I slept much better last night. Woke up around 545 to the sound of rustling in the kitchen and hikers shifting around on their pads. My feet are swollen today, probably because of the running and general rushing of yesterday afternoon. At first, the push was just to see if I could get to LOC in time to secure work for stay. Then it became a race to get out of the pelting rain and wind on the exposed trail. I creaked out of my sleeping bag and packed up my bedding. Then we all retreated to our section of the hallway for the long wait until breakfast. We were recruited to be trash orcs as part of the croo’s lord of the rings themed educational skit. At the proper time (“as the sun rises in the east, the trash orcs…something something”) we all ran forward and threw bits of recycling down on the floor. Then back to our spots. I had to eat a few bites of granola because I can’t handle not eating for two hours after I wake up. When we were finally called to breakfast, still no pancakes. My consolation came in the form of eggs, and way too much pumpkin chocolate chip bread. Toooo much sugar.
After breakfast, I sat at the back table where I had decent service and uploaded some pictures from the last few days to social media. I also answered a few texts to let people know that I’m okay because I haven’t had service in nearly two days. I was going to pitch in for morning chores even though it’s not required, but I didn’t really feel like it, so I just tended to social media like a good phone zombie. Then I finally forced myself to put on wet shorts, shoes, and socks and get ready to leave.
I made my around the edge of the lake and onto the very rocky trail around 945. The rocks started about 20 yards from the hut and didn’t let up THE ENTIRE DAY. The whole trail was one big rock pile of varying degrees of torture. The trip up Mt. Washington actually wasn’t that bad minus the difficulty I had breathing from having eaten too much. The rocks were gnarly, but dry, and I do well when I’m climbing up. I can get into a rhythm where I feel nimble and goat-like. On the rocky downs, I turn into a teetering, cranky mess. I hate them. Having said that, I’ve noticed that they hurt my feet less than they used to. They’ve either gotten stronger or I’ve caused enough nerve damage to make it more bearable. Maybe both!
A thick fog blanketed the trail the entire way up to Washington. Every now and then the sun would burn through as a white glowing orb, not making a dent in the fog, but lightening the sky in a strange way.
I ran into one of the hut croo carrying his wood framed pack down the mountain with a folded mattress lashed on with rope. He said his center of gravity was out of whack, and I made a comment that he must feel like a sail in the wind because the gusts grabbed even my well balanced pack.
As I got closer to the summit of Washington, I happened to look up and see a strange structure taking shape in the fog. I imagine it was weather recording gear. I rounded the corner and came to the summit and the welcome center. It’s odd to summit a mountain and be met with a commercial operation and motorized vehicles. Usually it’s just me and a bunch of trees. Maybe a sign and maybe a pile of rocks.
I asked a stranger to take my picture and went into the visitor center. I’d only hiked 1.6 miles, but it was nearly lunch time, and I had plans to charge my phone for a little while. I bought a hot dog and 2 bags of Doritos (most of one for now and the rest for later). I also nabbed some smuckers peanut butter packets to add to my dwindling peanut butter stash. I found a mediocre seat by the snack bar and plugged in my phone and my charging brick even though it’s pretty pointless because that thing takes forever to charge. Then I watched the crowds and talked with various people who ended up sitting at my table. A couple of women from Woodstock, NH who idealized the trail and were very encouraging. An older couple who just said hello and kept to themselves until I offered them a bandaidafter hearing the wife say she was out. First aid karma in progress.
I also bought a few post cards from the gift shop and mailed them at the little post office in the corner of the visitor center. By that point, it was getting late (130ish), so I packed up with a nearly fully charged phone. Then I headed down the mountain in thick fog over a jumble of rocks.
I stopped on the railroad tracks as I crossed over them, but I felt a rumble and decided it would be wise to move on. Sure enough, a train emerged from the fog about 3 minutes later.
I hoped the rocks would let up sooner than later. I asked someone who appeared to be a thru hiker how long they would last. She said “until treeline.” I didn’t quite realize that meant MILES AWAY because the trail doesn’t go back below treeline until just before the osgood campsite, which is 8 miles north.
I cursed and slopped my way down the mountain. My ankles were tired and sore from the mad dash of the day before. The light continued to shift in dramatic ways. Breaks in the fog revealed massive mountains all around me. It felt strange to see the landscape emerge and give depth after walking through the flatness of fog. It also meant I got distracted by taking dozens of pictures in the shifting visibility. Not that I could get any sort of rhythm or momentum for more than a few steps because of the uneven terrain.
I felt frustrated and mentally exhausted by the tedium. On the climbs, I was able to pick up a modicum of speed only to be dejected by the glacial downs. On one particularly long down, I took a break because I kept stumbling and was worried that I would fall as it got even steeper. I ate a snack and stared at the mountains around me trying to breathe through the frustration. The whites are making me stronger. I can hike just as many miles out here as in other terrain, which is how I can tell I’m stronger because they say you have to cut your mileage nearly in half to make it through these mountains. But they’re also beating the shit out of me today.
As I crept onward through an especially aggravating stretch, I ran into some guys who asked how long it would take to get to Washington. The one in front said that if I was headed to Madison, it would be flat soon. I felt so relieved, but the “flat” he spoke of never materialized. Shocking. I passed a father and son on one of the middling climbs. Then I passed a trio of women on another hill. As I went by the lead in the group, I said “this isn’t fun anymore.” she agreed. The trail did get mildly easier when the boulders were flat and large, but the miles crept by at a maddening pace. I was on track to hit Madison hut around 5. My intended destination was osgood campsite about 2.5 miles past the hut with a big ole mountain in between and another 1.5 miles of hiking above treeline.
I finally reached the last .3 mile descent into Madison. I think it might have been worse to see the hut and feel like I would never get there. The boulders made my knees ache, and I wasn’t sure how I would climb the mountain looming behind the hut. When I went inside, I only intended to ask about the terrain on the other side of Madison. I needed to steel myself for what was to come. The information concierge pulled out a map to show me what was above tree line and commented on the rockiness. As we talked, she asked if I wanted to just stay at the hut and do work for stay. I said I hadn’t planned on it. She pointed out the window and said, well there’s some weather coming. In the time I’d been inside, a cloud of fine rain had consumed the hut. Decision made: work for stay it is. The assistant hut master asked if I was alone or in a group. When I said I was alone, she agreed to take me. I had originally talked myself out of stopping at Madison because I wanted to set myself up for a shorter day tomorrow. The weather had seemed fine, and it seemed silly to sleep inside on a nice night when I had plenty of food to keep going. But walking over an exposed mountain in the wind and rain was pretty low on my list of things to do today. And then it poured.
I stood around talking with other work for stays while the croo finished dinner preparations. Lindsay, the assistant hut master, brought us all Moroccan lentil soup as we waited for the guests to finish eating, which was a surprise. A really tasty surprise. The croo went kind of nuts with their after dinner cheering, which is standard protocol, but they were so loud that some of the guests raised their eyebrows at each other. After the main dinner, a handful of the guests setup a settlers of Catan board, which I eyed with envy. I was invited to play, but it seemed like too much to manage with eating and having to do work so I declined.
Somewhere along the way, an older, small framed SOBO came in drenched and shivering, possibly in the first stage of hypothermia. Lindsay brought her a plate of food, and I encouraged her to drink hot water. She had just come over Madison in the rain. Other soaked hikers had also trickled in over the last few minutes, all of which made me happy with my choice. The older hiker, whose name I didn’t catch, finally stopped chattering her teeth after about 45 minutes. I tried not to judge her, knowing full well that the same thing could have happened to me.
Dinner consisted of roasted turkey, cranberry sauce, salad, the largest vat of mashed potatoes I’ve ever seen, and green peas. There were tons of salad leftovers, so I had a giant salad with a bit of turkey. I also mixed together mashed potatoes and peas, which felt like 10 years old all over again. Lindsay baked “cookie surprise” for dessert, otherwise known as a thin layer of graham crackers, butter, condensed milk and chocolate chips baked on a cookie sheet. Terrible. And by terrible I mean irresistible. We stood in the kitchen and talked to the crew while we ate. Lindsay, a NOBO named Johnnie Utah, and I got into a discussion about staff camaraderie, power dynamics between hikers and croo, and the hut croo’s experience of sexism in both directions. (Who wants to guess the gender of johnnie utah?)
We finally got to work around 8:45. I opted for the mountain of dishes, which seemed safer than cleaning the oven or the gas range. The croo put on music during our work time. Their may have been singing. It all took me back to the good days at my coffee shop job laughing and feeling like a part of something larger. After kitchen duty, we swept the areas where we intended to set up our beds. I caught the tail end of what was likely an incredible sunset that I had missed while washing dishes:
Then I rushed through cleaning my foot while the lights were still on. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it yet, but all of the huts do lights out at 9:30p to conserve energy. After that, everyone has to use headlamps. Now I’m laying on the floor in the dining room with 5 other hikers in various spots as people filter in and out of the bathroom. The settlers game just ended (10:15p). I’m hoping for good weather tomorrow because there are a ton of mountains to climb. The presidential traverse is underway (I think?). I definitely hoped to hike more miles today, but this was the best choice.
Mile 1855.4 to mile 1862.6 (7.2)
Total miles: 859.4
Creature feature: a crow and a couple of song sparrows, otherwise not much happening above treeline
Hi “old” friend! I’ve taken a leave from reading blogs/FB, etc because it depresses me but I knew you had been off for a week and I wanted to check in. I am so happy that you are still going and apparently stronger than ever!! Good for you. It seems that you have also made another ‘constant’ (it’s all relative) hiking companion or two. I sure wish I could have a conversation with you about your journey. I’ll end here but next ‘reply’ I have some questions for you – hell, I’ll ask them now and you can think on it – if needed – and reply later.
What if anything has changed for you since I dropped off? What have you learned about yourself in this time? I know it’s hard and quitting seems to crop up occasionally but what keeps you going?
Okay…I think about you everyday – believe it or not. I am so proud of your focus and toughness even though you are a softie at heart and really miss your family/friends. Good for you!
I’ve just looked over a map of northern NH/trail…when do you think you’ll be passing through Gorham?? I’d love to arrange a meetup with you only if you want and can spare the time…BuzzCut