I slept horribly last night. It took forever to fall asleep, and then I tossed and turned all night. There was a horrifying amount of sweating and my legs were inexplicably itchy. A seemingly steady trickle of people going to the bathroom did little to help with my restlessness. I woke up around 530 for good because one of the hikers started packing up his gear. With a heavy sigh, I crawled out of my bag, packed my gear and put on warmer clothes. A wall of white stood outside completely obscuring the nearby mountains. 55 degrees and raining does not a happy hiker make, especially when that hiker is worried about having a wet foot and an open wound.
We put our packs outside and huddled on the corner benches near the information desk because it was too cold and rainy to sit on the porch. It felt strange to sit in the same room waiting for leftovers while the paying lodgers ate their breakfasts. I did as many things as I could to look busy and pass the time. I read the information binder cover to cover. Looked at the oversized laminated map on the wall. Thumbed through the junior naturalist work book. Eventually, I had to eat a few bites of granola because I was getting too hungry. Midway through breakfast the croo put on a Harry Potter themed educational skit about folding the lodge blankets and packing out your trash. It was horribly campy and hilarious even though I felt embarrassed by the overacting.
A little after 8, we were welcomed into the kitchen to collect our leftovers. Sadly there weren’t any of the infamous pancakes, but I felt grateful for the eggs that went along with a bowl of mediocre oatmeal and hard to resist coffee cake. I offered to do more dishes after breaksfast while the others folded blankets and swept out the bunkrooms. Walden arrived just as I was pushing through my coffee cake sugar coma to head out into the drizzle. She had left her pond camp around 615 and already gone over a soggy Mt. Garfield. I waited for her while she ate coffee cake, which she aptly consumed with a cup of coffee. Pathfinder arrived not long after Walden and was thoroughly confused by her presence. He looked soggy and haggard while Walden somehow looked as if she was on her way to the gym. It was hard to leave the warm hut, but we had a mountain waiting for us in the cold, spitting rain.
I feel like south kinsman serves as a good baseline for heinous climbs and south twin registered well below the misery of kinsman. We scaled manageable sized boulders with few if any slick, flat behemoths. We talked as we headed up the mountain. I had a hard time breathing because of my oatmeal and sugar-filled breakfast. I think that may have set me up for a day of blood sugar crashes and the endless hunger feeling, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The summit of south twin was blanketed in white. A brisk wind hit me as the trees receded. The trail took a right and descended to a slick rock field that gave me visions of stitches on various parts of my body should I lose my footing. I felt cold and tense as we followed the blazes left up another short climb that was quickly followed by a rocky descent. We ran into a group of teens with a chatty dad whom Walden talked to, but I was too cold to care and had to work hard not to be as biting as the wind. Around 1045, I stopped alongside the trail and ate a snack to quell the empty feeling that had been present since leaving the hut.
We walked another hour in an annoying, rock hopping mess that made my feet hurt. I finally had to stop to eat around noon. There was nowhere to escape the rain, so I sat on a rock and made a sparsely filled peanut butter frito tortilla. As I took my first bite, it started to rain harder. I considered getting up to walk and eat, but the terrain wouldn’t allow for such a thing so I ate in cold misery while Walden stood eating snacks with her pack on.
I felt thoroughly chilled after sitting still for barely 10 minutes. I couldn’t walk fast enough to warm up and I felt anxious about hypothermia because we were nowhere near a place to warm up or dry out. I knew I should stop to put on my wool base layer, but the effort seemed too great. After 15 minutes of needless suffering, I finally forced myself to peel off my raincoat and tug my long sleeved shirt over my wet arms. The extra layer warmed me immediately, but it did little for my mood. The next two hours were miserable. Thoughts of quitting bounced around my head as my feet sloshed over wet rocks and dipped into unavoidable mud puddles.
The trail dropped in elevation just enough to raise the temperature to a bearable level. There were no views to speak of, but the boreal forest offered its own points of beauty.
As we continued to descend towards the hut, we came upon an oversized ladder that made us erupt into laughter. I made a joke about feeling like a gnome as I stood on the ladder with at least a foot on either side of me.
The levity dwindled as the trail got steeper. Then came an influx of rocks and small streams of water adding to the overall challenges of a taxing day. Not long after the forest protection warning (i.e. the .3 mile land mark to the hut), we came to a rushing stream that I believe is part of the water system for zealand falls. The water cuts through wide flat boulders, which we had to cross. Walden had already pulled out of site when I reached the stream. Nothing stood out as particularly tricky, so I stepped forward without thinking too much about it. My right foot flew out from under me. I landed hard on my right hip and forearm and I slid across the rock, stopping just in time to soak both of my feet in the stream.
After a bit of cursing, I crept downstream across the slick boulders and stepped over the water at a narrrower point than where I’d fallen. Why I bothered given my wet feet is beyond me. I made it to the zealand falls hut a sore, miserable lump of a human being with a fresh hole in the elbow of my raincoat. I stepped into the common area and went straight to the kitchen to request a bowl of soup. Today’s offering was potato dill, which made me miss my mom because she is a potato soup fiend. I’d like to say I felt better after warm food, but the truth is I was still an exhausted, cranky mess with sodden feet. The woman who gave me snacks at galehead was sitting at a different table, looking dry and cheerful even though we’d just done the same hike. The room was situated in such a way that it was nearly impossible to avoid the cold draft emanating from frequently opened doors. I finally moved to the same table as snack woman because it was slightly out of the of the entryways. Another woman from galehead sat across from me and asked me a litany of questions about thru hiking. I found out that snack woman’s trail name is sunshine and her hiking friend’s name is happy. I swallowed the sharp remark that bubbled in my throat, and said that I would try to keep my black cloud relegated to the far side of the table. They laughed and empathized with my mood. I decided to get a second bowl of soup in an effort to not cook my food for dinner. The second round of potatoes did not sit as well as the first, but I succeeded in feeling full for awhile.
I felt more than ready to head out after such a long break when a soggy pathfinder walked in. Walden began scheming with him about a potential hostel stay tomorrow and other errands she needed to run. I felt antsy to get out of my wet shoes and impatient with the ambivalent tone of the conversation. I was just short of leaving to keep my cranky to myself when Walden decided she was ready to move on. We left the hut and bypassed the falls altogether. I had no desire to be around more water and I’d had enough falling for one day.
The terrain for the first three miles between zealand falls and Ethan pond was as promised: blissfully flat and easy on the feet. We made good time with little in the way of distractions except mushrooms and a small, brown spotted bird that neither of us could identify. It reminded me of an owl, but that seemed odd given the time of day.
With about two miles to go, we crossed a rust colored stream and the trail turned into root filled, boggy mess that nearly sent me over the edge even with the help of bogboards. The turn off for Ethan pond shelter could not have come soon enough. I was hungry, thirsty, and beyond ready to take my shoes off. The side trail to the shelter was unfortunately long and rocky. I once again made the mistake of passing the water source instead of stopping to fill up on the way in. Ethan pond was shrouded in fog (top picture) as we passed it on our way to the tent sites. The caretaker happened to be near the shelter when we arrived and showed us to a tent pad that we could theoretically share. Walden seemed skeptical about fitting. I rescinded all decision making due to hunger and dumped my bag on the ground in search of snacks. Walden decided to wander back over to the group tent pad to set up there. I had a sneaking suspicion she wanted some space from my crankiness, but I didn’t ask for confirmation. Instead, I went about wielding my new wooden tent pad skills gained from the liberty springs caretaker. My knots were not fancy, but they did the trick.
I gathered my food bag and water filter and headed back down the path to make the annoying trek to the pond. The caretaker was headed in the opposite direction with her clipboard. When I asked her if I should go back to my tent to check-in, she said yes. I kept my whining to myself, and turned around, taking care not to trip now that the cute, queer caretaker was walking behind me. It turned out to be a waste of effort because I revealed my klutziness when I nearly fell off the tent pad while trying to get my wallet out of my tent. Nothing to do but own it and laugh.
After impressing the caretaker, I went back to my chores, dropping my food bag at the bear box. On the way to the pond, I overheard a conversation between the caretaker, Walden and pathfinder. We haven’t had cell service since about 10am this morning, so pathfinder hasn’t been able to coordinate with his son to get a ride to gorham tomorrow. The caretaker is actually going to gorham tomorrow and can drive them if pathfinder’s son is not at their meeting point. I would go with them, but gorham is so far out of the way from here, and I don’t want to take a zero. I also kind of want to be alone for a day. I need to charge stuff, but I think I can do that at the Pinkham notch visitor center.
After getting water, I sat at the cooking area in a very awkward silence with a group of SOBOs who had clearly been talking to each other before I sat down. I didn’t have the energy to stave off the awkwardness, so I rooted through my foodbag and ate a bunch of random snacks in order of salty to sweet. This seems like a good summation of today:
Walden and pathfinder joined me, which was a relief from the forced SOBO energy. I retired to my tent early so I could get out of my wet shoes and write up my notes before losing all ability to string 5 words together. I peeled off my wet shoes and socks and crawled into my tent. Changed into sleeping shorts and went about cleaning my foot. It hurt on the rocks today and was twingier than yesterday. It’s clearly not good for it to be wet all day, but there’s nothing I can do about it. The hand sanitizer didn’t burn as much, so I guess that’s a good sign? I left my socks off after I put neosporin on to let my feet dry. Now I’m finishing this with freezing hands to the sound of bullfrogs and spring peepers in the pond and rain plinking on my tent.
Mile 1829.7 to mile 1841.5 (11.8)
Total miles: 838.3
Creature feature: a small speckled brown bird that I think is some sort of owl but I don’t want to use my phone to look it up, song sparrows and red squirrels.