For the next 100 miles, the trail will traverse the White Mountains, some of the most challenging and spectacular terrain to be found anywhere. That makes the Whites one of the most popular sections of the Appalachian Trail.
The trail will regularly go above tree line, with many climbs gaining more than 1,000 feet per mile. Because of the elevation and the exposure above tree line, weather forecasts should not be ignored.
|Date||Friday, August 25, 2017|
|Weather||Cloudy, then partly sunny; temperatures in the low 50s to upper 60s with 40 mph winds on Mt. Moosilauke |
|Trail Conditions||Difficult, steep climb and descent with many rocks|
I knew all of this before I began my thru-hike attempt. I had read books and blogs, and had watched many YouTube videos, so I knew the Whites were difficult.
And still, I had no idea how difficult they would be.
I had no idea until today.
The day began surprisingly easy. The trail from Jeffers Brook Shelter started with a short section of road-walking. It then continued along what appeared to be a former logging road, though now it was covered in exposed roots.
Felix walked with me on this first section, but that soon ended when the trail began to climb to the summit of Mt. Moosilauke.
The trail didn’t take long for it to become steeper and rockier. This mountain was the first of the 4000-footers in the Whites and the climb was unrelenting.
The farther and higher I climbed, the slower I walked. My heavier pack didn’t help, but I couldn’t put all of the blame there. I was feeling old and tired going up the mountain.
By the time I reached a section of the trail called the Carriage Road, I had taken about 2.5 hours to go just 3.6 miles. Even for an old guy like me, that was slow.
Fortunately, the Carriage Road made the trail much easier. It was the last mile to the top of Mt. Moosilauke and was part of a road used by tourists when a hotel called the Prospect House was located at the summit.
The hotel was constructed in 1860. Its name was later changed to Tip-Top House. It burned down in 1942.
Low-hanging clouds became thicker as I neared the top of Mt. Moosilauke, which stands 4,802 feet above sea level.
Soon the trail left the protection of low, scrubby trees that lined the Carriage Road and went above tree line. Without that protection there was nothing to stop the wind, which was blasting across the summit at roughly 40 miles an hour.
Felix had been waiting for me at the top for a long time when I finally arrived there. He had hunkered down behind some rocks to get protection against the wind.
A day hiker took our photo, then we decided there was no point in lingering here any longer and left the summit.
I didn’t know until later when I talked to Stick that when he arrived at the top not long after us, the sky cleared. He was able to see some beautiful views of the Presidential Range.
The descent left the bare, rocky top and began a steep, long drop. Once it returned to below the tree line it often followed a stream called Beaver Brook.
The only redeeming part of the descent was the sun came out and I was able to catch a narrow view of the mountains ahead. Otherwise, it was difficult to go down the mountain. Again, I slowed much more than I would have liked.
Many thru-hikers elect to do this section of the trail as a slackpack. Usually, they get a hostel operator to take them to Kinsman Notch and go southbound with only a day pack.
As I went down the trail northbound, I could see the appeal of this. The descent in this direction was much more difficult than it would be in the other direction.
In a recognition of the difficulties of the trail on that side of the mountain, a sign warned hikers to take caution. I couldn’t help but notice, though, this sign was for hikers going up. There was no such warning for the sorry old guys like me going down.
Felix waited for me again at Beaver Brook Shelter, located just more than two miles from the summit.
While we were there, a hiker named Slingshot arrived, who said he planned to stay there for the night. We asked him to pass along a message to Stick, that we were planning to camp at Kinsman Notch, which was at the bottom of the mountain.
Stick had stayed last night at Hikers Welcome Hostel. His friend Dustin departed from there this morning to return home.
About halfway down the mountain Stick caught up with me and we continued together for a time, but before long Stick got ahead of me.
During this time I fell twice, once with a hard landing on my elbow. Just as I had done yesterday when I fell on my tailbone, I was relieved I hadn’t broken my elbow. It hit a rock, and the blow seemed hard enough to have easily shattered a bone.
Instead, the rock I hit just tore a small hole in my shirt sleeve and scraped the skin.
At least now I had a different pain to feel instead of the deep bruise at my tailbone.
When I finally reached the bottom I had hit a new low of frustration. I was emotionally kicking myself for being slow and holding up Felix. He had come all this way and planned his hike to walk with me, but now I was delaying him from his schedule.
He had a limited time to be here. In order to get where he parked his truck in the amount of time he had away from work, he needs to do more than the 8.3 miles a day we did today.
Soon after I reached the spot where Stick and Felix were setting up their tents, I met Mara, who went by the trail name Stitches. She was a longtime friend of Felix, who just by surprising happenstance was in the area doing trail magic and shuttling hikers.
Mara offered to take us into the town of Lincoln for dinner, so the four of us went to a pizza restaurant called Pub 32.
It may have been just a gesture to apologize to the guys for slowing them down, but I picked up the tab.