I learned something new about my sister Arline recently: she has a great love and respect for the mountains of New Hampshire, and she is a recognized and respected part of the business and social community of Lincoln, NH. I already knew that she’s a wonderful sister!
When Arline dropped me off at the trail head at Crawford Notch the morning of June 17th, something caught her eye. As she looked down the Trail she said, “What’s that?” “Probably Trail Magic,” I guessed. We walked to it and sure enough, there were about a half dozen cans of soda. So my day on the Trail started out with a root beer. I was happy that Arline got to see an example of Trail Magic.
Enroute to Mt Webster, hiking through the Cliffs of Webster, the following photos were taken:
I enjoyed lunch on Mt Webster looking at the beautiful views while eating the 2 BLTs and the biscotti Arline had prepared.
That night I stayed at Mizpah Spring Hut.
Overall the 17th was a very good day of hiking in fine weather, and I hoped the good weather would continue. The next day I knew I’d be climbing again: the next hut was over 5000 feet elevation.
On Sunday, June 18th, the weather started out dodgy, so I started hiking with my rain gear. That lasted for about an hour, and I gambled that it would not rain. I shed my rain gear and continued to hike with just hiking shorts and a short-sleeve shirt.
For the most part, visibility was poor. However, it was the first time I saw several of the mountains in the Presidential Range in one view, including Mt Washington. I checked Mts Pierce, Webster, Eisenhower and Franklin off my list. Next, weather permitting, was Mt Washington.
It was Fathers Day, and I talked to Diane and Jon and received texts from E and Patrick. It would have been nice to be home celebrating with the family, though. That night I met a couple at the hut with their teenage son and daughter. The girl was about 13 and told me it was a family tradition that every Fathers Day weekend their family hiked a section of the AT. I thought that was such a great idea!
That day was a short hiking day, so I arrived at Lake of the Clouds Hut earlier than I normally would. Last night, as we were all sitting down waiting to be served dinner, the staff of the hut (called “The Croo”) started banging pots and pans in the kitchen. That inspired all the hikers to bang on the table and stomp their feet. It really was a raucous atmosphere, similar to a Yankee rally in the bottom of the ninth at the Stadium.
The Croo at all the huts are very energetic. They work hard and do their best to entertain all the hikers. In the mornings they always wake us with either the reading of a poem or a book, strumming an instrument and/or singing a tune. One dreary morning they woke us up singing the song, “You are my Sunshine.” I chuckled because there was no sunshine in sight, and Diane and I have sung that song to every one of our seven grandchildren. The Croo are also very supportive, knowledgeable of the AT and other local trails, and do an outstanding job. It is a pleasure to stay in these huts.
This is Lake of the Clouds Hut and the view from the hut, which is the closest to Mt Washington.
On Monday, June 19th, we were awakened by one of the staff members ironically playing a saxophone to the tune of, “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” I say ironically because I was forced to stay at this hut for another day, due to severe winds and thunderstorms on the summit of Mt. Washington. Staff at the hut told me I would be too exposed to lightning on the ridge line, and that the winds were strong enough to blow a person down, especially if they had a pack on their backs. I hope the weather improves tomorrow. At this rate I will never complete this trek.
Here is breakfast at Lakes of the Clouds Hut. We ate oatmeal, fruit, scrambled eggs, and bacon, and washed it down with coffee and hot chocolate.
The next morning, the weather report was only slightly better, but I decided to proceed to Mt Washington anyway. I was on the trail for less than a quarter mile, heading up towards the summit, when I noted this sign, which did not make me feel confident about my decision:
For the first 3 hours I hiked in clouds and horrendous winds. Several times I lost my balance, and hiking was extremely slow. Visibility was, at times, only 50 feet and I was totally dependent upon cairns to find my way. It is such a different experience to hike on a ridge line. You’re totally exposed to all the elements and you hope no thunderstorms or lightning occur. On a ridge line you are the tallest object in the area, carrying metal trekking poles and pack frame: a human lightning rod!
I hiked past the cog train tracks where I had enjoyed beautiful views about a week ago with Arline. None today. Then the sun came out for an hour or so and I managed to get a few photos.
For the next hour it poured and was quite cold with blowing wind. For the final hour or so, the sun came out again. It is amazing how quickly the weather can change!
Late in the afternoon I arrived at Madison Spring Hut and could not wait to warm up and put on dry clothes. I was happy to be there, but it truly was a very trying day. I questioned myself many times as to whether or not I had made the correct decision to hike.
On Wednesday, June 21, I finished climbing Mt Madison, hiked a ridge line for over a mile and began a 4000-foot descent over very steep rock slides. On the ridge line, winds were as strong as I have ever experienced. When I was in the clouds, again, I was totally dependent upon cairns. On more than one occasion I felt unsafe. It was a relief to finally reach the tree line with some protection from the wind. I am sure the winds were in excess of 60mph.
As an experiment, I let my trekking poles dangle by their straps in front of me. The wind blew them to the left until they were parallel to the ground and fluttering like a flag would in a stiff wind, while crashing and bumping into each other. I wish I had a video of it! I’ve never experienced such violent winds. Usually, when winds are that high, you’d wisely seeks shelter. But this guy, the Old Guy, voluntarily puts himself in that situation. Is this a sign of oxygen deprivation?
From Madison Spring Hut to the base of the mountain was 3 miles, but it took me four and a half hours. It was a very difficult stretch but it may also be a new record in slow hiking!
I have discovered a few things about hiking and myself. Mainly, I am a slow and deliberate hiker. Nearly everyone will pass me on the Trail and complete more miles in a given time. Some hikers look forward to the more difficult ascents and descents. I do not; I just do them!
When on ridge lines with an expansive view, I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to be here doing this, but I also feel insignificant. Being totally alone in the center of massive mountains for over a hundred miles in all directions makes me feel like a grain of sand on a beach.
I did manage to get a couple of photos when the sun peeked out. Looking at these pictures gives zero indication how violent the winds were. In the lower two pictures you can see the rocky ridge line in the foreground where I was standing, totally exposed to whatever Mother Nature brought.
Below is “The Barn” in Gorham, NH: a well-known hostel that provides what hikers want and need at a reasonable cost. It is presently being prepared for repainting. Note the sliding door on first floor and sliding window on second floor, similar to how some barns were previously built. This particular barn was built in 1888. The entire barn is only for hikers. The first floor has a full kitchen, living room with comfy furniture and huge HD TV, full bathroom, washer & dryer, ping pong table, a large selection of hiker loaner clothes, and a little office area. The second floor is one giant room with 14 beds, some single, some double.
I stayed at The Barn on Wednesday, June 21 and will do some resupply Thursday as I take another zero.
Every Thursday, Gorham has a Farmers Market in the town square. The market was very small but the people were very friendly. They had about 12 tents selling food and crafts.
I have now officially completed the Presidentials, and they were as tough and rugged as advertised. If I have a regret, it’s that for several days, the weather was poor with either zero or little visibility. Although I did manage to see numerous spectacular views, I would have had many more had the weather been better. On some mountains, such as Mt. Washington, I had no view at all.
There is still some serious hiking to do prior to getting out of the Whites and it will begin next as I head up Wildcat Ridge leading to the Wildcat Peaks and Carter Notch.
You may notice the word “notch” being used frequently in NH. I was curious about this and, as I suspected, it is synonymous with “gap” that most other states use. Some folks also use the word “saddle” or “pass.” New Hampshire and Maine mountains are so special I guess they deserve their own word; notch sounds cooler than gap, pass or saddle. For Scrabble or crossword puzzle enthusiasts, I also found out another synonym for gap or notch: col.
Many knowledgeable AT folks have told me that, beginning at Carter Notch, the next 150 miles north into Maine ranks as one of the most rugged sections on the Trail. This section, although very tough, simply does not have the name recognition of “The Whites” or Mount Washington. However, this section does have the Mahoosuc Notch (reportedly the most difficult mile on the AT) and the demanding and intimidating Mahoosuc Arm and Range.
On Friday, June 23rd, I woke up to rain but decided to proceed. It rained most of the day and I was hiking through clouds. The ascent and descent of Wildcat Mountain was quite difficult. I had lunch at a now unmanned ski lift station at the summit of Wildcat Ski Slope.
This is the only decent photo, taken as I climbed Wildcat. Note the unfriendly sky.
I arrived at Carter Notch Hut, cleaned up, got organized and had dinner. The Croo served tomato soup, wonderful homemade bread, salad, pasta, pesto chicken and lemon poppy seed cake.
I’m officially done with the Whites. I wish the weather would have been better, and I’m hoping it’s better tomorrow.