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: Hanover, NH, to US-93, Franconia Notch.

Sunday, June 13: Hanover to Moose Mountain Shelter.

                Last night, Maple and I stayed at Hikers Welcome in Glencliff, where we finally, after two years of planning, met the owner, “Packrat.” This morning, the residential caretaker of the hostel, “Acadicus,” shuttled us to Hanover, dropping us off at the Circle K on Main Street. (Yesterday, Maple and I stopped at Hanover, and walked from the Vermont/New Hampshire border on the Connecticut River to the Circle K, so we weren’t missing any steps to complete the state of New Hampshire on the AT.) He took our photo and left, leaving us to begin our trip. We leaned our backpacks against the front of the store and entered to pick up breakfast sandwiches and coffee. On my way out, with my hands full, I propped open the door with my right elbow. The door swung open, I lost my balance, couldn’t regain it, flew off the concrete steps, and landed on the unforgiving asphalt. Fortunately, I suffered only bruises and abrasions. Maple assured me that I now had my big fall of the trip over with, but my confidence was shaken.

Hikers Welcome Hostel, Glencliff, New Hampshire

                We had planned to go only as far as Mink Brook on our first day, but because of the forecast calling for rain all day tomorrow, we decided instead to push on up to Moose Mountain Shelter. We did, nevertheless, stop for nearly an hour at Mink Brook to procure several liters of water, since there is none at the shelter, and to cook our lunch—a bowl of Maple’s home-cooked trail chili.

Filtering water at Mink Brook

                Having left Hanover this morning at 6:30, we arrived at the shelter early, at 2:30, but we were exhausted. Maple and I both left Mink Brook carrying extra water, and thus the climb up Moose Mountain South was particularly tiring. At 3:45, as I wrote this, we still had the shelter to ourselves.

Monday, June 14: Moose Mountain Shelter to Trapper John Shelter.

                Birch and I woke up by 5:00 and were on the trail an hour later. We were joined at the shelter last night by “Renegade” and “Faithful,” older hikers from Texas who had to stop their thru hike last year when Faithful suffered a bad break of her ankle in Vermont. They’re out to finish the trail this summer.

                We managed to leave the shelter before it started to rain, but we soon experienced drops and got on our rain gear. The descent from the north peak of Moose Mountain was quite slippery.

                After crossing Goose Pond Road we were excited to see a smooth and beautiful trail. This was not to last long. We navigated across a swampy area with bog boards in dire need of replacement. Then, we trudged up an unnamed mountain over 1,000 feet high, stopping to catch our breath along the way.

Bog boards in a fern meadow

                By the time we began down the mountain, the trail became easier and we were at Trapper John Shelter (.3 mile off trail) in no time.

                The rain was intermittent all day, and at the shelter we wasted no time getting into dry clothes. Birch got soaked!

Tuesday, June 15: Trapper John Shelter to a stealth camp at South Jacobs Brook.

                After Maple completed her blog entry last night, other hikers came into the shelter. First came “Saltlick,” an older flip-flop thru-hiker who began his journey at Harper’s Ferry. Then came a nice, young married couple, “Temper” and “Snacks,” who hail from the St. Paul area. Maple and I were glad to meet up with them again today at the top of Smarts Mountain.

                From the Lyme-Dorchester Road, the hike up Smarts Mountain was 3.8 miles, with an elevation gain of 2,100 feet. What really made the climb difficult, however, was the wet granite slabs that we had to push ourselves up over.

On the trail up Smarts Mountain

                South Jacobs Brook is at the very bottom of Smarts Mountain, on the north side. We were informed that there was a stealth campsite with a fire-ring across the bridge and to the left. Maple and I couldn’t find it, and it wasn’t until after we had set up our camp next to the trail that we discovered that, for NoBos, the stealth site is on the right, before you cross the bridge. Oh well!

                After eating our Mountain House lasagna dinner, it began to rain for the second time this evening. So, we are now in the tent, listening to the sounds of the near brook and of rain hitting the leaves above us.

Wednesday, June 16: South Jacobs Brook to Ore Hill Campsite.

                Birch and I got up a little later and moved a bit slower this morning. We had oatmeal for breakfast, then packed up the wet tent, since it had rained overnight.

                After South Jacobs Brook, the trail ascends about 600 feet to Eastman Ledges, which afforded us some amazing views. We descended to Hexacuba Shelter and bypassed it to climb Mt. Cube. This was about 1,500 feet—a climbing over rocks, rock fields, and slabs of granite. The weather was perfect and the views were spectacular.

                After summiting, the descent down the north side was more tedious than technical. We had a long break, with a hot lunch at Brackett Brook. There we first met “Aches” and “Pains,” a section-hiking couple from Vermont. We filled up with water, then hiked about four miles through lots of mud and muck to the Ore Hill campsite.

On Mount Cube

                Well, we set up our tent and snuggled in for the night on a site that used to be the shelter area. We never saw the numbered tent sites, at which signs had urged us to set up our camp.

Thursday, June 17: Ore Hill Campsite to NH-25 (Glencliff).

                 The night passed without rain, and our tent had completely dried by the morning. Maple and I rose early, had our coffee and breakfast, and were on the trail by 6:15. We soon made it to the top of Ore Hill, descended, and then ascended Mist Mountain. The hill and the mountain were about equally difficult. The major obstacle for the day was mud. Bog boards and rocks helped. When coming down Mist Mountain, we were passed by thru-hiker “Gidget,” who was packing a fluffy white little dog trail-named “Sleeping Beauty.” Gidget had carried her dog ever since she was north of the Smoky Mountains.

                Maple and I arrived at NH-25 at about 10:30 and from there walked to Hikers Welcome, where we checked in and picked up our car. We would be spending this and the following night in Plymouth, before tackling Mount Moosilauke.

Sunday, June 20: Kinsman Notch to NH-25.

                After a couple of zero days, Birch and I were excited to get back on trail. We stayed overnight at Hikers Welcome, where we met up once again with Aches and Pains. In the morning, we had fun chatting with the early riser hikers (mostly on the 50-plus side!). We were then shuttled to Kinsman Notch so we could slack pack south to Glencliff, over Mount Moosilauke.

                The first 1.5 miles were very steep, but steps and rebar made it very manageable. The Beaver Brook, with its tall waterfalls, gave us spectacular scenery as we hiked. In 3.9 miles we were at the summit. The views above the treeline were stunning! We stayed at or above treeline for about a mile, and then took a right turn and began a steep descent on a rocky trail. After a couple of miles the trail became more manageable, and the last two-to-three miles were more like a typical AT hike.

Beaver Brook beside the AT
At the summit of Mount Moosilauke

The adventure ended by crossing Oliverian Brook in our flip flops. 

Tuesday, June 22: Kinsman Notch to Eliza Brook Shelter.

                Acadicus picked up Maple and me at the Liberty Springs trailhead, where we had parked our car, at 6:00, and then shuttled us back to Kinsman Notch. About a half mile into our ascent, I realized that I didn’t have our car keys. Not knowing where I left or lost them, we had to have a spare key sent from our home to Hikers Welcome.

                Maple and I were hardly able to keep up a mile-an-hour pace today. We had to very carefully select our footing, and we had to use our hands in climbing more often and more consistently than ever before. Maple tripped over a root this morning and had a good fall, but fortunately without notable injury.

Carefully evaluating my footing on a granite rock face.

                As I write this, it is 4:30 p.m., and we are not alone at the shelter. There are three other hikers here, all residents of New Hampshire: “Crash,” situated to our left, has already thru-hiked the trail four times, and has section-hiked it twice. Situated to our right is an aunt and niece couple. The aunt has worked as a retail manager for Eastern Mountain Sports for a decade, while her niece has made her living as a veterinarian assistant and dog-sitter. They were not shy about sharing a pipe between them.

Wednesday, June 23: Eliza Brook Shelter to Lonesome Lake Hut.

                Everyone was up early this morning, but it was tough to get out of our sleeping bags because it was so cold, in the 30s. Even so, by 6:45, Birch and I were finally ready to go.

                Crash warned us that the Kinsmans were difficult, but I don’t think anything could have prepared us for the vertical climbs we did today. Lots of grabbing trees to pull ourselves up over sheer rock faces. At one point we had to pull ourselves up a vertical rock face, then swing our body around a tree, holding on for dear life, to get us to firm ground. And this type of “hiking” pretty much describes the day.

                That said, the views from South Kinsman were stunning. We had bright blue skies and cold temperatures. As we approached North Kinsman peak we began to see some day hikers, who had come up an easier and more direct trail.

Victorious on the summit of South Kinsman

                The descent down North Kinsman was tough, but made easier, by a few carefully placed stairs. Lonesome Lake Hut was a welcome sight!

                It turns out that there are only two parties—five people total—staying here tonight. Covid has led to a very “soft” opening at the huts.

Thursday, June 24: Lonesome Lake Hut to Franconia Notch.

                While Maple slept in till 6:00, I got up at 4:00, walked over to Lonesome Lake to watch the sunrise and take some photos, and anxiously awaited the brewing of the coffee. This took place just before six, so I brought a cup of steaming, fresh brew to Maple, hoping thereby to get her moving. We packed up as we drank our coffee, and then went to the hut to await breakfast–oatmeal with chocolate chips and craisins, scrambled eggs, sausage patties, and hot apple bread.

                Immediately after breakfast, we took our leave of the “cru” and fellow guests, donned our packs, and walked over to the lake, looking for signs for the AT (or Cascade Brook Trail). We found our direction, and began our walk, waiting for the trail to become steep and technically difficult. It never did, although we did have to cross the Cascade Brook twice by rock hopping. We made excellent time, and soon arrived at the Pemi Trail, which took us under I-93 and, ultimately, to the Liberty Springs parking trail and lot.

                I should preface what follows by saying that, on my way down on the Cascade Brook Trail, I got a message from Acadicus, saying that he had found our keys in the Hikers Welcome van. Good news! So, I expected to find our car still in the lot, and so it was. However, we found the trunk of our car completely empty—everything had been stolen: gear, clothing, electronics, . . . everything. We were devastated! We had nothing left but what was on our backs. Could we have continued our hike, if we were determined to do so? Yes. But our hearts were not in it. Our thoughts would have been with our loss, rather than with our gain. For, as I said, we were devastated. As a retail clerk, the loss amounted to a full year of savings. To the thieves, no doubt, little of what they stole was of value, but to Maple and me, it was very hurtful.

                We stayed that night, as planned, in Gorham, but on the following day we began our drive home. During that drive, to revive our spirits, we discussed future hikes and our return to New Hampshire and Maine in the next June.

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: 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.