. I thought to myself, that’s a funny looking deer. The thick, scruffy fur was a golden auburn color and the proportions seemed odd. I stopped in my tracks and followed the line of the animal’s body. A little head poked up above the brush and I came face to face with a moose! A juvenile moose to be more specific, munching away on its evening salad. Walden stood a little higher than me on a rock to get a good look, and I scanned the area for signs of a mama moose. I didn’t see one, but then Walden said she saw a darker, bigger moose. As I craned my neck to try to see this other moose, the young one started to make a mewing noise. We both decided it was high time to keep moving because that sounded like a worried call, which meant a protective parent would likely follow.
I took a quick picture of the horizon, and we booked it across the power lines back into the dark woods. As we walked we remarked on the incredible sighting. A moose! Technically two, but I didn’t actually see the second one. I could just hear it moving around in the brush. I’ve been hoping to see one since I realized I was walking past their giant piles of poo in Vermont. It was an incredible fringe benefit to hiking wayyyy to late into the day.
Shortly before the shelter, we came to a water source where I filled my sawyer bag to get it out of the way. We finally hit the turn off as the light faded. We had to take our headlamps out to survey the campsite for tenting spots. Nearly everyone was in their tents already, and I felt inconsolably tired and hungry. We picked out two mediocre spots in front of the shelter. I hoped for a dry night as I pitched my tent with little care for anything but keeping it upright. Then I grabbed my food bag and bug spray and sat at the bear box in the center of camp and ate what I hoped amounted to a decent number of calories. It’s so hard to stop eating when I get to that point of hunger, and I didn’t have the energy to try to count the calories. I brushed my teeth without getting up. Walden tried to talk a bit, but I felt self conscious about being loud while everyone slept and I had lost all ability to be human so I had trouble engaging. Then I tossed my food bag in the bear box, peed a little away from my tent and crawled inside to push through the rest of my bed setup. I felt grimy and exhausted and amazed that we had actually made it. I’m finishing this to the sound of a loud brook to my right, and what I think is floater in her tent snoring. My legs are aching. I hope my knees can make it through the whites. No more 17 mile days for me if I can help it.
Mile 1791.1 to mile 1807.9 (16.8)
Total miles: 804.7
Creature feature: the mooose!