I heard rain plinking on my tent in the middle of the night. That combined with general exhaustion resulted in not getting up for sunrise. I got up around 630 to eat breakfast because I was too hungry to sleep any later. Several hikers and small clusters of kids were already at the cooking area when I hobbled over. I sat on a comfortable, flat rock along the low wall surrounding the bear boxes and put together the cold version of my granola/muesli breakfast. The weather seemed better than I had expected, and I started to feel guilty about my plan to zero while also feeling like it would probably be good for my body. I lingered for floater and the guys to show up, but I got tired of having to socialize. I retreated to my tent and laid on my sleeping bag feeling conflicted. Not long after crawling inside my tent, I saw floater’s legs heading towards the cook area. I decided to pause my moping to hang out with her while she ate. She and the guys were still planning to cross franconia ridge despite the chance of showers. Their persistence tapped my weakness button. I said goodbye to them at the trail intersection and went back to my tent to wallow. I texted my mom, who assured me I wasn’t a lazy poop, which helped a bit. I tried breathing to calm down and settle into my decision. As you can guess if you’ve read many other posts, this made me cry. I eventually fell asleep and woke up around 11 to the sound of my neighbor packing up her tent. I wondered what she was up to that she could afford such a late start, but I didn’t have the energy to ask.
As I lay in my tent in broad daylight, with no apparent sign of rain in the sky, I tried to figure out how to feel differently. I decided to ask the caretaker if she had any projects around the campsite that I could help with. I walked down the hill to her platform, on which sat a large semi-permanent tent (think vendor-sized tent) with a cot and a kitchen setup off to the right underneath a separate tarp. She greeted me warmly and said she had a campsite task for me and then offered the additional job of assisting with her project for the midsummer retreat with the other AMC employees. Hut staff and caretakers get trained together at the beginning of the season and then rarely see each other depending on geography of their assignments and days off. So each summer they meet to share a personal project and spend a bit of time together.
The caretaker showed me how to rake the drying mulch from the composting privy. After several processes that I can’t explain, the privy output consists of bark mulch that is spread on raised mesh drying beds that require rotation to help the bark dry out and break down to dirt that eventually gets used as compost. My job was to rake the material, which would facilitate drying and help push the finished “dirt” through the metal screens onto the ground below. That product is then bagged up and distributed around the woods. (I think? Can’t quite remember exactly where it ends up). It felt good to have something to focus on, especially something that required physical effort. I took my time raking the mulch, taking care to pick out the petrified trash that doesn’t break down (primary offendors: baby wipes and tampons). Shortly after I got started, the caretaker came up with her hands behind her back and asked me if I liked bananas. I said YES and she presented with me a banana and half of a KitKat. I thanked her profusely and felt so grateful for the surprise. Little did she know she’d gifted me with two things I love (although I can’t even remember the last time I ate a KitKat).
It took about 40 minutes of raking to finish both beds. Then I went to the eating area and made a peanut butter frito wrap. The caretaker had mentioned helping with her personal project after her lunch, so I stayed up the hill and ate alone in silence. I wandered back to my tent and killed a few minutes checking the internet with my anemic phone signal. Eventually, I heard hammering coming from the caretaker’s site, so I went down the hill to see what kind of project she had in the works. She presented me with her partially built rocking chair and we discussed her plans. I promised not to sue anyone should I saw my arm off in the process of helping her. She assigned me to trim the edges from the chair supports that attach to the rocker bottom and to saw the seat out of a large piece of pressed wood. We listened to barely audible music and talked on and off as we worked. I felt kind of anxious to be in charge of my half of the conversation, but we settled into a good rhythm. We talked about her wilderness therapy experience, her wishlist for upgrading the tent/tarp setup at her platform, and her penchant for letter writing. She sends letters off with hikers to deliver to her friends at other sites, which I loved. She mentioned the possibility of sending me off with a letter for the caretaker at the Garfield Ridge campsite. I happily agreed to play pony express.
Campers arrived periodically throughout the afternoon. The caretaker felt guilty for making man made noises that might disturb their wilderness experience, but everyone she asked responded with kindness to the racket we made. We went through a few design decisions and she showed me her plans for the backrest. The execution of making the various elements of the chair was tricky with the tools at hand, which included a hand saw, a hammer, and nails. At one point, I stood on the porch with my feet on a support piece we were trying to trim while the caretaker stood on the ground and had her arm wrapped around my calf in order to help stabilize one side of the wood while sawing the other end. We both laughed at the jumble of limbs and wood. Whenever she let go to grab the saw with two hands, she would call out “power stance!” which I found hilarious.
We worked until a little after 4, when the steady stream of campers became the caretaker’s priority. I wandered back up to my campsite and managed to have a short phone conversation with my steady despite getting cut off several times because of an unreliable phone signal. My legs felt less achy than they had last night, and having such an enjoyable time with the caretaker made me feel better about my decision to stay put.
Sometime in the afternoon, I got a text from Walden who had decided to head up to liberty springs instead of staying at a hostel for the night. She apparently stayed at lonesome lake hut last night to do a work for stay and got a hitch into town this morning to buy food. A little context for the white mountain hut system: it’s a reservation-based series of freestanding 4-walled structures scattered throughout the range. They’re basically lodges with fancy bunk beds, a communal eating area, a kitchen, and barebones running water and electricity. Each hut is allowed to take a limited number of thru hikers to do work for stays each day. The work involves anything from washing to dishes, to sweeping, to deep cleaning fridges. In return, the hikers sleep on the dining hall floor and have access to whatever food is leftover after the paying hut guests and the hut staff eat dinner and breakfast. These meals are part of my strategy for not resupplying, so I hope to get at least 1-2 nights in a hut. The advantages are a roof over your head in the event of bad weather (highly probable in the Whites) and free food. The downsides are having your schedule monkeyed with because thru hiker dinner isn’t until after 8p and we can’t set up our beds until lights out at 930p. The breakfast routine is similar, with our meal time around 815am and morning chores ending around 9am. I usually hike anywhere between 3-6 miles by that time.
Walden arrived sometime after I’d eaten my dinner. I shared my plan to hike up to the top of mount liberty (.5 mile one way) to catch the sunset. To my surprise, she agreed to come even though she’d just griped about being exhausted. We made a plan to meet at the trail intersection to head up together. As I went to the spring to get water before we left, I felt a sharp stabbing sensation on the bottom of my left foot. I went back to my tent to investigate and found that a piece of skin at the fold between my fourth toe and the ball of my foot had ripped to expose an area of raw flesh about the size of a tic tac. I have no memory of doing anything specific to my foot, so it’s most likely the consequence of having to walk with wet shoes/socks and having my feet slosh around as I navigate boulders. I panicked at the prospect of having to deal with an open wound on the trail where nothing stays clean or dry for any length of time. I heard the caretaker talking to someone near the privy, which made me realize that I should ask her for extra bandaids to augment my minimal supply. She dug through her giant first aid kit and gave me a few bandaids, a couple of iodine wipes, and some medical tape.
I sat at the trail intersection waiting for Walden and trying not to freak out about my foot. It seemed like a bad idea to do any extra walking, but I really wanted to get an unobstructed view of the sunset, so I did it anyway. The walk up was a continuation of the moderately steep rocky terrain of the previous mile before camp. My daypack with water and my puffy coat felt like carrying a bag full of air. At the ridge, we took a right and continued the slightly steeper climb to the summit of mount liberty. The views and the light were astounding. We both gawked like little kids at the parade of mountains around us. A passing cloud made for moody pictures and a brief rainbow that you can sort of see in this shot:
Here are a few more pictures from the time we spent at the summit (including the top picture for today).
The colors were sadly not as intense as the night before, but it was still incredible. A college kid named Andrew who is out for about a week joined us at the summit. He arrived sweating and cursing because he’d run the whole way for fear of missing the show. I felt a little bad that we were talking so much as he sat in silence to our right, but it also felt good to laugh with Walden. We all left after it was clear that the low wall of clouds on the horizon had staunched any possibility of brighter colors.
We made the trip down to camp in twilight, both groaning occasionally because of the strain on our overworked knees. Walden made a joke about how we might see another moose because we were once again walking after 830p. I dubbed it moose o’clock, which made us both laugh. I shared my foot concerns with her. She suggested I clean the wound with hand sanitizer, which sounded effective but terrible. When I got back to my tent, I pulled out my headlamp and regretfully spritzed the wound with my spray hand sanitizer (thanks Mary Ann, who knew I’d be using it for this). Then I cleaned the area of debris as best as I could with a qtip and applied a generous blob of neosporin. I hoped the knife-like pain I’d felt on the walk down from liberty would be gone in the morning. I’m finishing this to the sound of someone rattling around in their tent on a different platform and the ping of bugs trying their best to get inside my little home.
Miles: 0 (bonus mile up to liberty)
Total miles: 816.2
Creature feature: pesky red squirrels and a white throated sparrow at the top of liberty mountain.