I thought the trails would be much more crowded. Mizpah Hut and Nauman tentsite must have held 100 hikers in total plus another 90 just 5 miles up the trail at the Lakes of the Clouds Hut. Amazingly enough, after the first half hour, we were pretty much alone.
We stopped for a break at Lakes of the Clouds and grubbed some leftover sausages from "The Croo". They're usually really nice about trying to "feed the thru-hikers." Even Micah got some sausages.
It was a surprisingly easy climb up Mt. Washington. I don't know what I was expecting, but the climbs up Moosilaukee and Kinsman were much more difficult. Not very many people up there since the visibility was only 50-100', but it was still neat to be on top of a 6288' tall peak. The highest wind ever recorded on land occurred at the observatory on top of this mountain. It was 235 mph!
We spent a good deal of time chatting with tourists. I got my maildrop and some letters from Eddie Grubb and Gus. There's a backpacker room in the basement of the visitor's center and we spent a long time organizing our gear. There were even bathrooms with hot water and flush toilets, so I did my best at taking a sink bath. Today's our 7th day without a shower or clean clothes and it's definitely catching up.
We're camped at The Perch tonight. It's a shelter with tent platforms about a mile off the AT. The Presidential Range has a 12+ mile section of trail above tree line and it's just not safe to camp that high up, so all the shelters and campsites are a ways off the trail. We had hoped to make it further today but the trail after Mt. Washington was extremely rocky and slow going. It was a good decision to call it quits a little earlier than planned. We still didn't get into camp until 6pm and just as we finished up dinner, it began to pour. Abe is the only other hiker at this site tonight.
We started the day with a grueling 1 mile climb up from The Perch just to get back to the AT. Once we hit the AT, I felt like I was back in PA. The rocks are just absolutely unforgiving. My knees and my feet are in a lot of pain once again. My speed was down to 1mph over this stuff.
We made it to Madison Hut and took a brief break and ate some leftover coffeecake and some type of apple spice cake. The climb up Mt Madison afterwards was more of a goat trail than a footpath. We're still not getting many views due to cloud cover, but the clouds rolled away just long enough to reveal the remainder of the ridge left to go. Ughhh! It just seemed to go on forever. I absolutely hate these rocks! I kept taking little "pity breaks" every 30 minutes or so to lament over my abominably slow progress and all my aches and pains, but I kept going.
Finally, we reached tree line - yeah! Now it's FireBall's turn to whine about the trail. He hates the roots and mud, whereas I prefer them tenfold over those blasted rock fields. On the way down we met StickFlipper and Snapshot. They are a retired couple who thru-hiked in '95. They must be gluttons for punishment to return to the particular section of trail :^)
After finally reaching the Osgood Tentsite, I flew over the last 4.8 miles of the day. It just felt so good to be back on a trail where I could take full strides without fear of falling. I'd been feeling like a pretty pathetic excuse for a hiker the past few days, but these last few miles just made me feel like a strong hiker again.
We arrived at Pinkham Notch Visitors Center at 6pm with one thought - A HOT SHOWER! It's not quite the same when you have to put your same old stinking hiker clothes back on, but Lord, that hot water felt good! With 30 minutes of daylight left, we hiked a little while longer to find a tent spot since I couldn't stay at the Visitor's Center Lodge with Micah. I love being able to climb into my sleeping bag without having to hold my nose!
We packed up camp in record time and walked back to the Pinkham Visitor Center. Within 20 minutes we were able to get a ride the 12 miles in to Gorham. First stop, Libby House B&B to get my pickup truck that we'd left in their yard. We visited with Maggie and Paul, the owners, a little while and I was glad to see Capetown Jenny in The Barn as well.
We decided to stay at an affordable motel that would allow dogs inside. I wanted Micah to really get some rest and he just doesn't relax well when I stay in hostels with a lot of people around. There were a ton of hikers at The Hikers' Paridise Hostel. A lot of them were people I thought I might never see again: Forest Fire, Geo, Bulldog, Sourwood, The Swiss Family, and the Vermonsters (Grizzly, Wiggly & Greenbean). I was so happy to find out that I wasn't the only one who was reduced to a crawl through the Whites.
It felt good to talk to some of the other hikers and to discover that we all went through a lot of the same emotions, especially the women. I now have this funny picture in my mind - it's an aerial shot of the Presidential Ridge with various thru-hikers scattered at half mile intervals along its length either sitting on rocks crying or hitting the nearest rocks and boulders with their hiking sticks. It seems like the former tactic is preferred by the females while the latter is mostly a male thing. We all find ways to deal with stress I guess, but then five minues later, everybody picks themselves up and moves on.
Here's something to entertain. I wish I could claim authorship, but the honors go to Kahlena of the AT-L newsgroup. Thanks for making us all smile, Kahlena!
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my tent won't leak
The mice will let my pack alone
They won't chew in and make a home
The bears will leave my food bag be
And skunks will stay away from me
My boots will dry and my clothes too
And super'll taste better'n Goo
My dog won't whine or fart of snore
I'll see some views and won't be bored
The day will dawn sun-ny and clear
And some trail angel will give me....
a glass of milk
The climb up Wildcat Mountain was a killer. Micah slipped once and fell against a rock hard enough to bring out a yelp. That was enough of a scare for me to carry his pack the rest of the way up, which was not easy. I would hoist his pack a few feet above my head and then scramble up the rocks and repeat the process. I averaged about 1/2 mph traveling this way, but I just had these nightmare images of Micah falling on these slippery rocks and really hurting himself.
Even though I started out at 8:30am, I only made 8.5 miles today. I probably could have pushed for a few more, but it was already almost 4pm when I spotted some nice areas for tenting. I was passed today by Rush, Mass, Hoof, Fugitive, and Meat Man. They were all trying to do a 21 mile day over this stuff. The latter 3 were slackpacking, but Rush and Mass were doing it WITH packs. We had all stopped at the Carter Notch Hut for some hot drinks and these guys headed out at 1pm with 15 more miles to go! They had started at 9am and it took them 4 hours to go 6 miles because the terrain was so tough. They were facing a very long day. At least Rush and Mass could stop short and set up camp since they had their gear. The other 3 have no choice but to keep walking.
Here's a new term for you: "skyblazing". Some of the hikers have been taking gondolas and ski lift rides up to the tops of some of the mountains. Wildcat had a gondola ride for $3.50. Now that's a bargain in anyone's book!
I came down off the Wildcat Ridge completely dejected. It was my second atttempt at this particular section of trail between Pinkham Notch and US2 in NH. Each time I've lost my nerve and come down on a side trail only to berate myself at night and trudge right back up the same side trail to pick up where I left off. I seem to be hiking more side trail miles than AT miles lately.
BigFoot joined FireBall and I for dinner the other night. We were discussing the trail and how tough it's been lately. I hadn't seen him for months now and he commented on how much I seemed to have changed. He said that when he first met me, he thought I was one of the most gung-ho positive hikers he'd ever met. Now I seem to be one of the more down hikers. Unfortunately he's 100% correct.
We went on to discuss different ways of handling the remainder of the trail. BigFoot had basically slackpacked the entire length of The Whites. He had never slackpacked before and he really wanted to enjoy that section of the trail, so he carried just a daypack. He had a wonderful experience there. I, on the other hand, held true to my original rules for myself and carried my full pack (and Micah's too sometimes) the entire way and hated it! I just basically "gutted it out," and this is where a comment from BigFoot really set me to rethinking my hike. He basically said that if you'd made it this far, everybody could just "gut it out" to the end, but is that how you want your hike to end? Are those the memories you want to carry with you of your last days on the trail?
That night I could hardly sleep. Here I was having walked from Georgia to Maine - what an accomplishment! I should be ecstatic, and yet when I did cross that last state line and had my picture taken under the sign that read "Maine, the way life should be!" I was miserable. This should be my time of celebration! I always thought that once I entered Maine, I'd be walking on air, but instead I feel like I'm crawling through the mud and Katahdin is fading in the distance.
I'm going to turn this around! I've worked too hard and have too many miles behind me to end my hike this way. Now I just have to figure out how to do it. I know the feelings that I want to recapture - I want to fall in love with the trail again. Let's see how well I face this one.