1861 miles on the Appalachian Trail
I take a zero before continuing south through New Hampshire. The trail winds gradually up and down hills, a far cry from the ruggedness of the White Mountains. After getting a late start, I find myself hastily camping atop a dirt patch on Mt. Cube as the sun disappears behind a line of trees.
The creaking of the trees wakes me in the dead of night. 4:00 am. I drift back to sleep. The temperature has only just warmed to an acceptable level of comfort after hovering near freezing all night, and I am eager to get some sleep. Wind whooshes overhead. The creaking grows louder, more insistent.
I suddenly wish I'd inspected my tentsite properly the night before, as Tenacious would do. Stumbling out of my tent, I shine my headlamp into the branches above. My campsite is surrounded by widowmakers. Fallen branches litter the ground. At 4:19 am, I hurriedly throw everything into my pack and move my pile of stuff to a safe clearing about 20 ft away. I lean back against a tree trunk and wait for dawn to bring enough light to start hiking.
I get a rather stiff start that morning, though I do manage to catch sunrise on Mt. Cube.
On my way down, while blasting music from my trail playlist, I see two dogs running north up the path. I turn down the volume, expecting someone to follow them at any minute. No one shows up.
Odd, I think.
Near the bottom of the mountain, I see the dogs again, both in front of me and heading south. One is shaggy, with a black, white, and tan coat; the other is gold. I manage to get hold of the golden dog's collar. There is a Lyme, NH tag, but no phone number. I can't get close enough to the shaggy one to check his tag. I don't have phone service, anyways. The shaggy dog leads, circling back regularly to encourage his companion, who whines as she follows him.
They get to a dirt road. The shaggy dog turns right, but the golden dog sits down, whimpering.
"Well, bye now," I tell the dogs as I cross the road to continue up Smarts Mountain. I've barely gone 50 ft before I notice both running after me.
I've heard of a dog that regularly climbs Dragon's Tooth, part of the trail in Virginia, off leash. Are these dogs intentionally off leash or are they lost?
A little ways up Smarts Mountain, I check for a phone signal to call animal control. Success! I can't find a phone number for the Lyme animal control, but locate one for the neighboring town of Dorchester. There is no answer when I call. I leave a message as the dogs run past me.
I don't see either dog again. Feeling slightly concerned by the time I reach the summit of Smarts Mountain, I do some more digging and find the NH Humane Society on Facebook. I send them a message.
When I get to Trapper John Shelter that evening, I see the Humane Society's response: the area is out of their range, so they cannot come to find the dogs. They suggest contacting the Granite State Dog Rescue. On that page, I find a missing poster that exactly matches both dogs. The shaggy dog is named Beau; the golden one, Pippa. I call yet again to report the sighting, giving as much information as I can recall.
The owners contact me soon after my call. They're going to check the area around Smarts Mountain. I put up a couple posts about the dogs in the Appalachian Trail Facebook groups I belong to, hoping someone will find the dogs soon.
The next morning, the owners message me to say they found Pippa, but Beau is still missing. Much later, I find out the rest of the story while hiking through Vermont. Eventually, both dogs are found.
I enjoy a blisfully uneventful day of hiking, and soon arrive at Hanover, NH. The college town, right on the border between New Hampshire and Vermont, is the home of Dartmouth College. A football field and food co-op lies on one end of town, and after tenting in the woods, I take full advantage of my ability to shop at a real grocery store. Fancy Free, whom I'd met in Maine and in the Franconia Range, will arrive the next day, so I decide to zero in Hanover.
The Appalachian Trail runs right through town. A recreation center allows hikers to shower and do laundry for $5. I head there first thing in the morning.
"You're a hiker," the front desk woman says. "We were starting to wonder whether we'd see any more of you."
She pulls out a hiker's visitor log, where I sign my name. An hour later, I am in a small shower-and-laundry room on the bottom floor. Copious post-it notes from previous hikers line the walls, expressing thanks to the recreation center. The center even lets me leave my pack and charge my battery pack while I explore town!
I follow the trail into the heart of Dartmouth campus, then veer off to explore the college. A series of carved pumpkins on a wooden fence spell out 'DARTMOUTH.' Students lounge about on the campus green. Snatches of conversation reach me.
"I looked really good on paper. That's how I got into Dartmouth," one boy declares.
I locate bubble tea and broccoli for lunch, pick up my pack from the recreation center, then wait for Fancy Free at a local bus stop. Though she offers to let me stay with her - she lives nearby in Vermont - our schedules don't align. Still, I appreciate her offer.
I hike out of Hanover early the next morning, glad for the chance to explore the town.
Days 145-147: The last of the Whites - The Kinsmen, Mt. Wolf, and Mt. Moosilauke (Eliza Brook Shelter to NH Route 25)
1861 miles on the Appalachian Trail
Three sets of mountains remain in my trek through the White Mountains of New Hampshire: the Kinsmen, Mt. Wolf, and Mt. Moosilauke. Tenacious and Nighthawk warned me about the difficulty of South Kinsman when we were in Maine. "The sketchiest thing I've climbed, ever, " Tenacious christened it. So, it is not without some apprehension that I begin the long climb up the Kinsmen Mountains.
Lonesome Lake Hut, the southernmost of the AMC White Mountain huts, lies halfway up North Kinsman Mountain near the shores of Lonesome Lake itself. A wooden walkway borders the lake, and Cannon Mountain stands clearly reflected in the clear, still waters. I arrive at the hut just before lunchtime. To my delight, the crew has laid out the most impressive spread of baked goods that I've seen in the Whites. I savor a slice tres leches cake, still dripping with milk, and top it off with a slice of freshly baked bread. Thus fortified, I continue up the Kinsmen Mountains.
I crest North Kinsman first. The trail consists of boulders and rock slabs, many of which bear the unmistakable dents of trail maintainers' tools. Wooden steps are bolted to the steeper rock slabs, and some areas sport carefully constructed rock steps. The Franconia Ridge looms in the distance, majestic and unyielding, seeming so far away, yet only a day's hike from where I am.
The trail dips slightly before continuing to the summit of South Kinsman. Descending South Kinsman is quite unpleasant: not as steep as the Abol slide of Katahdin, but certainly 'sketchy' in some areas. I carefully slide down the rocks and make my way to Eliza Brook Shelter for the night.
For hours, I am alone at the shelter. The height of the southbound hiking season has passed, and fewer hikers frequent the southern tip of the White Mountains compared to those who hike Franconia Ridge or the Presidential range. Anticipating that no other hikers will arrive, I set up my tent in the shelter for extra warmth during the night.
As I finish my camp chores near sundown, I see another hiker walking up the hill to the shelter. His lean form looks vaguely familiar.
"Are you...Tree?" I ask as he sets his pack down on the shelter.
We'd started our hikes in Georgia on the same day. He is one of the few Asian hikers I've seen on the trail. He tells me he took a break from the trail for jury duty, and is continuing northbound for as long as he can before he must return for work. He carries what looks like one of the ultralight backpacks: while most Appalachian Trail hikers have traditional packs that weigh around 4 lbs, ultralight hikers favor lighter packs that weigh less than 2 lbs.
"I made my own pack," he says. He points to the sides of his pack. "This is a rice bag."
During his time on jury duty, he'd watched DIY videos and made himself a new pack from one-and-a-quarter 40-lb rice bags.
"The first bag only came up to here." He gestures at a seam near the top of his bag. "So I cut up another bag and sewed it on top."
That's resourceful, I think. Rice bags are light and built to withstand the weight of the rice within.
"I was in IT for three years, and photography for a lot...nine? I'm not going back...I'm going back to school. But it's not like any school you've heard of. I'm going to get my CDL. I'm going to be a truck driver."
The next morning, Tree grabs both our bear bags before we part ways. I will continue south over Mt. Wolf and Mt. Moosilauke, while he will head north over the Kinsmen and Franconias.
Mt. Wolf is not particularly difficult or memorable aside from a partially-obscured view of Franconia Ridge. The windy conditions today are slightly unnerving, but the abundant trees at this low elevation shield me from the brunt of the wind. I find the ascent of Mt. Moosilauke unpleasant. The ascent parallels an impossibly long series of cascades, and though I know the cascades are several feet from the trail, I feel the constant threat of falling down them.
Moosilauke, the last mountain in the Whites. Temperatures are freezing. Wind speeds should slow slightly tomorrow, but I may still face gusts up to 40 mph when I summit and descend Mt. Moosilauke. That night, I stop at Beaver Brook Shelter, which, at 3750 ft, stands just shy of the summit of Mt. Moosilauke. A couple section hikers kindle a fire that sputters and smokes in the wind. I huddle around the fire with them until nightfall.
"My specialty is the Cold War...there were so many engineering problems they had to solve. Like flying over the North Pole. No one knew how to do that before the Cold War."
That night, I wear every layer I own - two pairs of pants with a couple shirts and three jackets - and still feel cold inside my sleeping bag. The wind howls all night, snapping branches that fall onto the roof with muffled cracks. I count the hours until 5:00 am - the time I can reasonably rise - as I struggle to get warm.
I move quickly to generate body heat when I get up. Forcing some breakfast into my mouth, I shove my filter down my chest to keep it from freezing, and take off in the dark.
Fog shrouds the trail in the dim morning light, casting a sickly yellow glow on all my surroundings. I walk through a graveyard of broken pines and listen as the wind blows through their barren limbs.
I switch on my music when I reach treeline. The theme from Pirates of the Caribbean blares in my ears, competing with the sound of the wind. The wind blows sharply against the rocks; everywhere it touches, I see delicate, feathery formations of ice. My jaw drops. I saw pictures of these frost formations in the museum on Mt. Washington: rime ice, created by crystallizing fog. The summit sign is so peppered with frost that I can barely read it. As I look down, I find the beginnings of ice crystals growing on my clothes and hair. I feel like I'm slowly turning into an icicle. Quickly, I take off my gloves, snap a picture, and leave.
There is a palpable difference in temperature below treeline. Below 1500 feet, I even see day-hikers walk past in t-shirts and shorts.
"I bet it was beautiful up there," one man remarks.
"Um...it was foggy and icy when I was there," I tell him.
His eyes widen.
"It's probably melted by now," I say. Blue skies had emerged about 10 minutes after I got off the summit.
I hike quickly, bolstered by the thought of finishing the Whites and getting real food in town. As the trail flattens out, I pass a man eating an apple. He points out several apple trees by the side of the trail.
"This was an old orchard," he says. "I'd come here in the winter and take cuttings from the trees and graft them to root stock -- keeps the varieties going."
Curious, I approach one of the apple trees. The good apples are too tall for my reach. I try gently shaking the tree with little success, but content myself with a few bites from a small, misshapen apple down below. The apple is crisp and different from the varieties I'd tried in supermarkets - less sweet, perhaps.
Then, at 11:00 am, I reach the parking lot, where Mom awaits me. A sense of victory surges through me. I made it through the Whites!
1861 miles on the Appalachian Trail
Mom starts driving me back to the Crawford Notch trailhead at 3:30 am, too early for my brain to register what I'm doing. My fear of heights remains an obstacle, but getting an early start on the trail forces me to deal with it. I enjoyed a few precious days of easy hiking in Maine. Now, I must hike south through the rest of the White Mountains. I expect rugged terrain. Mom watches me as I walk out of the parking lot and into the woods, her form getting smaller and smaller with each passing moment. By the time I fully realize I'm in the Whites again, I'm halfway up Zealand Mountain with no phone service. Lovely.
The AMC maintains several huts and campsites in the Franconia Ridge area. As in much of New Hampshire, hikers must pay to stay at each hut or campsite. I stop by Zealand Falls Hut for lunch, then continue on. I plan to refill my water a few miles later at Guyot Shelter, which my map lists as 0.2 miles from the trail. Unfortunately, the water turns out to be 0.8 miles downhill. There are no other water sources in the vicinity.
So, I end up hiking the 0.8 miles down to Guyot Shelter, getting in an hour before dark. Normally, a caretaker lives at the shelter and collects a fee for camping. Today, there is no caretaker or fee collection bin, so I pick a tent platform and set up next to a couple of section hikers. Another hiker arrives after dark.
The next morning, it takes me 40 minutes just to get back onto the Appalachian Trail from Guyot Shelter - partly because I spend so long watching the sunrise over Mt. Guyot.
After grabbing a cinnamon bun at Galehead Hut, I continue toward Mt. Garfield. The trail follows a small waterfall up a wall of rocks, so that when I reach Garfield Ridge Shelter, my pants are muddy and wet.
There is no caretaker at Garfield Ridge Shelter, either; I have the place to myself until a trail maintenance crew shows up halfway through the afternoon. I spend an hour on the caretaker's platform, taking advantage of the phone service there.
A bunch of hikers roll in later that night, including Fancy Free, whom I'd met at The Cabin in Maine. She tells me about her thru-hike several years ago and shares her mashed potatoes, which she spices up with raisins.
I catch the tail end of the sunrise on Mt. Garfield. Four concrete walls on a stone platform, the ruins of an old fire tower, stand atop the summit. As I admire the view, a girl pops up from the center of the walls, circles around the summit, and hops back into the ruins.
Huh. She must've slept there, I think. Cool spot to spend the night!
The trail between Mt. Garfield and Mt. Lafayette is rocky, with one sketchy slide down a one story cliff and a long climb up rock slabs to Mt. Lafayette. I throw myself at one particularly smooth rock slab, hoping my boots have enough traction to keep me aloft. Mt. Garfield is visible during most of the climb. I crest false summit after false summit. At the summit of Mt. Lafayette, the trail becomes a dirt path with just patches of rock, and the views -- the views render me speechless
Aside from several dizzying drops down sheer cliffs lying but a couple feet from the trail, I enjoy a pleasant walk over Mt. Lincoln and Little Haystack.
Along the way, I meet a man who thru-hiked in 2005. His trail name was Three Cats.
"Do you have three cats?" I ask.
"We did at the time. Now, we have one. Attrition, you know."
I reach Liberty Springs Campsite in the mid-afternoon. Located just past Little Haystack, the campsite holds the first water source I've encountered since morning. There are no hikers there except a southbounder named Twin, who's walking around in his underwear. With the lack of rain in the past week, the water is barely a trickle; it takes 9 minutes to fill my Powerade bottle and 20 to fill my Camelbak water reservoir!
That evening, I reach Whitehouse Brook. Tomorrow, I'll reach Lonesome Lake Hut fairly early in the day and continue over North Kinsman and South Kinsman. I'm not particularly excited about the Kinsmen, but I'm already looking forward to baked goods at the hut.
1861 miles on the Appalachian Trail
I take a few days off after finishing Maine to rest up before New Hampshire.
1861 miles on the Appalachian Trail
My last three days in Maine pass in a blur of excitement tinged with sadness: excitement at finishing Maine's 282 miles of trail, sadness at parting ways with my trail family when we reach Monson. The owner of Sterling Inn joins us for breakfast, talking nonstop about the hikers who've passed through.
"One thing about opening a place like this is you meet lots of people," he says, leaning back against a countertop. "My favorite story is probably this one guy who came here in 2013. He'd hiked all the way from Georgia and he fell on Moxie Bald and had to be airlifted out. So the next year -- he had to start over."
We will pass over Moxie Bald ourselves in a couple days. The trail beyond Caratunk is tame compared to the terrain in southern Maine. Dirt, interspersed with roots and rocks, makes up the majority of the trail here. On our first day out of Caratunk, we hike over Pleasant Pond Mountain to camp at Bald Mountain Brook, where we find a lovely selection of flat tent spots. The other hikers on the trail have continued to Bald Mountain Brook Shelter; some days in Maine, the number of hikers I see parallels the crowds I'd passed in Georgia. It's nice to have this humble campsite to ourselves.
Nighthawk gathers armfuls of firewood as I put up my tent. Tenacious circles the area to pick out a campsite devoid of dead trees - widowmakers - that might crash down at night; it's a routine she repeats every day. We each gather water from the brook nearby, walking through knee-high undergrowth obscuring a small wasp nest in the ground. Luckily, none of us gets stung. With our camp chores complete, we gather around Nighthawk's fire for dinner. As the sun begins to set, the fire flickers and dances, filling the air with the aroma of campfire smoke. I can still smell the strangely comforting scent of campfire smoke on my clothing when I retire to my tent that evening.
I'll hike 15.4 miles tomorrow and 6.7 the day after that. Then, time to celebrate with some Maine lobster!
As I hike over Moxie Bald Mountain the next morning, I listen to the last chapters of A Walk in the Woods: Bill Bryson describes hiking from Moxie Bald to the Chairbacks during his section hike of the Appalachian Trail. It's a surreal - and rather funny - experience listening to someone describe the terrain I'm hiking. At one point, Bill Bryson writes about losing his friend in the rocky Chairback Mountains. In my mind, I can picture the exact locations that he describes.
In the spring, when snowmelt first fills the rivers and streams, hikers must ford many of the rivers in Maine. Some rivers can reach knee or waist height. I wait for Tenacious at the Piscataquis River, where a skull mounted onto a stick marks the trail. Luckily, in this dry September season, the water levels are low enough to expose a log-and-rock bridge that we hope across. We proceed to hike 5 miles along the same river in the muggy, gnat infested heat, only to cross back to the same bank we'd started on.
Totally logical, AT, I think with some amusement.
Tenacious majored in film and photography in college; she tells me how to develop film manually using things like stopper fluid and developer. Very cool!
When we get to camp, Nighthawk is blasting the full Hairspray soundtrack over another campfire:
But my feet tell me go!
It's like a drummer inside my heart
Oh, oh, oh
Don't make me wait
One more moment for my life to start...
Then, all too soon, my mom is picking me up at ME 15, Nighthawk and Tenacious are continuing into the 100 Mile Wilderness, and I am on my way back to the White Mountains of New Hampshire.