Before entering the White Mountains, Stick and I agreed we should stay together and watch each other's back. Now I was getting off the trail, leaving him to go solo over the last section of the Whites. I wasn’t holding up my end of the agreement, but it was what I needed to do if I was going to finish. Stick took this in stride and didn't complain.
I quit yesterday, but it was a bad day. As the hiker expression goes, "Don't quit on a bad day,” so I un-quit. I had no idea yesterday that today would be worse.
Ralph, Stick and I sat in a McDonalds in Gorham this morning and ate our breakfast without exchanging many words. It was too early for much conversation, even for Stick. I looked up and was surprised to see a handmade sign proclaiming, “Lobster rolls are back!” This was the first time I had been in a McDonalds that sold lobster rolls. That discovery was just a distraction, though. Mostly I was preoccupied with thoughts about the day ahead. For now, everything seemed uncertain. After breakfast, Ralph drove us to the base of Mt. Washington, where Stick and I hoped to get a van ride to the top of the mountain. The weather made our chances look iffy. Unless the wind died down sufficiently, the auto road would remain closed. Viewed from the valley, we couldn’t tell what the weather was like at the summit. Thick clouds hung low around the mountain.
Day 146, Lakes of the Clouds Hut to Mt. Washington Summit
If you plant ice you're gonna harvest wind
There was one more lesson we learned from our work-for-stay experience at Appalachian Mountain Club huts. We made sure to request a job after dinner, not after breakfast. We knew our work wouldn’t start until the paying guests finished eating. If we worked after breakfast, we couldn’t leave the hut until 9:30 or 10 a.m. Because Ralph and I worked last night, we were able to leave first thing this morning. Stick paid for his spot on the dining room floor, so he could leave early too. We had to be packed up and cleared out of the dining room anyway, so we had no problem getting an early start this morning.
Day 145, Nauman Tentsite to Lakes of the Clouds Hut
I could be just around the corner from heaven or a mile from hell
Navigating across the White Mountains can be tricky. This is made complicated by rough terrain, changeable and extreme weather conditions, and limitations on where to camp. The last point is the one that isn’t as obvious as the other two. It’s understandable that a series of mountains more than 4,000 feet tall is going to have a rugged landscape and occasional stormy weather. Until you hike here, though, you might not know about the many regulations that limit your choice of campsites. Camping is prohibited where the land is protected, usually for environmental reasons. This is especially true in the alpine zone, the area above treeline. Where it isn’t regulated, pitching a tent still might not be possible. The ground is often too rocky, too steep, or too covered in a tangle of scrubby trees.
I’m not sure what happened to the storm we were forecast to get, but it didn’t pass through Crawford Notch last night. The wind picked up a little, but we didn’t get a lot of rain. When we woke up this morning the sky was partly cloudy without a hint of more rain to come.
Day 143, Stealth Tent Site at Mile 1833.6 to Crawford Notch
But it's my destiny to be the king of pain
The weather forecast has been increasingly foreboding. High winds and heavy rain are predicted, and might linger for a couple days. Ralph and I decided to get off the trail today and find a place to hunker down. Crawford Notch would be a good place for that because it’s at a lower elevation. Also, a campground near there was said to have cabins. We thought maybe this is where Samwise was talking of doing his spaghetti dinner. We decided to give that place a shot.
The weather was chilly this morning when we woke up. Our campsite above Garfield Pond was located at nearly 3,900 feet in elevation, so the cool air wasn’t a surprise. Still, it seemed this was unseasonably cool. We’re now at the end of August, and back home in Tennessee the weather would still feel hot and muggy. Here, it feels like fall is moving in. Or maybe a storm is moving in. When I last checked the forecast, that seemed to be a possibility.
My right ankle was still sore this morning when I got up and prepared to leave The Notch Hostel. I thought it felt good enough to walk on, but it was not as stable as I wished it would be. It’s always good to have friends around, but under these circumstances, I was especially glad to have Ralph and Stick with me. Not that I was reliant on them, but it was good to know I had friends to watch my back. Long before we reached the White Mountains, Stick and I talked about hanging together through this section to help each other out. We knew it was going to be more difficult than any other section of the trail.
Ralph, Stick, Steam and I experienced last night some of the negatives of a work-for-stay in an Appalachian Mountain Club hut. We experienced another one this morning. We were woken up at 5 a.m. when a croo member started rattling around in Lonesome Lake Hut's kitchen to prepare breakfast for the paying guests. I don’t wish to gripe about these negatives. We didn’t expect to get something for nothing. And to be sure, we were given a reasonably warm and definitely dry place to sleep and free food last night in exchange for only about 45 minutes of work. And though the leftovers were cold and the dining room was not the most comfortable place to sleep, our options for a place to sleep were few.
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.
About a week ago, Felix and I were texting back and forth to make plans to hike together. He remembered Stick from the night we camped at Graymoor Spiritual Life Center, and asked if Stick was still hiking with me. I said yes, then mentioned that my friend Ralph was also planning to join us in the Whites. Ralph hiked with Stick and me for a few days in Maryland, and since then he has wanted to hike some more with us. In response to all of these people gathering for the Whites, Felix replied, “It’s like we’re getting the band back together!"
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.
I still don’t know why I was feeling so sorry for myself yesterday when I discovered I had lost my shirt. Losing it really bothered me, and I was still annoyed about that today when I packed and prepared to hike again. Scout didn’t hear back from Skywalker, so it didn’t seem that the message Scout sent about my shirt was received. That’s not surprising, though, because we weren’t in an area of good cell reception.
No damage resulted from the storm that rumbled over Smarts Mountain last night. Afterwards, the wind died down and I was able to get a good night’s sleep. From where the tenting area was located, there should have been a couple spots to get a view of the valley below the mountain, but when we crawled out of our tents there wasn’t anything to see. The mountain was surrounded in low-hanging clouds. Unsurprisingly, the ground and trees were still soaking wet. Though the sky seemed to be gradually clearing while I was packing my gear and preparing to continue hiking, I expected it would be a couple hours before the clouds lifted.