New Hampshire

September 13 — 23.3 Miles today, 1756.1 miles from Springer, 418.5 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +2815 feet. 
Climbs: 3,2,4,3,1, Wx: 50s-60, 0%, RF, Shelter: 5, Dinner: 2, Overall: 4.

I woke up at 8:30, went to Dunkin’ Donuts for breakfast (yum), to CVS for some candy (since I didn’t know if the Coop would be uber-hippie and not carry anything with sugar) and then to the Coop, which turns out to be a full service grocery which is, indeed, a coop. They asked if I was a member, I told them I was one in Minnesota, and it didn’t fly. For savings, anyway. Oh well. I hit the trail around 10:30 and began the ups and downs of southern New Hampshire. The nice weather had broken, and it was cool and cloudy all day.

I passed across several small mountains, under some apple trees, and by the Dartmouth Skiway, which, along with this entire stretch of trail, is maintained by the Dartmouth Outing Club. The DOC is quite an outfit, and on some of their sign boards posts information about their club. They have been around for nearly 100 years, claim responsibility for raising Dartmouth’s image and making it more selective, maintain 75 miles of trail (quite well, in fact), oversee the quite successful Dartmouth ski teams, and actually built the trail through New Hampshire before the AT even existed. It was originally built as a ski trail, from Dartmouth to Mount Moosilauke, so they could ski on Moosilauke in the winter (or at least ski there, it’s only 50 miles). The trail was originally marked with black and orange — the color of the Cabin and Trail segment of the club — blazes, which made sense, since white blazes are all but useless in the winter. Today, the trail is mainly used for hiking and white blazes have been included, generally next to or on top of the older, fading blazes.

I began climbing Smarts Mountain a bit before dusk, and slogged up the ridges and ledges, slowly gaining the ridge and then traversing the ridge for what seemed like forever before the final push to the summit. Luckily, there is a shelter at the summit in the old fire warden’s cabin, and I had a snacks-for-dinner before retiring just as the rain picked up on the metal roof; after there were only a few light sprinkles today.

September 14 — 21.1 Miles today, 1777.2 miles from Springer, 397.4 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: -1890 feet. 
Climbs: 4,3,3,4, Wx: 50s-60, 0%, RF, Shelter: 5, Dinner: 5, Overall: 3.

I got a late start today, and sadly had only a bit of a view off of Smarts Mountain when the fog lifted, from time to time. While the weather was lousy, the color in the trees is getting better, which slightly tempered my bitterness at the weather and the lack of excitement here in Southern New Hampshire. Tempering this bubbling enthusiasm were extremely slippery bits of marble which, unlike the prevalent granite, has no sandpaper qualities and, when wet, is like walking on ice. So I fell at one point on my bum and had to take a five minute talk-myself-out-of-hitching-out-at-the-next-road chat with myself. It got wetter and wetter in the mist (which was especially thick on the aptly-named Mount Mist, and the trail then swings around the summit of the aptly-named Mount Not-Appearing-On-This-Trail) and at one point I slipped and put my thigh in to my hiking pole, bending it at a 15° angle. So I took the pole, set it against my leg, and bent it back. Good as new. My legs must be getting strong, and I am definitely going to need new poles at the end of this trip, if not new legs.

I made it to Route 25 around after dark, wandered around for a few minutes trying to find the blazes on the other side, had no trouble “fording” the inch-deep-with-lots-of-rocks Oliverian Brook and hiked up to the Jeffers Brook Shelter, which I found through the mist to be empty, and where I made dinner and went to sleep.

September 15 — 15.9 Miles today, 1793.1 miles from Springer, 381.5 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +1145 feet. 
Climbs: HC,3,4, Wx: 50s-70, 10%, RF, Shelter: 5, Dinner: 4, Overall: 3.

I got up early today, but still had a slow start. It was still gray out (third day) and I wasn’t too excited about the 3700 foot climb up Mount Moosilauke. I walked a few hundred easy yards up a road and then the easy part of my hike, for the day and for the whole trip, ended.

Actually, the climb up Moosilauke isn’t that hard, and I was excited to be in the Whites (where I have hiked quite a bit of the trail, so I thought I knew what was coming), so I pushed up the mountain. Even though the trail up Moosilauke isn’t too hard on the south side, it is long. By the time I got to the summit, I was pretty well beat, and the school group didn’t even give me any food despite me looking famished and like a thru-hiker. The summit was cool and foggy, so there was nothing to see (no matter, I’ve been up there in better weather) and I picked my way down the north side.

The south side of Moosilauke might not be too bad, but the north side is treacherous. Especially after three days of constant drizzle. The trail follows Beaver Brook as it cascades and falls down the side of the mountain. There are tons of wooden and rock steps (all slick), rebar to help you on the especially vertical sections, and other signs that human beings were not really intended to follow this particular section of trail. But who cares? Let’s go down it anyway.

I was lucky enough not to slip and die on the trail, but it took me several hours to slowly make my way down the steps, slides and bars. I finally got to the bottom and thought that I now would have a gradual section up over Wolf Mountain to the next shelter, and perhaps over Kinsman too. And I was wrong. The trail from Kinsman Notch to Mount Kinsman is lightly traveled and lightly maintained, as the AMC seems to pay more attention to the more heavily used trails, such as the usual route over Kinsman from the north side. The trail was muddy and scenic, but there were few good views, lots of rough trail, and many annoying ups and downs. So I finally reached the shelter just around dark, having only hiked fifteen miles, but feeling like I’d hiked more than fifty.

September 16 — 19.1 Miles today, 1812.2 miles from Springer, 362.4 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +1065 feet. 
Climbs: 2,HC,4, Wx: 40s-80, 60%, F, Shelter: 5, Dinner: 5, Overall: +.

Today was a very hard and frankly quite rewarding day. My sheltermates got up early, as did I, and I was started up Kinsman by 7:15, getting away from the guy who was clearing his throat every fifteen to thirty seconds for, say, half an hour. Talk about impetus to leave. The climb up Kinsman is under 2000 feet (barely), but quite steep, slick and rough, with quite a few scrambles and not the same trail work that DOC put in to Moosilauke. Of course, one of the fellows at the shelter told me it was “god awful” and, well, it wasn’t. I hit the summit and, it being Saturday, started to see tons of day hikers going up to the peaks. From the north side. Where the AMC does something about the trail.

I had climbed Kinsman, but, like most of the whites, I had climbed without a pack, so the trail seemed a lot easier in my memory than it was in actuality. Fishin’ Jimmy had ladders, wooden steps and such, which was much rougher than I had remembered. No matter, I was at Lonesome Lake Hut by around 11:00, where they had the promised all-you-can-eat pastries. I thought I might have to get off the trail somewhere in the Whites and go to a grocery. However, because of the huts the thru-hiker has several opportunities for cookies, cake, pancakes, soup and other such foods at a minimal cost. Basically, the hut crews make sure to make enough food for their guests, and sell the rest, so they don’t have to compost it or pack it out. Makes sense to me. After gorging, and using the composting toilets (much nicer than privies — no smell, no pit, and a daily cleaning from the lovely hut crews, as well as toilet paper) I made my way down to Franconia for the next big climb.

The climb up to the Franconia Range, while not quite as long as Moosilauke, was similarly well-maintained. Lots of people climb up the Franconia Range, and the trails show it. So I powered up the trail, feeling great, and drinking a lot of water on what was turning in to a warm day. I crested the ridge moved right along (with a couple of slides, but luckily no slips in the quickly-disappearing muddy sections) to the summits of Lincoln and Lafayette, the first terrain over 5000 feet since the Grayson Highlands of Virginia, 1318 miles back. I spent some time on the summits, yogi-ed some cookies, and made my way down the north side of Lafayette, which I had hiked with a pack, and remembered as being rather rough.

The sun had been out; it was a splendid day, but the clouds were beginning to roll in. So I went over Mount Garfield with views only of the silhouettes of the surrounding ranges, and it was getting chilly, so I decided not to push on to the hut (which, on a Saturday night, would be packed) but rather stayed at the Garfield Ridge campsite. I sauntered in around dusk, gave a wave to the caretaker (an ’02 thru hiker who doesn’t charge other thru hikers) and took a place in the shelter for the chilly night with a lot of folks from near Boston. “Libadee.” “Gahfield.” “Warshington.” I’d hiked 19 miles. And even though I have hiked days over 30, today was much harder.

September 17 — 9.7 Miles today, 1821.9 miles from Springer, 352.7 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: -865 feet. 
Climbs: 2, Wx: 30s-70, 100%, Shelter: -, Dinner: +, Overall: 5.

I planned a long day today. Andrew Riley (Mac, ’05) is working at Mitzpah Hut, 24 miles distant, and a good deal of that distance is flat and easy. So I moved right along, getting to Galehead Hut before 9:00, eating pastries and cold, leftover pancakes (which are free, since no one except famished, cheapskate thru hikers would eat them — and I was happy to oblige) and deciding not to hike the half mile trail to the summit of Galehead Mountain, since I had a lot of miles to do. Had I been here a few days earlier, I’d have hiked to North Twin, the Bonds and Zealand, bagging a bunch of 4000 footers. As it was, I hiked only Zealand, the summit of which is just a tenth of a mile from the trail.

At the hut, I met Mash, a NOBO who had worked for stay and was eating and hanging out. Galehead hut was rebuilt by the AMC in 1999 and the when it was designed with steps the Americans with Disabilities Act was used to file a lawsuit against the AMC. Why? Because the hut, 4.6 miles and 2200 feet up from the nearest road, was inaccessible. After a lot of discussion, the AMC rebuilt the hut to be accessible, including a ramp outside. To prove they could access the hut, a group of differently-abled (is that the current accepted term?) citizens hauled themselves up the rough trail, over roots and rocks, to the hut to prove it had to be handicap accessible. Some commentators were then vilified for suggesting that if these people could haul themselves up the trail, they could get up the two steps in to the hut and the one step in to the bathroom.

I stayed at the hut for quite a while and finally left, pushing up Twin Mountain and then across relatively easy terrain at and above treeline towards Zealand Hut. Treeline in the whites is between 4000 and 4600 feet, and the Whites are the first place it is encountered, despite elevations further south 2000 feet higher. In Maine, treeline drops below 4000 feet. Much of the vegetation near the sub-alpine/alpine contact are stunted krummholz trees, with branches pointed away from the winter prevailing wind. Above that, it is simply grasses and sedges, mosses and lichens interspersed amongst the rocks.

I got to Zealand Mountain, dropped my pack for the hundred yards to the summit, and met a group of hikers, one of whom was finishing his 67 peaks over 4000 feet in New England. When they heard that I was more than halfway along to that goal and hiking the AT I was offered beer and snacks, and took their picture. Then, already running late, I met a SOBO sectioner called Nero who is a nut. Mash later told me that he was a fellow who constantly posted on AT message boards, and that his solution to anything was “hammocks.” “I need a good stove” “Hammocks.” “Should I wear sneakers of leather boots?” “Hammocks.” And he talked. Oh, god, did he ever talk. He spoke only in non-sequitors beginning with “hey.” He had about seven teeth, a thick southern drawl, and could not carry on any sort of conversation. He’d ask a question, I’d answer it, and he, instead of following up, would ask something entirely unrelated. No give-and-take. It was painful:

Nero: Hey y’all know if they do work for stay at Galehead?
Me: Yeah, they—
Nero: Hey did you see any hotels in Lincoln?
Me: I didn’t stop there but there are quite a few in—
Nero: Hey how is the trail over Kinsman?
Me: It’s easy on the north side, but on the south side it’s—
Nero: Hey how rocky is the next section?

It went on like this for ten or fifteen minutes, until I finally turned and started walking away. And he kept talking to me as I moved along! I found out from Mash that Nero held him up for the better part of an hour. In any case, after a stop at Zeacliff to admire the scenery (the undercast which was caught by the mountains was blowing out) and color I made it to Zealand Hut around 2:00.

Most of the huts have all-you-can-eat soup for lunch for $2, but Zealand was chargin $2 per bowl. It was good, hearty soup, though, so after one bowl I asked if, maybe, Gates, the cook for the day, could give me another bowl for lower (or no) cost. The way the huts work is that the crew gets the middle of the day off except for one member who stays and cooks and talks to visitors and generally keeps an eye on things. In any case, he figured that since the lunch crowd had mostly moved through, he’d give me another bowl, and we started talking. “Actually, I am going up to Mizpah tonight, in theory, to meet a friend who is working there.”

“Who is it?” he asked.

“Andrew Riley. Curly brown hair—”

“Yeah, I know Andrew. He’s coming here tonight. By the way, the soup is free.”

It turns out Andrew and the hutmaster at Zealand were switching huts for the evening, so he’d be packing in to Zealand in a matter of minutes. All of the sudden, my long day was over, and the food was plentiful. I then yogi-ed a ton of food off of some impressed day hikers (“Wow! The whole trail?!”) which will help me get to Gorham, or maybe beyond.

(As it turns out, I should have mentioned Andrew back at Lonesome. The huts are a very tightly-knit community (as I’d find out working in them a few years later) and if you know someone, you get a bit of special treatment. I had decided not to press on to Galehead the night before because I didn’t want to be “that guy” coming in at 9:00 and demanding a place to stay. But knowing a croo member? I would have gotten a table-if-not-a-bunk, a plate of food and minimal chores. Well, when I hike the trail again, I’ll know.)

Andrew got in a bit later and we caught up. I was pretty glad to be taking a nice, short day, and he was pretty tired. Why? Because he hadn’t slept the night before. Hut crews may or may not have a tradition in which some members (there are usually four or five on each crew) leave their hut after dinner has been served and cleaned up and go to raid another hut. Each hut has signs and such on the walls, and the key is to take them without waking the other hut’s crew. So he had, the previous evening, walked down from Mizpah, driven around to Valley Way, and started hiking up to Madison. About a quarter mile in they found a day hiker who was lost without a headlamp, so they helped him out (they are trained to help with search and rescues, or SARs, so had no trouble walking him down the trail). Then, after doing a good deed (for which they may have been compensated) they hiked up to Madison, stole a couple of signs (including the famed “Madison Avenue” sign) and the hiked along the Presidential Ridge (in rather nice weather, but still in the dark), paid a visit to Lakes, and arrived at Mizpah around 5:00, in time for an hour of sleep before they had to serve breakfast to a full house at 7:00. So he was beat. And I was intrigued.

I hung out at the hut for a while, ate dinner, and then took Andrew up on his offer to come visit him at Mizpah the next day. It was still fourteen miles off, and I could take my time. The hut naturalist (or “natty”) gave a very interesting presentation on the porch (with its million dollar view) about the logging history of the valley. It was all inaccessible virgin growth until the late 1800s, when a logging railroad was built to access the interior. In a matter of years, the valley was stripped of its large trees, and, without trees to catch moisture, became little more than a barren desert. Then, once the slash (smaller branches not suitable for milling) was dry, it burned, creating an ugly moonscape.

In the last 100 years, it has recovered smartly. The main reminders of its past are the old railroad grade, several slides which took place when the soil above them was loosened by logging, and the fact that most of the trees are not mature northern forest but rather birches and beeches. After 100 years, however, the birches are slowly dying off and being replaced by more evergreens, the normal, natural growth in the area, while birches are generally relegated to blowdowns and clearings where they can grow in full sun. So their color has been diminishing in recent years, helped this fall by a blight which killed off many of their leaves early.

September 18 — 14.1 Miles today, 1836 miles from Springer, 338.6 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +1105 feet. 
Climbs: 4,1, Wx: 60s-80, 100%, Shelter: -, Dinner: +, Overall: 5.

I woke up on the table (where thru-hikers sleep), had breakfast after the paying guests and did a bit of work (sweeping the bunk rooms) and was treated to the BFD (for “blanket folding display,” of course). The BFD is a silly skit the crew (or “croo” at least since the late 1970s) puts on, in which the guests are admonished to do three things: fold their blankets (twice by length, once by width), pack out trash, and tip the crew. Today’s installment was called “slumber party,” in which three croo members dressed as teenage girls (but all guys, a rarity for the hut crews, and yet another reason to work there) take a trashy magazine (in this case, People) and brush up on their blanket folding skills, at which a pizza man (Andrew) arrives. He encourages the “girls” to pack out their pizza box, and then later, when offered a tip, refuses it, but tells them to give it to the croo. There is an “oatmeal facial” segment, too, which both exfoliates and uses leftover oatmeal. It was somewhat entertaining.

After the BFD, I chilled with Andrew for a while sitting at the falls. Finally, around 11:00, I left the hut, in pleasant, if somewhat warm weather. The first few miles towards Carrigain (where Gates had gone “on a day hike” during the day) were pretty easy on an old railroad grade, and I decided to go to the bottom of Thoreau Falls, at least for the view.

I scrambled down and found the falls splendid, and cold. But, sitting next to the pool at the base, sweating, I pondered, for fifteen minutes, going in. I then spent ten minutes with just my feet in the falls. Then I got in up to my waist, but decided it was too cold for that, so got out, and began to put my clothes back on. Finally, I decided I might as well dip in, at least to my neck. I stripped down, jumped in (but not over my head), and swam out from the ledge, all of twelve feet. Fifteen seconds later, I was out of the water, suffering from the shock of the cold, and then spent another ten minutes drying out and dressing. I spent most of an hour by the falls, and swam for the better part of half a minute.

After the hour-plus at the falls, I wandered through more great color past Ethan Pond and down to Crawford Notch. This is another place where the trail could take a much easier route but chooses not to. From Zealand Hut, via the A-to-Z Trail, the Avalon Trail and the Webster-Jackson Trail (and the Mizpah Cutoff) would be 8 miles, with a minor climb over the Tom-Field col and then the climb from the height-of-land at Crawford (at just under 2000 feet in elevation) to Mizpah. Instead, the trail descends to under 1300 feet and then climbs up the treacherous Webster Cliffs. So I had a steep climb up, traversing scrambles and cliffs, and, while the views were great, the trail was rough. I finally hoisted myself, and my pack, up the cliffs, and raced darkness to the hut, getting in just around 7:30, and just around dark, where I was greeted by lots of food, Andrew, the rest of the croo, and Mash again, who was doing some work but understood that since I had an “in” I was exempt. He didn’t really mind. Plus, they didn’t make him do too much. And he took a picture of me with the Croo and alluded that I was in the Krew (his spelling). I guess he gets the credit for the same picture taken with my camera. Not long after, we went to bed on the floor told to raise a racket if the hut was raided, but, sadly, it was not.

September 19 — 19.5 Miles today, 1855.5 miles from Springer, 319.1 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: -1760 feet. 
Climbs: 4,4,2,4,4,4,4, Wx: 40s-70s, 50%, WRF, Shelter: -, Dinner: -, Overall: 4.

I woke up around 6:00 and my work for my stay was to listen to the radio and take down the weather report. Each of the huts has a radio and they receive a weather report, localized for the mountains, from the Mount Washington Observatory at 7:00. I got to write down the weather, draw pretty pictures of the sun with glasses on and clouds with frowns, and then got to eat breakfast. The croo assembled to tell the guests their bios. Andrew’s, about growing up as a vagabond in Europe, sent me to the floor laughing, since he’s really a southsider from Newton, a bit less exciting. But they say people believe talk of monsters in Zealand Lake and such. After the BFD — today, “Frankenguest”, where a Frankenstein-guest was admonished to fold his (her, in this case) blanket, pack out trash and tip the crew — I talked to Andrew, but with the forecast for late rain, left pretty early to try to beat it over the ridge.

I enjoyed my time in the huts, and really can’t stand the people who can’t stand the AMC. The Whites receive a tremendous amount of use, and the AMC, in addition to keeping up 120 miles of the AT over treacherous terrain, works on hundreds of miles of other trails, provides educational opportunities to teach visitors about minimal impact hiking, maintains many composting privies which not only cut down on defecation in the woods, but convert the “product” in to soil. There are many complaints about the AMC, from the fees ($8 at campsites, often not collected from thru hikers) to the fact that it is based in Boston, to the ire of people in New Hampshire. And in the late 1800s, when the good folks in Boston were founding the AMC to preserve the mountains, the locals were raping the land for every last stick and tree they could find.

And the AMC, in my opinion, does a heck of a job. The huts, in particular, bring a lot of people in to the mountains who otherwise might not be able to, and often people who may need a hint (like the BFD) about proper backcountry ethics. Most of the huts have, or soon will have, composting toilets, and electricity is all provided by renewable sources, with propane generators, which are cheaper and were used until the early 1980s, only for backup. (Propane is still used for cooking.) The huts all have windmills and solar panels, which power lights, refrigerators and the toilets’ fans, and other appliances. At Zealand, a small penstock diverts up to 15 percent of minimum stream flow, which then falls 200 feet through a small, makeshift generator, and provides more than enough power for the hut (even enough for them to bend the rules and not notice me charging my batteries). Frankly, it is all quite nice. So while it is fun to call it the Appalachian Money Club, it is all good-natured, because they do a heck of a job.

Plus, compared with other higher-use areas on the trail, the Presidentials are much more fragile, and much more heavily-used. More than a mile from trailheads in the Smokies, I was often alone on the trail and at night. At Garfield Campsite, I had dozens of companions. With the eight huts and dozen-plus manned tentsites and shelters, there are, on busy weekends, over 1000 people at established facilities in the White Mountains. User fees help to manage the impact from this use. And while the huts aren’t cheap, they are run by a non-profit organization which recycles any surplus (and there is a surplus) in to trail maintenance, education and research, helping the otherwise cash-strapped forest service.

Along the ridge, I met Fred (a thru hiker from New Hampshire) and Mash and I hiked with them to Lakes (of the Clouds Hut, which had closed the day before and was being cleaned up), where we sat in the warm, calm weather, paying little mind to the darkening skies to the west. Then we went to the summit, sat inside, and ate lunch (a ripoff, but the mustard and mayo were free, and by God we took advantage). Fred, having already hiked the Northern Presidentials, was going to take Tuckermans, and Mash decided to go along; he was very excited to have someone else taking the blue-blaze. I reminded him that Tucks is not the easiest trail down, but he was happy about the shorter distance. They offered to take some of my stuff (food) down, and I was glad to let them. Mash wrote about me and my ridgetop antics. He said that I said that it was “goddamn nasty.” The calm, warm weather would be fleeting.

I set off, making it across the ridge as the clouds moved closer. All of the sudden it was a race against time. Much of the Gulfside Trail, which the AT follows around Jefferson and Adams, is graded with rocks laid flat, although still rough. It was misty by the time I hit Edmands Col between Jefferson and Adams, and raining by the time I got to Madison Hut, which is old, with flush toilets (greater impact than the Clivus Multrum composting jobs. Wait. Would the plural of Clivus Multrum be Clivus Multra?), so I had to scamper up Madison. It was getting colder, and Madison is quite rough, so I slowly made my way over the summit, and then down the half dozen false summits on the other side (a stretch of trail I remembered well, because it is so painfully annoying. Moreso going up than down, but still, every time I thought I was near treeline another false summit appeared.).

I finally made it below treeline, crossed an endless stretch across the Great Gulf, including a swing bridge which was tons of fun to jump up and down on, because it really swung, although I didn’t want to fall in the Peabody River. I was able to make it to the Auto Road by dark, and the followed Old Jackson Road, long since abandoned and now a trail. The first few hundred yards of the trail were decidedly not a road. So I fell, for the second time of the day.

At length I found my way down to the AMC Pinkham Center, and, soaking wet, checked in to the Joe Dodge Lodge, where I got a private room (because it was only partially full) where I cranked up the heat and dried my clothes and warmed myself, and after a nice, long (stressing the long — I think I as in there for 45 minutes) shower, went to sleep.

September 20 — 13.3 Miles today, 1868.8 miles from Springer, 305.9 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +1260 feet. 
Climbs: 1,4,2,4, Wx: 40s-50s, 60%, W Shelter: +, Dinner: 5, Overall: 5.

In the morning, the AMC had AYCE breakfast included in the room rate, which was much appreciated by me and Mash, the resident thru hikers for the evening. He had a great response when an AMC staff person asked why his girlfriend (now fiancee) wasn’t along with him for the hike: “She likes her job.” His reaction when I asked him about coming down the cliff known as Tuckerman Ravine: “Holy Monkey Hunkey,” a favorite phrase of his. I left him waiting for someone else at the AMC and began, on a glorious day, the slog up Wildcat, while damp, wasn’t too bad. Still, I don’t know why my parents kept paying for my education or food after I took them on that hike a few years ago.

For a few days, one of my poles has been acting up. The tip is fine, but the bent bottom section is slowly being pushed in to the bend mid-section, and refuses to come out. It has been discouraging watching the pole slowly shrink down, and I was thinking of having my parents bring up old ski poles as replacements. The AMC folks were no use, even pliers didn’t help. This morning, however, I got the pole wedged between two rocks, and leaned back, pulling with all my weight on the pole, and it slowly puleld out, metal scratching against metal. Now I have to make sure it doesn’t start shortening too much again.

On top of Wildcat, by the snow-free Wildcat Valley Trail (A backcountry ski trail down to Jackson, which is tons of fun in lots of snow, but a bit scary, what with the hairpin turns and all), I took some time sitting at the “warning, danger, closed” observation tower for lunch (thru hikers sure know how to obey the rules), and then toddered down to the hut at Carter, where I had some cookies and soup. By the time I left I was probably not going to make it to the Imp Shelter by dark, but I pushed on over the rather rough Carters, and got there — after dark. I pounded up Carter dome out of the hut, 1.2 miles with a gain of, oh, 1600 feet, but I barely felt it. I did impress a school group passing by, though. Across the valley, Washington, which had earlier been out of the clouds, was again immersed in them, and the wind had turned to the west-northwest, pounding the ridges running perpendicular to that fetch. The Imp Shelter, for some reason, was situated facing the prevailing wind, and it was very chilly. The two sectioners there had hung their tarp across the entrance, and I was happy to get out of the weather and in to the shelter.

I started making dinner, Annies which I had “bought” (by giving the croo tips) at Mizpah, and after a couple minutes realized that my stove had boiled over, or something, and there was way too much fire blowing around. So I put out the flame, and then put down the metal heat reflector on the floor, and then relit the stove, but it exploded and I dropped it. All of the sudden, there were flames everywhere. I tried to put it out and would up setting the macaroni box on fire. I was going nuts — I really didn’t want to spend a cold night next to the burned-out shell of a shelter, although the fire would be warm for a while. Finally, after what felt like a minute and was probably six seconds, I realized that water puts out fire, and about 150 ml in my nalgene turned the fire in to steam and smoke, and a crisis was averted. The two other folks asked what was wrong, and I mumbled something about “shelter” and “burn” but was mostly bemoaning the fact that I had no water and would have to venture out for more in the cold. And I decided the pasta was done enough (no more fire for me tonight), and I ate and went to sleep, chilly in my 35 degree bag.

September 21 — 19.7 Miles today, 1888.5 miles from Springer, 286.1 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: -1135 feet. 
Climbs: 3,2,4,4, Wx: 30s-50, 70%, S, Shelter: 5, Dinner: +, Overall: +.

I was up early, and it was quite cold and windy. I had a slow and windy walk around Moriah Ridge, passing up most of the views and trying to keep warm and moving. Soon, I saw two hikers, bundled, coming south. “Ziploch!” one yelled. It was Monkey and Butterfly (now Duct Tape), who I had last seen in Pennsylvania. We gave each other the appropriate congratulations for making it as far as we did, and had a brief conversation, before solidifying blood in our extremities pushed us on in opposite directions. It was cool (er, cold?), however, to see folks I hadn’t seen in so long.

Just past the trail to the summit of Moriah, I realized that out of the passing clouds, something was falling and hitting my face. And it was solid. Woo hoo! It was snowing. Cripes. It was snowing, on the first day of fall. Once I began to descend on the bog-bridge and mud Rattle River trail (which I hadn’t hiked before, unlike most of the rest of the trail from Mizpah) I encountered two more friendly faces: Frond and Azaria, who I’d last seen south of Shenandoah in Virginia! So many old acquaintances in such a short bit of time, what are the chances?

I lunched at the Rattle River, and called home crossing the (Mighty) Androscoggin, where the clouds were breaking above the summits. At 700 feet it was much milder, possibly in to the 50s. I decided at that point, to take a bit more of a break on the coming weekend, and to meet my parents somewhere south of Grafton Notch, instead of trying to push to Route 17 or so. It would likely mean I’d not finish by a friend’s wedding on the 7th, but that would be a little break before the last 100 miles or so. As I talked, I noticed that Washington and the other big hills were actually white above about 5000 feet. Three days ago I was swimming. Today, the Whites received their first snow. And the temperature on the summit: 23, with a windchill of 0. Nice weather — to be looking at from below. (This was the scene at the summit.)

I put myself in to higher gear for the afternoon and began a rather easy climb up to the Mahoosuc Trail, and then a rolling trail which was easy except where the bog bridges were just floating in the muck below, as opposed to actually anchored on terra firma. They look fine, but can sink severeal inches when you step on them. So I walked across several, before learning to test them with a pole before traversing them, or deciding to pick my way around. I arrived at the shelter a bit after dark to find it full of northbounders — a big group, the first such group I have encountered (although I passed another group still drinking in Gorham). It was shaping up to be another cold night, but all the ambient body heat would keep me from freezing.

September 22 — 9.1 Miles today, 1898.1 miles from Springer, 276.5 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +865 feet. 
Climbs: 2,4,3, Wx: 40-50, 60%, Shelter: 5, Dinner: 5, Overall: 5.

It was cold again, and I got a pretty late start. As I came towards the bog on Mount Success, Rabbit, one of the group, started yelling at me “Go around!” All I saw were bog bridges disappearing in to muck. She had tried to go through and sank up to her waist. So everyone else went around, trampling all of the alpine vegetation, and I joined in the fun. If the AMC can’t build bridges across a hip-deep bog, we have no choice. Frankly, despite all the good things I’ve said about them, they need to do some maintenance on the less-used trails. Then I saw an interesting sight: Fred was holding a camera, trying to take a picture of Walker (a.k.a. Tigger) doing a handstand on the summit. As he was doing so, I took out my camera and captured several tries, the eventual success (on Mount Success) and the following tumble off of the rock. I later found out that he attempted one of these handstands at every “epic view,” and that this was the first he had bungled. And I had it all on video tape. (See it on YouTube.)

I talked to Walker on the way down Success about plans after the trail. We were both agreed on what we wanted to do. First, we wanted to go in to the “real” world for a couple years, and then hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Then, after a couple more years, go hike the Continental Divide Trail, which will be more complete by then. Then, around 30, we’d be Triple Crowners, ready to settle down in to a more normal life. We both thought this was the only logical course of action, and we were finishing each other’s sentences.

And then it was on to Maine.