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.

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