The Whites! Since Harper’s Ferry, my eyes have been set upon the Whites. They were my next big goal and my next big challenge. I heard a lot about them – how different and how much tougher they are than the rest of the trail. And you expect them to be tough, but there is no way to truly prepare for them. Simply put, they have been both beautiful and brutal. They are both the best and the worst of the trail. The past week though has felt more like a month. They truly are something amazing on the trail, both in the grandest sense and the darkest sense.
So after leaving Hanover, I had a day or so of pretty easy hiking before I reached the base of Mount Moosilake, the first of the mountains in the Whites. The weather has most certainly taken a turn toward the cold. It feels like it’s the middle of fall up here. Gloves have been purchased, a hat has been taken from a hiker box, and cold weather gear is headed for Gorham, NH. I have entered the coldness, and along with that, I entered the Whites.
The elevation profile of the Whites is pretty drastic. The ascents and descents are steep and long. The elevations are as high as the Smokies, and many of the mountain tops are barren, open ridges. It is honestly a pretty dangerous place – much more so than I had originally thought they’d be.
My ascent up Moosilake was good. Nothing too tough, but definitely tiring and long. I summited to beautiful weather, and so began my trudge through the Whites:
Over the next week or so, I experienced some breathtaking days, and some terribly harsh days. I probably saw the most impressive view of my trip so far when I walked the range consisting of Little Haystack, Lafayette, and Garfield. The pictures below do these views no justice at all. I was in complete awe of these mountains – it was beautiful.
And then here’s an image from off the top of Lafayette:
These images unfortunately don’t capture any of those things. It truly is one of the most amazing things I’ve seen. The views rival anything I’ve seen on the trail so far. I wish there was a better way to describe or show you these mountains, but this is the best I have!
So after leaving those magnificent views, the darker side of the Whites began to show itself. That night I got some pretty severe thunderstorms, as well as the night following. And then, the following day, I had my roughest stretch of the trail so far. From Mizpah Hut, I summited Mount Washington (second highest point on the AT) around noon. After being disappointed in the view because of some heavy cloud cover, I went in to the cafeteria up there to grab some lunch. Upon finishing lunch, I looked outside to see rain, much to my dismay. Up on Mount Washington, it is cold and it is windy. And there is nowhere to spend the night up there. My only options were to take a $40 train ride down the mountain, or to hike down to Madison Hut, about six miles away. Needless to say, I was not getting off the trail by taking a $40 train ride. So I donned my rain coat, packed up, and headed out into the storm. It was terrible. In about ten minutes I was soaked through. It was windy and cold, and I was completely exposed. Luckily it was only six miles. If it were more, I don’t know how I could have gotten there. By the time I reached the hut, I was freezing cold, soaking wet, and completely miserable. I had originally planned to hike about four more miles beyond the hut, but that was not going to happen in that weather. It took me about four hours to do those six miles. That just goes to show how treacherous the terrain and the weather was. I took a pretty good spill, as did most people out hiking that day. I am so glad that other hikers were out that day though. If they weren’t, I would have felt as though I were walking through a never ending loop of fog, mist, and rain. Honestly, it was dreadful – and a little bit scary. I have no pictures from that day. I couldn’t even take my camera out because of the rain, and because I was too cold to stop moving. I was afraid if I stopped moving I’d have too hard of a time getting going again. So just imagine the top of Washington in your mind, or just look it up. J
I was so glad once I got to Madison Hut though. I was lucky enough to get a work for stay opportunity there. The AMC, who runs the huts, lets thru-hikers do work for stays at the huts. In return for some menial labor, you get to feast on the leftover food that the real guests can’t finish. And you also get to sleep in the common room of the hut. Can’t beat that! Otherwise you drop about $100 on a bunk! My chore that night was just to talk to all the other guests about thru-hiking. Me and Coon got this job – by far the easiest. It pretty much started as Coon trying to run a class on thru-hiking (he’s a history teacher), but it quickly devolved into a Q&A session, which I enjoyed much more. The level of interest from the thirty or so other guest was pretty awesome. They asked a lot of good questions, and seemed genuinely interested in this insane feat that we’re trying to accomplish. So what started as a pretty rough day, turned out to be a nice night.
The next morning, after crushing some pancakes and sweeping the hut, I headed out into more rain. Putting on cold, wet clothes and shoes is never fun. But this morning proved to be one of the toughest. All the thru-hikers there (about six of us), were pretty down due to the weather. And the forecast for the day wasn’t looking good. So with dread, we trudged out into the cold and wet again to summit Madison, then descent down to Pinkham Notch. Again, there was more rain and cold and rock scrambling. The descent took quite a long time due to the level of difficulty. But alas! About a mile into the descent, the skies began to clear, and the weather finally was on our side! So in clear, cold air, I reached the notch around 3PM.
With all the dreadful hiking over the previous couple of days, I happily accepted the chance to stay in the camper of one of my former co-workers, Cindy and her fiancé Rick. Although my mileage through the Whites was not what I was hoping for, I couldn’t pass up a break. So from Pinkham, Rick and Cindy scooped me up, and we headed to Dolly Copp campground. It was a great night – whiskey, burgers, and lots of conversation. It was good to see a familiar face again, and they leisure time was exactly what I needed.
From there, I headed into Gorham for a day off. I now sit at the Gorham public library, doing my civic duty to update you all on the progress of my trip. I still have a day or two in the Whites, but most of the really severe stuff is done with. I will honestly be thrilled to reach Maine in the next few days. The Whites were just such a different experience than anywhere else on the trail. It was both beautiful and dreadful, inspiring and demoralizing. I’ll always remember this stretch of the trail. With the Whites nearly done, I now look forward to the end of my trip as my final goal. Katahdin is only about 300 miles away! Paul comes out for a visit in about five days as well. Looking forward to that! I’ll be offline for a bit of time as I enter Maine. Wish me luck!
Oh, and I checked off the last big animal on my list! I finally saw a moose! Not the best picture, but here it is:
And I also saw Bud at the hostel in Gorham:
PS: I met one of the scariest people of my trip so far at the hostel in Gorham. I’d rather not recall that story here, but when you see me, ask about it. This guy rivals The Pilgrim in his bizarre level, but in a much scarier way. I had a tough time sleeping last night!