Day 100: 900 mile edition 

I woke up around 6 and turned my 615 alarm off. I lingered in bed looking at social media and feeling generally unenthused to move. I’m anxious about starting again, especially in such a difficult section. I’ve also gotten used to constant access to comforting people, so the thought of leaving the land of cell service is isolating and unappealing. I finally got out of bed around 645 and went downstairs to eat breakfast. I’m sad that everyone I know is so far ahead of me that I have to integrate with a whole new batch of hikers. Optimistically, this could be fun, but at 645 in the morning, it mostly just feels like work. I made a half hearted effort to talk to people, but I primarily concentrated on eating my English muffin covered in peanut butter, banana and maple syrup. Then I went upstairs to organize my food resupply. I probably should have asked for a bit more because I hope to make it to rangeley before my next town stop. We will see how far I can stretch it. 
After loitering far too long, I put the final touches on my pack organization and said goodbye to the hostel staff. Odie, the hiker who runs hiker yearbook, gave me thoughtful advice on how to deal with the weather over the next few days. He suggested I camp at the unofficial spot just past mahoosuc notch and then head up the arm the next morning. 

I headed down the road perpendicular to the hostel for the next half mile past the shelburne hydro station. Seeing the mountains in the distance was both exciting and exhausting because I know what it takes to get to the top of them. The trail took a left down a logging road for a short distance until it turned right into the woods.

Then came the actual hiking. My pack is the heaviest it’s been since the beginning of the whites because I didn’t resupply the whole time, so I got used to working with a lighter load. My hiking poles feel too long and unlikely to support my weight even though they’ve done so hundreds of times. I had a faint headache across my forehead, which I’m guessing is the byproduct of 10 days worth of coffee drinking. 

I had to stop after about 5 minutes because my new shoes were too loose and my left sock was halfway off my foot. I’m wearing a different pair of socks than usual and I don’t think I will try them again. For whatever reason, the black wright socks are the best fit. I switched socks and tightened my shoes. Sweat dripped from my eyelashes as I made my way up the serpentine climb, gasping for air. How is it possible to feel so out of shape? My limbs feel disconnected from my brain, and it’s as if I have to remind them what to do with every step. My heels couldn’t get purchase in my shoes and my feet sloshed around with the slightest provocation. 

I passed an older couple that I saw in the hostel. I didn’t have the energy to get their names as I huffed my way around them. The trail flattened out to a comfortable stretch with a nice foundation of pine needles and familiar piles of moose poop. The woods were relatively silent, so I put on some fiddle tunes (Erynn Marshall, who also happened to direct the music camp I attended). This made me miss all the familiar faces I’ve seen over the last week at the Swannanoa Gathering. I’ve made so many good friends there over the years. The trail intensified to the NH I expected: 

I waited for lunch until I got to the ledges with this view. 

There was enough of a breeze to keep me cool while I sat in the sun eating my peanut butter frito wrap and Doritos. During lunch, I got a text from halfway telling me he’d crossed the kennebuc river today. He gave me advice about the upcoming towns, for which I’m always grateful, and it was good to hear from him. I feel daunted by how many miles I have left and knowing that he’s out there plugging away makes it seem more possible for me to do the same. 

I watched a rain cloud overtake the mountain top in the distance. It seemed to be heading straight for me, so I gathered my things and kept moving. I felt as if my calves were going to seize the first few steps up from the ledge. My legs felt pretty tired on and off all day. It’s amazing how fast my endurance seems to have withered. The rain started about five minutes after I left my lunch spot. Thankfully it was just a passing drizzle mixed with bouts of sunshine. The trail became narrow and overgrown with wet leaves rubbing along my sides as if I was going through the circular brushes of a car wash. I hate the feeling of wet leaves smearing against my skin, even on a day as humid as this. It also made me feel anxious about ticks, but there’s nothing to do but keep moving. 
Throughout the day, I noticed vestiges of the skills I gained in the whites as my downward steps felt coordinated and more confident than I expected. My ankles, however, felt somewhat wobbly on the flat rocky sections. There was definitely some unexpected teetering, but as the afternoon wore on, I finally started to feel as if the separate parts of my body were working together, and I didn’t have to think about every step. I felt nauseated and achy on and off throughout the day. I’m guessing it’s a combination of coffee withdrawal, the humidity, and the residual effects of being in moving vehicles for over 10 hours yesterday. 

The trail dropped down to the edge of a pond with a very active bullfrog population. As I stood taking in their percussive sounds, thunder rumbled in the distance. I felt the the reflexive urge to rush, but I was over four miles from shelter, so there wasn’t much point in trying to beat an approaching storm. 

Instead, I picked my way through the rocks and roots until the trail moved back into pine forest. The thunder rumbled for the next two hours, and I could see thick gray sky off in the distance, but the rain never came. 
Around 4:30, I stopped to make a bunchberry design to commemorate my 900 mile marker. It feels like a false accomplishment because I haven’t hiked in nearly two weeks, and my shoes are too shiny, but I know the miles are somewhere in my body. A NOBO named sunny stopped to talk for a few minutes while I made my sign. He talked about not rushing through the rest of his hike, which is not a common NOBO sentiment. Usually they’ve got their heads down and can’t be done soon enough. He continued on to the shelter while I finished fussing with the berries. Two more NOBOs passed me as I picked my way through the rocky muddy half mile home stretch. 

Gentian pond shelter sits near the edge of this pond with a nice view of the mountains. 

I gave up on tenting when I heard the large group of muggles, as sunny dubbed them. In other words, non thru hikers. They were loud and the shelter is spacious, so I decided to risk the bug situation. I sat in front of the shelter and made my dinner while I shot the shit with Sunny, Hawaii, First Aid, and another hikers whose name I can’t remember. 

After dinner, someone said something about a moose, so we all rushed to the pond’s edge just in time to catch sight of a bull moose scampering back into the woods at the far edge of the pond. I stuck around in the hopes that he would come back. While I waited, I watched the drizzling rain light up the surface of the pond and thought about how today felt more manageable than I’d expected. I worked on this post in silence for awhile and then headed back to the shelter. A chatty young guy had arrived in my absence. He passed around a pipe, which I declined, as I had also declined the hash that was offered to me earlier. There’s something wholly unappealing about altering my state of mind out here. I also don’t want to do anything that might end with me sitting in front of a thrashed food bag three days from a town. Now I’m finishing this to the sound of chatty dude (name: trade wind) smoke more pot while asking other people questions and late comers getting settled into the shelter. Tomorrow I’m going through the infamous mahoosuc notch. Hopefully. I need it to be done so I can stop feeling anxious about it. 
Mile 1891.6 to mile 1903.3 (11.7)

Total miles: 900.1 

Creature feature: dark eyed juncos, several garter snakes wriggling across the path throughout the day, and the occasional frog 

Day 84: presidential thunder edition 

I did not brave the dark or the ledge last night. My alarm went off around 11. About two minutes later, I heard footsteps and saw the white beam of a headlamp coming down the backside of the ledge. The hiker blew past me. I listened to see if I had more company on the way, but all was quiet. I felt so confused and said “crazy bastard” out loud to the woods. I reasoned that if the person had been able to see the northern lights, they probably wouldn’t have kept walking. This was weak logic to feel betterabout my choice to stay in the safety of my tent. I woke up for good around 5am. I hobbled up the path to retrieve my foodbag and crawled towards a remote corner of the little tent site to take care of some things. It was a cool morning, so I had breakfast in my tent with my legs inside my sleeping bag. I slowly packed up and clumsily started walking around 630. 

After about 20 minutes of winding my way over short, steep rock faces, I reached the wildcat ski gondola, which I naively thought was the top of wildcat mountain. As I approached the lift, I saw a hiker packing his bag. I walked over to check out the view and I said “are you the person who passed me at 11 last night??” Without looking up, the young guy grunted yes and continued shoving things in his pack. He warmed a fraction when he expressed curiosity about where I’d camped. He didn’t recall seeing my tent at all, which isn’t surprising given his pace. I wandered back over to the edge of the hillside to check out this view (the extra pointy peak is madison): 

The trail immediately got steeper on the other side of the gondola. I gave a heavy sigh as I looked up at the rocks disappearing back into the trees. Nowhere to go but up. There were several false summits, which provided short relief in the form of flatter walking as eastern light streamed through the trees in front of me. I stopped at a wooded overlook to get a view of the mountains towards the east: 

There were little side paths scattered about the woods. I couldn’t figure out their purpose even after wandering down a couple of them. They all seemed to peter out within 20 yards, and they didn’t lead to tent sites that I could see. I had a clear view of Washington to my left through the tress for most of the morning. It really is a behemoth of a mountain. After over an hour of climbing, I finally reached the summit of wildcat. A short side trail led to this overlook where I ate a snack and dreaded the changes in elevation that I faced going through carter notch. In the first picture, you can just barely make out the hut on the forest floor. 

The late night NOBO named Maverick got to the overlook just as I finished my snack. He commented on the ridge we had to walk down into the notch and also didn’t seem all that enthused about what lay ahead. He left ahead of me as I lingered on my rocky perch. I imagined the descent to be like the climb: sheer rock faces and chin-thumping high steps, but it was actually quite manageable save a few jumbled sections. I made it down in about 40 minutes. The trail wound me around this pond where I paused to admire the lily pads and gawk at the fact that I had just been standing at the farther of the two rocky points: 

The hut was farther off the trail than I’d anticipated, but I needed water, so I made the .3 mile detour (one way). I felt grumbly because all of the other huts have been virtually on the trail. I passed a man sitting at the edge of another small pond wearing a bright orange shirt and playing a bright orange ukulele. I felt as if I’d just been dropped into a Wes Anderson movie. I dropped my pack outside the hut and walked inside with my water bottles. The young woman in the kitchen asked if I was a thru hiker, to which I replied yes, wondering what gave me away and hoping it wasn’t my smell. She offered me oatmeal leftovers, which I didn’t really need, but I ate some anyway because free food. Maverick came inside and we talked a bit about his time in the whites. Then I wandered off to find the bathroom and get started on the massive climb up to Carter Dome, mountain number 2 of the day. I felt anxious about how much time I’d spent at the hut, but there’s no way to really rush a 20% grade climb (that’s rise over run calculation, and I think the average idea of steep is around 10%, but I’m not certain of that). I heaved myself up the rocky trail feeling grateful for rocks instead of slabs of boulders. I expected maverick to pass me at any point, but I didn’t see him again until the next set of carter peaks. An anticlimactic pile of rocks sat at the top of the dome. I stood there staring at it while sweat clung to every surface of my skin. My phone had a weak signal, so I took a zombie break to rest my legs and post a few things. 
The trail then went through a strange flat area that almost seemed as if it was under construction with various piles of rocks and a wide sandy trail. Then it took a slight right down a narrow corridor that descended gradually until taking a sharper right to wind around towards Hight mountain. There was virtually no ascent required to reach Hight’s wide open peak with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains: 

Several day hikers lunched on the peak. I silently walked around taking pictures and immediately began the descent down to Zeta pass. The nearly hypothermic woman from Madison had cited this section as her hardest, but I couldn’t figure out why as I navigated my way down the steep but manageable mountainside. I reached Zeta pass far sooner than I expected. Well, I reached the spot my guthook app denoted as Zeta pass, but it felt unremarkable in person with the exception of mica sparkling everywhere:

The trail then took an upward turn towards south carter, mountain number 4 of the day. The climb was short and reasonable. Light streamed through the thin firs and blooming bunchberries and wood sorrel dotted the sides of the trail. I felt excited by how the day was progressing so far. Nothing felt too hard or had taken as long as I expected. When I reached the somewhat obstructed summit, I perched on a good rock and ate lunch. You’ll never guess what I ate. Okay, fine, you already know. A day hiker approached as I crunched away on my wrap. She stopped, pulled out a giant dSLR and stepped around me to take a picture of the summit marker. Peak bagger at work. She commented on how she’d been able to make up some time on the ridge between north and south carter, which made me happy because I had started brewing a crazy idea to hike all the way to gorham tonight instead of staying at the shelter 2 miles from the hostel. I still had several mountains to cross, so I wasn’t sure if I could manage it. I emailed the hostel to check about bed availability. Maverick passed me as I ate the last of my chocolate stash. Then I packed up and continued my presidential marathon. 

The ridge between the two mountains was indeed a pleasant walk with a few boulder scrambling speed bumps and a generous number of bog boards. I passed maverick on what we both thought was the summit of Middle carter. He was sprawled out on a sunny boulder eating iced ginger cookies out of a giant tub. I laughed at the size of the container and wondered aloud how he fit that thing in his pack. He said he went through a period of eating a pound of peanut butter a day. He would carry 5 pounds at a time, but he got sick of it. Go figure. I saw him later near North Carter, and he had a bloody leg and elbow from a fall he couldn’t recall. I nearly fell over a dozen times, but managed to make it out of the day without actually hitting the ground. 

North carter was another easy summit, checking peak number 6 off the list. As I checked my email to see if the hostel had responded (no), I received a text from Halfway letting me know he was in gorham. I’ve managed to close the gap between us just in time for banjo camp to widen it to a nearly insurmountable because I’m going to be off trail for about 13 days with all the traveling and my awkward stopping point. Maybe someday we can actually hike together for more than a day at a time. 
Halfway warned me that the North Carter descent was tricky at best and Mount Mariah should be taken seriously. He was also kind enough to check with the hostel owners to see if they had any space for tonight. I really wanted to make sure there would be a bed waiting if I committed to Operation Insanity. He eventually reported back that he’d reserved a bed for me and that I needed to arrive by 9p to claim it. 
As I crept my way down the laughably steep boulders of North Carter, a NOBO turned flip flop named Dr J passed me. He commented on the sketchy sections of our descent that involved rock climbing, spider man moves. We both remarked on how grateful we were for dry conditions. He kept moving, and I hiked on as carefully as I could, trying not to rush the technical sections. There was much butt scooching and pole tossing. 

The relentless descent from North Carter exhausted me both physically and emotionally. I did my best to return to speed mode (read: average hiker pace) as I made my way towards Mount Mariah. About a mile from the base of the mountain, I heard a low rumble of thunder. I cursed the weather and then pleaded with it to let me get over my last mountain before storming. There were places to camp along the way, but I felt anxious to be done with the whites even though they’re beautiful and like no other hiking I’ve ever done. There wasn’t much in way of water for about 4 more miles, and I hadn’t been drinking enough, so I took the turn off for imp campsite. It seemed doubly irresponsible to go up a mountain in a storm without enough water. The path to the campsite was a rocky mess that felt much longer than necessary. I nearly turned around, but I knew I would regret it, so I cursed and rushed onward. Dr. J passed me right near the water source. He whined about the distance from the trail and we discussed thunderstorm strategy. Neither of us had any intention of stopping at imp for the day, so we both shrugged and crossed our fingers. A common coping mechanism for uncertainty out here. I hurriedly filtered water and bolted past the shelter where a handful of hikers were standing around. 

The hike to the base of Mariah was aggravating and serpentine. Then came the mountain (number 7 of the day), which was a series of exposed rock slabs, some of which I literally had to jog in order to stay upright. There was little in the way of foot or handholds. I could feel tightness in my lower back from the twisting I’d had to do getting down North Carter. As I gained elevation, I got a better look at the impending storm (top picture). My pace was just short of a run for as much of the ascent as I could muster without making my legs seize up. The occasional clap of thunder sounded as I made my over the boulders. The trail doesn’t actually go to the summit, which I didn’t realize until I crossed a bog surrounded by bright green moss and began descending again. I checked my map to find that the summit would involve a side trail. Not a detour I had any desire to take on a day like today. 

I moved as quickly as I could, feeling grateful for tree cover and far fewer rock slabs on the descent. I came to an out of place bog board perched on top of a rock, which seemed like the perfect makeshift bench. I sat and ate a snack and forced myself to drink the water I had taken the time to retrieve. Two NOBOs came tearing down the trail clearly in hot pursuit of safety. They called out hellooo and were out of sight in seconds. My feet and knees were getting noticeably sore, but I continued at the semi pounding pace because I needed to get off that mountain before the sky decided to explode. 
About halfway down, I met a cranky woman filtering water with a bug net over her head. She simpered about the lack of camping options and the rain. I gave a generic but empathetic response and hurried out of the splash zone of her kvetching. A few minutes later, I passed another woman choosing her steps wisely along the rocky decline. She turned out to be safari, whom I had heard of at carter notch hut when I asked if anyone did work for stay last night. Right as I passed her, the thunder intensified, cracking loudly, but no lightning. I made a remark about how we were about to get some weather and hurried past her. A light drizzle began to fall. It quickly turned to fat drops with lightning flashes and chest rattling, sustained thunder that rolled for 5-7 seconds at a time. There were a few deafening cracks that sounded as if the lightning had found a solid home to strike.  The storm stayed overhead for about 45 minutes as I half-walked, half-jogged once the terrain eased up to a basic path. The rain seemed like it might let up for a few minutes, but then it poured even harder and the thunder continued. 

The trail crossed rattle river where I nearly fell in because of the slippery rocks. I saw a forest protection sign and felt relieved about nearing the shelter, but then I arrived at another crossing of rattle river. I couldn’t believe it. Always with the barriers right before the end the day. About halfway through the second river crossing, there was a white flash of lightning followed by a crack of thunder. It seemed unwise to be standing on wet rocks holding metal poles dipped in water. As I got to the other bank, safari showed up and yelled “we have to cross this fucking thing twice?!” My thoughts exactly. I shared her outrage and kept moving. I arrived to a very full shelter, the inhabitants of which included Boss and goddess from MA, some people who seemed pretty high with a very cute dog, Dr J, and maverick. Safari came in about 2 min after me. Apparently, the cranky woman is mrs joy. she seemed far from joyful. 
Everyone made motions to clear room for me in the shelter, but I told them I was heading for the road. Safari suggested I said out the rain, but I was already soaked and needed to keep moving before I got any colder. I pushed on through ankle deep puddles and yet another dicey stream crossing. I could feel a chill coming on, and I told myself that if I got any colder, I had to stop to put on my wool layer. That took all of 5 minutes to be necessary. I tossed my pack onto a rock and tugged my shirt over soggy arms. I forced myself to eat snack as I walked because I was too hungry and also thought it might somehow help with warmth. My knees were VERY unhappy with the near jogging pace, but I just needed to be done so I could shower and eat an actual meal. 

I covered the last two miles in record time, moving at nearly 4pmh. I finally got to the road where I took a left and slowed to a walk for the remaining tenth of a mile to the hostel. I was greeted into an open garage with a wall of packs on hooks, a changing room and a giant stockpile of loaner clothes. I felt overwhelmed, exhausted and starving. I hung my saturated pack on a hook and brushed the inches of bark and mud off my legs with a towel from the hostel. Then I went into the changing room and peeled out of my wet clothes. My room was upstairs in another building. I came close to losing it during the tour of the facilities, but I managed to pay attention long enough without exposing my inner meltdown. Halfway waited for me in the kitchen. I felt so grateful to see him in a house full of strangers after such a long day. We caught up as I went through the motions of making macaroni and cheese. because the idea of waiting for food delivery was too much for me. We eventually wandered away from each other, and I remembered that I had yet to shower. With that taken care of, I collapsed into my bed and went into full on zombie mode. My knees are actively throbbing with the occasional sharp stab across my knee caps. I don’t think I will be hiking tomorrow. Stockpiling 11 more miles seems far less important than the longevity of my knees. Only 22 miles to Maine! 
So this is where I would have left you for my music break, but it’s already come and gone, and I’ve taken today (8/8) off, so there should be more posts in your future as soon as I can unmangle my notes on this tiny, TINY keyboard that drives me batty. 
Mile 1872.7 to mile 1891.6 (18.9)


Total miles: 888.4 
Creature feature: nothing to report. had my head down when I wasn’t staring at mountains in the distance and the woods were pretty quiet. 

Day 83: out on a ledge edition 

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 

Day 82: foggy Washington edition 

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 

Day 81: in the clouds edition 

It was so hard to get out of bed this morning. Thankfully the rain stopped some time in the night, but it was cold and all of my footwear was still saturated. I stiffly made my way to the privy wincing at the cold, squish of my shoes. I grabbed my food bag on the way back from the privy and ate my breakfast in my tent after I cleaned and medicated my foot. It doesn’t seem infected, but it’s still pretty sore. It took some serious will power to get ready, but I managed to be packed and heading towards the trail by 6:45. As I left, I came upon Walden heading towards my tent site. She had assumed I would be on the trail sooner and thought maybe I’d left without saying goodbye. I assured her I wouldn’t do such a thing. 
We talked as we made our way towards Crawford notch through forgettable terrain. The caretaker happened to catch up to us right as I encouraged Walden to use the preferred pronoun for someone in her life who has transitioned away from their assigned pronoun. A predictably queer conversation. The caretaker slowed her pace and walked the rest of the way to the road with us. We asked her a ton of questions about work and how she structures her free time, etc. I also asked her what kind of food she packs out and felt envious of the fresh foods in her response. Somewhere along the way we both acknowledged how comforting it was to come across another visibly queer person while also lamenting the fleeting nature of the interaction.

We arrived at the parking lot near route 302 around 8:30. I loitered, eating a snack on the ground feeling not quite ready to leave the company of someone who presents in much the same way as me. But it had to happen at some point, so I said goodbye to everyone and continued down the road towards 302.

Then came the steep climb to Webster Cliffs. I felt grateful to be scrambling up the sheer boulders rather than trying to find my way down them with little footing to work with beyond the exposed roots of nearby trees (the picture is of an easier section with much more in the way of defined steps). 

I ran into fstop and Leif on my way up, but I didn’t stick around to talk because I felt like being alone. I also ran into a SOBO whose name I can’t recall. He warned me about the difficulty of Webster. I tried to comfort myself by reminding myself that everyone has different kryptonite. What kicked his ass might not register on my oh shit radar. After a thigh burning series of climbs, I finally came to one of several views from increasingly higher cliffs on Mt Webster. Here are a few pictures from the climb along with little blueish green fir cones that I’m obsessed with. 

It was fun to watch the road grow smaller as I made my way up mount Webster. It became a little less fun when I realized I had yet to actually reach the top of the mountain. In fact, I had another mile of climbs like this to get to the summit: 

I finally summited Webster and made my way up the moderate climb to Mount Jackson. I tried to cover the easier ground as quickly as I could to get to Mizpah hut for lunch, but I got sidetracked by beautiful little clusters of lichen such as these: 

I also heard a strange bird noise that sounded something like the coo of a parrot. I stopped to listen and noticed a flash of movement a few trees away from me. The bird creating the sound turned out to be a large, plush, gray and white creature that was very interested in me. It hopped progressively closer and stared at me while I stared back. I later found out I had been watching a gray jay, which are notorious for eating food from hikers hands. 

Near the top of Jackson, I ran into a group of people who asked how I was. I said I felt like a billy goat, which got a resounding laugh. The caretaker for the nearest campsite was out collecting garbage and followed the sound of our voices in search of ziploc bags. I walked with her over to the summit of Jackson (like 50 yards).  As I headed down the trail, she asked if I’d heard the m&m joke. I had not, so I stopped walking and listened. As the story goes, there’s an m&m on the ground. A day hiker won’t notice it. A section hiker will put it in their trash bag. A thru hiker will eat it and then tell everyone about it. This reminded me of how excited I had been about the  almonds I found on the ground back on bear mountain, CT. 

It started to spit right as I began the descent from Jackson across flat, exposed rocks that glistened with moisture. I sat and scooched in several places for fear of falling the way I had yesterday with little in the way to keep me from tumbling down the side of the boulders. There were a few short, steep sections and then the trail flattened out to a bog area with boards and exposed rock that almost felt like walking on a sidewalk. 

I made it to Mizpah hut around 1:15 where I bought a bowl of soup (split pea) and a piece of chocolate raspberry cake. I took off my shoes and socks despite feeling self conscious about the mildew smell emanating from my feet. I had to get some air on them and lunch is the best time to make that happen. A day hiker from the area talked to me while I ate, and he gave me a few snacks. I also scored gluten free crackers out of the hiker box, which is great because I’m low on Fritos and they can go in my wraps in a pinch. 

Waves showed up around 130. He had slept until 10a in his stealth spot near Webster, which is how I managed to get in front of him. He remembered to ask about dinner leftovers, and the hut staff brought us a tray of surprisingly good lasagna. Waves tried to save some leftovers for a NOBO he’d met shortly before the hut, but he never materialized, so waves scarfed the rest while I ate my cake. Waves said the other NOBO also had plans to go to lakes of the clouds, which stressed me out because I’m slow and I worried that positions would be filled. 

Around 230, we both decided it was high time to get moving to get LOC before it was flooded with thru hikers. I put on my disgusting socks, topped off my water bottles and hit the trail. Not long after the hut, I passed the NOBO that waves had mentioned. He tried to ask me where I was headed, which people seem to do a lot in the whites, but I didn’t engage. I gave him a hurried answer and never looked up. I realize my racing attitude isn’t in keeping the community vibe of the trail, but I was in full on scarcity mode for whatever reason. Shortly after the NOBO, a young day hiker with what appeared to be her mom, warned me that the trail was going to be steep. I politely thanked her and kept my skepticism to myself. Little does she know how steep it has already been. 

Then I hauled ass, basically jogging the flats and catapulting up the rocky climbs. I did have to slow down for the short stints of descent every now and then. The total white out around me made me feel less guilty about rushing (see top picture). I stopped to take a few flower pictures, but worried that the NOBO would catch me. Then I passed through another bog that transitioned to an exposed trail above treeline. I somehow managed to catch up with waves, which surprised us both. He said oh! And then turned and kept hiking. About 20 minutes later, it started pouring. I almost immediately gave up on avoiding puddles and sloshed through ankle deep water, which made my shoes somewhat cleaner and actually felt kind of good on my feet. It was windy and foggy, and I could barely see waves a hundred yards ahead of me. There were several trail junctions to navigate. I can see how people get lost. 
With about a half mile to go, I came to a painfully rocky section that slowed me down. Of course, because we were almost to the hut and that’s the rule. Thankfully it wasn’t a rocky shit pile the entire rest of the way because my ankles were tired and my feet were slopping all over the place. 

Lakes of the clouds hut looked abandoned as I approached, but I opened the door to a bustling room full of people sitting at the long dining hall tables. I stood dripping in the entryway and asked about work for stay. A cheerful hut master approved immediately and showed me to the hall where thru hikers can loiter. I put my soaked pack down and was immediately approached by a lodge guest from CT who enjoys talking to thru hikers. He introduced me to his friend, Inga, who then began talking to waves as well. I decided to embrace their friendliness and ask whether they had qtips because I was running low on wound cleaning supplies. Inga came back with a giant first aid kit (she’s in the healthcare field) and rooted around for antiseptics. A few energetic SOBOs arrived for work for stay. I finally had to excuse myself from the conversation with the man from CT, so I could change out of my wet clothes. I changed into my zpacks wool socks (I love you, wool socks) and my neon pink long johns with my sleeping shorts over top to cover the growing holes in the rear of my pants. No need to scare the guests. Then I hung my wet clothes on the boards they use to pack things in/out of the hut. I sat on the bench in the pass thru areabetween  the dining room and the bathrooms and tried very hard not to eat all the snacks in my food bag. Waves and I played a game of go fish with the SOBOs while the kitchen croo jammed out to music as they prepared dinner. 

We ate dinner around 815. I can’t say it was my favorite meal, but I did have a large salad and nearly ate my body weight in applesauce cake. Then one of the SOBOs and I did evening chores while everyone else opted for morning tasks. The SOBO has also worked in food service before, so we made quick work of the large pile of dishes. Then we loitered until lights out and set up our beds in the dining area. I made sure to set up near the back of the room to cut down on the noise from late night bathroom trips. I’m finishing this as people sit at a table behind me looking at trail maps with their headlamps. 

Mile 1841.5 to mile 1855.4 (13.9)

Total miles: 852.2 

Creature feature: the gray jay and a black & yellow bird that is potentially a warbler of some sort? or a sparrow? 

Day 80: soggy meltdown edition 

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. 

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