Day 79: Franconia Ridge edition 


**forgive the unannounced silence. I’ve been away at an old time music camp. expect a backlog of posts. I will eventually catch up with myself as I head back to the land of bouldering and poor cell service**
I woke up around 545 and wiggled the toes on my left foot. The skin around the wound felt stiff and sore. As I walked to the privy, I noticed that the stabbing sensation from the night before had not dissipated in the slightest. Hiking felt like an improbable task. I went back to my tent and switched into my hiking shorts. Then I cleaned the wound again and attempted a bandaid/medical tape covering to prevent debris from getting into the area. I packed up my sleeping bag and hobbled over to the cooking area feeling anxious and upset. This came out of nowhere. I kept reminding myself that it’s just a cut and it will heal and it doesn’t have to mean the end, but it could if it gets infected. It felt unsafe to hike with a foot that might not be able to withstand the sure steps I need to navigate steep boulder hopping, but I felt too stubborn to rest another day. Today’s goal is 10 hard miles away to galehead hut from the liberty springs campsite up Little Haystack mountain and across Franconia Ridge, which includes Mt Lincoln and Mt Lafayette. I felt concerned about the dwindling amount of food in my bag, but I decided that I can resort to buying cliff bars and snickers at the huts if I have to. I also had an unexpected chaffing sensation around the left side of my rib cage when I woke up. It felt like everything was falling apart at once as I ate breakfast in silence. I hobbled back to my tent and packed my gear. Walden met me at the trail intersection and waited while I filtered water for the day. There aren’t any reliable sources from here to Garfield Ridge campsite with the exception of a pond, which I try my best to avoid (beaver fever). The caretaker arrived to put a handwritten weather report for the day on the post leading towards the tent sites. With her letter safely tucked in my hip pocket, I bid her farewell and started the climb up to the ridge. 

My foot felt mostly okay walking up rocks, but the searing pain returned as we turned onto the flatter ridge trail. Thankfully it got steep relatively quickly after passing through a stand of firs. Walden fell behind as the trail turned upward. I made no effort to wait for her because the pain in my foot consumed whatever energy I might have for talking. She caught up with me after awhile, and I told her I was hanging out in my pain bubble. She gave me space, which I felt grateful for, and I pulled ahead as the trail continued to steepen. I came to a tricky bouldering section that required some assessment. As I strategized, a SOBO hiker came around the corner. I let him scramble down because I had no desire for him to witness the grunting that was about to occur. 

I made it to the top of the boulder and turned around to this view: 

I decided to wait for Walden to get her picture coming up the path. As I waited, a middle aged hiker I’d seen at the campsite arrived. He made a bigger mess out of the climb than I did, getting his bag caught on a fir tree. I tried to help, but he insisted that I sit and rest while he unhooked himself. He finally made it onto the boulder and sat down with a great sigh. 


Walden arrived shortly thereafter and made quick work of the boulder. We sat together for a few minutes taking in the view of mount liberty where we watched the sunset last night. 

The trail climbed a bit more to reach the summit of Little Haystack. I made a joke about not wanting to see Big Haystack after the short but steep climb to the summit. Then the trail flattened out into a more gradual climb towards the exposed section of Franconia Ridge. I could feel my chest expand as the trees receded and the full breadth of the ridge and the surrounding mountains came into view. I’ve seen so many pictures of Franconia Ridge in the years that I’ve followed thru hikers on Instagram, but I still felt in awe of what lay before me.


Walden and I took pictures of the first section of the ridge and made our way down the rocky path. I pulled ahead and didn’t see much of her until the top of Mt Lafayette over an hour later. Somewhere between Lincoln and Lafayette, I ran into the excessively talkative guy who I had wanted to kick on my way down Mt. Killington. I didn’t recognize him at first, but when he said that I looked familiar I finally put it together. I said, weren’t you the one looking for the bar? To which he replied, I’m often looking for bars. He then proceeded to talk at me for the next 15 minutes. I finally sat down in a nonsensical spot on the side of the trail under the guise of taking a break, assuming he would keep walking. No such luck. He stood above me and blathered for another five minutes while I swatted flies and stared off into the distance. He finally said, oh well I talk too much. I should go! I agreed with his assessment and told him I planned to sit in silence for a few minutes. No sense in pretending that he was wrong. 
I met a group of SOBOs (southbounders, in case I haven’t defined that term yet) at the summit of Mt. Lafayette. They were in the midst of receiving trail magic from an Israeli couple who managed to spend most of the conversation plugging their new hiking book and hostel in Israel. They were tiresome, but they did give me a peanut butter sandwich, so I shouldn’t complain. I loitered in the sun on a wide flat rock waiting for Walden while drizzling honey onto my gifted sandwich (who makes plain peanut butter sandwiches?). When she arrived, she promptly laid on the ground with her feet up. She seemed worse for the wear with low energy and an aching back. I decided to hang out a bit longer so we could leave the summit together.  A friendly middle aged guy out for a few days struck up a conversation about pack weight, which led to me being gifted a bag of granola, almost an entire pepperoni sausage (vegetarian guilt continues, but I am still on the sauce), and a hefty quantity of salted nuts. This barely put a dent in the amount of food he had left for his 4 day trip. He then subjected himself to a pack shakedown care of 6 thru hikers. I was about to leave just as they swarmed around him. Geeking out over what to carry was too hard to resist, so I put my pack down and provided support as we examined his choices. All the while, this cute pitbull somehow restrained herself from running full tilt at a giant crow that taunted her from a distance. 


Walden and I left the summit and made our way down the ridge as a thick patch of fog rolled through. Here are a few more pictures of the views from Lafayette and Lincoln along with a few of the plants burrowed into the rocks of the exposed ridges: 


I thanked the sky for remaining dry as I shuffled across sloping boulders with little in the way of toe holds. Walden fell behind almost immediately, and I wouldn’t see her again for the rest of the day. The trail finally flattened out and the rocks dissipated to a reasonable amount as I moved between Franconia Ridge and Mt. Garfield. I passed pathfinder eating lunch on a bed of pine needles a few yards from the trail. I didn’t feel like talking so I kept moving and had lunch alone on a rock at the foot of a steep boulder scramble. Pathfinder came huffing around the corner as I crunched away on my peanut butter frito wrap. He crumpled onto a nearby rock and we commiserated over the intensity of the whites thus far. He told me that Walden had stopped at his lunch spot to rest and hopefully let a headache a pass. I worried about what to do with my goal to get to galehead hut. Walden’s slowing pace did not lend itself to arriving in time for a work for stay slot, if she were even to make it that far. I gave pathfinder Walden’s phone number so that we could share the responsibility of checking in with her. I texted her to ask how she was doing. She remained silent, as I continued the steep, half mile climb over Mount Garfield, which was followed by an equally steep three tenths of a mile descent to Garfield Ridge campsite. 
The hour approached 3 as I wound my way up the steep side trail to the campsite. I hadn’t made the decision to stay at the campsite, but I still cursed myself for not getting water at the stream by the trail intersection. It would be a tedious walk back down/up should I stop here for the night. The caretaker was out of the office, so I passed her tent and wandered to the shelter. Three hikers milled about, setting up their sleeping arrangements and filtering water. I felt conflicted about what to do and had no one to help me decide. Wait for Walden and likely get stuck at Garfield Ridge for the night? Move on and likely get separated from an under the weather friend who might be upset about my compulsion to get to galehead? Given my impending absence for music camp, I felt pressure to get as many miles in as I could. I attempted to recruit the people around me in the decision, but I received apathetic mutterings. I decided to text halfway, who had been in contact earlier in the day from the AMC center. He assured me that I wouldn’t be a horrible person should I decide to keep hiking. He also warned me that the descent from Garfield ridge campsite involved navigating a waterfall that runs through the steep, rocky trail. As I sat with that information, I finally got a response from Walden. She had set up camp way back at the pond on the other side of Mt Garfield. She had been so out of it that it hadn’t occurred to her to check her phone, hence the silence. She wished me well and told me to move on if I wanted to. With that, I donned my pack and headed to deliver the caretaker’s letter. I happened to run into her on the way out of the campsite. Presenting her with her letter brought me great joy and she had a laugh over my apologies for feeling creepy that I already knew her name. I asked her if she thought I had a chance at work for stay if I arrived at galehead as late as 530. She expressed doubt, but said that if I hiked quickly, I might be able make it. I ignored the voice in my head that scoffed at any thought of me moving faster than average and decided to go for it. I rushed back down to the trail, stopping just long enough to fill my sawyer bag with water should I need to stealth camp. Then I picked my way down the mountain feeling glad to not make the trip in the rain forecasted for tomorrow. It felt as treacherous as moosilauke with pitched rockpiles and a steady trickle of water flowing down the hillside. 

Over the next 2.8 miles, I hiked as fast as I could, slowing for the trickier bouldering descents and returning to a half jog on the flatter sections. I nearly fell a couple of times and vowed to slow down only to succumb to the sense of urgency and return to my manic pace. As I got closer, the terrain became more difficult as the boulders and the grade increased. I nearly gave up several times, but forced myself to keep a steady pace as I searched for a break in the trees that might lead to the hut. At 540, I finally reached the intersection with the side trail to the hut. 


I felt the stare of other hikers as I put my pack down at the edge of the porch trying to ignore the swaths of sweat stains across my midsection. I wiped streams of sweat from my face in a vain attempt to hide the fact that I was drenched and went inside to grovel for a place to sleep. The assistant hut manager turned out to be an affable philosophy major (hut croo are nearly exclusively college students or very recent grads) who gladly said I could stay the night, but meals would depend on whether theyhad enough leftovers because they’d already reached their maximum work for stay spots. Here’s one of the views from the hut: 


With my accommodations guaranteed, I settled onto the edge of the porch to wait for dinner. A small child unabashedly stared at me for nearly the entire 20 minute lecture on the hut’s sustainability practices. At some point, I went inside to fill my water bottle and peruse the snack selection. A woman saw me eyeing the tupperware of food for sale and said, do you need candy?? I expressed interest and she returned from her room with several mini candy bars that I happily took off her hands. The paying hut goers finally went in for their dinner, which left me with the 3 other thru hikers (1 NOBO and 2 SOBOs). We stayed on common ground and had an enjoyable conversation about the trail. The NOBO was a soft spoken, polite kid from North Carolina named Waves. His close-mouthed delivery and faint southern accent made me feel at home, and I found myself directing most of my attention towards him. 

Around 7:30, the hut manager poked his head out and called us inside. There was enough food to cover my meal, so I joined the ranks of work for stay. We ate shredded pork, which I mistakenly thought was beef and then felt guilty for consuming it, rice, salad (!), and chocolate cake squares covered in caramel coffee icing. Waves ate three giant servings of meat and then went back for yet another as we all mocked him for his hollow leg. The woman who gave me candy bars offered us a host of other snack foods that she had overpacked. We divvied up our wares, most of them going to waves and me. I felt triumphant about the amount of food I had acquired throughout the day. 
After dinner, Waves and I set about doing dishes in the kitchen. He scrubbed and I rinsed, trying my best not to say something about the glacial pace at which he approached his task. Then we waited for lights out at 930, at which time we were allowed to set up our beds on the floor in the dining area. I’m finishing this while standing in the hut kitchen so I don’t disturb the guys on the floor with my phone light. It’s been a hard day, but a really good one. My feet felt sore, but very durable today, which makes me happy.  They did what I asked them too and got me here in record time despite the periodic pains from the wound on my left foot.
Mile 1819.4 to mile 1829.7 (10.3) 
Total miles: 826.5 
Creature feature: song sparrows and red squirrels 

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