AT NH Day 10: “And I’ve Never Driven My Car to the Top of Mount Washington” – Michael Scott, The Office

Gorham, NH
0 miles
Today we did literally nothing. It rained pretty much all day and we barely left our room. We slept in, took advantage of the free motel continental breakfast, wandered over to Burger King to try the new Impossible Whopper, and ate at the Chinese buffet right beside the motel. Other than that we mostly lay in bed using WiFi and watching a marathon of The Office (which hilariously featured the quote in this post’s title) and bad reality TV on the Food Network and HGTV.

This is literally the only photo I took today

We did however, come up with a new plan for the ret of our trip. This plan had been brewing in our mind since partway through the day yesterday. The idea had slipped unbidden into my mind that Mount Washington would be a pretty epic place to end a section hike. And the more that idea rolled around in my brain, the more I liked it.

This trail has been incredibly freaking hard. I have to admit it’s not exactly what I pictured for our trip. It’s been amazing and fun and rewarding, but in our minds we were imagining, well, walking. This trip has involved a lot of rock scrambling and boulder hopping and hauling ourselves up and down incredibly steep slopes, but very little walking. This is our only vacation of the summer after all, and we had been hoping for at least a little bit of relaxation and the ability to let our minds drift while wandering through nature. Admittedly, we were hoping to briefly relive something of the experience we had on the PCT.
On top of this, I realized we had already experienced almost all of the things I wanted to experience. We got to hike Franconia Ridge and the Presidentials and Mount Washington, we got to camp in the mountains, and we made new friends. The only thing holding us to continuing was the statement we made that we wanted to hike the whole state of New Hampshire. And honestly I felt like I’d already accomplished what I set out to do. I proved to myself that I can do some really hard shit. I gained a newfound respect for my body and how strong it is. I felt totally content with ending the hike at Mount Washington. I absolutely know we could finish hiking the rest of New Hampshire. We are totally capable, and we would probably have a lot of fun. But I just didn’t feel like I needed to. I was ready to be done. Gummies and I discussed it extensively and he felt the exact same way. And so we changed our plan.
After zeroing here in Gorham to stay out of the rain, tomorrow we will hitch a ride back to Hanover to pick up our car, and then we will be heading to Boston! I’ve never been before, and Gummies has only been once when he was much younger and has always been saying we should go back for a visit. And so we will be using the rest of our vacation time to relax and sightsee around a new city, and I am very excited. We might also spend a day or two camping and day hiking in Maine on the way home.
The only thing I’m really sad about is the fact that we won’t get to say goodbye to the people we met along the way. The trail community is so lovely and we felt so immediately welcomed by the other long distance hikers. To everyone we met on the trail, I hope we will meet again one day. Our adventure on the AT is over, for now.

AT NH Day 9: Mount Washington or Bust

Maine Central Railroad – Mount Washington Summit
12.9 miles
Boy howdy, today was a doozy. It did not start well. First off, we somehow slept through our alarm for 30 minutes, so we did not get the early jump on the Presidential Range that we were wanting. But we were at least well rested. The trail went briefly downhill on a road before crossing the highway at Crawford Notch and heading uphill into the mountains.
I’m not sure what it was, but this climb up Mount Webster was one of the hardest we’ve had so far, at least for me. My calves were once again very unhappy at being made to start clubbing uphill first thing in the morning. They screamed at me to stop with every step. It was the kind of pain that made you feel like you should panic. My legs felt like lead. Every step felt like tossing a thousand pound bag of flour another couple feet up the mountainside. I felt so weak. I thought there was no way I could make it to Mount Washington like this. Every time I turned a corner and saw more steep uphill, panic seized my chest.

Feeling much better after a breakfast break

When I finally dragged myself up to the first view point where Gummies was waiting for our breakfast break, I completely broke down and cried for a few minutes. But after a long hug and some deep breaths, I felt better. Gummies asked me if I wanted to turn around and go back to the road, but I said no, I wanted to go to Mount Washington. I wasn’t going to give up on that.

View of the rest of the Presidentials from Mount Jackson

After breakfast, the hiking became MUCH nicer. The trail alternated between flat and relatively gentle and steep rock scrambles. But the scrambles were short and fun and I found myself enjoying them immensely. I listened to a couple podcasts to get my mind of the morning, and then listened to a couple Panic at the Disco albums which got me super pumped up. I felt so much better and was enjoying the hiking so much. Plus, it was an absolutely beautiful day to be in the Presidential Range, with sunshine and blue skies. Of course, this combined with the fact that it was Labour Day weekend meant there were day and weekend trippers everywhere, but it honestly didn’t feel too over crowded.

Lunch break on Mount Pierce

It was a pretty easy climb up to the summit of Mount Jackson, where we got a glimpse of the rest of the trail ahead, winding through the Presidential Range to Mount Washington in the distance. It was so exciting to see, and the summit of Washington looked completely clear, which is a pretty rare event. We descended to the Mizpah Spring Hut where we used the toilets and filled our water bottles. Even though thru hikers can’t really stay in the huts, using the facilities is still pretty luxurious.

After that we climbed up to Mount Pierce, where we had a quick lunch break a bit back from the main view area to keep our distance from the crowds of tourists. We still had an amazing view of Washington and the other Presidentials as we ate. After descending off Pierce, the official AT skirted around the peaks of Eisenhower and Monroe. There were side trails to go up and over the summits, but the trail was beautiful enough as is and we decided to focus on making it to Washington and skip on the peak bagging. We would later find out this was a very good idea.

This section of trail was absolutely the most beautiful hiking we’ve done so far. We were above tree line for a lot of the day, and it just felt familiar and like home, after doing so much above treeline hiking on the PCT. The trail was mostly gentle and well graded, so we could just walk and take on the views. It was wonderful. We made one last bathroom and water stop at the Lakes of the Clouds Hut before starting our final climb up Washington. Some guy at the base warned us that it would probably take us at least 1.5-2 hours to make it to the top. It was already 4:30, so I was hoping that wouldn’t be the case.

We started climbing, and it was honestly one of the easiest climbs we’ve had all trip. The rocks were nicely arranged in a flat, fairly gradual climbing surface. We probably could have climbed the whole thing in one go, but took some small breaks to take in the amazing views as we climbed. Of course, as we began approaching the summit, clouds began moving in and fog began to surround the summit. It became incredibly windy and cold as we approached the top, but at last we made it! And it only took us 45 minutes (take that, guy at the bottom)!

View heading up Mount Washington!

It was super exciting to reach the top, but also also super weird. We had just done a hard day of hiking and climbing mountains to get here, and the top was absolutely swarming with tourists that had driven up or taken the train. It was a bit disorienting. We had to stand in line to get our photo with the summit photo. But it still felt absolutely amazing to have walked up, and all the way from Vermont! Unfortunately, the clouds had completely overtaken the summit by the time we got there, so there were no views, but the amazing views we’d got on the way up and the feeling of accomplishment were more than enough.

Our plan had been to try and hitch a ride with someone driving down the mountain, so we headed down to the parking area. As soon as we got there, we found a giant NO HITCHHIKING sign. There went that plan. We started walking back up to the main summit area to reevaluate, and then saw another sign saying that all cars must leave the summit by 5:45. It was currently 5:35. With ten minutes to find a ride, we just started randomly approaching people who were heading to the cars in the parking lot. We got super lucky when the second person we asked agreed to drive us down. Even luckier, they were going right through Gorham and offered to drop us off right in town! They were a lovely couple from Delaware and we had a nice time chatting with them as we drove down the incredibly steep and winding road down the side of the mountain. We got some amazing views from the car on the way down too.
They dropped us off in the middle of town, and we set about trying to find a place to stay. Unfortunately, the fact that it was labour day weekend meant that almost everything was completely booked, even the hiker hostel. We must have called every place in town, getting rejection after rejection. I was starting to get pretty stressed, thinking we might have to sleep outside somewhere, when we finally managed to find an available room at a cheap motor inn. The guy said it was his last available room and I’m pretty sure it was the last place available in the whole town. Lucky again.

We walked over, dropped our stuff and took a a quick shower before heading over to Mr. Pizza for food. We had cheesy breadsticks, nachos, and pizza, plus really yummy beer. It felt so good to finally relax, now that all the boxes of our plan had been checked. We got really lucky in several ways today, and it’s kind of freaky thinking how easily our plan could have failed. But we made it, and now we can rest in town tomorrow while it rains. So ready to collapse into our real bed and get some good rest. Today was an amazing day.

AT NH Day 8: A Rather Uneventful Day

Garfield Ridge Campsite – Maine Central Railroad
17.1 miles
This morning was a bit rough. After the kids who were camped wall to wall with our tent finally quieted down, someone came into camp late and started setting up their stuff right beside us. It was almost 11pm when they finally finished, and I also felt like I just generally didn’t sleep well because it was a blustery night and I kept thinking the tent was going to collapse due to the sketchy pitch on the wooden platform. Needless to say, I was going to bit sleepy getting up.

Breakfast break view

We packed up our stuff, retrieved our food from the bear box, and set off. Immediately, we had to finish the descent off Mount Garfield, which started with a sketchy scramble down a steep rocky waterfall. It didn’t last long though and then the climb became a lot more manageable. After the initial descent, the trail wound up and down a bit but was relatively gentle. We ate breakfast with views of the rolling green mountains, and not long after stopped into Galehead Hut, where most of the hikers we’ve been hiking around had congregated. The huts are kind of weird because they charge like 100 dollars for a bunk so they’re pretty elite, but we can at least use the toilets and fill up our water bottles from the tap, which is pretty awesome.

Continue reading “AT NH Day 8: A Rather Uneventful Day”

AT NH Day 7: Rollercoaster

Liberty Springs Trailhead – Garfield Ridge Campsite
10.2 miles
Today was a crazy and amazing day. We slept in a bit because the people who run the motel were going to drive us back to the trail at 8:30. We got all of our stuff packed up, and then went back across the street to Wayne’s Market where we got some absolutely delicious breakfast sandwiches and some pastries. The drive to the trailhead and was quick and we were soon hiking again.
The day started off right away with a big climb up to Mount Liberty and the Franconia Ridge Trail.

Reminded us of the piped springs on the PCT!

Continue reading “AT NH Day 7: Rollercoaster”

AT NH Day 6: I Am Not a Mountain Goat

Eliza Brook Shelter – Flume Gorge Visitors Center
8.9 miles
It rained almost all night last night. I kept waking up through the night and thinking it might be lightening up, then a few minutes later it would start absolutely dumpling again. I was getting seriously concerned that we would be hiking out in the pouring rain. At last, I woke around 5am and heard nothing but the sound of the rushing creek nearby. It had stopped.
We slept in a little bit given the short day into town and circumstances of the night before, but eventually began quietly packing our things so as not to disturb the row of othe hikers still asleep on the shelter floor. When we started hiking, the world seemed extra lush and green after the rain. The trail followed Eliza Brook for a while, twisting through an enchanted rainforest, cascading waterfalls around every bend.

Continue reading “AT NH Day 6: I Am Not a Mountain Goat”

AT NH Day 5: Two Sides of a Coin

Jeffers Brook Shelter – Eliza Brook Shelter
15.9 miles
Today almost felt like two completely separate days, with two totally different moods. We started the day with our usual early morning start, and almost immediately began climbing up Mount Moosilauke. My calfs were cranky about being made to start climbing uphill first thing in the morning, and I had to stop several times to stretch them out over the first mile or so. But after I got going, I started feeling pretty strong on the climb. Either this climb was easier than others we’ve done on this trail, or I’ve actually started getting stronger after the few days of hiking we’ve done. Either way, I felt good. I was able to keep climbing without much stopping for a lot of it, until about the last half mile from the top, when the trail became a crazy boulder staircase again.

I felt amazing when I reached the south summit, and the terrain started feeling much more alpine. We were treated to lovely trail from the south peak up to the main north summit. It was mostly smooth and very gradual through stunted alpine conifers. Finally, we broke out above tree line and got our first really BIG white mountain view. I felt like I was walking in Middle Earth or something. It was glorious.

We reached the summit easily and spent a few minutes up there taking it all in. Since we were there early on a Wednesday, there were only a few thru hikers up there. It was amazing. I can’t believe these types of mountains and views are so close to home.

We started hiking down the other side, and the first bit of the descent was fairly chill. We crossed paths with Camino Steve, Buttcheeks, Faceplant, Double Orca, Super, Tadpole, and Survivor all going south, slack packing back to the hostel. We stopped for a snack break at the Beaver Brook hostel to rest up and energize before beginning the infamous descent.

The final mile and a half of the Moosilauke descent is one of the most notorious sections of the AT in New Hampshire, known for being incredibly steep and potentially slippery and very dangerous. Luckily, it had been dry for a while as we were attempting, so the slippery bit wasn’t much of a factor. It was still insanely steep, and took a couple hours of slowly lowering ourselves off rocks and some steps built into them. I definitely didn’t think it was quite as scary as everyone had made it out to be, but it would have been sketchy as hell after a rain. It was definitely still quite nerve wracking and my legs were certainly a bit shaky by the time we finally reached the bottom.

At the bottom, we stopped at the beautiful Beaver Brook to get water and eat our lunch before pressing on. Feeling strong after the climb and descent, we decided to push another 7.5 miles to the Eliza Brook Shelter. This was also somewhat necessitated by the fact that Eliza Brook was the next good water source.

The descent followed the steeply cascading Beaver Brook Falls for about 1.5 miles

After lunch is when the mood of the day suddenly changed. I was not anticipating the ruggedness of the trail in the second half of the day. Once we crossed the road at Kinsman Notch, we immediately started climbing steeply up. I had been expecting this, knowing there was about a mile of steep climbing to do, but had not been expecting the difficultly to continue on through the rest of the day. I had been anticipating terrain similar to our slack packing day yesterday, but this was definitely not the case. The trail continuously alternated between climbing steeply up or down, over large boulders and tangles of roots, causing me to contort my body in strange ways to get up and over in some places. On top of this, I started feeling a weird twinge in my left knee. I suspect it was just rejecting what it had been put through today, and I’m hoping it’ll get better after some rest in town tomorrow. But it just sucked, and I was moving along pretty slowly and feeling a bit sorry for myself.

Another photo of the Moosilauke descent because I didn’t take any photos during the second half of the day…

I caught up to Gummies at the wooded summit of Mount Wolf and we began picking our way down together. I listened to podcasts to distract myself from my misery, just wanting to get to camp. The sky began clouding over, and about a half mile or so before camp the forecasted rain finally arrived. It started slow, and we were so close to camp that I refused to stop and put my rain jacket on. We were in dense forest, which prevented most of the rain drops from reaching me, but we briefly came out into an open area of powerlines, and the cold wind whipped my bare arms with droplets. Back in the forest, it suddenly became extremely dark. I pressed on, trying to ignore everything but getting to camp. The rain kept coming down harder. By the time we finally made it to the shelter, it was downright pouring.

The shelter was crammed with other hikers trying to keep dry while eating dinner. We seem to have pushed ahead into a new bubble, because I didn’t recognize any of them. Luckily, many of the other hikers had already set up their tents, so there was room for us to sleep in the shelter. I sat shivering in my rain jacket and soaking shorts, miserably shoving mac and cheese down my throat. As we were awkwardly setting up our things in the crowded shelter, No Collar, who we’ve been hiking around since the first day, showed up! It was nice to see a familiar face.
I lay in my sleeping bag listening to the rain pounding just outside the opening where my head lay, and eventually drifted off, warm and dry, with a belly full of mac and cheese. Tomorrow, there are only 9 miles until the spot we will hitch into town, but the Kinsmans – two more 4000 footers – still stand in our way.

AT NH Day 4: Slackers

NH 25A – Jeffers Brook Shelter
10.8 miles
We woke up this morning in a cold mist. We slept in a bit because Double Orca and her parents weren’t meeting us for the slack pack until 7:30 and we were camped right by the road. There was a pretty big crew gathered for the slack pack. It was me, Gummies, Double Orca, Tadpole, Survivor, Super, Buttcheeks, Faceplant, Tails, and Sock Ninja. Gummies and I had never slack packed before and it honestly felt amazing. I felt so free without the weight of my pack.
The hiking today was extremely chill. There were a few small climbs but they were not bad at all. We took a breakfast break a few miles in but other than that I didn’t really stop at all for the first ten miles. I put on my music after breakfast and felt super stoked and strong. Without the weight of my pack I was even partially running down some of the descents, *just for fun*. What have I become?

The day was uneventful, so here’s a cool caterpillar

I reached the road into Glencliffe shortly after noon, and Gummies and I made our way over to the Hikers Welcome Hostel. Double Orca’s parents live right across the street, so we stopped in there to grab our stuff, and Double Orca’s mom even gave us delicious homemade cookies. The hostel was also amazing. It was all run on the honour system, and they had bunks, tenting, an outdoor bath house with showers, laundry, and a toilet, as well as snacky foods for sale. Gummies and I both got the hiker combo, which was a frozen microwave pizza, chips, can of pop, and ice cream sandwich for 5 bucks. We also both showered for 3 dollars.

We had originally thought we might stay here, but then realized there was a shelter just a mile up the trail, so we decided to hike out to that to save some money. Basically every hiker we’ve been around so far was at the hostel and staying there for the night. Most of them are also using the slack pack service over Mount Moosilauke tomorrow, but we’re just going to haul our stuff up and over the old fashioned way. We did still spend several hours resting at the hostel, lounging in a hammock, drinking pop, and talking with the other hikers. We finally hiked out around 4pm.

When we made it to the shelter, we were the only ones here. I used my first AT privy, which was getting dangerously close to overflowing. Eventually, a group of Dartmouth College orientees showed up and are also camping here. We’re the only AT hikers though and it feels super weird. I guess since it’s so close to the hostel everyone just stays there instead.

We ate dinner and collected water from Jeffers Brook, which is flowing nearby in a beautiful waterfall. Tomorrow is going to be a big day as we take on Mount Moosilauke, our first 4000 footer on trail and what is considered the “official” start of the Whites. There’s a chance of rain in the afternoon and so fingers crossed we make it down the treacherous descent while it’s still dry!