AT: Pinkham Notch to ME-17

Sunday, June 19: Pinkham Notch to Carter Notch Hut

Maple and I got up at 4:30 and, an hour later, after having a Mountain House breakfast and packing up, we left Joe Dodge Lodge in Pinkham Notch. It was a cold morning, threatening freezing rain in the mountains. Since we weren’t at all sure how long our hike would take, we decided to get a very early start.

The Lost Pond Trail, which brought us to the Wildcat Ridge Trail, was only a mile long, but already it gave us the sense that this was going to be a very difficult hike. Later we would learn that there had been a decomposing moose at the pond, but fortunately for us the temperature was too low to allow for much of an aroma, and we passed the dead creature without ever realizing its presence.

Once we got onto the Wildcat Ridge Trail, the uphill scrambling began immediately. Soon we were climbing the steepest mile on the AT. It brought us to some precarious sections, which prompted no little anxiety. One section, called “The Chimney,” had me doubting my ability to climb for a moment. There were no easy stretches on the two-mile ascent to Wildcat Mountain, Peak D, where the ski resort’s gondolas rested. By the time we arrived there, four hours had passed. The temperature was now 34 degrees, not counting wind chill—and there were gusts up to 50 miles per hour. Maple and I found a spot protected from the wind and had a snack.

Two further miles of constant ascents and descents separated Peak D, at 4,050 feet, from Peak A, at 4422 feet. It took us another three hours to traverse the distance, although we did stop for lunch shortly before summitting Peak A. The Wildcats exhausted us. This was our first day out on our hiking adventure, and our muscles were feeling the old familiar strain.

From Wildcat Peak A there is a descent of over 1,100 feet in .9 mile. After a long day of hiking, we had to take our time and be extra careful on this descent. Finally, we arrived at Carter Notch Hut, after a strenuous hike of eight-and-a-half hours.

We were sent by Bailey, the hut manager, to our room, Number 3, in the lower bunkhouse. After having coffee and conversation with other guests, Maple and I retired to our bunkroom to await dinner time.

Monday, June 20: Carter Notch Hut to Imp Campsite and Shelter

Last night Birch and I had a marvelous time at dinner. We sat with three guys (“Tin Cup,” “Bush,” and “Stoolie”) who began hiking the AT together back in 2005 and are now this far north. The men had great stories about their adventures, and we shared a lot of laughs. The hut had a guest lecturer for the evening, a geologist from the University of Maine Farmington. But as much as we wanted to hear his talk, we just couldn’t do it. By 7:30 we hit the bed and were out—so tired!

Birch and I had the small cabin to ourselves. We awoke early and had a huge breakfast at 7:00. We were on the trail by 8:00. The ascent up to Carter Dome was very steep the first half mile, then became much more manageable. We were thrilled to get to the dome by 9:35.

The day was beautiful, with bright, sunny skies. However, it was very windy. The hike to Height Mountain was easy. The views from the summit were spectacular; however, gusts reached 50-70 mph, and it was tough to even stand! The descent was steep.

We saw a lot of day hikers. Many were trying to knock out some 4,000 footers.

The stretch of the Carters was a bit tougher than I expected. We were thrilled to complete North Carter, but the descent from the summit was extremely steep and very unsafe. I think we spent about a half mile of the descent on our butts! While we had heard so much about this section, I’m not sure anything could have prepared us.

Unfortunately, Imp Shelter was .3 mile off the trail. We decided to sleep in the shelter. It was large, with an upper and lower section and plenty of room for a dozen hikers. We were sore and tired but also thrilled to have successfully navigated our descent. Again, we saw the three guys that we met at Carter Notch Hut, and it was nice to affirm that we were all in one piece after a tough day of hiking. The views did not disappoint!

Tuesday, June 21: Imp Campsite and Shelter to US-2

Maple prepared, for our dinner last night, a wonderful, dehydrated meal of macaroni, beef, vegetables, and herbs, to which we added parmesan cheese. After cleaning up and finishing whatever other chores we had to do, we slid into our sleeping bags and were soon asleep.

I arose with the dawn and made us both coffee. Maple soon joined me and we had our oatmeal breakfast before packing up. We were on the trail at 6:45.

Mount Moriah gave us a rocky climb, with many slabs of granite to ascend. Along the way, at intervals, we were treated to views of the surrounding mountains. The sky was clear, and we could easily pick out Mount Washington. Near the top of Moriah we had a snack, enjoying the views all around us. When we reached the highest point of the AT on Moriah, we discovered that there was a side-trail of .1 mile to the summit. Maple and I both felt that we had already had summit views, and we did not want to add to our 8-mile day.

Our descent from Moriah was 6 miles long. We had to be careful of our footing, but there was nothing very precarious to make us pause on our way down.

When we reached the first crossing of Rattle River, we stopped for lunch. Maple had brought salami and cheese for the occasion. She rolled up several slices around the cheese, and on her first bite something went terribly wrong. The peppercorn in the salami cracked her tooth in several places, as we would later learn. Fortunately, she wasn’t in much pain, just discomfort.

Upon reaching the Rattle River Shelter, the trail evened out, and we had a smooth walk for the last two miles to our car, parked about 3 miles to the east from Gorham.

In Gorham we checked into the Rodeway Inn, and Maple got an appointment to see a dentist that afternoon.

It had been a beautiful, 80-degree day to finish the Whites. We both agreed that the Whites are one section of the AT that, while beautiful, we would never want to repeat.

Thursday, June 23: US-2 to Trident Col Campsite

Birch and I enjoyed a quiet day in Gorham yesterday. The town has a fantastic coffee shop called Dermody Road. We hung out there, reading and drinking coffee. We also went to a fun gift shop. Unfortunately, the dentist was not able to repair my tooth, so we’re hiking at some risk but hoping for the best.

Dan from Trail Angels Hiker Services met us at the Rodeway Inn at about 6:30 and we followed him so we could drop our car off at Grafton Notch. By 8:10 he had dropped us off at Rattle River on US-2 and we began our hike. After a short walk on a road, we began our ascent of Mount Hayes. This was pretty easy. We then descended and had lunch by a very unreliable water source. We ascended again up Cascade Mountain, and this was not as easy, with rock faces more like what we had seen in the Whites. As usual, we clung to tree roots and tree trunks and pulled ourselves up the trail. At least we had some nice views.

This area of the trail was not well maintained, and we found ourselves bushwhacking a bit!

At Trident Col Campground we found a spot in easy walking distance to the privy. After setting up the tent, we went about 100 yards down to the water source; it was weak, at best. We had gotten in early enough to have a bit of a nap before dinner, which was more of cheese with pulled barbeque pork. As we finished up our meal, a SoBo thru-hiker, “Bard,” came into camp. Bard is from Quebec and carries a disassembled guitar with him on the trail. He had fallen into a deep moat of mud and warned us to be careful as we navigated the upcoming bogs. By 6:45 we were ready for bed.

Friday, June 24: Trident Col Campsite to Gentian Pond Shelter

Maple and I were on the trail this morning by 7:00. Even though we had only 4.9 miles today on the AT, we knew that they were going to be rough miles. The forest was so dense that it overlapped the trail, and the branches and leaves that stretched across our path, soaked from the rain of the night before, got us totally drenched.

Our hike involved crossing over many bog boards and navigating around or through numerous mud pits. Maple and I both had falls in the mud, but no significant harm was done. Our clothes, on the other hand, were no longer clean enough to sleep in.

Along the way we met one other backpacker, an AT SoBo thru-hiker named “Re-run,” although, he said, his friends call him “Claus,” on account of his white beard. This is his third thru-hike of the AT.

We arrived at Gentian Pond Shelter at 12:30, glad to have the rest of the day to relax—especially having such an incredible view of the mountains from this shelter.

After eating lunch, we napped for ten minutes, dried out our tent, and went to fetch water from the pond. Afterwards, four NoBo thru-hikers stopped by—a group of three older hikers (about our age) named “Strawberry,” “Double-Time,” and “Fillin’-In,” and a solitary young hiker named “C.C.” (because she was hiking the trail for college credit). C.C. hiked in from Gorham this day, and she was on her way to Carlo Col Shelter. Oh, to be young and fit! The other three put up their tents on the wooden pads.

Saturday, June 25: Gentian Pond Shelter to Carlo Col Shelter

Birch and I were up by 5 a.m. having coffee. It was a beautiful evening, with a sky full of stars. The early morning view was wonderful. We were on the AT by 6:15, the first ones from the shelter on the trail. Our goal was Mount Success. After one miniature ascent—just to get us going—we started the big ascent. In many ways, it was like Mount Webster, with lots of long slabs of granite. We would strategize about what side to go up and what trees to hang onto.

The summit of Success was beautiful, with 360-degree views. We were so excited to make it to the top! Unfortunately, the descent was not easy. The hardest parts were in the gap right before the Maine border and along the .1 mile before the side-trail to the Carlo Col Shelter.  The gap before the border had serious boulders and a precarious descent. As you can probably imagine, we had eagerly anticipated reaching the New Hampshire/Maine border. To some extent, though, it was anticlimactic. It was hot, humid, and incredibly buggy. We took a quick photo and then moved on. Descending the ledges was the most precarious section of the day. At first, I wasn’t even sure that it was the trail.

Once in camp we were disappointed by the water source, which was barely flowing. The shelter itself was big, but it had no views. Perhaps we’d been a little spoiled by our New Hampshire campsites.

This night, there were a ton of people here, mostly SoBos. We got into camp about 2 p.m. and now, at 5:45, we’re ready for bed! Camp life makes us tired!

Sunday, June 26: Carlo Col Shelter to Full Goose Shelter

I got up this morning at 4:30 and made coffee for myself and Maple. As usual, Maple asked for another half hour of sleep, but the coffee got her up, and we were on the trail by 5:45.

We enjoyed the trail today, for the most part, but the going was still tough, and it took us six and a half hours to go the 4.4 miles between shelters. I ran out of energy before 11:00, and we had to stop for an early lunch.

Rebar and wooden ladders made impossible inclines and precipices manageable. The alpine bogs were difficult to traverse, without sinking into the deep mud pits.

As of 2:45, Maple and I were the only ones in the shelter. We filled up our water bottles and dromedary from the spring 100 yards downhill from the shelter. We were both so thirsty when we arrived, as we had to conserve our water while hiking.

At about 5:45 in the evening, as Maple and I were enjoying a dinner of loaded mashed potatoes with bacon, in strolled three backpackers our age, a married couple from Ohio named Karen and Ken, together with their friend Mark. Ken was on a mission to complete the last forty miles of his section hike of the A.T. We had very pleasant conversation, not entirely about the thunderstorm in the forecast for tomorrow.

Monday, June 27: Full Goose Shelter to Speck Pond Campsite and Shelter

Birch and I were up by 4 a.m., excited and nervous about the day ahead. The weather forecast kept changing all week. Now, it forecast showers from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The good news was that thunderstorms seemed out of the picture.

We left camp at around 5:45 a.m. and hiked for about 1.5 miles. There were a few stairs to help us along, and I was glad that, although the trail was rocky, we made good time.

At last we saw the sign for Mahoosic Notch. To our left was a jumble of downed trees. Then, I saw our first major obstacle, a large boulder about four feet high that we had to climb. I had no idea how to get up! Birch and I soon developed a system where he would either help push me up an obstacle from behind or give me a hand from ahead or above. That did the trick. After getting through one spot, we scanned the environment to determine our next move. The ”path” was rarely evident and required some strategizing.

It wasn’t long before we had to duck into a cave and crawl our way to the other side. Several times, Birch had to take his backpack off to squeeze through a crevice. At one point, his leg went right through a gap between rocks.

About halfway through, it started raining. We put on our raincoats and that helped. However, now we were dealing with wet, slippery terrain.

Finally, we saw what we knew (from watching videos) was the last cave. Birch was doubtful about going over a rockface since to fall from it would be catastrophic. He went around and down, then threw his pack up onto a ledge, and climbed up and into the cave. I took the rockface approach. Finally, we climbed up and out. Before long we were on a “normal” trail. In all, it took us four hours to go one mile.

Next was Mahoosic Arm. This was about a two-mile ascent of 2,000 feet. Most of the Arm consisted of long, smooth, slick slabs of granite that sloped sharply up. At one point I tried to switch over to a different side of the slab to avoid some moose poop, when I fell and slid down the granite. I got a bad gash right above my left eye. Birch got out the first-aid kit and tried to clean me up, then we continued. Eventually the rain stopped, and that helped brighten our mood.

At last, we saw Speck Pond below. We got to the shelter about 3:15 and set up our tent on a platform. The shelter had a dining area where we made coffee and dinner. Water was easily accessed just beyond the dining area.

Our friends Karen, Ken, and Mark arrived in camp while we were setting up our tent, and it was nice to catch up with them.

Tuesday, June 28: Speck Pond Campsite and Shelter to Grafton Notch

I slept like a rock after the exhausting day, and Maple and I awoke in our tent at about 5:15. We packed up our things, and then went to the cooking area to prepare our oatmeal breakfast. There we chatted for half an hour with Ken, Karen, and Mark, before returning to our camp to pack up our tent and depart.

Going up into the alpine zone on Old Speck Mountain was a unique and disconcerting experience. We rose into the clouds by grabbing hold of roots and branches and pulling ourselves upward. The clouds were so dense that we could not see more than ten feet around us, so it appeared that, if we fell, we would fall through the cloud, however far, to earth below. The gusts of wind made our ascent even harder and dropped the temperature into the thirties.

The descent was much more gradual and kinder to us, and soon the clouds dispersed, allowing the sun to brighten our day. We encountered several day-hikers on their way up to the summit, and after crossing a stream, we found a beautiful cascade.

Upon making it to Grafton Notch, we drove to a first-aid station at a ski resort in Newbury to have Maple’s injury treated. It was beyond the 24-hour window for stitches, but the ski patrol staff did a great job of cleaning the wound and applying butterfly stitches. Afterwards, we drove up to the Rangeley Inn, where we had a reservation for two nights.

Thursday, June 30: Grafton Notch to Frye Notch Lean-to

Birch and I had a great zero day at the Rangeley Inn. This inn is majestic, with huge rooms of various shapes and sizes. The bathrooms were luxurious. We enjoyed the common area and the large porch. The staff couldn’t have been nicer.

Rangeley is an interesting town. It caters to tourists, with lots of little gift shops. However, for some reason most restaurants were closed on Tuesdays! We were very excited to find a delicious ice cream shop that also sold hot dogs and fries.

Before 6:30 a.m., Birch and I were packed up and ready to hit the trail again. David, from Pine Ellis Lodge, picked us up at 7:00, and we had wonderful conversation on the one-and-a-half-hour drive to Grafton Notch. David was in the Army Special Forces, lived in the Yukon, and now lives in a small town (Andover) with only 600 people. You can hardly imagine the stories!

We were able to get on the trail by 9 a.m., but it was not well marked and, at 10 a.m., we found ourselves off the AT by about half a mile. We backtracked and marveled at how easy it was to miss the trail.

The ascent to Baldpate West Peak was steep but manageable, with steps to ease our way. We met a woman full of energy and enthusiasm for our hike. She told us that the Baldpates were “sticky” today, making it a bit easier to climb, but she cautioned us about the wind. In fact, several people coming down warned us!

West Baldpate was beautiful and very easy to navigate. We descended and came to the bottom of East Baldpate. It looked very intimidating! It was one large granite mountain. Cairns guided our way up and, although windy, it was much better than some other mountains.

The descent was time consuming. The top half of the mountain was steep, with ladders to help. Finally, the trail became easier. We arrived at the lean-to at 4:15 and decided to stay in the shelter. NoBo “MEGA” set up his tent, and we enjoyed chatting with him. Other thru-hikers soon arrived, the tenting areas filled, and before long we had company in the shelter.

Friday, July 1: Fry Notch Lean-to to East B Hill Road

Maple and I slept in a bit this morning, and we didn’t get onto the trail until 6:45. Our intent was to hike the 4.5 miles to the brook just below East B Hill Road, but the trail was so easily hiked that we arrived at the brook at around 11:30. So, instead, we called Pine Ellis Lodge and rented a private room. David, who had shuttled us from the Rangeley Inn to Grafton Notch, picked us up and drove us the six miles into Andover.

While crossing the wide brook, I stepped on a rock that shifted under my foot. I lost my balance and could see that I was going to end up in the brook, but I somehow managed to pivot, so that I fell, instead, on the rocks that I had just traversed. My right knee took a beating, and I expressed my pain with a choice word or two.

Saturday, July 2: East B Hill Road to Sawyer Brook

Birch and I had a nice “nero” yesterday at Pine Ellis Lodge in the town of Andover. The big hang-out spot was Mills Market. We had a private room and a nice sleep. At 5:30 a.m. we walked over to Mills Market for breakfast—breakfast burritos. It was quite the busy spot even early in the morning.

At 7 a.m. David drove us to the trailhead. We began with an ascent up Wyman Mountain in the rain. Fortunately, the trail was easy. By 9 a.m. the rain had stopped. We made good time up to the peak, then descended to Hall Mountain Lean-to. There me met Jeff, who had his things spread out to dry. We joined him in the lean-to and prepared lunch. Suddenly the sky darkened, and it began to pour! Birch changed into his fleece, and we had a cup of coffee while we waited out the rain.

The showers ended quickly, and as we packed up “Laps” came into camp. He informed us that a large group of NoBo thru-hikers was also going to be staying at Sawyer Brook.

Birch and I had a 1.4-mile steep descent into camp. We went as fast as we could safely go, so that we would arrive before the group. Although we each had a few slips, the trail was pretty tame. Once at the brook, we crossed, thinking that tent sites were on the other side. Nope! We had to cross over the rocks again to find a site near the water.

As we filtered water, Laps came to camp with “Juice Box.” We enjoyed sitting with them as we cooked dinner and learned that Juice Box (Jenny) went to American University! Soon a group of about eight other hikers arrived, and the noise level rose. Birch and I ducked into our tent for a quiet evening of sleep.

Sunday, July 3: Sawyer Brook to South Arm Road

I was the first one up this morning at Sawyer Brook and quickly had a couple cups of coffee prepared for Maple and myself. My big surprise was finding my Sea-to-Summit trash bag missing. I forgot to pack it inside the food bag before retiring and, instead, left it on top of my backpack. Apparently, some animal larger than a squirrel carried it off. I hated the thought of leaving it somewhere in the wilderness, but it was nowhere to be found.

The weather was beautiful but humid this morning, and Maple and I were on the trail by 6:15. We had Moody Mountain to climb, and I was soon drenched in my sweat. When we got to the summit, I called Pine Ellis Lodge to arrange for a shuttle into Andover. Maple and I arrived at South Arm Road at 9:30 and were picked up, as requested, at 10:15.

Monday, July 4: South Arm Road to Bemis Mountain Lean-to

Birch and I got up at 5 a.m. and walked over to the market for coffee. David shuttled us to the trailhead, and we began the hike at about 6:25. We had heard from SoBos that Old Blue Mountain was a “beast,” so I was apprehensive about the plan to go 8.7 miles. However, the difficult portion never really materialized. Yes, there were a few granite slabs and scrambles, but nothing we hadn’t seen before. We made it to the top in about three hours.

The trail this day was sometimes easy, sometimes taxing. For most of the day we were on a ridge. After talking with several SoBos, we learned that the water situation at the lean-to was pretty dire.

About three miles before the lean-to was a stagnant water source. We took it, loading up with two extra liters. The last three miles were tough, mostly because I was tired and because Birch was now carrying added weight. We arrived at the lean-to just before 4 p.m. and decided to tent for our last night out. The weather was beautiful this evening.

Tuesday, July 5: Bemis Mountain Lean-to to ME-17, “Height of Land”

Once again, Maple and I were the first up at the shelter and campsite. We arose just before the sun, and I made coffee, as usual, bringing Maple her cup to enjoy in the tent.

There’s a lot of granite slabs on top of Bemis Mountain, Second Peak, and the trail is often marked by cairns. We met at the summit a thru-hiker who had cowboy camped there, hoping to catch sight of some fireworks. Although disappointed, he had no regrets.

The trail down Bemis’s Second Peak was sometimes steep and rocky. At one point Maple lost her footing. “Maple!” I exclaimed. “No! Oh shit! Fuck!” I was sure I was witnessing a tragedy in the works. Even so, somehow, rather miraculously, she regained her balance, without ever having lost her composure. Apparently, I alone thought a fall was imminent.

I had carried my sandals with me, strapping them to the outside of my backpack, under the presumption that I would need to wear them when fording 100-foot-wide Bemis Stream. When we got there, though, we found the stream quite shallow and easily crossed it on rocks. Afterwards, we climbed to ME-17, walked over to the “Height of Land” overlook, and there awaited out shuttle driver, Kim Spats, from Rangeley.

Our original plan had been to spend this night at Sabbath Day Pond Lean-to and to get off trail at ME-4, a day later, but Maple was able to set up her dental appointment in Maryland, which necessitated that we get on the road one day earlier than planned. So, here at ME-17, at the spectacular “Height of Land” overlook, our section hike came to its end.

AT: CN-4 (Cornwall Bridge) to Falls Village

A surprising opportunity to return to Connecticut came during the final week of December in 2021—surprising because we couldn’t have planned it, but the last few weeks of the year had been less cold than usual, and snow had not yet accumulated in the most southern of the New England states. Since Maple and I were both now working at American University, our vacation times coincided. So, we quickly made travel arrangements, purchased winter-rated sleeping bags, and on the day after Christmas headed up to the Days Inn in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Our plan was to hike as far as CN-41, near Salisbury. The AT crosses CN-41 less than a mile to the east of Salisbury, and a trail parking lot at this highway crossing is where we parked our car on the morning of Monday, the 27th.

“Big Lu” Young, the co-proprietor (along with Pat “Hudson”) of Bearded Woods B&D, picked us up promptly at 9:00 and dropped us off at the AT crossing at Old Sharon Road. Our previous venture in Connecticut ended at CN-4, and we were starting one-fifth of a mile from that position. The reason for this leap is that between CN-4 and Old Sharon Road runs Guinea Brook, which requires, at least, knee-deep fording, and Maple and I didn’t want to begin our hike by walking through winter’s water when the temperature outside was in the upper 20s. In fact, when Guinea Brook is running high, a blue-blazed trail guides hikers from CN-4 to Old Sharon Road. We simply opted not to do the road walk, but to let Lu drop us off where the AT dips back into the woods.

We were to rock-hop across many creeks and streams this day. Five miles into our hike, we crossed West Cornwall Road, and then had our lunch. Afterwards began the hike up to Rogers Ramp, two huge boulders between which the upward trail passes. We weren’t making great time; in fact, we were progressing at a much slower pace than we had made plans for. Our expectation was to stop and set up our tent at Sharon’s Mountain Campsite, 8.2 miles from our beginning point. But our last backpacking adventure had been in June, and although Maple and I, lately, had been regularly on the treadmill, our backpacking muscles had evidently gone soft on us. Plainly stated, we were out of shape. Six hours into our day we arrived exhausted at Pine Swamp Brook Shelter. We had hiked a measly 5.7 miles. Granted, the trail had been constantly up and down, and our path had not been smooth. Still, we were a bit stunned and embarrassed by our performance.

Since a winter’s advisory heralded sleet and snow during the night, Maple and I were already tempted to sleep in a shelter rather than in a tent, so we didn’t have to do much mutual arm-twisting to persuade ourselves to remain at Pine Swamp Brook. But we knew that, given our physical condition and average hiking speed, this meant that there was little hope of making it the following day to Limestone Spring Shelter. So, after we had coffee and talked it over, we decided that our best bet was to pull out of our hike at Falls Village. So, I texted our shuttle driver and successfully made plans for an afternoon pick-up at Falls Village Café.

Shortly after our arrival at Pine Swamp Brook Shelter, we were joined by “Tentpole,” a flip-flop thru-hiker, who was now southbound on her way to Harper’s Ferry. She was hiking with her canine companion, Beans. They were evidently used to unfavorable weather, since Tentpole declined our invitation to take half the shelter and set up her tent a couple hundred yards away. About half an hour later, we were joined by a man with his teen-aged daughter, Wayne and Althea. Althea was planning on doing a SoBo thru-hike in 2022, after graduating from high school, and this was her shakedown. They were pleasant company, but after finishing our dinner, Maple and I climbed into our new 15-degree sleeping bags and were quickly oblivious to the world around us.

When we awoke just before sunrise, we discovered a layer of ice covering everything outside the shelter. Surprisingly, Wayne had also decided to tent, leaving Althea with half of the shelter to herself. We all packed up together and left the shelter at about the same time. Knowing that they could not be as slow as ourselves, Maple and I bid them farewell, wished Althea the best, and hoped that our paths would cross again somewhere in New Hampshire or Maine the following summer.

During the day, when we came upon a brook crossing, where a blowdown obstructed the path, we discovered a directional note kindly left for us by Althea. Fortunately, when we finally arrived at the Falls Village Café, at 2:15, we found father and daughter there enjoying a lunch, and Maple and I were able to thank them for their thoughtfulness. Maple and I each grabbed a coffee and a BLT, while we awaited Lu, who arrived to pick us up right on time at 3:00. The trail had been hard, but we were thankful to have, once again, experienced a small part of it.      

AT: Damascus, VA, to US-19E, TN

Day One: Damascus to Abingdon Gap Shelter

Birch and I began our day at our ultimate destination, Mountain Harbour B&B. We had the Isabel Room, but Mountain Harbour also has a very inexpensive hostel. Birch was up super early (nervous about the day?). The breakfast was a feast. The most amazing array of food I’ve ever seen. I ate a ton!

Dave, the General Manager, shuttled us from the B&B to our starting point in Damascus. The weather forecast was very bleak—rain all day with 3/4 of an inch of rain expected. As we started the hike it was sunny.

We went straight up, passing a spring that had a nice camp spot and soon passed the Virginia/Tennessee border. We made fast progress, mostly due to a very smooth trail. Once on the ridge, there were a few “ups” and “downs,” but nothing bad. Best of all, there was no rain!

We ate our Subway sandwich with about 5 miles to go. There may have been no rain but the humidity really got to us, so we stopped for water often and, with about a mile to go, took a break to have a protein bar.

Once at camp we met several super friendly section and thru hikers. The trek to get water was a pain because it was WAY down a steep trail. We ended up eating the other half of our Subway sandwich for dinner and called it a night by 7 pm. Our first day on the trail felt great.

Day Two: Abingdon Gap Shelter to Double Spring Shelter

I had some difficulty hanging the bear bag last night. It was so heavy, with five days of food for Maple and me, and the rope was so taut that I couldn’t make the loop in it to hang the bag PCT style. I ended up tying the rope to a tree. Anyway, we got all of our camp chores done just in time to climb into our tent before the rain began. Most of the night it rained, so we packed up a soaked tent this morning.

We were, once again, expecting rain today, but we made it to the shelter by 12:30 and the rain held off until 4:00. It certainly is nice getting into camp early in the day and having time to relax after finishing with chores. We set up our chairs, took out our Nook e-book readers, and enjoyed a little sunshine before the sky darkened with rain clouds.

Oh, I should note that we came across a good-sized turtle with an orange-speckled shell today on the trail and, later on, surprised a mama bear with her cub. The mama stood on her hind legs to get a look at who was making the noise, and then her cub came scurrying down the tree; then, they both took off running down the mountain.

We had the shelter to ourselves until the rain began, when a young day-hiking couple with a Giant Schnauzer hastily joined us under the tin roof. Just after dinner this evening, a fellow section-hiker joined us, and it appeared that he would stay, but ultimately, just before sunset, he decided to put in a couple more miles. So, it’s just Maple and me here tonight.

Maple and I debated whether to put up the tent to dry it out, but it’s probably a good thing that we decided against it. We’re sleeping in the shelter tonight. Also, we’re being brave and keeping our bear bag with us in the shelter, as there don’t appear to be any good hanging branches within view of us.

Day Three: Double Spring Shelter to Iron Mountain Shelter

By 8:30 pm last night we were zonked, but in came two hikers taking a dinner break. They were attempting a 40 mile day and still had another 20 to go. Just as they left, a torrential rain hit. We were in the shelter (instead of the tent), so we stayed dry.

Around midnight Birch and I were awakened by a loud howl, or was it a grunt? A bark? Clearly, it was a bear down near the water source! We turned on our headlamps and yelled at it to go away. I was nervous the rest of the night.

In the morning we left by 8:30 am. The first part of the trail is a descent, which was a nice way to start the day. Eventually, we reached a stile which took us into a cow pasture. At fist, there was plenty of evidence of cows but no cows. Then . . . we saw them! They looked very unimpressed with us but we were happy to see them.

Just as we left the pasture the rain came with gusto. We got our rain gear on and rushed to the forest where we would have some cover. About 45 minutes later the rain let up. The forest was so green—just beautiful! We soon went through a pathway of rhododendrons that reminded me a lot of Virginia. Eventually, the trail bottomed out and then we climbed until we got to the shelter. It was a chore to go uphill, but we made it in plenty of time to take out our tent and dry it before setting it up. Our only company was a group of women who stopped for lunch.

Day Four: Iron Mountain Shelter to Stealth Campsite


It rained hard yesterday evening for about fifteen minutes; then, it remained dry throughout the night. By morning light, our tent was mostly dry. We had beautiful blue sky today. Maple and I arose early and were on the trail by 7:40. We reached Vandenventer Shelter by 11;30, and since our gps (Guthook) told us there was a water source on the trail 1.7 miles further south, we decided to continue our hike after lunch. .2 mile before reaching the spring, we spotted an awesome tent site, so we dropped our gear, set up the tent, and went for the water—all downhill, but it beats the .3 mile down the mountainside required to reach the water source at Vandenventer Shelter.

Maple and I relaxed at camp, read from our Nooks, had coffee, took a nap, and made dinner—all before the sound of thunder warned us to get our gear situated for the night. We’re looking forward to getting in to Boots Off Hostel tomorrow.

Day Five: Stealth Campsite to Boots off Hostel

It rained a bit last night, but what else is new?!? The weather was looking good and we enjoyed coffee and granola before setting off sometime before 8 am. This part of the trail has plenty of ups and downs. I took a bit of a spill early on but bounced back and really enjoyed the views. We could see the lake from above and I was looking forward to getting a closer look.

It was a super muggy day. With about 5 miles to go we met a couple who were training for a difficult hike. They warned us of bear activity. This seems to be a big challenge for the area.

From here, the trail wrapped around Lake Watauga. Sometimes the trail was right at lake level (which would have been a problem if there was flooding) and sometimes it spiraled up a hill or mountain. Luckily, despite some warnings of high water, things worked out just fine. We had no problems and made it to Boots Off Hostel for lunch.

John checked us in and gave us a tour of the place. We drank coffee while waiting for our cabin to be ready. The cabin is super small but has everything a hiker would need. We had a full bed, a coffee pot, fridge, and AC.

The shower was glorious! John washed our clothes for us and at 6 pm we took the free shuttle into town for McDonald’s.

Day Six: Zero

Today has been a much-needed day of relaxation and reading. We packed Starbucks ground coffee into our resupply box, knowing that the cabins here come equipped with coffee makers—so, we have had plenty of coffee. It rained today from 2 to 3:30, and Maple and I slept much of that time.

Jim, the owner of Boots Off, introduced himself to us today and spoke at length with Maple. A very nice and hard working man.

I’ve called the Black Bear Resort on Dennis Cove Road and made a cabin reservation for tomorrow night, since Laurel Fork Shelter is reportedly rat and possum infested—but this means that Maple and I will have to hike an additional hour tomorrow. No big deal. I think that we are both ready to get back on the trail again.

Day Seven: Boots Off Hostel to Black Bear Resort

After coffee and breakfast this morning, Maple and I donned our backpacks and set off down the road to the trail. It took us only about one-and-a-half hours to get up Pond Mountain. We were refreshed from our day off yesterday. There were several campsites on the top of the mountain, more than suggested by the map.

It took us longer to get down the mountain, and longer still to get to Laurel Falls. The route along the river to the falls is a bit tricky. One has to use caution while scrambling over and around the rocks. The falls, however, were amazing and well worth the effort to see them. They were, perhaps, the best falls that we’ve seen on the AT.

We made it to Dennis Cove Road by around 1:30 and, then, walked the half mile east to Black Bear Resort. We are now situated in the Grandbob Cabin. Our first order of business was, of course, to take a shower. Then, lunch, coffee, and laundry—in that order. Our cabin is, probably, twice the size of the one we had at Boots Off, but it lacks a coffee maker and air conditioner. Even so, there’s a coffee maker in the common room and a fan in the cabin that does a great job of circulating the air.

It hasn’t rained at all today, and Maple and I sat outside our cabin for awhile, appreciating the blue sky. Still, she tells me that we’ll be getting wet tomorrow.

Day Eight: Black Bear Resort to Moreland Gap Shelter

We awoke early but the weather forecast was bleak for the morning. We had coffee and said goodbye to Fiddle, who is a UVA staff member going south, like us. She left in the rain so that she could make it 16 miles. We waited until 9:30 am when the rain let up. Our hosts drove us to the trailhead (thank you!) and we spent the next two hours going up, up the mountain, taking our raingear on and off as the weather changed. The salamanders, frogs and turtles all joined us on the trail.

At last the sun came out and we made it to the shelter before 1:30. We set up camp and got water. (The water is pretty far down the blue trail but the flow was outstanding!)

At the shelter we had a chance to meet lots of nice people. Sorry and Hops had been to Boots Off with us and were going south. PTL (who has a vlog called Be Still on the Trail) joined us for dinner. Wonder and his dog stayed the night at the shelter.

Day Nine: Moreland Gap Shelter to Mountaineer Shelter

I arose at 6 this morning and made coffee. Then, Maple got up and made us oatmeal. After cleaning the dishes, we packed up our dry gear. Fortunately, it didn’t rain last night.

Unfortunately, the trail today was, for the most part, through muddy, muggy, and buggy rhododendron groves. We crossed, I’d say, between fifteen and twenty streams, mostly over board bridges, although sometimes we were able to simply step over shallow currents or rock-hop across more robust creeks. We saw two cascades.

Mountaineer Shelter is at the top of a ridge, above the rhododendrons. We are set up now at the tenting area behind and above the shelter. The water source, which was flowing nicely, is about 100 yards in front of the shelter.

After lunch, Maple and I set up our chairs and prepared to do a little reading in the sunlight, but soon noticed ticks on us. We decided that it wasn’t safe to remain in the open, especially after seeing another half dozen ticks on our tent fly. So, we are resigned to remain, for the remainder of the evening and night, inside our tent—at least, as much as possible.

This will be our last night in the woods on this trip. We’ve enjoyed the adventure, but look forward to arriving back at Mountain Harbour B&B tomorrow.

Day Ten: Mountaineer Shelter to US-19E

Birch and I awoke early this morning, and Birch brought me coffee “in bed” by 6 am. Breakfast consisted of granola. It wasn’t very exciting but we really didn’t need much because we knew that we’d be at the B&B today.

The first part of the hike brought us past many water features. We continued to cross over planks and bridges and we were able to get above the rhododendrons. Mist was present throughout the morning and by 10 am it began to rain.

I was looking forward to getting to the meadow that Wonder had described as being like that place where “that lady” from the Sound of Music sang at the top of the mountain. Unfortunately, the meadow we crossed was nothing like it. The grasses were so high that there was no way anyone with a dress could twirl a skirt. Instead, it was windy, wet, muddy and miserable. This terrain lasted much longer than I would have liked.

The last two miles brought us back into the woods. It wasn’t long before we heard traffic and made it to 19E. One special treat we had upon arrival at the B&B is that we saw Sorry and Hops again. They had to take a zero because Sorry had not been feeling well. After dinner, we took them to Dollar General for supplies. We managed to pick up some ice cream, so the trip was well worth it.

For this stay we had the Jefferson Room. It was fantastic! It had a huge tub and the bed was enormous. Breakfast the next day didn’t disappoint! We look forward to coming back here again when we continue our southbound trip on the AT.

AT: Pen Mar to Caledonia State Park

Maple and I had done this 19-mile hike once before, nearly five years ago. (See our earlier post on this site: We have been exercising at the gym six days a week, preparing for our big hike in New Hampshire this coming June and July. But the best preparation for backpacking is backpacking, so we decided to revisit southern Pennsylvania. We began at Pen Mar Park, in Maryland, just south of the Mason-Dixon line, and ended at PA-30, where the AT enters Caledonia State Park.


Saturday morning began below freezing, and it would warm up only about 15 degrees during the day. We both started our hike wearing our fleece jackets, wool hats, and gloves. The sky, however, would clear up to a bright blue. The whole weekend would really be quite beautiful. Yet, we would see very few people on the trail.

We started our hike at 9:00 and arrived at Deer Lick Shelters at 11:30. There we had our lunch and rested awhile before continuing. Soon we were at Old Forge, close to where Antietam Shelter used to be, and in another mile we arrived at our camping location, Tumbling Run Shelters. The hike was very easy, mostly flat, and hardest in our first mile, coming out of Pen Mar, where one has to ascend a hill.

After enjoying a cup of coffee, we were greeted by caretakers Curt Finney and his wife, Tawnya. We had a nice discussion with them about the AT in New Hampshire. Once the sun set, the temperature quickly dropped, so after dinner we retired for the night. In the morning, I would find my dromedary half filled with ice.


On Sunday, Maple’s birthday, our hike was somewhat more challenging, as we had several hills covered with boulders to make our way over. During this hike, we met Sean Sullivan, otherwise known as “Just Sean,” a thru-hiker who is attempting a calendar-year Triple Crown—that is, he is attempting to hike not only the AT, but also the PCT and CDT, in 2020.

With PA-30 (and the end of our hike) in view, Maple tripped over a tree stump on the trail and fell face first, breaking her glasses and blackening her right eye. It was an unfortunate ending to an otherwise wonderful trip.


Hoyt Road to CN-4

On Thursday night, October 3, 2019, Maple and I drove into New Milford, Connecticut, spent the night at the Rocky River Inn, and on the following morning drove north to Cornwall Bridge, where we hung out at the Country Store waiting for our taxi. The only shuttle we could find was the Pawling Taxi from New York. Our overworked driver got us to Hoyt Road, and we were on the trail by 9:20.

The rain of Thursday had been followed by a cold front, and the temperature had dropped a good twenty degrees. A chill was in the air, and it seemed that autumn had finally arrived. The leaves in Connecticut were changing color and were just beginning to fall from their trees. But we would have to watch out for the fallen acorns. Beware acorns! They are like marbles and will set your feet a-rolling out from underneath you. Karen and I were to slip numerous times during this trip, and Maple actually fell twice.

With just a few steps away from Hoyt Road, we were in Connecticut. We followed closely along the border until we got to Ten Mile River. Then, we followed the river north to its confluence with the much larger Housatonic. A bridge there allowed us to cross Ten Mile River and set us down on the southern bank of the Housatonic, which we walked along side of for about 1.5 miles, before coming to the border of Schaghticoke Reservation. This pushed us back toward and across the New York border, as we climbed our highest peak for this trip, Schaghticoke Mountain, a 1000-foot climb in three miles.

Maple and I hadn’t been exercising since our last AT outing, so by the time we reached Schaghticoke Mountain Campsite, at 8.3 miles, we were nearly exhausted. But it had been a particularly dry summer, and most of the water sources were dried up, including the source at the campsite. We pushed on. It was about this time that we ran into a flip-flop thru-hiker who was now SOBO, 140 miles from completing his trek. We wished him well, and inquired into the flow of Thayer Brook. One mile south of Mt. Algo Shelter, this brook was our last hope for water before making camp. We were assured that it was running, and indeed it was. Maple and I stopped there and filled up our dromedary.

It was 5:30 by the time we reached Mt. Algo Shelter. We were exhausted, but delighted to see that, although four tents were already up, there were still several tent sites available. By the time we set up camp and cooked our dinner, the light from the sky was quickly fading and the air was getting cold. During the night, the temperature would drop down into the mid-30s.

The reputation of St. John’s Ledges had preceded itself, and so, on Saturday, Maple and I measured our progress by how close we were getting to Caleb’s Peak and the beginning of this notoriously difficult descent. We arrived at about noon, and when we got there we found a group of day-hikers gathered at the top. They had just climbed up St. John’s Ledges, and part of the group had decided not to risk a descent. They were choosing rather to hike to the nearest road. The dubious consolation that the group included nurses and doctors was offered up as an incentive for them to make the descent, but they would have none of it. They were determined not to go back down.

Upon hearing this discussion, Maple and I both felt inclined to follow the cautious hikers to the road, two miles back. We walked up to what we presumed to be the beginning of the descent and looked down, and we could see neither path nor foothold. “How did you get up here?” I asked one of the group. “That’s the lookout, not the path. If you go that way, you are sure to hit hikers and climbers on your way down. The path is over this way.”

The path was, indeed, difficult, but at least it was not impossible. The key was to use hands and feet, and to keep three points of contact when descending step by step. It was more difficult than the Dragon’s Tooth, in Virginia, but not more so than certain parts of the White Mountains. Maple and I took our time, and before long we had completed the most treacherous section. Then, we came upon an REI-sponsored class of beginning mountain climbers, who were practicing on the sheer rock face of the mountain. One of them, a former thru-hiker, from back in the ’70s, talked with us briefly. It was clear that he had contracted a bit of nostalgia, for which there is no remedy but to get back on the trail.

When we got to the bottom of the mountain, we found ourselves, once again, on the bank of the Housatonic River. We would follow this level path for three miles, passing by dry Stewart Hollow Brook Shelter. We stopped, instead, at Stony Brook, which had a decent flow and, up on the mountainside, several designated tent sites. All were unoccupied, and so we set up camp nearest to the brook and rested awhile before collecting our water for the night and next day.

On our final day, as we again walked along the southern edge of the Housatonic, we came across five white-tailed deer standing in the river. Upon seeing us, they darted across to the other side. Shortly thereafter, we came upon a couple of fly fishermen. The AT directed us away from the river and through a couple of open fields. Then, we had an 800-ft. ascent up Silver Hill. As we approached the top, the trail became increasingly rocky and even required a bit of scrambling. Fortunately, the way down, to CN-4 and our car, wasn’t quite so challenging.

Autumn in New England is lovely, and we shall soon forget neither this adventure nor its setting.

AT: NY-55 to Canopus Lake

This is the first time that Maple and I walked southbound north of Harper’s Ferry. The reason we chose to do this is the lack of parking at the trail junction on NY-55. We knew that there was plenty of parking by Conopus Lake, so that’s where we parked Saturday morning, August 17. From there we called an Uber, and we were picked up within 30 minutes. The driver, unfortunately, either had a terrible sense of direction or was unable to read his gps, so it took us an hour to get to our drop-off point in West Pawling. At 9:30, though, we were on the trail.

The first thing we noticed was the awful heat and humidity. Within 30 minutes we were soaked in our sweat, and we would remain soaking wet throughout the day. I suppose that thru-hikers can become somewhat acclimated to heat and humidity, but, together, they always take a heavy toll on Maple and me. As a result, these 12.4 miles to the RPH (Ralph’s Peak Hikers’) Cabin proved to be quite difficult—I think especially for me.
Three miles into our hike, we stopped at the Morgan Stewart Shelter to have a snack and to replenish our water at the hand-pumped well. Maple and I were carrying two liters each, but since we were sweating out every drop that we took in, there was no way that it was going to be sufficient to get us to the RPH Cabin.


One thing that certainly distinguished this section of trail is the prevalence of traffic noise. It seemed that we were almost always close to a major thoroughfare. In another 2 miles, we crossed over I-84, and for the next 3 miles, hiked parallel to it. Then, at Hosner Mountain, the trail turned so that it was adjacent to the Taconic State Parkway.

We stopped to eat our lunch on the trail steps off of Stormhill Mountain Road, just after crossing over I-84. The trail actually goes up this neighborhood road a little ways, and Maple and I wondered what the residents must think about all the hikers that walk down their road. It was so hot and humid that I lost most of my appetite, and could hardly manage half a sandwich. But, in another mile, at NY-52, we again stopped for a snack. Driving down NY-52 at the time was trail angel Bill, who stopped and offered to top off our water supply. Thank goodness! We needed every drop.

While hiking on top of the ridge of Hosner Mountain, we encountered several thru-hikers that were planning on getting to Katahdin before October. We wished them well, but privately wondered whether they would make it. Personally, I believe they should get to the Connecticut border, flip-flop, and then hike southward. However, I kept my opinions to myself.

Finally, we passed under the Taconic State Parkway and arrived at the RPH Cabin. We were utterly exhausted, and after setting up our tent, rested awhile. Then, we made dinner at the picnic table, pumped our water by the cabin, enjoyed a cup of coffee, and hit the sack. No sooner had we settled down, at about 9:00, than lightning and thunder announced the coming of a storm. Soon it hit, and it really poured. We felt a few drops pass through our tent, but no serious leaks.


In the morning, we awoke to a day that was even more humid than the day before. We were the first up in camp and, after preparing breakfast and coffee, were on the trail by 8:00.

Sweat was soon pouring off of us, and by the time that we reached Long Hill Road, we had drank half of our water supply. To our good fortune, some anonymous trail angel had left gallons of water just off the road. Once again, thank goodness for the kindness of strangers! We drank up, filled up, and were on our way.


After a couple more miles, we could hear people having fun at the beach of Canopus Lake. We had expected the trail to stretch out adjacent to the lake, but instead it remained on a very rocky ridge. The last two miles of our hike seemed to consist of a series of pointless ups and downs (or “puds”), but we finally arrived at a series of rock steps that brought us down from the ridge and, eventually, to our car. Maple cranked up the air conditioner, and in a few minutes we were on our way home.


AT: Crawford Notch to Pinkham Notch

Day One: Crawford Notch to Mizpah Spring Hut

Birch and I awoke early in order to park our car near Pinkham Notch and catch a shuttle to Crawford Notch, US 301. It was a cloudy day, with rain and hail in the forecast, but as we began our hike no rain was in sight and it was a comfortable 55 degrees.

According to all maps, the 3 mile hike to Webster is brutal. It is about 3000 feet in elevation, practically straight up. But the first hour wasn’t too bad. I had the false hope that we were conquering it well. Within no time we were on the “top” of Webster – or so I thought. We took photos by the giant cairn and looked forward to the next few easy miles, which were supposed to be pretty flat.6-30_1035

Unfortunately, things only got more difficult. Time after time we were confronted with large slabs of rock that went straight up. Desperately, we clung to pine branches to pull us up, or we grasped for rocks, hoping to make it to the next ledge. We kept finding more steep ascents before us. Was this Mount Jackson? No! Eventually a forest ranger came up the trail just as precipitation and thunder began. She told us that the Mt. Webster summit was just ahead but that we better get below tree line because of the weather. She turned around to go down the mountain, leaving us thoroughly depressed.

Just as we got to the top of Mt. Webster it began to rain and hail. The wind picked up and thunder was in the distance. We wolfed down a sandwich and scurried to get below tree line. However, if we thought the hard part was over it wasn’t the case. The trail was now a virtual river and we still encountered steep rock ascents, only now we were doing it on wet, slick slabs of granite. Mount Jackson was super windy and we both ended up taking spills. We slogged through pools of water above our ankles but we still had miles to go to get to Mizpah Hut.6-30_1333

Then we arrived! Boy, that hut looked so good! The friendly staff assigned us to room #4. I took the top bunk and Birch took the lower one. We changed out of our sopping wet clothes and had a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Dinner was honey wheat bread, lentil soup, salad, pasta and broccoli. Chocolate cake was the dessert. We climbed into bed early, exhausted but pretty happy about our accomplishments.7-1_0806

Day Two: Mizpah Spring Hut to Lake of the Clouds Hut

This morning Maple and I were treated to a breakfast of oatmeal with peaches, pancakes with maple syrup, scrambled eggs, and bacon. Immediately after breakfast, we changed into our wet clothes and wet socks from yesterday, knowing that there would be plenty of puddles to wade through. We packed our backpacks and hit the trail, leaving Mizpah at 8:10.

The trail up Mt. Pierce was steep and required constant scrambling up rocks and boulders, but we soon reached the top. Once there, we had to deal with the water remaining on the trail, although the frequent bog boards helped somewhat. Still, putting on our wet socks seemed the right choice.7-1_0812

The trail got easier once we put Mt. Pierce behind us, although we still had plenty of large rocks to deal with. As we approached the cutoff trail to the peak of Mt. Eisenhower, we entered the alpine zone, above tree level. We were, however, immersed in clouds, so we had no distant views. In the alpine zone, there are no white blazes; we were really dependent upon the cairns to keep us on the trail.

As we approached Mt. Monroe, the wind really picked up, and Maple and I had to pull out our hooded fleeces. Just past the cutoff to Mt. Monroe, we found a place out of the wind where we paused for snacks and water.

Finally, at 12:30, we came around a bend and there it was—Lake of the Clouds Hut. We had made good time, and this reassured Maple that tomorrow we can make it to Madison Springs Hut.7-1_1220

The wet socks took a toll on my feet. They have been rubbed raw on every side. Fortunately, we have a first-aid kit stocked with “vitamin I”–that is, Ibuprofen.

Maple and I have been assigned bunk beds, once again, in Room 4. The bunks are three-tiered, and allow insufficient room to sit up in bed. Maple has the middle, allowing me the bottom. We have already taken a nap and are looking forward to a pot roast for dinner.

Day Three: Lake of the Clouds Hut to Madison Spring Hut.

Birch and I awoke before 5 a.m. in order to get moving early. I was super nervous about this hike, anticipating that it would be arduous. We quietly left all our bunkmates and packed up our gear, bringing it to the main hall so that we could organize it. Thru-hikers were tucked into their sleeping bags, scattered everywhere. (The Hut allows them to stay for free, in exchange for some work—but no bunks for them.)

We ate cereal that we brought, and a croo member kindly got up early to make us coffee!

We were out the door around 6 a.m., and as we began there was a bright yellow sign: “Stop! You are entering an area that has the worst weather in the world.” Okay. No need to ramp up my nerves was needed. The ascent to Mt. Washington was fairly easy. We were completely socked in by fog, so the hardest part was finding the next cairn. As we reached the top, the wind picked up.

Once at the top we hoped that we could, at least, stop inside for a minute, but it was before 8 a.m. and everything was closed. (I was kind of surprised that they don’t leave it open as a shelter from the weather.)7-2_0731

Once again, the rain started just as we reached the summit. Luckily, it was just spritzing. We took photos at a Mt. Washington sign, but not the summit sign—too windy!

Birch led us up and over. On the way down, it was super rocky, super windy, and super foggy. My glasses misted up so much that I just took them off.

Once down about a quarter-mile, visibility improved. We crossed the railroad tracks and began hiking the ridge. After another hour the skies cleared and we could see into the valley! Beautiful. We could even see a puff of smoke from the train. This was my favorite part of the day. A slow descent. It was rocky, but it reminded me of Pennsylvania. Not bad.

One of the nice things about this hike is that there are many intersecting trails—so signs, with mileage, are everywhere. We climbed towards Mt. Jefferson, then went around the mountain and descended a very rocky path to another trail junction.

As we ascended, a ton of young people (20-25?) were coming the other way. It was a busy trail, with lots of day hikers, people doing the Presidential Traverse. I think the weather encouraged a lot of hikers. 7-2_1102

The last mile gave us beautiful views and fairly easy terrain, except for the .3 miles down to the hut. The view of Madison looks daunting!7-2_1349

Birch and I secured some awesome bunks, then hurried out. We played Scrabble at one of the dinner tables, while drinking coffee. Dinner was enchiladas. In all, it was a very nice day, but I’m exhausted!

Day Four: Madison Spring Hut to Osgood Tentsite.

I awoke Maple at 5:30 this morning, with a cup of coffee. Breakfast was at 7:00, and we were on the trail by 8:00. It’s been a beautiful day, with bright blue sky and gentle breezes. The view of Mt. Washington from the peak of Mt. Madison was unobscured.7-3_0843

We had a half-mile ascent over the rocks up Mt. Madison, and then a two-and-a-half mile descent. The going was slow, but we tried to be as careful as we could over the precarious terrain. It took us two hours to traverse the first mile, and five hours to get to Osgood Tentsite.7-3_1035

There were several day hikers from Madison Spring Hut who were making the ascent along with us, but on our descent we were pretty much alone. We met up with four or five people going up from Pinkham Notch and only one thru-hiker, who passed us up on our descent.

Maple had a couple of easy falls, but we both somehow managed to make it to Osgood without injury.

We have taken the second tent platform, close to our water source. Maple put to use our new Sawyer Squeeze water-filtration system, and seems to have had a good experience with it. We’ve already had coffee and had a nice nap.

We are both looking forward to our arrival at Pinkham Notch tomorrow, but we are also enjoying our down time at Osgood. Were it not for the mosquitos, our camping experience here would be almost idyllic. 7-3_1558

Day Five: Osgood Tentsite to Pinkham Notch.

The sun comes up early this time of year, so we were up early as well. By 6:30 am we had packed up and had eaten breakfast.  This trail was so different than the others we had experienced this trip.  It was much easier to  navigate.  In many ways this hike could be called the trail of waterfalls. We saw so many beautiful water sources along the way.  A highlight of the hike was the opportunity to walk over a suspension bridge. It swayed a bit but was lots of fun.7-4_0709

The trail has a gradual ascent that is very mild by the standards of the Whites.  With about 2 miles to go we crossed the Mount Washington Auto Road, where a tour van had slowed to show the passengers where the AT was located.  I felt a little on display as I waved to the folks who were taking the easy way down the mountain!

The last mile was super easy and I couldn’t help but feel a little sad that our adventure was coming to an end. It was nice to see the Pinkham Notch Visitors Center and I’m so happy that we had such a successful, injury-free experience.

AT: High Point State Park to NJ-94

After spending the night in Vernon, Maple and I dropped off our car at the AT crossing on NJ-94 and were picked up by our shuttle driver. Once again, we relied upon George Lightcap, and it has been our pleasure to get acquainted with him.

The morning was foggy, and the High Point monument was almost entirely shielded from view. But, despite the clouds and the chill in the air, it was going to turn into a beautiful autumn day, ideal for backpacking.
Once we passed High Point Shelter, we ran into two fellow section hikers, Waldo, her dog, and friend, Chad, who were traveling in the same direction.

Six miles into our hike, we stopped at a footbridge over a stream and topped off our water, just to make certain that we had enough to cook a hot lunch of ramen noodles. But, before having lunch, we decided to go a bit further.

And, then, we had a little accident. While traveling over the puncheons through Vernie Swamp, Maple slipped and went feet first into the swamp. Unfortunately, she also, then, lost her balance, and went down onto her hands and knees. Only her backpack stayed above the water and muck. In a panic, I stepped onto the same wet spot on the plank and slipped off into the swamp. I stayed upright on my feet, in eight inches of mud and muck, and with water up to my knees. We both managed to quickly get ourselves back onto the puncheons, but the damage was done. I must say, though, that Maple handled the event marvelously: no screaming, no whining, no moaning.  I even heard her say, “It’s all good.”
Both of us had soaking wet boots, but Maple was thoroughly drenched and, on top of that, smelling worse than a thru-hiker. So, when we stopped to cook our lunch, she changed her clothes.

Our original plan was to stop in Unionville, NY, and set up camp in the town’s park, which has been made available for that purpose to AT hikers. However, upon arriving at Lott Rd., we decided to press on and try to get to Pochuck Mountain Shelter before nightfall.

There’s a half-mile stretch where the AT runs parallel to NJ-284, and then makes a left turn to cross the road. Maple and I both missed the left turn, and consequently had to walk through a bog several inches deep. We cleared the bog and pressed on for another hundred yards or so before realizing our mistake. Not wanting to retrace our steps through the bog, we bushwacked our way through some thorny bushes until we spotted a couple of hikers and knew we had found our way back to the trail.

Just across NJ-284 there is a steam. We filled our dromedary there, and I carried our water for the next six miles, including the mile-and-a-half through the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. With the recent cold weather, most of the birds appear to have gone south, but Maple and I did see ducks and a crane.

We arrived at Pochuck Mountain Shelter just before nightfall, quickly set up our tent and made ourselves coffee. And then, after sunset, cooked our dinner. By the time we visited the shelter, it was too dark to see and Waldo and Chad had already retired for the night. It was time for Maple and I to retire, as well. We were exhausted.

It rained during the night, and the temperature dropped below freezing, so there was a layer of frost over everything when we awoke in the morning—twelve hours later. By 9:30 we were packed up and ready to get back on the trail.

The highlight of day two was definitely passing over the Pochuck Boardwalk, a remarkable accomplishment of engineering. It follows a circuitous route through Vernon Valley and, by means of a suspension bridge, crosses over Pochuck Creek. Beyond the boardwalk are more puncheons, eventually leading us to NJ-94 and the end of our trip.

AT: Millwood/Blairstown Road to Culver’s Gap

Day One: Millwood/Blairstown Road to Brink Road Shelter

Once again, Maple and I enjoyed the shuttle service provided by George Lightcap of Newton, NJ. He picked us up promptly at 8:30 at Culver’s Gap and transported us, together with a fellow hiker, Glenn, to Millwood/Blairstown Road. After a couple weeks of rain, it was fortuitous to have a day of sunshine, with clouds—even though the humidity was rather high.

There were a couple of places requiring scrambling and hiking over a rock field, but overall, I’d say that the 10.9 mile hike to Brink Road Shelter was easier than the average AT hike. What made it more difficult for Maple was that one of her hiking poles broke during the first mile. It snapped in two where the sections joined together. We tried using duct tape, but that solution failed miserably.

I saw several salamanders and frogs on the trail during this trip—perhaps, because of all the rain we’ve had recently.

Just before leaving on this trip, I purchased a second Helinox Chair Zero—an excellent chair to bring backpacking, weighing only 1 pound each. I carried both, and Maple and I were able to enjoy a nice lunch break at a place that had no convenient rocks or logs to sit on.

Just before climbing Rattlesnake Mountain, we came to a nicely constructed bridge over a brook, compliments of the Boy Scouts. Rattlesnake Mountain was, I think, the most precipitous and rocky ascent that we had this day, but the view to the north from the top was certainly worth it. There we stopped and took a short break.

9-15_1725When we got to Brink Road Shelter, we found that the ground in front of it was under water. The water stretched out over the road, and most of the way toward the spring—so it was no simple task to make our way to the spring to fill up our dromedary. Once we got there, we found that our water filter would not pump. Ultimately, we decided to take our chances, and take our water directly from the source of the spring, without filtering.

Day Two: Brink Road Shelter to Culver’s Gap

We awoke in our tent on day two to the sound of light rainfall. This was not in the forecast. In fact, the weather report said there was no chance of rain in Newton, just ten miles to the south. Even so, the sprinkling was not bad, and Maple and I got out of our tent and enjoyed a cup of coffee and oatmeal for breakfast.

We didn’t get far on our second day’s journey, without noticing the saturation of the forest with spider webs. Webs crossed the trail, and we both had to use our trekking poles to clear the way before us.9-16_0936

After about an hour, we were out of the spider infested forest. Soon we had to make our steep descent from Kittatinny Mountain to Culver’s Gap.

We had fun, and look forward to continuing our journey in two weeks.


Birch, with Culver Lake in the background.

AT: Franconia Notch to Crawford Notch

Day 1: Franconia Notch to Liberty Springs Tentsite

Maple and I were picked up by our shuttle driver, Dan of Trail Angels, at 11:30 at the Rattle River parking area—just south of Gorham. (Our plan was to hike all the way from US-3 to US-2. We had a twelve-day itinerary, but this was not to be. Dan told us that many people that he shuttles don’t make it as far as their intentions, and that we should contact him if we bail. We didn’t think that would apply to us, but we kept it in mind.)

From Franconia Notch, we had to walk through the woods a ways, on the Pemi Trail, before we crossed the bridge that leads directly to the Liberty Springs Trail, part of the AT. From the commencement of this trail, one has 2.6 miles uphill to the tentsite; however, the uphill doesn’t begin in earnest until one has to cross a creek. Then, one has 2 miles still to go, and it is the most strenuous 2 miles I think that I have ever experienced on the AT. Hiking southward up the Priest was definitely easier. The Liberty Springs Trail completely exhausted me. By the time we arrived at the tentsite, I was in no condition to safely backpack much further.

Ryan, the caretaker at Liberty Springs Tentsite, got us situated at platform number 9—and, as I write this at 8:10 in the evening—we have the platform to ourselves. We’ve had to store our food in a bearbox and do all of our cooking—including making coffee—at the cooking area. We filtered our water at a slow-moving spring close to the cooking area.

Maple and I are a bit discouraged by the hard hiking conditions and the time that it took us to make it up the mountain today. It is humid, and I was completely drenched in sweat by the time we got to the top. I think the humidity helped to drain me of energy. We’re committed to giving this hiking trip our best shot, and—if we can’t keep up with our itinerary, then we’ll bail out at Crawford Notch, but that would be a shame.

Day 2: Liberty Springs Tentsite to Garfield Ridge Campsite and Shelter

Birch and I were up at 5:30 a.m. to begin our day. The weather was gorgeous. After eating and breaking camp, we were on the trail by 7:20. We had a serious .4 miles hike to get up to a ridge. After a good night’s sleep, the first 2 miles weren’t too bad, but I was surprised not to see the open ridge that I was expecting.  Pretty soon we had a serious ascent. Franconia Ridge was spectacular but the photos make it look easy. In fact, it was exhausting.  We had a ton of scrambling to do – both up and down. By the half way point I wondered if we would make it! It turned out that the 2nd half was just as difficult. This trail was kicking our patooties!


7-17_0556Birch and I were in rough shape when we reached the shelter.  The good news was that the shelter was beautiful! It was huge. Everyone who arrived seemed to stay at the shelter instead of tenting, since rain was forecast for the night and next day. There were a lot of thru-hikers there who were super nice and were also complaining about the difficult hike.  It was encouraging to know that this really WAS tough. We slept well that night.

Day 3: Garfield Ridge Campsite and Shelter to Guyot Campsite and Shelter

Despite a forecast of incoming rain, Maple and I awoke to a still-dry morning. We decided to get moving, so we prepared our coffee and oatmeal, packed up, and got on the trail by 7:00. Unfortunately, we were both under the impression that we had to go back up .2 miles (over steep boulders) to the top of Mt. Garfield to reconnect with the AT. Forty-five minutes later, we were back at the Garfield Ridge spring and ready to move forward.

Those first steps forward turned out to be down a waterfall. It’s strange what a person will become willing to do when the only alternative is an exhausting and humiliating retreat. Climbing down those wet boulders was precarious, to say the least.

Shortly, after the rain began to fall, we got into our raingear. Once again, I was to learn that I get just as soaked hiking in raingear than if I were to go without it—but for some reason, I find it so hard to forego putting it on when it begins to rain. Yet, not to pack it would be irresponsible.

After a difficult descent, followed by an exhausting ascent, we arrived at Galehead Hut, at about 11:30. The coffee (at $1 a cup) was cold and full of grinds, but the bean soup ($2 a bowl), which became available at noon, hit the spot. We bought Snickers for desert, then ventured back out into the rain.

Leaving Galehead Hut, we had a hard climb up South Twin Mountain. The remainder of the way to Mt. Guyot (pronounced Gee-oh) was not as rough, but was still exhausting. Mt. Guyot is in an alpine zone, covered with huge boulders, over which one must navigate, and it was eerily half-hidden with clouds.

At Mt. Guyot, we left the AT and travelled .8 miles on the Bondcliff Trail to Guyot Campsite and Shelter. Jacob, the caretaker, was happy to see us as we were, at 5:30, the first to arrive.

After setting up inside the shelter, which we were to share with “Mr. Maps” (who occupied the top level), we prepared our dinner, filtered our water, and prepared to settle in for the night. We were exhausted. It was then, as I went to retrieve our journal, to write my blog entry, that I got a muscle spasm in my left knee. I could not stand on my leg, bend it, or turn it without causing myself severe pain. Maple sought help for me and returned with Niko, a fellow hiker who was trained in first-aid. He counseled me on how to tend to it and advised that we wait till morning before making any decisions based on my condition. Maple applied a freezer-bag filled with spring water, and I took 1 gram of Ibuprofen to get me through the night.

(Miraculously, by morning, I was as good as new, and so we did not have to take the zero day that we had anticipated.)

Day 4: Guyot Campsite and Shelter to Ethan Pond Campsite and Shelter

Well, miracles do happen. Birch and I had planned to stay an extra day at Guyot for him to recuperate, but it turned out that it wasn’t necessary.  If you had seen the utter pain he was in the night before, you would have assumed that we were in big trouble. However, we were able to hike out of Guyot and we reached the boulder-covered peak in good time. Before long, the trail descended into the trees. Although rocky, it was our smoothest day yet.


We were at Zealand Hut in no time and had a chance to relax and have an amazing bowl of lentil soup, plus a Hershey bar. There were quite a few day hikers at the hut, which offers easy access to a waterfall and great views. We saw Mr. Maps again, too, who was pleasantly surprised to see that we had made it.

After an easy and short descent, the trail became amazingly flat.  The only downside in this section is that we had to go through a bog or swamp for the last few miles. We walked on plank upon plank to get to Ethan Pond.  Ethan “Pond” would be considered a lake in Minnesota. We set up our tent on a platform and enjoyed a long nap before having lasagna for dinner.

Overall, this hike was the easiest yet, even though it was 10 miles. We were exhausted, though.The Whites are beautiful but tough!

Day 5: Ethan Pond Campsite and Shelter to Crawford Notch

Lots of aches and pains this morning as we arose. But, after granola with peaches, we packed up and were off.

There were more puncheons at first, then the trail began a slow descent down hill. This is more like the AT that Maple and I knew before we experienced the Whites.

When we arrived at the parking area at Crawford Notch, the first thing I did was try my cell phone to call Garey’s Taxi Service of Littleton. I had talked to Garey in advance and had learned from him that we would have no trouble calling him from the notch, but—alas—no cell coverage, neither for us nor from any other people at the parking lot. Yet, to our good fortune, a fellow hiker that we had met at Ethan Pond offered us a lift into Littleton.

Littleton is a very nice little town, with great restaurants, a hiking store (Lahouts), and the Littleton Motel, “oldest motel in New Hampshire,” where we made plans to stay for two nights.

Here our trip ends. The trail has taken more of a toll on our bodies than we had anticipated. We’ll be saving the remainder of the Whites for another time.