AT 2017: Day 139, Eliza Brook Shelter to Lonesome Lake Hut

Keep your day job

Evening on Lonesome Lake

There’s an oft-quoted hiker adage that describes the difficulties confronting you when you reach the White Mountains during a northbound thru-hike attempt. It says you have completed 80 percent of the miles, but you have only spent 20 percent of the energy you’ll need to complete your thru-hike.

The statistic is an unprovable invention, but it was invented to make a point.

I’m skeptical the disparity of distance versus effort is that extreme. Nevertheless, now that I'm in the Whites it’s becoming obvious that things are different. The trail is definitely more difficult.

Ralph, Stick and I agreed we have to make adjustments in our hiking to get through this section safely.

DateMonday, August 28, 2017
WeatherPartly cloudy with temperatures in the low 60s
Trail ConditionsSteep climbs and descents with many rocks
Today's Miles7.5
Trip Miles1813.7

It’s too easy for one small step to have a devastating impact on this hike, so we are doing things like waking up and getting on the trail earlier in the day to give us more time. We're also going more slowly on climbs and descents, though that’s as much a function of physical limitations as it is deliberate intent.

The steep mountains, the rocks, boulders and mud, and the changeable weather demand extra attention. The physicality of the trail requires a slower pace with more care taken in each step.

Ralph crossed Eliza Brook

We were on the trail this morning before 7:30 a.m. As soon as we left the tent site at Eliza Brook Shelter and crossed the brook, we began a rocky climb toward Harrington Pond and South Kinsman Mountain.

Ralph crosses on a log bridge

Much of the morning, the trail followed the path of Eliza Brook, crossing it repeatedly. There were no bridges, but logs or rocks made the crossings easy.

Stick rounding a corner

The three of us stuck together for most of this section. If anyone got ahead, the others usually caught up because there were several spots along the way to stop and enjoy the cascades of water that fell from waterfalls.

Some of these stops may or may not have been prompted by a need for someone to catch his breath.

Climbing rock steps

Though calling them steps would be charitable, there were a couple places along the way where rocks were stacked to make the climb easier. I wished this had been done more often.

Harrington Pond

After climbing nearly 1,000 feet over 1.4 miles, we reached a wide basin. At one end was Harrington Pond, though it was more swamp than pond.

At this point we had reached about 3,300 feet in elevation. The trees were becoming noticeably stunted in their growth.

Climbing South Kinsman Mountain

From the basin, our climbing resumed up South Kinsman Mountain.

Rocks on trail up South Kinsman Mountain

The trail was substantially more rocky, and though the boulders weren’t arranged in stair step fashion here as they had been before, the climb was not as bad as expected.

Stick climbing South Kinsman Mountain

Even when we had to use our hands to help in the climb, it wasn’t challenging enough to slow us down much more than our normally-slow pace.

View from South Kinsman Mountain

From the top of South Kinsman Mountain we found a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains. We could see in one of the valleys the town of Lincoln, which is where Stick, Felix and I had dinner with Stitches the night before last.

It’s said that Vermont can be seen from here on a clear day, but the sky was a little too hazy for that.

View from South Kinsman Mountain

We could also see Franconia Ridge, a string of mountain peaks that the Appalachian Trail goes over. Because we plan to go off trail for a resupply tomorrow, we won’t be walking over the ridge until the day after tomorrow.

Gravity, Ralph and Stick on South Kinsman Mountain

While we were stopped on the mountain top to take in the views, a section hiker offered to take our photo.

Leaving South Kinsman Mountain

The descent from South Kinsman was much like the climb, over a boulder-strewn trail.

After crossing a saddle, we then headed up North Kinsman Mountain.

View from North Kinsman Mountain

At 4,293 feet in elevation, North Kinsman was just 65 feet shorter than South Kinsman, but the views from here were not as good. Much of the summit was surrounded by trees.

We didn’t have a 360-degree view, but from a rock ledge we were able to get a closer look at Franconia Ridge. We could also see Lonesome Lake, our intended destination for tonight.

Descending North Kinsman Mountain

A rocky trail once again made the descent slow and tiring. A nice surprise happened along the way, though, when we met Pippi and Mechanic. They were hiking up the mountain while slackpacking.

Lonesome Lake Hut

We arrived at Lonesome Lake Hut just before 4:30 p.m.

The hut is one of several operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club, an organization that has been building and maintaining trails and facilities in the Northeast U.S. since 1879.

Lonesome Lake Croo Tracey

When we arrived I bought a bowl of soup and a cup of tea from Tracey, one of the croo, which is the name the staff call themselves.

The huts provide a comfortable place to get out of inclement weather, and if you’re willing to pay to stay for the night, the huts have unheated, co-ed bunkrooms. There are composting toilets, but no showers.

Overnight guests get dinner and breakfast. For their stay, AMC members pay upwards of nearly $150 a night. The cost is even higher for non-members.

Because a stay is so expensive, most thru-hikers are unwilling or unable to pay those rates. This may have something to do with an uneasy relationship that seems to exist between thru-hikers and the AMC and hut croo.

We had heard stories of rude treatment toward thru-hikers, but we kept an open mind when we walked in the door.

Tracey was kind and cheerful, so we asked her if any work-for-stay opportunities were available tonight. She said yes.

In exchange for a little bit of work, thru-hikers are allowed to sleep on the floor of the dining room. If there is any leftover food after the paying guests have eaten, hikers are also given that.

Work-for-stay opportunities are generally only given to thru-hikers, so we didn’t mention that Ralph was section-hiking the Whites.

Franconia Ridge and a duck on Lonesome Lake

Though it seemed like a good deal, we began to see some downsides of work-for-stay. First of all, we weren’t allowed to remain in the dining room when the paying guests were served dinner. We were told we would have to wait outside until 7:30 before we would be fed and put to work.

We walked down to the lake and watched the sun fade across Franconia Ridge. Another work-for-stay hiker named Steam joined us.

By 7:30 the sun was setting and the air was turning chilly. We walked back to the hut, but the croo weren’t ready for us. We had to continue waiting outside, where it was becoming harder to stay warm.

Leftover food at Lonesome Lake Hut

Finally at 8 p.m. we were allowed inside.

Though it was cold by now, the leftover food was tasty. We ate our fill of salad, pasta, soup and fresh-baked bread.

Ralph and Stick washing dishes

After dinner we were given our work assignments. Stick and Ralph washed dishes. Steam scrubbed the stove. I was told to organize a bookshelf filled with books guests can use. These weren’t difficult tasks, but they were all we were expected to do.

Once our chores were done we discovered another downside of a hut work-for-stay. We could not go to bed until all of the guests left the dining room. That meant we weren’t able to spread out our sleep pads and sleeping bags until 10:30, an hour-and-a-half or two hours later than normal.

Clearly, the hut guests were not familiar with hiker midnight.

Maybe you collect or maybe you pay
Still got to work that eight hour day
Whether you like that job or not
You'd better keep it on ice while you're lining up your long shot
Which is to say, hey hey

Keep your day job
Don't give it away
Keep your day job
Whatever they say
Keep your day job
Till your night job pays

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