Wednesday, September 26, 2012

New Hampshire Part 2: Up We Go (August 17th-18th)

I awoke bright and early on Moosilauke morning and was one of the first to leave the hostel. I popped into Jeffers Brook to say hi to Pants but was too eager to get up the mountain to stay long. I started my climb and the energy I had was indescribable. I have never been more excited to physically exhaust myself. And physically exhausting it was. I usually have a rule with mountains - don't stop till you get to the top. The Whites were an entirely different playing field so I assumed this rule would have to be tweaked. But I had so much adrenaline coursing through my veins I didn't stop once through the entire four and a half mile ascent. It was a fairly steep and rocky trail, but wasn't horrible, though it did seem to last forever. I finally got to a part that flattened out, and a sign indicating a side trail to the south peak. That meant the north peak (true peak) had to be close!!!

I practically started sprinting down the trail. Moosilauke was the first time we were going to be above tree line and I couldn't wait to take in these views (the treeline is the edge of a habitat in which trees are capable of growing.  I was currently in an Alpine climate, which is the highest elevation that sustains trees.  Higher up it is too cold. This is different than a bald - if interested click here ) I became more and more eager as the trees became smaller and smaller. At this point I truly was running, winding and wheezing in a travesty of enthusiasm to get to the top. I finally burst out into the open air and saw the north peak looming in front of me. Slow down there killer, you still gotta climb up that. I started making my way when a tiny French Bulldog began trotting along next to me. I paused to search the trail for it's owner, when a younger guy came up behind me. Relieved there weren't wild French Bulldogs roaming the mountain, I continued up the trail, bulldog in tow. Will, his owner, said it was fine as long as I kept him from falling off the mountain. So I completed my summit of Moosilauke with a dog named Pimpsy. At the top we sat to the side of the summit sign and waited for Will. There was currently a large group of college students crowding the summit, but I was fine in my corner, taking in all that I had accomplished. The Whites were going to restore my love of hiking.

Not that I had quit loving it, but after five months I was getting a bit sick of it. But not out here. The feeling you get after climbing a mountain is unlike any other. The complete joy and happiness I experienced at that moment is indescribable. Pimpsy didn't appear as touched as he relocated rocks from one pile to another pile. Will finally arrived and we chatted for the better part of an hour waiting for the crowds to clear. Will and Pimpsy were peak baggers. There are 42 peaks in NH over 4,000 ft, and they were trying to climb them all. Eventually we made our way over to the summit sign and took turns taking each others pictures. At no point did any other hikers I knew come up, but it was starting to get a bit cold and cloudy, so I didn't want to wait any longer. Deciding it was time to make my way down, I said goodbye to Will and started my descent.

I walked along the ridge for a bit before the AT turned off to a steep drop. One of the trickier things about the Whites was that the AT was not the most dominant trail. In fact, it was hardly marked. There were numerous trails weaving throughout the Whites, with names like Glencliff Trail and Beaver Brook Trail. In the Whites, rather than being its own separate entity, the AT simply coincided with one of these trails. You had to constantly pay attention to what trail you were suppose to be on that also happened to be the AT. At this particular moment the AT was following Glencliff trail but turned right onto Beaver Brook trail at a four way junction. There were still white blazes, but few and far between. The park is very popular and does not necessarily cater to thru hikers for lodging or hiking.

I switched trails and hooked right down a flatter path, and was alarmed to see a large rabbit galloping towards me down the trail. The trail was very narrow and I really had no where to go to get out of its path, so I was hoping it would soon see me and swerve, but it came closer and closer. I started to panic and lift my leg to let it by, but it ran smack into the bottom of my shoe. Oh my God I just kicked a bunny. He looked a bit startled, as if he had just noticed me for the first time. He then quickly ran behind a bush and paused there panting and looking terrified in general. What the hell little man? I offered him some words of comfort before warily continuing down the trail in the event there was some giant Liger lurking around the corner to cause such panic in this rabbit. I proceeded slowly but no threat presented itself, must have been running from a hawk.

I made my way down to Beaver Brook Shelter to have lunch and gear up for the real descent. The 1.5 mile hike down to Kinsman Notch was known to be the steepest on the AT. In fact many hikers slack pack Moosilauke going south out of Kinsman so they are climbing the north side, making it less dangerous. I prefer my journey to be one continuous flow north, so down the slide I go. Roller, Sunkist, Pants and White Wolf all made it to the shelter and we began our slippery descent. I say slippery because the trail follows alongside Beaver Brook the entire way down, but it is so steep it basically becomes a waterfall, making the rock faces we are expected to climb down very slick. This was the first time on the trail where I stood at the top of something for entire minutes, pondering exactly how I was suppose to get down without dying. This would have been much easier if I didn't have 30lbs on my back. I was beginning to see why people slack packed this part.

It took me just as long to climb the 1.5 miles down the north side of Moosilauke as it did to climb the 4.5 up the south side. Good grief.  I was beginning to wonder how I could have my mail forwarded to the mountain, as I was clearly never getting off it, when I finally burst onto the parking lot of Kinsman Notch.  That all being said, it was probably one of my favorite miles on the trail.  Hiking down next to a waterfall was a beautifully terrifying and thrilling experience and I would recommend it to anyone, unless you have vertigo.  We lurked around Kinsman for a bit before getting a ride in the back of a truck into North Woodstock.  Roller, Sunkist, Pants and I were going to stay in town that night, get shuttled back out in the morning and attempt to slack the 16 miles between Kinsman and Franconia Notch, going back into N. Woodstock from Franconia.  I say attempt because there have been several hikers who have tried to do this stretch in one day and ended up having to stay at Lonesome Lake Hut three miles short of Franconia.  It was going to be a tough day with climbs over Mt. Wolf and the Kinsmans (known to have the most broken arms on the trail).  But if my dad did it, which he did, I had to do it, right?  We said goodbye to White Wolf who was heading to the next shelter, and would meet us in town via Franconia Notch the next night.  My first day in the Whites had been an awesome success and I was off to finally meet up with my dad. 

Steep climb down Moosilauke

The next morning I woke up at the crack of dawn to start the slackpack.  I went across the street to the deli to order some breakfast sandwiches and ran into Slowfoot, who was also gearing up for the slackpack.  Apparently Miss Janet was staying at the same hotel as us and was dropping Slowfoot off at Kinsman. I called and canceled our shuttle as Pants and I hopped in her crazy van with Slowfoot.  Miss Janet is somewhat of a trail personality and we first met her back in Erwin, TN.  She was now up north making the rounds at the hiker hostels.  She dropped the three of us off at Kinsman Notch at 6:30am wishing us luck.  We immediately started our steep and horrible climb up Mt. Wolf.  A quick break was had at the summit before beginning our descent to Eliza Brook Shelter (the last free shelter in the Whites).  Headin Out was there and together we took off for our climb up South Kinsman Mountain.  It was tough and long.  And extremely steep.   I put my trekking poles away as I had no need for them during the hand over head rock climbing.  Just when I was starting to wonder if the mountain was growing as I was climbing it, I finally reached the south peak.  The views were worth it.  I could see the north peak ahead of me and started to make my way there, rewarded again with breathtaking views.  It was difficult to tear myself away from the scene, but I still had five and a half miles to hike, and I'm slower going down mountains than I am going up. 

Climb up Kinsman

 I finally made my way down the steep descent to Lonesome Lake Hut.  Now, some info on the huts: The huts are not shelters.  They exist only in White Mountain National Park and are operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC).  They are actual buildings with heat, electricity, running water, and bunks.  There are 5-6 employees stationed at each hut known as the 'croo.' They are usually younger, college kids working for the summer etc... and are responsible for the upkeep of the huts and the care and feeding of its guests.  Notice I say 'guests' and not hikers.  The cost to spend the night in one of these huts is around $80-$100.  The patrons of these huts are usually people who want to get out and see the Whites, do a bit of hiking without having to worry about dealing with camping.  Now there are no roads to the huts, so the visitors do actually have to hike to them (and the poor croo must pack in and out all supplies and trash).  The hut visitors usually take short three mile side trails to the hut they are staying at, hike around that area, then head back down the next morning.  People out for multiple day trips will just hike between the huts, which are about five to seven miles apart. If you are following the AT, it is about an 8 day hike (for a thru, not a normie) from Franconia to Gorham if you want to avoid wasting time with side trails down to roads. I have yet to meet a thru hiker who has actually stayed in the huts as a guest for three reasons: you have to make reservations far in advance, and it is difficult for us to gage when we will be somewhere.  They are $80-$100.  And we actually enjoy camping.  I'm not sure if these people paying all this money are aware they can just bring a tent and enjoy the Whites for free, but they can.  It is a bit trickier though to camp throughout the Whites, and now that you understand the huts, I will explain why most thru hikers dislike them.

Before the AMC took over, there use to be shelters in the Whites for thru-hikers, like the rest of the AT.  Those have since been wiped out and replaced with these expensive huts OR designated campsite areas that you also have to pay to use.  There 'officially' is nowhere free for a hiker to stay, unless they stealth.  Stealthing is tricky as there are rules in the Whites.  We are not allowed to camp above treeline, within an FPA zone (designated by signs) or within 1/4 mile of a hut, an official campsite, or within 200 yards of water or the trail.  Whew.  Anything else is fair game.  The huts offer Work For Stay to thru-hikers, each hut will take around five to six thru hikers a night. They have to do some light work (wash dishes, sweep etc.), they then get to eat the leftovers of dinner (which there always are, the croo has to pack everything out so they view hikers as garbage disposals) and then we can sleep on the dining room floor after all the guests have gone to bed.  Essentially we are treated like dogs.  A lot of hikers take advantage of these huts for the free food and the floor so they don't have to search for stealth sites.  Unfortunately it has created a sort of competition among hikers to get there first, since each hut only takes so many.  If you get turned away, well you have a long night of hiking ahead of you since you can't tent near the huts.  The AMC has made it very difficult for thru-hikers in the Whites.  In addition they have made it very crowded.  Like the Smokies and the Shennies, the Whites are a very popular park, but the huts have made them very accessible so they are overrun with people. 

Pants and I had our first hut experience at Lonesome Lake.  Most hikers don't bother trying to do WFS at this hut, as it is only three miles to Franconia Notch.  You can hitch into North Woodstock from there, which is the last resupply stop for thru-hikers before heading into the meat of the Whites, so most of us are keen to get there.  We were curious about the huts and wanted to stop and see what they were all about.  Plus we were told during the day they sold soup, baked goods and lemonade.  We came upon Lonesome Lake and were immediately overwhelmed.  There were people everywhere.  I mean small children running around, moms yelling, teenagers looking bored and angsty at the fact they were dragged into the woods.  Pants and I popped into the hut to take a look, it was larger and nicer than I expected.  Two croo were busy preparing dinner while another, I presume guest, was reading at a table. We helped ourselves to the self-serve lemonade and plopped a dollar in the basket.  We sat down and took in the scene, watching the scores of people lurking around the lake.  Ready to leave, we thanked the croo for the lemonade and headed out the door, dodging children and overweight dads left and right. We had three miles left to hike down to Franconia Notch, where I presume most of these people hiked up from.  During our gradual descent we began an interesting discussion that I invite you all to participate in.

My experience in the woods has led me to believe that our culture (human culture) has made the natural wonders of this planet too accessible to the general public.  The huts have provided a refuge for those who want to experience the beauty of the Whites, but are fearful of their power.  They invite people to come out here, who, otherwise would never be here.  As a result, I turn the corner in the woods and encounter giant propane tanks.  Our strong desire to experience this natural wonder has prompted us to make it as accessible as possible, and as a result, detracts from the very beauty that drew us to it in the first place.  Giant buildings on top of mountains so people don't have to camp.  Roads and trains to the top of mountains so people don't have to climb.  Call me elitist, but I believe that if you want to be on top of a mountain, you should have to climb it.  I have had so many people say to me "I could never physically do what you're doing." Well, you could.  You just don't want to.  And that is totally fine.  But I feel that the total awe and power that one experiences from standing atop a mountain should be reserved for those willing to make the mental and physical sacrifice of climbing it. 

It is disappointing for those who have worked very hard, I mean extremely hard, to experience nature in the least impactful way possible only to see it tarnished by the constructions of man.  Constructions whose sole purpose is to make it easier for man to be there.  Well I got here fine without that road and I don't need that building so why must they exist? It is going to be difficult to sustain the natural beauty and wonder of these places if we continue to make them easier and easier to get to. Now I realize that the AT itself is an impact on the environment I am trying to experience, but where do we draw the line?  99% of these people wouldn't be here if they didn't have these huts to stay at or the roads that wander so close to them.  This topic was again brought up during the cluster fuck that was Mt. Washington, which you will hear abut later.....I know there are many who may disagree with me and that's ok.  I think it's a very interesting topic and I open it to you all and welcome any input or feedback you may have:)

Pants and I discussed this for the few remaining hours of our hike when we finally came to Franconia Notch.  We called Miss Janet to come pick us up and got back to town. We got to the hotel just as White Wolf was hiking in, and the three of us joined my dad for dinner and a game of pool at the bar down the street.  He beat us twice (and by us I mean the three of us on a team against the one of him).  We had a late night and went to bed not looking forward to all the chores we had to do the next day before hiking out.  We had an eight day stretch ahead of us through the rest of the Whites and we were planning to do it all in one go, fully immersing ourselves in them before surfacing in Gorham on the other side.  The good chaps at the Hikers Welcome Hostel in Glencliff gave me a list of solid stealth sites so we could avoid the huts and the people and just enjoy the mountains.  The few mountains we had done thus far had proved challenging, but worth every step, and I was pretty sure it was only gonna get better.  

Lonesome Lake
View from Kinsman


  1. Awesome way to spend part of my zero -- reading your entire blog, which I found through DayStar's, and which has had me laughing out loud. You are hilariously funny and I agree with your thoughts of nature being destroyed by amenities for lazy tourists. You may remember me from Virginia; we camped nearby you at Dismal Falls. Since my one blue blaze from Trent's Grocery, I too have been a purist. Not many out here. Vicegrip and I are 20 miles from Maine border. Congrats on your hike and I look forward to reading more.

  2. Sap! Of course I remember you! I had actually been asking around if you guys were still on the trail, glad to see you're almost done, congrats on hitting the border, that was a fun and exciting moment for me. I'm trying to get the rest of my posts up, I'm still traveling at the moment, won't be home till Friday. Good luck with the rest of your hike and keep me posted! Maine is beautiful so enjoy it:)