"As I make my slow pilgrimage through the world, a certain sense of beautiful mystery seems to gather and grow"
Well the Wildcats were no joke. They could rename the mountain "Land of False Summits." So many times during our climb we were given false hope we were near the top. The trail would flatten out, filling our hearts with happiness, and just when we would finally relax and soothe our tired legs, convinced the worst was over, we would encounter yet another insufferable rock face, laughing at us, feeding off our pain and despair. OK a bit dramatic perhaps, but this continued for three hours as we all leap frogged each other while taking heart attack avoidance breaks. We finally arrived at Peak E, then slowly made our way up Peak D where the gondola was. I was surprised to see Squatch sitting there chatting with everyone. He had literally just texted me that he was staying in Gorham, and wanted to try and meet at the notch. Sadly I had already hiked out of the notch and was halfway up Wildcat when I got it. Knowing I was about to pass the gondola, he took it up and surprised us with treats and water:) He hung out until he had to catch the last gondola down at 5pm. Sadly that was the last time I got to see Squatch on the trail. He had to bounce ahead to film Trails End Festival in Maine, then get some footage of Katahdin and Knife's Edge. But I am excited to see how the film turns out and plan to continue to follow his career.
After the gondola quit running we felt safe to pitch our tents in the open grassy area (we weren't sure this was technically allowed). Then we (me, Pace, Hungus, White Wolf, Pants, my dad, Roller and Sunkist) enjoyed a gorgeous evening, listening to Mitch Hedberg with Hungus's mini-speakers. Towelie and Cheesewater arrived a bit later, after hitching into town to get food and whiskey (which they drank all of during the climb to numb the pain). The next morning I got to watch the sunrise from my tent, then we all went about the practice of drying out our crap in the sun. The problem with camping on grass, and why I usually avoid it, is everything is covered in dew in the morning. One by one we all took off, aiming to get somewhere around Imp campsite, 10ish miles away. I climbed over Wildcat Peak C and A, before beginning the horribly steep descent into Carter Notch. We all took a break at Carter Notch Hut, the last of the huts in the Whites. No one else was there but the croo, so we hung out for an hour eating soup and relaxing before our climb up Carter Dome and Mt. Height.
The clouds started rolling in as we tried to take a break on Carter Dome, so we just decided to carry on to Mt. Height and down to Zeta Pass. We took a quick breather on some small nameless peak covered in trees, where we all agreed we were kinda over it for the day. The wicked descent down to Carter Notch and the subsequent slingshot straight up Carter Dome wore me out. It was one of those points in our elevation profiles we used to look at way back in VA and laugh at the fact we had to do that, you know, sitting around "look at how stupid this looks! It's like straight down and straight up! hahahahahaha!" Well now we were doing that, and we were tired. We thought we might try to find a stealth site before Imp Campsite, which was another $8 pay site. We all got up to pound out our last climbs over Middle Carter Mt. and North Carter Mt. before we could begin our descent to Imp. And by descent I mean steep and rocky vortex into hell. Hungus warned us the descent was nasty and he was right. We got the worst of it out of the way and started searching for a site. The entire trail to Imp we had a rock wall to our left and a swamp to our right. Awesome. We had no plan B, and when I made it to Imp I found White Wolf and Pants near the sign. Towelie and Cheesewater decided to go ahead and try to find stealthing somewhere on Mt. Moriah. I was pretty sure my dad was at Imp and everyone else was behind us still.
After that descent my joints were shot and I had no desire to climb Moriah at the moment. While many hikers prefer going down to the heart pounding sweaty uphills, White Wolf and I would much prefer if the entire AT was uphill (well, flat would be best, and maybe it could be lined with unicorns and trees made of chocolate while we're dreaming). We are surprisingly much faster going uphill than downhill. Between White Wolf's knees and my ankles we have the combined joints of a 97 year old. One really tough descent wears me out more than three tough climbs. Climbing down off the Carters did me in and I was ready to bite the bullet and just pay the $8. Pants and White Wolf followed suit. We hiked the .2 down to the site and found the tent platform farthest away from the group of college kids out for the weekend or whatever part of the week it was, I rarely actually knew. The caretaker came over to collect our $8 and stayed while we made dinner to chat. Tomorrow was our last day in the Whites, we had an eight mile hike to US 2 and Gorham, where we all planned to take a zero and recover. I hadn't showered in a week, being we were too lazy to bother with the coin-op showers at Pinkham Notch. I was ready for town.
The next morning I was the last to leave Imp, making my way slowly over Mt. Moriah. I paused a few times to take in the last of the Whites. I could still see Mt. Washington in the distance. Distances are so deceiving. You'll be standing on one mountain, looking out at the mountain ahead of you and it will seem so far away, but within a matter of hours you'll be standing on it, looking back at where you just came from. There is nothing more rewarding than standing on top of a mountain looking back at everything you did to get there. I said one last goodbye to the Whites and turned to head towards town. The hike down Moriah was very gentle, I took a brief break at Rattle River Shelter with White Wolf, then we topped off our day with an easy two mile stroll down to US 2. We got to the road and walked down to the White Mountains Hostel so I could pick up my bounce box. I sent it there because I originally thought I might stay there, but now that we were a giant group we all decided to just split rooms at the hotel in town. I really only like staying at hostels when there are no other options. Usually splitting a hotel is the same price and you get a bit more space to yourself.
After picking up my box we headed back to the road to hitch into town. We were the last to arrive at the Royalty Inn - everyone divided up to split rooms and I went in search of my dad's room. I tried to get all my 'chores' done the first day. Pace, Hungus, Dances with Flies (who appeared out of nowhere) and I got a ride to the Walmart from Broadsword and then went to dinner with them at pretty much the only restaurant in town. We all stayed up on the porch chatting and drinking beers before exhaustion set in and I had to go to bed. I woke the next morning excited for the whole lotta nothing I had to do that day. Pace and Hungus decided to hike out, but the rest of us were staying put. I made my way over to the library to update my blog - I only got one entry typed up when I got a text from Gribley that he and Daystar had made it to town and were at the Walmart resupplying. They had gotten off back at Pinkham Notch to visit a friend of DS's so they had gotten a day behind. They were planning on hiking out that night, but wanted to grab a case of beer and come chill at the hotel with us for a bit first. I knew at "grab a case of beer" they weren't actually going anywhere, but I let them pretend:)
I left the library to go meet them in Pants and White Wolf's room. They showed up with Cheesetowel and Flies, who had apparently only gotten their room for one night but were still lurking around town as usual. Before they knew it, Pants and White Wolf were hosting an impromptu hiker party in their hotel room. It was fun but I was glad I had my dad's room to retreat to when I was finally ready for bed. The next morning I got up bright and early and headed over to the PO to send my bounce box to Monson, then stopped at the liquor store to grab some whiskey. We would be crossing the Maine border in a few days and I intended to celebrate. I then proceeded to wake everyone else up (apparently they all slept like tetris pieces in White Wolf and Pants's room) and we all grabbed breakfast, grabbed our shit and started the process of pairing off and hitching out of town.
We traveled like a scraggly herd out of the hotel parking lot when some kid ran out of the lobby to ask us if we were "real live hobos." Daystar told him we were hikers, but I don't think the difference registered. Inspiring the youth of America.....My dad and I walked ahead of Daystar and Gribley, with Towelie wandering somewhere in the middle. Hitching into town is, I find, much easier since you're on a highway of some type and not walking down a business or residential street. I stuck my thumb out as we walked down the street and a jeep pulled over into the parking spot next to me. I went to open the back door to throw my pack in when the lady got out to inform me that she was just trying to go to the bank. Oh. I slowly closed the door...Right. Well, enjoy the bank then....I turned around, shaking my head at Towelie and my dad who were running to try and piggyback on my hitch. I made a mental note that every car pulling over near me was not necessarily doing so to transport me places.
But you know who was? Trail Momma. She was across the street honking at us! Gribley and DS were already climbing into her car. We sprinted across the avenue, hopped in and Trail Momma dropped us off at the trailhead. We excitedly took off for the woods. In two nights we would be in MAINE. The final state. "See you in Maine!" had become a common farewell when saying goodbye to hikers, and we were about to see everyone in Maine and I couldn't wait.