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 

Day 78: rocking chair edition 

I heard rain plinking on my tent in the middle of the night. That combined with general exhaustion resulted in not getting up for sunrise. I got up around 630 to eat breakfast because I was too hungry to sleep any later. Several hikers and small clusters of kids were already at the cooking area when I hobbled over. I sat on a comfortable, flat rock along the low wall surrounding the bear boxes and put together the cold version of my granola/muesli breakfast. The weather seemed better than I had expected, and I started to feel guilty about my plan to zero while also feeling like it would probably be good for my body. I lingered for floater and the guys to show up, but I got tired of having to socialize. I retreated to my tent and laid on my sleeping bag feeling conflicted. Not long after crawling inside my tent, I saw floater’s legs heading towards the cook area. I decided to pause my moping to hang out with her while she ate. She and the guys were still planning to cross franconia ridge despite the chance of showers. Their persistence tapped my weakness button. I said goodbye to them at the trail intersection and went back to my tent to wallow. I texted my mom, who assured me I wasn’t a lazy poop, which helped a bit. I tried breathing to calm down and settle into my decision. As you can guess if you’ve read many other posts, this made me cry. I eventually fell asleep and woke up around 11 to the sound of my neighbor packing up her tent. I wondered what she was up to that she could afford such a late start, but I didn’t have the energy to ask. 

As I lay in my tent in broad daylight, with no apparent sign of rain in the sky, I tried to figure out how to feel differently. I decided to ask the caretaker if she had any projects around the campsite that I could help with. I walked down the hill to her platform, on which sat a large semi-permanent tent (think vendor-sized tent) with a cot and a kitchen setup off to the right underneath a separate tarp. She greeted me warmly and said she had a campsite task for me and then offered the additional job of assisting with her project for the midsummer retreat with the other AMC employees. Hut staff and caretakers get trained together at the beginning of the season and then rarely see each other depending on geography of their assignments and days off. So each summer they meet to share a personal project and spend a bit of time together. 

The caretaker showed me how to rake the drying mulch from the composting privy. After several processes that I can’t explain, the privy output consists of bark mulch that is spread on raised mesh drying beds that require rotation to help the bark dry out and break down to dirt that eventually gets used as compost. My job was to rake the material, which would facilitate drying and help push the finished “dirt” through the metal screens onto the ground below. That product is then bagged up and distributed around the woods. (I think? Can’t quite remember exactly where it ends up). It felt good to have something to focus on, especially something that required physical effort. I took my time raking the mulch, taking care to pick out the petrified trash that doesn’t break down (primary offendors: baby wipes and tampons). Shortly after I got started, the caretaker came up with her hands behind her back and asked me if I liked bananas. I said YES and she presented with me a banana and half of a KitKat. I thanked her profusely and felt so grateful for the surprise. Little did she know she’d gifted me with two things I love (although I can’t even remember the last time I ate a KitKat). 

It took about 40 minutes of raking to finish both beds. Then I went to the eating area and made a peanut butter frito wrap. The caretaker had mentioned helping with her personal project after her lunch, so I stayed up the hill and ate alone in silence. I wandered back to my tent and killed a few minutes checking the internet with my anemic phone signal. Eventually, I heard hammering coming from the caretaker’s site, so I went down the hill to see what kind of project she had in the works. She presented me with her partially built rocking chair and we discussed her plans. I promised not to sue anyone should I saw my arm off in the process of helping her. She assigned me to trim the edges from the chair supports that attach to the rocker bottom and to saw the seat out of a large piece of pressed wood. We listened to barely audible music and talked on and off as we worked. I felt kind of anxious to be in charge of my half of the conversation, but we settled into a good rhythm. We talked about her wilderness therapy experience, her wishlist for upgrading the tent/tarp setup at her platform, and her penchant for letter writing. She sends letters off with hikers to deliver to her friends at other sites, which I loved. She mentioned the possibility of sending me off with a letter for the caretaker at the Garfield Ridge campsite. I happily agreed to play pony express. 
Campers arrived periodically throughout the afternoon. The caretaker felt guilty for making man made noises that might disturb their wilderness experience, but everyone she asked responded with kindness to the racket we made. We went through a few design decisions and she showed me her plans for the backrest. The execution of making the various elements of the chair was tricky with the tools at hand, which included a hand saw, a hammer, and nails. At one point, I stood on the porch with my feet on a support piece we were trying to trim while the caretaker stood on the ground and had her arm wrapped around my calf in order to help stabilize one side of the wood while sawing the other end. We both laughed at the jumble of limbs and wood. Whenever she let go to grab the saw with two hands, she would call out “power stance!” which I found hilarious. 

We worked until a little after 4, when the steady stream of campers became the caretaker’s priority. I wandered back up to my campsite and managed to have a short phone conversation with my steady despite getting cut off several times because of an unreliable phone signal. My legs felt less achy than they had last night, and having such an enjoyable time with the caretaker made me feel better about my decision to stay put. 

Sometime in the afternoon, I got a text from Walden who had decided to head up to liberty springs instead of staying at a hostel for the night. She apparently stayed at lonesome lake hut last night to do a work for stay and got a hitch into town this morning to buy food. A little context for the white mountain hut system: it’s a reservation-based series of freestanding 4-walled structures scattered throughout the range. They’re basically lodges with fancy bunk beds, a communal eating area, a kitchen, and barebones running water and electricity. Each hut is allowed to take a limited number of thru hikers to do work for stays each day. The work involves anything from washing to dishes, to sweeping, to deep cleaning fridges. In return, the hikers sleep on the dining hall floor and have access to whatever food is leftover after the paying hut guests and the hut staff eat dinner and breakfast. These meals are part of my strategy for not resupplying, so I hope to get at least 1-2 nights in a hut. The advantages are a roof over your head in the event of bad weather (highly probable in the Whites) and free food. The downsides are having your schedule monkeyed with because thru hiker dinner isn’t until after 8p and we can’t set up our beds until lights out at 930p. The breakfast routine is similar, with our meal time around 815am and morning chores ending around 9am. I usually hike anywhere between 3-6 miles by that time. 

Walden arrived sometime after I’d eaten my dinner. I shared my plan to hike up to the top of mount liberty (.5 mile one way) to catch the sunset. To my surprise, she agreed to come even though she’d just griped about being exhausted. We made a plan to meet at the trail intersection to head up together. As I went to the spring to get water before we left, I felt a sharp stabbing sensation on the bottom of my left foot. I went back to my tent to investigate and found that a piece of skin at the fold between my fourth toe and the ball of my foot had ripped to expose an area of raw flesh about the size of a tic tac. I have no memory of doing anything specific to my foot, so it’s most likely the consequence of having to walk with wet shoes/socks and having my feet slosh around as I navigate boulders. I panicked at the prospect of having to deal with an open wound on the trail where nothing stays clean or dry for any length of time. I heard the caretaker talking to someone near the privy, which made me realize that I should ask her for extra bandaids to augment my minimal supply. She dug through her giant first aid kit and gave me a few bandaids, a couple of iodine wipes, and some medical tape. 

I sat at the trail intersection waiting for Walden and trying not to freak out about my foot. It seemed like a bad idea to do any extra walking, but I really wanted to get an unobstructed view of the sunset, so I did it anyway. The walk up was a continuation of the moderately steep rocky terrain of the previous mile before camp. My daypack with water and my puffy coat felt like carrying a bag full of air. At the ridge, we took a right and continued the slightly steeper climb to the summit of mount liberty. The views and the light were astounding. We both gawked like little kids at the parade of mountains around us. A passing cloud made for moody pictures and a brief rainbow that you can sort of see in this shot: 

Here are a few more pictures from the time we spent at the summit (including the top picture for today). 

The colors were sadly not as intense as the night before, but it was still incredible. A college kid named Andrew who is out for about a week joined us at the summit. He arrived sweating and cursing because he’d run the whole way for fear of missing the show. I felt a little bad that we were talking so much as he sat in silence to our right, but it also felt good to laugh with Walden. We all left after it was clear that the low wall of clouds on the horizon had staunched any possibility of brighter colors. 

We made the trip down to camp in twilight, both groaning occasionally because of the strain on our overworked knees. Walden made a joke about how we might see another moose because we were once again walking after 830p. I dubbed it moose o’clock, which made us both laugh. I shared my foot concerns with her. She suggested I clean the wound with hand sanitizer, which sounded effective but terrible. When I got back to my tent, I pulled out my headlamp and regretfully spritzed the wound with my spray hand sanitizer (thanks Mary Ann, who knew I’d be using it for this). Then I cleaned the area of debris as best as I could with a qtip and applied a generous blob of neosporin. I hoped the knife-like pain I’d felt on the walk down from liberty would be gone in the morning. I’m finishing this to the sound of someone rattling around in their tent on a different platform and the ping of bugs trying their best to get inside my little home. 

Miles: 0 (bonus mile up to liberty)

Total miles: 816.2 

Creature feature: pesky red squirrels and a white throated sparrow at the top of liberty mountain. 

Day 77: eggcellent trail magic edition 

Woke up around 515 and went back to sleep for about 40 min. I felt so sore from yesterday and my knees felt stiff. I eventually got up because I was too hungry, and I wanted to leave an abundance of of time to be slow over the kinsmans. I hobbled from my tent up an annoying hill to the privy. Then I sat by the bear box and ate breakfast. Cosmo was there, which I didn’t expect, and a little while later, floater emerged from the shelter. I assumed she and the guys had kept going because the snoring person behind my tent turned out to be a rangy fellow I’d never met. Floater and I remarked on the efforts of yesterday, and I tried to work out some of the stiffness in my angry right knee. 
After breakfast, I put on my sweaty clothes from yesterday and deconstructed my tent. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to muster the energy to climb another mountain as I stuffed things into their designated places in my pack. I went back to the eating area to find that guy and mantis awake and talking about how their bodies managed yesterday. They’re all planning to make a town stop, which will likely result in the lure of staying in a hostel for the night, so this will likely be the last I see of them for who knows how long. I hung out a bit. Then Walden and I went down to the stream to get water. She was equally tired from our nearly 17 mile haul. The stream met up with the trail slightly north of the shelter turn off, so after filtering, we both crossed the stream rather than go back towards the shelter to get on trail at the exact point from which we departed. Little omissions like that are fine with me. I’m pretty sure I will still be a thru hiker if I miss a few yards here and there. 
The trail followed Eliza brook for awhile. I felt anxious about the “tricky rock hop” that my app forecasted, so I peered around every corner waiting for the crossing. When it finally came, it was your run of the mill effort. Maybe it’s harder when the water is higher? I don’t know why I get so worked up about these things. It doesn’t help me get through the scary thing any more than worrying ever helps. 

Eventually the trail began to climb South Kinsman. Walden and I ended up hiking together nearly all day again. We crossed through a boggy area with interesting cliffs in the distance. Then more climbing that became incredibly steep. Here are a few shots heading up the mountain. In the first one you can just make out a teeny tiny Walden sitting at the top of the frame. 

The rocks wound up and around every corner with no apparent end in sight. Around 1030 I stopped to take a break and eat a snack in the middle of the “trail.” Walden continued on but we met each other again not that long after my break because she sat on the rocks waiting for me to come around the bend so she could take my picture. I did my best not to look behind me for most of the climb because it made wobbly to see steepness of the grade from above. Best to just look one step ahead. 
We eventually came to area near treeline that gave us incredible views of the surrounding mountains. Here’s Walden on a couple of the exposed boulders we had to climb. 

The view from the peak was similar to what we’d seen for the last 20 minutes (today’s top pic), so we didn’t stick around for long. On to north kinsman we went, which was a mercifully easier climb than south kinsman. I dropped my pack at the intersection for the short side trail to the view because I didn’t feel like taking it down the short climb. A family of 4 and their dog sat at the edge of the boulder facing Franconia ridge. 

Walden and I sat down beside them and took in the expansive view. I ate the fruit leather I’d grabbed from my bag and asked the mother of the family about the ridge and tomorrow’s weather. They’re out working on the 48 peaks over 4K in NH. I think north kinsman made number 21 for them. Walden took their picture with a sign naming the mountain. Then the mother offered us hard boiled eggs, which I accepted with glee because it’s one of my favorite hiking snacks and I happened to have a babybel cheese left to accompany it.

 I ate my trail magic and basked in the sunshine feeling excited for the ridge and apprehensive about the predicted chance of thunderstorms for tomorrow. I started formulating a plan to take a zero at liberty springs campsite as a backup option to racing bad weather. After about twenty minutes of lounging, I forced myself to get back to walking. I dreaded the long descent from north kinsman. The family said the trail wasn’t sheer boulders and that there were steps cut into the rocks. Of course, we came to open faced rocks with no apparent steps almost immediately. I made a sarcastic remark about asking people from NH about terrain, but we did eventually come to a few places where there were steps and assistance for navigating the steeper sections. 

The egg snack buoyed my energy level for awhile as we picked our way down the mountain. My intention had been to eat lunch at the hut to stretch my lunch food another day. As time went by, I got hungrier and felt increasingly harried. I should have stopped and eaten, but I stubbornly stuck to my plan. This resulted in being nearly inconsolable by the time I got to lonesome lake hut around 2pm. 
I dropped my pack at the foot of the stairs, grabbed my wallet, phone, and water bottle and rushed inside. The huts cook a different soup everyday for hikers to buy for $2 a bowl during the daytime hours. I asked for the day’s offering of split pea soup. Walden and cosmo arrived a few minutes later. I kept my head in my bowl and ate with a singular goal: return to human form before biting someone’s head off. Walden began deliberating about where to stay the night. She needed to get to town in order to buy food, but she had missed the shuttle for a nearby hostel. I didn’t have the patience to weigh in on her ambivalence. I felt dedicated to my plan to continue on to liberty springs, so I spent my time bouncing the idea off of some of the hut staff. With nearly 6 more miles to go and the hour approaching 3p, I left Walden to make her decision and continued on alone. Ominous clouds hovered over the nearby mountains, which made me feel even more intent on leaving as soon as possible. 

I left the hut feeling torn about not sticking with Walden. I didn’t feel like spending the money to stay in town, and I wanted to get more miles out of the way with decent weather, both of which conflicted with her options. I felt okay being alone, but disappointed to not know when we might meet again. 

The trail led me down to lonesome lake, which is surrounded by incredible mountain views. A lone woman swam in the middle of the lake as others sat by the dock gawking at a family of ducks. I followed the boardwalk around the edge of the lake and took a right towards liberty springs. I felt anxious about the unknown climb ahead of me (will it be boulders that slow me down to a crawl? will I get to camp at 8p??) and the potential for rain, so I walked as fast as I could. The trail followed alongside cascade brook with one major crossing of it that required a rock hop. A woman sitting at the brook shrugged and said it would be fine when I commented on the dark clouds overhead. I said, “you must be from NH!” She laughed and said that she was indeed. After the brook, the trail evened out to easy footing and fast walking on a gradual downhill to the interstate. I got a little confused at the road, but finally figured out that the trail goes under the overpass and continues straight. At first I thought I was somehow supposed to cross back over cascade brook which was rather wide at that point. Glad I was wrong about that. 

The trip up from the road consisted of an actual trail for the first mile and a half. I felt so relieved to not be inching up and over boulders. I continued to walk as quickly as I could, making decent time and sweating bullets in the humidity. I took one short break to eat a snack and rest my feet. The trail steepened and became rockier about a mile south of the campsite. I sighed to myself and just kept inching my way up the mountain. 

I made it to the campsite about an hour faster than the info sheet at lonesome lake predicted. Liberty springs is one of the AMC run campsites that has an onsite caretaker and costs $5-10 depending on several factors. The site straddles the trail, with tent platforms to the left and the spring and cooking area/bearboxes to the right. The caretaker for liberty springs turned out to be incredibly helpful and approachable. When she showed me to my wooden tent platform, I asked for advice on effective knots to tie off my guylines since I don’t have a freestanding tent. As she went through a few useful knots, she professed her perfectionism, and I professed my ineptitude, which resulted into her basically setting up my tent for me. I have good spatial reasoning in a lot of contexts, but when it comes to knots, my brain goes haywire. They just don’t compute. I felt sheepish asking for so much help, but I also didn’t want to have my tent collapse on me in the middle of the night, especially a night that may involve rain. As we (she) set up my tent, we talked a bit about her experience as a wilderness therapist. She laughed and seemed excited when I told her I am a therapist. 

The caretaker left to continue overseeing arriving campers,and I grabbed my food to eat dinner in the cooking area. Because of pesky and aggressive bears, campers are required to only cook by the bear boxes. I felt unenthused by the forced socialization, but followed the rules and muddled through dinner conversation with a couple of SOBOs while two different youth groups milled about making a ton of noise as they went through their dinner routine. One of the SOBOs seemed quiet and intriguing. The other one was boisterous and way too energetic for my desired output at the moment. Of course the quiet retreated as soon as he finished eating, leaving me to be the primary receptor of the outsized personality of the other SOBO. Another hiker out for a several-day loop offered me trail mix in the hopes of lightening his pack. I happily agreed to take some to assist in my goal of not resupplying the entire way through the whites. 

The caretaker mentioned at my setup that walking up to mount liberty for sunset was a popular option for people who stay at the site. I considered doing it, but I felt exhausted by the time dinner was over and couldn’t fathom walking 1.1 miles roundtrip on top of what I’d already done for the day. I regretted my decision as the evening light went from orange to the blazing pink of an insane sunset. At that point it was too late to head up, so I cursed myself and gawked through the trees while I filled my water back at the spring. I heard my name, and turned to see that guy frantically searching for the caretaker. He, mantis and floater had just arrived after a frantic hike up from the road. I assumed they would get caught in the vortex of town food and a hostel, but they got a late afternoon hitch back to the trail after their town stop and rushed up the mountain to camp at liberty springs. Floater seemed exhausted and out of sorts, hurrying through her tent set up because she was so tired and hungry. I can relate. We talked while she set up, and I took a dozen terrible pictures of the incredible sunset through the trees. I could make out the Kinsmans in the distance, which felt crazy because I had been standing on those mountains just a few hours before. 

As I settled into my tent, I heard the caretaker giving a demo of how the privy composting system works to the older of the two kids groups. The boys made fake puking noises and were thoroughly disgusted by the system, which of course meant it was their favorite part of staying at the camp according to what the caretaker told me the next day. I’m finishing this to sound of kids goofing off and getting shushed every 5 minutes and the woman next to me shifting around so much that my tent is moving. We have 2 tents crammed onto 1 platform. I don’t know what to expect with the weather tomorrow. I have my mind set on a zero to give my knees a rest and wait for better conditions across the exposed ridge, but if it doesn’t rain, do I keep going? Or do I zero anyway? Oh, in yesterday’s post, I forgot to mention the coincidence of hiking Mt Moosilauke on the same day as seeing a moose. Pretty amoosing, wouldn’t you say? (Sorry, I had to) 

Mile 1807.9 to mile 1819.4 (11.5) 

Total miles: 816.2 

Creature feature: little red squirrels sneaking up to my tent platform trying to get a peek in my food bag 

Day 76: 800 mile moose edition 

My alarm went off at 5:15. As I stuffed my sleeping bag into the bottom of my pack, what fell on the ground? My pocket knife! I had a vague memory of throwing the knife into my tent and seeing it land in the hood of my sleeping bag, but I couldn’t remember when or why I had done it. I’d gotten superstitious about having lost it, thinking it was somehow a bad omen for the whites. Finding it made me irrationally comforted. I finished packing up and went downstairs to eat breakfast. I gave the French man gruff answers to questions I didn’t feel like answering and attempted to eat in silence. I felt anxious and uninterested in small talk, especially at 545 in the morning. Walden and floater were up and moving around, which I hadn’t expected. I left before them, fully expecting them to pass me somewhere on the climb to moosilauke. I brought my pack outside and gave cosmo a quick hello. As I put my pack on, I leaned forward to seat my hip belt properly on my waist. This makes me look at my feet every time, which is how I noticed that I wasn’t wearing my gaitors. I’d left them hanging on a clothesline upstairs in the bunk room. That would have been a sad and annoying oversight because my shoes catch debris like velcro without the gaitors and I’ve become really attached to them, as with everything in my pack. 

After one more check to make sure I hadn’t managed to forget anything else, I headed back to the trail to deal with the stream crossing. It’s a stream that requires fording, which I wasn’t looking forward to, but the detour to avoid it requires over a mile of road walking. No thank you. My shoes felt especially plush because I snagged flip phone’s brand new altra insoles from the hiker box, but I still had no desire to pound the pavement first thing in the morning. 
I walked to the trail with a view of the rocks on owls head in the distance. At the trail intersection I took a right and was met with this view: 

I took my shoes and socks off and crept across the stream in shin deep water. Thankfully the bottom consisted of mostly smooth pebbles. The water actually felt like a refreshing ice bath for my feet. I sat on the other side of the stream and dried my feet with my multi-purpose hand towel. One obstacle down, one giant mountain to go. 
I continued into the woods, catching spider webs with my face. Wet leaves brushed against my elbows and calves as I tried to breathe through the anxiety of descending Moosilauke. After about a mile, the trail dumped me onto a forest road that led me to a paved road where I walked the shoulder for about a quarter of a mile. A nice breeze accompanied the sunny blue skies making for great hiking weather. I reasoned that my slow pace would give the rocks on the other side of the mountain even longer to dry out from the bit of rain we had yesterday. 

I came to a split in the trail with a sign saying “moosilauke summit 3.7 miles.” My stomach dropped and I said aloud “okay here we go.” For whatever reason, my mind went to the scene in tri-wizard tournament where harry is in the cemetery with Voldemort and apparitions of his loved ones emerge while Harry fends off the spells from Voldemort’s wand. I reflexively started imagining comforting people from my life walking around me as the trail climbed. I felt a jumble of emotions because those people are all far away, which made me lonely, but imagining them on the trail made me feel safe and stronger. Enter the crying. But it’s hard to hike uphill and breathe while crying so it didn’t last long. 

The grade of the trail got progressively steeper, but the footing was much easier than I’d imagined. I could take manageable steps on the rocks and the rooty sections were brief. I made it to the south peak junction surprised at how fast and non-technical the climb had been. Having said that, I had no desire to walk the extra 0.1 miles to see the view from the south peak. Instead I sat down on long flat rock to my breath and eat a snack. 

The trail between the two peaks was flat and sandy at first, which was a nice break from watching every single step on the way up. The trail became rockier as it edged above tree line, and I got a full view of the northern peak and the surrounding mountains. My right knee felt achy and my IT band had the pre-flare tightness that concerned me. Definitely something to pay attention to because if it flares up for real, it will be torture on the long descents in my future. 

Seeing the peak out in front of me felt so different from the myopic view of the rocky, green tunnel I’ve been in for so many miles/days. The shapes of people walking along the trail shed some perspective on the distance between me and the summit. the wind picked up as the trees grew smaller and I had to add my wool layer. The wind at the summit made it hard to keep my balance as I walked over to the sign I’ve seen so many times on social media. I took a picture even though it was kind of backlit. 

As I stood there, floater came walking up the trail with her hat pulled low and her head down to fend off the wind. I thought for sure she would have passed me sooner, but she left about an hour after I did. We took pictures of each other with the sign. I had to turn my hat backwards as soon as I got above tree line because I was worried the wind would steal it. 

We took shelter in one of the rocky wind blocks that sit on the summit (thank you to whoever constructed those). It was significantly warmer out of the wind, but I put on my raincoat for another layer anyway because I’d gotten so sweaty on the walk up. As floater and I sat ogling all the cute day hiker dogs and eating snacks, mantis and that guy arrived, followed shortly by Walden. We all sat in the wind block and hung out for about 40 minutes. I was in no hurry to head down the mountain and the company felt easy. Here’s that guy drinking a coke that he packed out from the hostel and felt overjoyed to drink at the summit. We hikers are easy to please sometimes. 

Here are a few more views from the summit: 

Around 11, I felt like it would be wise to get moving, so I made the first moves to leave the summit. Floater immediately pulled ahead and when we got to tree line she was out of sight. I ended up leap frogging with Walden for a bit until our paces lined up and we spent the rest of the day together. The descent started out mildly enough, which is to say it involved steep rocks that could be navigated with relative ease. The trail eventually got steeper and the steps larger. My knees started to protest and the distance left to cover felt endless. Walden and I agreed that lunch at the shelter was required to be able to make it all the way down the mountain. Here’s the view from the shelter:  

A few day hikers filtered in and out as we ate. Walden cooked grits and an egg, which I felt envious of. A pair of teachers talked to us as we ate. I had hoped one of them would share her giant bag of chocolate, but instead she offered us toilet paper, which we both declined. Then we continued the long walk down the mountain. There were times when I felt like I was practically standing on my head, but the steps along the boulders were not as treacherous as they looked in the pictures halfway sent. He’s about a day ahead of me and warned me about the time and effort it took him to get down the mountain. 

We eventually reached the point where the waterfall runs adjacent to the stream. I can see how the trail would become impassable on rainy days because the waterfall is literally inches from the trail at certain points. The focus and potential for danger made for an exhausting trip down. 

At one point in the last half mile, Walden looked over a rocky ledge and gave a sardonic laugh. I said “does it get worse??” and she nodded. We had to go down the side of a boulder where the rebar handhold had pulled away from the rock. 

I think this was the same point at which I tossed my poles down and one of them went skittering over the side of the trail. Thankfully it was easy enough to reach. Walden retrieved it for me as I inched my way down the boulder. 

We finally reached a point where the trail evened out to a more gradual descent. The camping options at this point were super awkward. It was only about 230 in the afternoon, but the next shelter was about 7.5 miles away on the other side of mount wolf. I felt tired but relatively okay after the trek down moosilauke, and I didn’t want to hang out in a parking lot for hours in order to be able to stealth camp at the spots available by the streams. I sat at the picnic table in the parking area and ate a snack while I weighed my options. Walden continued on, with the loose intention of heading to the shelter. I sent a couple of triumphant texts to celebrate being done with the mountain that had given me so much angst. Then I decided to keep going. 

The trail crossed the road that runs through kinsman notch where I got another view of moosilauke. Then came a very steep climb up from the road. I ran into Walden sitting on a rock taking a break. We quickly figured out that I’m faster on the hills, so I pulled ahead as we made our way up what I had expected to be a manageable mountain. Silly me. We ran into an older couple eating snacks on a rock in the middle of the trail. They asked how we were and I told them I was daydreaming about popsicles as the sweat streamed down my face. 

The trail eventually “flattened” out to a neverending series of boulders that made for incredibly slow going and required just as much care and focus as descending moosilauke. The miles crept by as the hour grew later and later. Stealth spots were few and far between, and I didn’t really have enough water to stop short of the shelter. I also stubbornly wanted to make it all the way there so I could stay in line with floater and company. 

I felt grateful to have good company for such a long day. Walden and I talked on and off as we walked into the evening. She has a dry sense of humor that resulted in much laughing while I cursed the bogs and the boulders and diminishing daylight. During one of my obsessive mileage checks, I realized that I had crossed my 800 mile mark. I rushed through making a mediocre sign with bits of nearby fern. I felt unsatisfied with it but too exhausted to make it better. I got back in front for the short climb ahead of us. As we walked, I noticed an abundance of tiny pine cones that seemed like much better material for my mile marker, so I stopped and redid it even though I felt ridiculous. 
The light began to slant as the sun went down to our left. Walden commented on how she likes to hike at that hour because of the light. I agreed that it was beautiful, but I would much rather have been enjoying it while eating dinner at the campsite. I felt a hunger meltdown on the way, and I couldn’t picture how I would have enough energy to cook food when we got to camp after 8pm. I finally gave up on cooking and decided to eat cold food, which helped with the sense of urgency, but there would still be a host of things to do when we arrived. 

The light to our left slowly went from golden to blazing orange, and a new sense of urgency took over. Sunset. A set of powerlines were about a half mile away, and I pictured us getting there right in time to see the sun drop below the mountains. I picked up the pace as best I could, but when we got to the powerlines, we had dropped just enough in elevation for the sun to be out of sight. I felt crestfallen, but tried to appreciate the beauty in the sky that was actually visible. As I turned to look towards the eastern horizon, I noticed a pair of legs at the edge of the trail. I thought to myself, that’s a funny looking deer. The thick, scruffy fur was a golden auburn color and the proportions seemed odd. I stopped in my tracks and followed the line of the animal’s body. A little head poked up above the brush and I came face to face with a moose! A juvenile moose to be more specific, munching away on its evening salad. Walden stood a little higher than me on a rock to get a good look, and I scanned the area for signs of a mama moose. I didn’t see one, but then Walden said she saw a darker, bigger moose. As I craned my neck to try to see this other moose, the young one started to make a mewing noise. We both decided it was high time to keep moving because that sounded like a worried call, which meant a protective parent would likely follow. 

I took a quick picture of the horizon, and we booked it across the power lines back into the dark woods. As we walked we remarked on the incredible sighting. A moose! Technically two, but I didn’t actually see the second one. I could just hear it moving around in the brush. I’ve been hoping to see one since I realized I was walking past their giant piles of poo in Vermont. It was an incredible fringe benefit to hiking wayyyy to late into the day. 

Shortly before the shelter, we came to a water source where I filled my sawyer bag to get it out of the way. We finally hit the turn off as the light faded. We had to take our headlamps out to survey the campsite for tenting spots. Nearly everyone was in their tents already, and I felt inconsolably tired and hungry. We picked out two mediocre spots in front of the shelter. I hoped for a dry night as I pitched my tent with little care for anything but keeping it upright. Then I grabbed my food bag and bug spray and sat at the bear box in the center of camp and ate what I hoped amounted to a decent number of calories. It’s so hard to stop eating when I get to that point of hunger, and I didn’t have the energy to try to count the calories. I brushed my teeth without getting up. Walden tried to talk a bit, but I felt self conscious about being loud while everyone slept and I had lost all ability to be human so I had trouble engaging. Then I tossed my food bag in the bear box, peed a little away from my tent and crawled inside to push through the rest of my bed setup. I felt grimy and exhausted and amazed that we had actually made it. I’m finishing this to the sound of a loud brook to my right, and what I think is floater in her tent snoring. My legs are aching. I hope my knees can make it through the whites. No more 17 mile days for me if I can help it. 

Mile 1791.1 to mile 1807.9 (16.8) 

Total miles: 804.7 

Creature feature: the mooose! 

Day 75: staying put edition 

Felt plagued by mosquitoes as I tried to fall asleep last night, but they trailed off and weren’t as bad as I expected. Woke up around 515 and saw legs hanging over the edge of the top bunk. The guy who declined a shower (and really shouldn’t have) gathered his things and left. I woke up for good around 615. Decided not to force sleeping later so I can take advantage of the less crowded hostel to hog the internet (as you can see from the many posts I published today). 

Much of the morning was spent laying on my bunk or sitting on the floor next to the power strip editing and trying not to simultaneously freak out about moosilauke. I organized my food and weighed the bag just for curiosity’s sake. Came out to the usual 10ish pounds. I think switching to peanut butter wraps has at the very least freed up some room in the bag and possibly even weight. 

I eventually resurfaced downstairs to find a woman that I’d seen at mountain meadows lodge when I went back for my visit with megan. Her name is floater and we had lunch together out front. She laughs easily and we shared stories as we ate our respective wraps. She’s a NOBO so I asked her about the places she liked down south. We commiserated on the difficulty and futility of planning the whites. We also talked about hiking alone and the disappointment of meeting cool people only to be separated after a short time. She started with her college roommate who got hurt somewhere in VA. She’s been moving in and out of hiker clumps as well. 

A few new hikers filtered in and out of the hostel. Some just to pick up mail drops and take a long break and some in for the night. I went back upstairs to organize more stuff and push through a couple more days of editing even though my attention span had waned long before lunch. 

The weather ranged from overcast to blue skies until about 430 when it started raining. Of course. Because my intention was to hike the mile to the shelter up the road and save money on another night in the hostel. Around 5, people went to pick up their deli orders, which I abstained from mostly to lighten my food bag and partially to cut some costs. I boiled water and ate my lentil chili while watching oceans 11 in the main room with some of the other hikers. The rest of the people filtered in around 530 with their sandwiches and French fries. I consoled myself by eating a small bag of doritos and an ice cream sandwich, which made me feel a little sick. The emotional rollercoaster of yesterday continues today. I feel cagey and anxious, but also tired and uninterested in hiking in the rain. 

As my food cooked, I called the hostel I’m thinking of staying at towards the end of the whites. I wanted to know how people make reservations when cell service is so dicey and there’s no way to tell when you will be where because of all the unpredictable variables. The woman from the hostel was helpful and said to try calling from a mountaintop when I’m about 2 days away. When she asked my trail name, I said “checklist” and she laughed. “well of course it is,” she replied. I laughed as she poked fun at me and told her I’d written everything she said down. Like a nerd. 

After stalling and getting validation from my steady, the answer is: I’m staying here for the night because I have good company and that’s part of what I need right now. I watched my first movie in two months and saw the sunset while I brushed my teeth. 

Now it’s time for sleep so I can hang out with a 4000 foot mountain tomorrow. 

Miles: 0

Total miles: 787.9 

Creature feature: just a bunch of hikers today.