I woke to the sound of Johnnie Utah and the Swiss guy packing their stuff at 5am. So much for sleeping in until 615. Between their rustling and two hut guests who sat at the tables and had a conversation at full volume, there was no going back to bed for me. After resigning myself to consciousness, I packed as much of my gear as I could in order to leave immediately after breakfast. Then I tucked myself into the corner of the self serve table and looked through an Audubon book. I discovered some wildflower names that I have now forgotten again. The book was an attempt to keep to myself because I wasn’t in mood for talking, but the woman who came in nearly hypothermic last night tried to engage me in conversation with the usual litany of I-don’t-know-you questions. I gave efficient answers that clearly gave the signal that I wanted to be left alone, which I felt bad about, but I just didn’t have the stamina for it at 730 before eating.
The hut croo brought us a massive bowl of oatmeal and a handful of spoons before the breakfast was officially over. I tried to not eat too much because I had spied pancakes and had hoped of leftovers, but the oatmeal was just sitting there. Pretty boy talked non stop and tunneled his way through the oatmeal. Literally, he carved out a tunnel from one side of the bowl to the other. When official breakfast was over, he started strumming his ukulele, and I had to hold my eye rolls to myself. Earnest college boys. As he sang “house of the rising sun,” I second guessed my decision to stay for breakfast. It was hard to sit around with clear skies and mediocre company.
The hut croo finally called us over for leftovers around 8. I ate three pancakes, some eggs and a strip of bacon (sorry, pig). The coffee at the huts is actually quite drinkable, which I find surprising (insert eye roll at my coffee snobbery). With a stomach full of sugary starch, I helped sweep the bunkrooms a bit after fielding questions in the bathroom. A few curious hut guests always ask us what we’re doing. I feel like a smelly unicorn when they gaze at me with shiny eyes and say how jealous or amazed they are that we’re thru hiking. It feels strange for something so unglamorous to be so revered, but I’ve done the same thing when I’ve seen thru hikers over the last few years.
I hit the trail by about 845, and immediately came face to face with the wall of rocks known as mount Madison. It’s straight up and then straight down, and I was very grateful to have not continued on during or after yesterday’s rain shower. A lot of the rocks in NH have a bit of tooth to them, so they aren’t as slick as they could be, but falling on them would be bad news because there are jagged edges everywhere you look.
Here’s the hut from about halfway up Madison. I ran into a few hut guests who had hiked up to the summit and were headed back to the hut. I’d spoken to one of them in the bathroom, and she gave me a warm greeting. She asked if I needed anything, which was thoughtful. I asked her how much longer she her trip would be. She lamented her return to FL tonight, and I replied “but it’s so flat!” to which she laughed and agreed.
We said goodbye, and I returned to the task of not falling on my face as I climbed at a crazy angle. The summit of Madison is indeed pointy, as another hiker described it on his way down. I had a great view of Mount Washington, which made me sad for the fog I experienced yesterday, but also grateful to get a clear view.
I texted a few people with my bit of cell service. I was about to leave when I decided I may as well book a bunk at the hostel since I pretty much know my timing for the next couple of days. I have an awkward amount of miles between roads after gorham, and I’m either ahead of schedule or behind schedule depending on how you look at it. I had hoped to get all the way to grafton notch by Wednesday. As it stands, I can get about 10’miles from there, but it involves hiking a 3.5 mile side trail both now and then when I get back on trail. In the end, I save money by not having to pay for a shuttle from grafton to gorham, but I’m worried about how far behind my projected timeline I am. I really hope the “easier” miles in VA can help me recover some time.
Anyway, I’m going to take my pause sometime Tuesday. Either early in the day or after a 14.5 mile day of hiking to squeeze in a few more miles. We will see how I feel after getting through the presidential traverse. If it’s anything like the first part of wildcat then I might not have any time for more miles. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
As I spoke to the woman at rattle river hostel (formerly known as white mountain house), a thru hiker and an adorable pittie summited Madison. I held the phone away from my ear to take a picture of him while the woman looked up reservations in her system. Feeling accomplished, I scuffled my way down the long ridge line on the osgood trail. The AT in the white mountains is actually a combination of existing park trails with other names. Thankfully the signage is pretty good, and I have my phone app with gps as a backup for obscure intersections.
The trip down Madison was not quite as steep as the ascent, but it was three times as long and a sea of rocks. Here’s a view about halfway to treeline after turning around to look behind me: wall ‘o rocks.
I kept passing people heading up the mountain and whenever they asked how I was, I said, “tired of these rocks” because I didn’t feel like being fake cheerful. One guy commented on how nice the weather was, and I agreed remembering that I should be grateful to not do this section in the rain. What a death trap that would be. It took over an hour to get down to tree line. Barely a mile from the summit. Then another hour and a half to get to osgood tent site. I never would have made the trip yesterday. My soul would have been crushed around the 90 minute mark. About a half mile south of osgood, I met a thru hiker named wizard who looked so much like my recently late uncle that I felt like I already knew the guy. He smiled and it was like a time warp to my grandmother’s house with my uncle giggling on the couch. Wizard was sweating bullets and gasping for air, and he hadn’t even made it to the steep part of the climb. We exchanged timelines and discussed destinations for the day. Another nice thing about SOBOs: they can tell me how long it takes to get somewhere (and then I add in my slow buffer to get a real estimate). He said it took him about three hours to get there from Pinkham notch visitor center. That’s definitely longer than I had hoped, but still doable for my evening goal of work for stay at carter notch hut.
Wizard and I parted ways, and the trail finally flattened out to a gradual descent rather than a knees up to my eyebrows four foot steps kind of descent. I sat at the intersection for osgood and ate my lunch. No chance I would make it to Pinkham for a sandwich, and I honestly didn’t feel like eating “out” again. Too many pancakes this morning. I rushed through the next mile and a half, but I was sorely disappointed when I checked my pace. I estimated forward and knew I should give up on making it to carter notch hut. I had distant visions of doing another work for stay, but I started too late, and Madison slowed me down too much. It also exhausted me. I felt like I was dragging, and I’m sure the pancakes didn’t help. I have a backup plan to stealth camp a third of the way up wildcat mountain, but I stubbornly clung to the idea of getting all the way to carter. I made sure to drink more water in case my sluggishness was due to dehydration. I passed who I assume is the caretaker for osgood or maybe just a parks employee at a stream crossing, and he remarked “pretty humid today,” which felt like a subtle directive to drink more water. I reluctantly stopped to filter water and made sure to drink a bunch, which I usually don’t do when I rush through the miles.
The trail went through a bunch of intersections. I ran into cosmo and his daughter near this suspension bridge. They’re hiking south towards Washington. I warned them of all the rocks and the slow going. I wonder if they made it all the way to lakes of the clouds. When I saw them they were hours out, and it was already 130. The trail transitioned to a wetter zone with stream crossing after stream crossing. This meant roots and rocks and a lot of little dips in elevation, all of which slowed me down even more. I started to settle on the idea of getting to a stealth camping spot near one of the wildcat ledges. It’s not ideal because it’s uncertain, but it gets me a few more miles, and there’s not really anywhere else to stay around Pinkham notch.
The trail finally eased up to very comfortable walking. My knees were stiff and sore. Everyone’s knees are bothering them, and it’s a regular topic of conversation. The last mile to the visitor center felt endless. I arrived to a complex of buildings near a loud, two lane road with a bustling parking lot. I scoped out the situation and found a hiker room in the basement where I camped out with my phone plugged into an outlet. I considered taking a shower, but it felt so futile with the climb ahead of me. I tried to figure out how to move my train ticket and when to do it. It would be nice to see an old friend in Boston and leave the train ticket for Thursday, but maybe earlier in the day so I can get to Brooklyn sooner and get more stuff done. I didn’t have enough time to get it straightened out because I really needed to start on the wildcat climb. Judging by the elevation profile and what everyone keeps saying about it, it’s going to be slow going. Even the woman from the hostel warned me not to take too much weight up the wildcats. A lot of people slackpack it. With that in mind, I ate a bunch of snacks before I left to lighten my bag, and I put a bar I’d gotten from another hiker in the hiker box because I have enough food.
Then I left the strange, shiny visitor center and crossed the busy road. A guy on a bike took a spill from a standstill because he couldn’t get his foot unclipped. He hopped up and jokingly blamed the fall on me, which I didn’t find too funny, but I let it go. He mentioned wanting to see the northern lights, which piqued my interest since my campsite will be somewhat high in elevation. Then I walked across the highway and nearly pushed over a teenager who wouldn’t give way on some bog boards. He tried to pass me and there’s just not enough room for two people. My right foot ended up in the mud, but thankfully it didn’t get wet. I was cranky for a bit after that, but the trail required enough concentration to occupy my mind. Even circling the edge of a pond can be tricky in NH. Here’s lost pond, which was hard to navigate in terms of roots and boulders:
Then the trail for wildcat took a left and immediately went upward. I can see why everyone said to lighten my load. Good grief, was it steep and it just.kept.going. I felt more like a rock climber than a hiker. A tattooed older guy I saw at the visitor center passed me on an especially tricky section that made me feel like spider man.
He intended to go all he way to carter notch. When I said I didn’t think I’d make it that far (see how I can’t commit to stopping short?), he said, but there’s so much daylight left. I said, yeah, but my legs only have so much daylight left in them. I knew I couldn’t handle another long descent to the notch. It wouldn’t be safe with my wobbly legs and sore knees.
I wound my way up the side of the mountain. There were blocks bolted into the rock at points. I came to a series of ledges spaced out about 3 tenths of a mile, and then a longer stretch with a trickle of a water source. I passed on the stagnant water, but then I came to a slight flow of water of down the side of the trail and decided it would be irresponsible to pass it up. There’s no other water up here until the hut and these miles are hard. I’m doing a lot of sweating, and I should be drinking more. Regretting the extra weight, I filled my sawyer bag with a liter of water to get me through the morning.
Then came another stretch of steps and yet another crazy set of boulders, which led me to the ledge where the stealth site should be. The ledge looks westward with quite a view of mount Washington and the surrounding mountains. Sunset! And a phone signal! Jackpot. The tent site was just off the trail to the left after a short climb down from the ledge. I dropped my pack and wandered around looking for where in the world to hang my food amongst the tightly packed fir trees. I settled on a leaning tree trunk that was about the right height and had a slight patch of open area around it. Not perfect, but better than dealing with throwing a line along the teeny tiny limbs. I set up my line and then pitched my tent in the lumpy, small spot.
It’s just big enough, and I hope it doesn’t rain because it’s not the best pitch ever. Then I grabbed my food bag, making sure to grab the snacks from my hip pocket, and I climbed back up to the ledge to eat a cold hodgepodge dinner. It’s less effort and will do more to lighten my weight than cooking would do. I also need to conserve water. I ate and stared at the mountains feeling exhausted, satisfied, and incredibly small. I had hoped to get farther today, but this is a good spot. I’m a little creeped out to be alone, but I’m comforted by the insane climb it takes to get up here. A slight deterrent for scary people. Hopefully?
I brushed my teeth on the ledge and watched sunset (also see top picture) while overloading my social media with pictures I haven’t been able to post. Sorry for the giant drop of pictures. Someone on Instagram told me how and when to check for the northern lights, so that’s two people who’ve mentioned it. I might brave the darkness and return to the ledge to see if I can catch a glimpse of them. I don’t know that I have enough of a northern view. I also don’t know if I have the guts to get out of my tent in the dark alone.
After killing my phone battery with the posts and sending texts, I went back to my tent. I’m finishing this to a strangely still night with just the sound of my fingers tapping the screen, a slight rustle of limbs, and the occasional pop of bugs against my tent. Many mountains to climb tomorrow. Fingers crossed that it doesn’t rain.
Mile 1862.6 to mile 1872.7 (10.1)
Total miles: 869.5
Creature feature: just a few cute dogs today and the usual bird suspects