Day 122: Mizpah Springs Hut

Day 122. Another grueling yet beautiful day in the Whites. I have some thoughts at the end of today’s post for readers who may be as mystified and confused by this range as I was before getting here. Truthfully, I thought I knew what to expect but I was quite wrong, and I hope I can help you avoid some of the more common problems.

But first, the day’s hike! After our photo-finish last night, the tenants of room 215 at the Highland Center slept like wee little babies. Jonah was out within minutes, and I tried to write last night’s blog but drifted to sleep mid-typing. We slept soundly and deeply for 8 hours. The next morning, we got out early and drove to the Zealand Falls Trailhead parking area by 8:30am. From here, it was a smooth 2.5 miles to the hut where we planned to pick up our other 3 hiking heroes somewhere along the way. About halfway up, they bounded down the trail towards us in great spirits and we swapped stories of yesterday’s afternoon adventures on the side of the trail. Then we said one final goodbye and I headed back up to the AT while they headed back to the car. It was a fantastic adventure in the White Mountains together, and I am so glad it worked out for them to join me.

Just before reaching the hut, this blue blaze side trail intersected the AT again and I turned east, picking up where I left it the day before. As usual, I was greeted with rough and tough terrain. My first 8 miles were fairly level, without any summit climbs or ridge walks, but that didn’t make it easy. Like yesterday, I spent much of the time rock hopping to avoid deep puddles (at least ankle deep) in the fully submerged trails. I was less willing to get my feet wet today, since they were currently dry, but that ended early after a couple unfortunate missteps. Then it was a slow descent at the end, as the trail wound its way to Crawford Notch and Highway 302. I was tired and sore by the time I got to the bottom, but a tiny shoebox of Trail Magic greeted me, so I had a snack to fuel me up and journeyed on.

Or, journeyed up, I should say. As you could predict, coming down to a “notch” meant a steep climb upward would follow. Over the next 3 miles I climbed heavily up 2800 feet to the twin summits of Mt. Webster and Mt. Jackson. My going was extremely slow, as the climb was steep and smooth on many sections,,and I started to fear I would not make it to Mizpah Falls Hut until late in the evening. The vistas were awesome though, so I stopped to enjoy them as much as I could, which offered me clear views to Mt. Washington (below) and the other surrounding peaks named for our forefathers.

Long story short, the 2nd half of the day consisted of unending rock climbing, hopscotching, and crawling over a steep and/or wet Appalachian Trail to the Mizpah Falls Hut. I didn’t have a reservation here (or for any huts going forward), but wanted to try my first Work For Stay (WFS), which meant I had to arrive around 4pm, but before 2 other thruhikers claimed the spots. I finally arrived at a very crowded hut around 4:30, feeling pretty good on my time to complete this tough 17 mile day.

Side note, the Mizpah is the Hebrew word watchtower. This spring and hut took that word for it name because when this area was first discovered, the forest surrounding was all cleared/logged, making for great outward views in many directions. (At least that’s what the croo member told me).

I don’t know if I lucked out, or if any other hikers just opted to stay at the adjoining Nauman Campsite for $10 instead, but I was the first hiker to ask, so they gave me a spot. In retrospect, I’d rather stay at the campsite and get to bed earlier (here, I’ll have to wait until after 9:30pm to setup my sleeping area), but I just thought this would be a fun experience and wanted to try it at least once.

And, honestly, it’s totally worth it! In exchange for dinner and a bed on the dining room floor, I was told I’d be asked to do “night dishes” after dinner. I learned that these are the dishes after the dishes, as the croo would clean the main dining room dishes from the 60 guests. I hung out in the upstairs library room during dinner, and joined the croo for dinner after they cleared the tables and washed those dishes. I offered to help with them but they said not worry about it. We ate at about 8pm, all huddled together in the kitchen, then I clean our dishes and a couple extra serving dishes with another hiker (Legacy) that came in later for the 2nd spot. Our dishes job took 15 minutes and we were done. Not bad for a free meal and dry place to sleep!

I got lucky with weather today as well, as the possible storm predicted in today’s forecast didn’t show up until well after 8pm. It’s raining as I type this though, so I’m doubly glad I opted to WFS instead of hammock at the nearby campground.

Tomorrow is a big day, as I will climb Mt. Washington and back down to the Madison Springs Hut. I’m hoping the weather cooperates and I can enjoy that monster safely and clearly. Like Clingman’s Dome in the Smokies, visibility from the top of this high peak is rarely clear. I’d like clear, but I’ll settle for dry and not too windy.

Now, for any of my readers considering an AT thruhike in the future, I’d like to make a couple recommendations on how best to enjoy these White Mountains to their fullest. This has been my toughest hiking, but with the best payoffs and luxury services. It can be tough to get through … or at least get through enjoyably, so I hope this helps!

  • Don’t overdo it. Plan to hike 7-10 miles for a short day, 12-15 for a long one. Anything more is too much to allow you to enjoy the scenery and hut services.
  • Have friends or family join you! It will force you to slow down (see above), and be a special treat in a special place. You’ll want to come back with them in the future anyways.
  • Water is scarce on some of the big peaks. Plan ahead so you know what’s coming, and hydrate well before climbing up the big ones.
  • Get new shoes before you start, you probably are at the end-of-life for your 3rd pair by now, and you’ll want fresh support for these rocks. It’s just like PA, but now they occur up and down 4,000+ peak summits.
  • Stay in the Huts. They are expensive, but worth it if you can afford it. You’ll be hard to find a full-service lodge in remote places like this elsewhere, take advantage of it.
  • Support the AMC by becoming a member. You get a nice discount on your hut stays and merchandise purchases, but it also helps to sustain these huts and the service they provide. At $50 a year, it seems high to a hiker, but it helps make sure you and others can enjoy them for years to come.
  • Clean up before staying in a hut. The guests are mainly dayhiking city folk, and you smell in such tight quarters. Take a sponge bath outside and put on clean clothes when inside, everyone will appreciate it.
  • At least stop to see at all the huts. Only Greenleaf is far off trail (1.1 miles), and it’s great to rest, get clean water, and soup or baked goods to eat. They only ask a couple bucks for these items, and it’s an easy way to lighten your food supply for this section.
  • You can probably skip the Highland Center, as that Lodge is 5+ miles off trail. It’s a nice place to stay, which I did twice. But getting there and back from the Highway 302 crossing on your own could be a pain. They don’t have much for resupply besides candy and bars, but the hot meals are good. It is cheaper than the huts at $80 a night, though, which is nice.
  • Take the blue blaze trail to summits when you can. Eisenhower, Monroe, Clay, Jefferson, and Adams are all “technically” off trail, as the AT chooses to walk around them instead of over. Why miss out on some of the best mountain range peaks in the country? The blue blaze trails parallel the AT and spit you back out the other side, so it’s not far out of the way. Purists may not like it, but depending on my available time and feet, I’m going to try. I’d rather see the top of Mt. Adams than be considered pure.
  • Try doing WFS. It’s a great way to get a taste of the hut experience for free, assuming you are willing to work a bit. For each meal you stay for, they’ll require 1-2 hours of work. Sleeping on the dining room floor isn’t horrible, and could be a lifesaver in some locations during storms.
  • Don’t try to hike in storms! It’s no joke and not worth the risk on those ridges. Take an expensive zero or time your exit well to beat the rain/wind.
  • Be nice to the hut croo, they have tough jobs (think camp counselor, plus cook, plus sherpa). They have fun shtick throughout the day, create some incredible meals, but also have to clean up after 50+ people a night, maintain a very green facility, and have to carry up 100 pounds of fresh food twice a week. If you stay here or use the services, consider leaving the croo a tip.
  • Don’t be upset about how you are treated. I often hear of thruhikers complaining about the hut croo, and the work they are asked to do. Somehow over the years, a weird”us vs. them” mentality was established that doesn’t need to exist. They don’t owe hikers anything, and hikers often act like they do. They have a hard job and we don’t need to make it worse.

That’s it for now! I admit I’m only half way through this section, so if any of my thoughts above change, I’ll be sure to update in a future post.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1837.7
  • Start Time: 08:30
  • End Mile: 1851.9
  • End Time: 16:30
  • Miles Hiked: 14.2 (+2.5)
  • Miles to Go: 339.0
  • Lodging: Mizpah Falls Hut

Day 121: Zealand Falls Hut / Highland Center

Day 121. These nephews of mine, wow. Wow wow wow wow. If ever there were 3 children under 12 that are better outdoorsman, wilderness explorers, and good sport hikers … I wouldn’t believe it. It is insane to describe what we did today. It would be a grueling and difficult day if I was alone, but it is near impossible to describe what this Berman family did with me today with children. This is a day we will all never forget, this is a day wills were tested, and this was a day of physical and mental accomplishment worthy of the greatest trophy!

After yesterday’s stormy rain day, we were optimistically hopeful for clear skies today. But at breakfast, a member of the hut croo came out to share today’s weather report and, unfortunately, thunderstorms were on the horizon again for the afternoon. Looking outside, it was cloudy and dry … but we knew it was now a race against time.

We quickly got everyone packed up and hiked out around 8:30. Today’s plan had the whole family hiking 7 tough ridgeline miles to Zealand Falls Hut, and then Jonah, Keven and me hiking 5.5 more back to the Highland Center (non-AT side trail). Our first path was a treacherous 0.8 miles straight up 1,200 feet of elevation to the top of South Twin Mountain. It was very slow going as we scrambled up rocks and slippery eroded trails through the clouds to the summit an hour later. But, just as we reached the top … the sun poked out and began quickly burning the clouds away! As clouds shifted and evaporated, stunning views slowly appeared all around us. It was a magical and breathtaking moment! But I’m no sure who appreciates it more, the boys, or their mother (tasked with mental motivation for the day).

We continued along a ridgeline to a couple more small peaks (Mount Guyot and Zealand Mountain) in gorgeous sunny blue skies. We had a great snack break at Mt. Guyot where we rested and chatted with another family hiking through. They took some family photos for us (above) and we continued on further. The pace was slow, as rocks and wet boulders lined most of this section of the path. Zachary needed some assistance/motivation at times, though was mostly great and keeping up well with the others. And Caleb’s feet and positive attitude weren’t deterred by anything!

But then, about 1 mile from the hut … and after a near perfect day with high spirits, great storytelling, and pleasant hiking … doom came in the form of thunder off in the distance. We tried to ignore it, hoping it would go away, and hurried our pace down the final steep stretch as safely and swiftly as we could. With every few steps, another crack of thunder came, just s little bit louder than before.

We were so close. So close!

With 0.5 miles to go, the temperature instantly dropped 10 degrees and a strong gust of wind rushed through the trees. We dropped our packs and threw on our rain gear as quickly as we could (and just in time). Seconds later the skies dumped a waterfall of rain on us as thunder crashed around us. We were right in the eye of the storm. My sister, to her credit, became Supermom and guided the boys quickly down the final stretch in a way that made it a fun challenge instead of a miserable dilemma (“Guys look! A flash flood!”) They laughed and cheered when we finally jumped into the dry safety of the Zealand Falls Hut a few minutes later.

That 7 mile stretch took us 7.5 hours, and although it was finally over for half the group … we unfortunate others could only rest for a few minutes before heading out again. The worst of the storm had now passed, with only light rain now remaining. I hugged my sister and her two youngest goodbye (perhaps forever?) then guided her husband and first born son out into the rain for our what-I-hoped-to-be a quick descent.

Wrong again, as usual. I thought the trail from Zealand Falls to the Highland Center would be a popular trail and well groomed for all the dayhikers that likely use it. Nope, it was pretty barren and in rough shape This yellow-blazed side trail crossed over Mount Tom, through a trail-river of 8″ puddles, and over 7 DEEP river crossings before we were spit out on the road 3.5 hours later. Jonah was an incredible hiker, staying stride for stride with me as we submerged our soaking feet underwater more times than I can count. It was an extremely technical hike, with dangerous water currents and rough bushwhacking through the overgrown trail surroundings.

Finally, with 11 miles under his belt, Jonah saw our last trail sign, marking us 1.3 miles from the parking lot. We hurried down, hoping to make it to the Highland Center before 8pm, to score dinner before it was put away. We got off the trail at 8:00 on the dot, and rushed to the dining room at 8:05. We pleaded with the amazingly nice staff to please wait to finish clearing, and let us dish up 3 plates of food. They were happy to oblige, and we devoured a massive dinner of the hot leftover scraps happily. It was heavenly!

Then wet boots and garments were stripped off in exchange for a hot shower and dry clothes. Jonah was a trooper, as both Kevin and I were completely exhausted! He was tired too, but in a great “Look what I accomplished!” kind of way.

What a day, what a day.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)

  • Start Mile: 1830.8
  • Start Time: 8:20
  • End Mile: 1837.7
  • End Time: 8:05
  • Miles Hiked: 6.9 (+5.5)
  • Miles to Go: 353.2
  • Lodging: Zealand Falls / Highland Center

Day 120: Galehead Hut Zero Day

Day 120. As most of my family and friends can tell you, my favorite place on earth is Granite Park Chalet in Glacier National Park. A hike-up-only lodge that sits atop the continental divide, looking out over beautiful Rocky Mountains and valleys. It’s a 7-mile hike from the famous Going to the Sun Road in Montana, and part of every trip itinerary I’ve taken there since I was 9 years old.

However, I must say. The AMC is challenging them for the title. This hut to hut system is simple incredible, and my day spent at Galehead Hut gave me plenty of time and resources to reflect on it. It rained all day, but in-between games with my nephews, I read up on the history of the huts and the evolution/enhancement to what we see today. I can honestly say these White Mountains are now my 2nd favorite place on earth.

Seeing as it was a Zero Day, I thought it may be fun to have my sister tell her story for these past two days. She agreed to document the Berman side of things in today’s post, so here it is (co-written with me for additional clarity):

I’m not going to lie. When I heard the forecast of thunderstorms with hail and 80 mph winds possible, I considered bailing on our plan and checking into the fancy looking Mt Washington lodge down the road. But Uncle Sharkbait, and the our new friend Steve on duty at the Highland Center, found a great solution win a Zero Day at Galehead. So we were ready to go and prepared the next morning.

Here’s what prepared looks like in the Berman household: Our oldest child (Jonah, 11) carried everyone’s rain gear. Our middle (Caleb, 9) had eight emergency packs of Ramen in case our vegetarian, kid friendly, no-nut meal request proved difficult for the hut staff. And also our daily Berman Family medicine … 3 boxes of Carr’s Table Water crackers. And our youngest (Zachary, 7) carried his morning coffee (I.e. three packs of chocolate milk). Then, to round it all out, my husband Kevin and I carried five people’s worth of clothing, food, toiletries, headlamps, sleeping bag liners, flip flops, water bottles, and Benadryl.

Despite perfect weather, gummy bears and full size candy bars, the going was slow. Or more accurately, straight up. We found our key motivators became ego and fear. Jonah decided he needed to beat Sharkbait to the lodge, because having his uncle hike thirteen miles faster than he hiked 5 was too “embarrassing.” Zachary had to go number two and the fear of pooping in the woods turned his legs into rocket boosters. I could barely keep up with them!

Doing our best oblivious Uncle Sharkbait impression, Jonah and I missed the trail sign and almost turned the wrong way near the end. Fortunately though, a nice couple with a dog set us straight and the kids ran on ahead to the Galehead hut. Zachary made it in time!

What a hut. You enter a bedroom with bunk beds stacked to the ceiling. Nothing says family like sleeping on the bottom bunk with your three children stacked on top of you. Jonah on the fourth level, 20 feet up. Kevin had snagged a bottom bunk too, but nicely gave it to an older couple for a third level bunk instead. Given the amount of peanut butter consumed up here, we thought it was a good insurance policy, as she turned out to be a pediatrician and was also staying both nights like us.

We felt like heroes staying at Galehead for the Zero day, as hikers rolled in soaked from head to toe, shivering all day, while we played endless games and drank bottomless cups of hot chocolate. I couldn’t resist mothering a group of Overland Camp teens, one of whom was wearing his puff jacket OVER his rain gear. I begged him to put it under. As a teenager finally away from his mother should do, he politely declined my advice.

Our day was idyllic. Playing games and reading with no phones, work, or screens to distract us. Luckily they had Settlers of Catan, a family favorite, and the sheep were able to return to Neimantown (an inside joke my kids love to shout when we play together). We enjoyed dinner with our new friends and even managed to eat the ACTUAL meal they served. Homemade bread, soup, lasagna, salad and peas. We hadn’t hiked today, but some very intense card games and bridge building (using Jenga pieces) had worked up our appetites.

As I sit here typing, Sharkbait is being massaged by Manuel and Meatloaf (Zach and Caleb’s trail names). Lights out is in five minutes and we still have to scale two flights of ladder to get to our beds. Still, I’m not complaining. The bathrooms are inside here and the rain is still coming down. Fingers crossed that the weather breaks before tomorrow. We have a bunch of contingencies, but hope we’ll be able to head to Zealand falls hut. It’s tempting to stay here another night. Being woken up by “croo” member Grace’s guitar playing is a great way to start any day!

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)

  • Start Mile: 1830.8
  • Start Time: 0:00
  • End Mile: 1830.8
  • End Time: 0:00
  • Miles Hiked: 0.0
  • Miles to Go: 360.1
  • Lodging: Galehead Hut

Day 119: Galehead Hut

Day 119. So many different experiences today, so many different emotions. I’ll try to capture everything I experienced, but I think I am just in one of those areas that you have to see to believe. The Presidential Range of the White Mountains is simply breathtaking and on a beautiful day like today, you almost can’t explain how gorgeous the summit views are when you get to the top or walk along the ridges. Some of my readers know what I’m talking about, but for anyone who loves the mountains as much as I do and has not been here … book a trip immediately.

That being said, be prepared for a challenge! Today’s hike was, again, one of the toughest I’ve done (rivaled perhaps only by the day I hiked Moosilauke and Kinsman just prior). You have to work hard for rewards I guess, and today was no exception.

When I first booked my hut stays last fall, I asked how many miles a thruhiker will normally do in this mountain range. The AMC staff suggested that a hiker typically doing 20-25 miles a day is likely to do just 12-15 while out here. After today’s 13 mile day, I can 100% agree with that assessment. It was slow moving and taxing to traverse this trail all day, and I was beyond exhausted by the end.

My original plan with the nephews was to do 7 miles a day through the Whites, but because of the storm, we changed our plans. Instead, I now did 13 miles today, will do zero tomorrow, and 13 the next day. So my casual and relaxing White Mountain hike is back to being long and tiring instead. But that’s better than the alternative of going out in the storm tomorrow (which is already starting to show itself as I type in bed).

We all jumped on the AMC shuttle at the Highland Center at 9am this morning, and then I wished the family a good hike as they got out at the Gale River Trail for their 5 mile hike up the side trail to the Galehead Hut. Around 10am, I was finally dropped off at Franconia Notch and started my long trek to meet them. The first half of my day was slow going but with a huge payoff. After 5 miles, I made it to the top of Mt. Liberty for my first summit of big views. And they were spectacular. I took many photos of the mountain range visible in every direction, then headed along the ridgeline for a couple miles to the tops of Mt. Lincoln and then finally Mt. Lafayette. The view stayed with me the whole way, as I made my way along the rocky ups and downs of these peaks (called the Franconia Ridge). A great section to see, here’s a few photos attempting to portray it…

Then I dropped back below the tree line and my day turned from difficult to obnoxious. The next section over Mt. Garfield was insanely steep on both sides, which was basically just scaling over and maneuvering through giant rock boulders. And as if that wasn’t hard enough, the steep descent added a creek flowing over the trail of rocks too … you know, for added “fun”.

The whole day was difficult. I moved at a slow 1.8 mph and finally reached the hut at 6pm. It was a beautiful sight to see (feature pic above) as I’m not sure I had much more left in me for the day, physically. I came in just as the hut crew (spelled croo) started serving dinner, which can be optionally purchased with your hut stay. Then I shared the day’s stories with the family while we all ate some amazingly prepared food. For a lodge nestled in the mountains, 5 miles from the nearest road, they make one helluva meal up here. The huts are staffed by college-age kids that cook, clean, and maintain this facility all summer long … with the help of Work For Stay thruhikers where available. Tonight, a couple hikers are helping out, and I told them I want the whole story tomorrow of their experience.

After some card games and reading, we went to bed in our GIANT bunk room that holds 10 people in triple and quadruple bunks that are built into the wall. My oldest nephew is on the top bunk of the quad, nearly 20 feet in the air! We can hear the storm building up outside but are safe in the hut, and I am exhausted still from the hike so I think I will sleep like a rock until morning. Tomorrow will be a day of games and fun, then another arduous ridge walk to Zealand Falls and back down to the Highland Center.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)

  • Start Mile: 1817.8
  • Start Time: 10:15
  • End Mile: 1830.8
  • End Time: 18:00
  • Miles Hiked: 13.0
  • Miles to Go: 360.1
  • Lodging: Galehead Hut

Day 118: AMC Highland Center

Day 118. It was another zero day in Lincoln, filled with restaurant food and a movie (Incredibles 2, pretty good). I relaxed at Chet’s a bit as well, and offered to do more work for my stay, but he didn’t need anything else done. I appreciated his generous hospitality these past 2 days, but felt bad that I couldn’t help out more, so I gave him a donation on my way out. Spending time there was a highlight of the trip, so I wanted to show some sort of appreciation before leaving. He thanked me and wished me well on the rest of my hike. Before leaving, I was also able to finish uploading my video from last week as well (above).

Around 3pm, the family arrived in town and after a quick dinner and grocery trip, we headed to this evening’s AMC accommodations. The Highland Center is one of the large lodges maintained by the AMC, significantly larger than their huts and accessible by car. This is a large hotel nestled in a gorgeous mountain valley and full of amenities. The accommodations are small, fitted with bunk beds and not much else. There are communal bathroom/showers on each floor, and some communal ref room and lounge areas as well. The 6 of us are sharing a larger family room, but it’s still just a small 15×15 square with a queen and 2 bunk beds. Cozy place, but it would be tight quarters if sharing a room with someone you don’t know (which solo hikers are required to do).

This lodge is also about 5 miles down from the official AT, so most thruhikers likely would not come here unless they wanted a break from the trail or need to go to/from town. But I did see a few friends here after all, which was a nice surprise. Bones, Reboot, and Pritch (all great guys I hiked through CT and MA with, after Happy left me) are here and spending a couple more nights at the lodge to wait out some inclement weather on the horizon.

And I promise this is no exaggeration, but let me explain what that weather looks like.

Today was 75 and sunny, tomorrow will be 75 and sunny … Thursday shows rain and thunderstorms all day, with wind gusts up to 85 mph on the mountains. Yes, I said 85 miles per hour! And our itinerary has us walking 6 miles along one of the highest ridge lines of the White Mountains on Thursday, between Galehead Hut and Zealand Falls Hut.

These are the conditions that you hear stories about (never good), and can be quite literally deadly. Experienced hikers are smart enough to stay indoors on days like that, and we are no different. In learning the weather forecast, we quickly pow-wow’ed with the lodge staff to see what we could do to switch up our reservations. In the end, we were able to build in a Zero Day at Galehead Hut on Thursday for games and puzzles, then we’ll carefully hike out the next day which is expected to be nice again. For our parents (and anyone else) worried about young children in this scenario, just know we can get down from the huts very easily to the road and back to the lodge at any time. We have a lot of contingency built in and multiple options to switch around if things change. Long story short, we will be safe and we will have an adventure. And we have LOTS of extra food.

Side note, I added my winter gear back to my pack today. Thermal bottoms, puffy jacket, hat and gloves. In these tall Presidential mountains, I’ll likely need them. And with the hut hiking, I’m able to drop my hammock, tarp, sleeping pad and sleeping bag for the next few days.

Tomorrow morning we hop on the AMC shuttle from here which will take me back to Franconia Notch, and the others to the Galehead Hut trail. I’ll hike 13 miles along the AT and Franconia Ridge to the hut, while the other do a shorter 5 mile day up the Gale River side trail from the road.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)

  • Start Mile: 1817.8
  • Start Time: 0:00
  • End Mile: 1817.8
  • End Time: 0:00
  • Miles Hiked: 0.0
  • Miles to Go: 373.1
  • Lodging: AMC Highland Center

Day 117: Lincoln, NH

Day 117. I’m back! To say it felt weird being off-trail these past few days is quite the understatement. I had a great rhythm going these past few months: wake, hike, eat, blog, sleep, repeat. But I haven’t hiked in 4 days, and even more odd, I haven’t journaled in that same time. So now that I’m back among the Appalachian mountains, I’m ready to jump back on the trail and close out these final chapters of my incredible thruhike journey.

Although not very relevant to my thruhike blog (nor of much interest to readers), my weekend off was both relaxing and stressful. Bittersweet, if you will. It was great to spend time with my wife and friends, and the wedding was a beautiful affair all around. But, it also felt very odd being in big cities again. In the past 4 days, I spent time in NYC, Philly, and Boston … you can’t get more “in the city” than that. I had a great time, but I did feel quite out of place. I yearned to be on the trail and sleeping in the woods while among civilization, and I’m glad to be back in “hike mode” again here in Lincoln. There is a peace of mind you experience along the trail that is instantly gone when sitting in traffic or standing in restaurant lines. However, my body was definitely strained after last week’s hiking, so the extended rest was warranted either way.

Tomorrow I go back to the trail, meeting my sister’s family at the AMC Highland Center before hiking through the Presidential Range together (or “prezzies” as the locals call it) over the next few days. It will be a nice slow transition back to the trail, which my feet and knees will appreciate.

Tonight though, I am staying at an amazing hostel in Lincoln called “Chet’s Place”. It is my first time doing what is called a Work For Stay (WFS). This is common with some hikers, as it allows you to stay for free at a hostel or lodge in exchange for performing household chores at the facility. Hikers on a strict budget are often interested in this, as it can significantly help to offset the expensive costs of a thruhike, when available. It is also very popular at the White Mountain huts, which are at least $75 a night and regularly offer 2-3 hikers a WFS per night to help them get through this difficult section. There are not many other sleeping options on the trail between Lincoln and Gorham, and any desired tent sites require you to hike down the mountain to an official campsite below the tree line. I may do a WFS at a hut after leaving my family, but for now, I’m getting a small taste of the experience at Chet’s Place tonight.

Chet (trail name, “One Step at a Time”) is an amazing individual, and only takes WFS or donations for his equally amazing hostel. The garage at his home is converted to a hiker lounge, and remodeled to also include a large bunk room building behind. He offers every amenity you could need, and eagerly welcomes hikers each year to join him at his residence for a night or two. Chet himself used to be an avid outdoorsman and hiker, until a horrific camping injury (a stove explosion) nearly killed him, and leaves him without full use of his lower body still today. Chet’s story is incredible. He spent 9 months in a drug induced coma while doctors attempted to save his life after sustaining 3rd degree burns to over 80% of his body. But he has the heart of a lion and the will of a giant, recovering faster and further beyond everyone’s expectations. Today, he is still limited to a wheelchair, requires an uncomfortable supply of medicine, and undergoes dialysis and other medical procedures regularly … but his spirits are ever high and he loves being a part of the community. And, looking around the hostel to the countless letters of support, admiration, and love posted on every available surface, it’s clear the AT community loves him too. (My favorite being the many signs like highlighted above).

There was not much work to be done, but I helped clean up the laundry room as requested, and offered to do anything more he thinks of before I leave tomorrow. There are a couple other hikers here as well, but overall it’s a pretty quiet night. With some time to kill, I went into town, saw Jurassic World at the local theater (eh), grabbed dinner at a local brewery, then finished last week’s video recap (will post tomorrow). I’m hitting the hay early to try and catch up on some missed sleep this weekend, and then excited to be walking among the mountains again tomorrow.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)

  • Start Mile: 1817.8
  • Start Time: 0:00
  • End Mile: 1817.8
  • End Time: 0:00
  • Miles Hiked: 0.0
  • Miles to Go: 373.1
  • Lodging: Chet’s Place

Day 113: Make-Up Miles Day

Day 113. After driving all afternoon, I arrived in New Jersey late last night. The whole time I was driving (which admittedly felt very odd to do again), I could only laugh at how quickly I was reversing the distance it took me a month to achieve. Travel 30 days by foot or 6 hours by car … this thruhike experience certainly puts things in perspective.

Over a few much enjoyed brews with my friends, we discussed the options for tomorrow and decided on a day hike in New York, to make up 12 of the miles I skipped in May. It was going to be a long day hike, but would end at Bear Mountain State Park and it’s beautiful Inn and lake. If you recall, this was where Happy and I started our hike together just a few short weeks ago.

The hike was spectacular, and Mikey was step and step with me the whole way. By the end, we were both exhausted and dehydrated, but feeling great. This section of the trail had 3 big mountains to climb up and down, but it was a very well groomed trail (especially the final peak). We scaled Black Mountain, West Mountain, and finally the very popular dayhike destination of Bear Mountain in about 6 and a half hours.

Each summit showed spectacular views of NY, and we even saw a great profile of the Manhattan skyline from Black Mountain since the day was so clear. It’s hard to make it out in the photo, but check out below in the distance.

Early on, we stopped at the William Brien Memorial Shelter briefly and talked with a thruhiker about his trip. I casually reminded him that today is the Summer Solstice (the longest day of the year), and that it is tradition for thruhikers to hike naked today. It’s a very odd Appalachian Trail tradition, but it’s a very odd trail with very odd hikers upon it. He was unaware (and uninterested), but at least now he know’s what to expect if he sees others in the nude! To be clear, Mikey and I were fully clothed. I decided I am a dayhike today and therefore had an excuse not to do it … which just sounds uncomfortable to me anyways, haha. I saw some funny photos on FB from hiker friends, but we were spared seeing any birthday suits on our hike.

At the final summit of Bear Mountain, we were greeted with plenty of other dayhikers, a beautiful tower structure, and great views looking out over the Hudson River. More importantly though, there were cold drink vending machines. It was HOT all day and we quickly drank the water we had earlier in the day, never passing a creek to refill. After 3 bottles of water, Powerade, iced tea, etc. each … we eventually felt good enough to make the 2 mile climb back down. The trail up to and down Bear Mountain is basically paved with stairs, so it’s easier (in theory). But hard surfaces and especially stairs are very tough on the knees, which were really killing me today. By the end of our hike, I was eager to be done and get off my feet. Great hike, but even on a “day off”, I can’t help but put stress my body. Oh well, I now have a few zero days of rest, so I’ll have plenty of time to fully recover.

I wished Mikey and his wifey goodbye, took them out to dinner as a thank you for their gracious hospitality, and jumped back in the car to finish my southward drive. I stopped at a motel outside Philly around midnight and will rest up before picking Dana up at the airport tomorrow. And come to think of it, Jurassic World just came out … so I may just find myself relaxing in the movie theater with popcorn first.

As for the thruhike, that will pick up again on Monday. For the section I missed, All that remains now is to hike from Delaware Water Gap to this Seven Lakes Drive intersection we started from today. In total, I have 97.1 of the 109.3 miles missed now to still make up. I plan to try and knock some out on Sunday or Monday, but we’ll see. I may not post much for a couple days, but want to get the video up from last week at least.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)

  • Start Mile: 1392.7
  • Start Time: 10:20
  • End Mile: 1404.0
  • End Time: 16:40
  • Miles Hiked: 11.3
  • Miles to Go: 373.1
  • Lodging: Econolodge outside Philadelphia

Day 112: Franconia Notch

Day 112. Regardless of anything else you think you perceive in these daily updates, let me make something abundantly clear … I LOVE the White Mountains. The spectacular views and summits justify all of the strenuous hiking and rock climbing (yes, all 4 limbs were often needed today), and this range of mountains is 2nd to none on the Appalachian Trail.

Of course, that being said, it’s no cakewalk. And today was another reminder of how difficult this trail can be. Moosilauke yesterday was the first big climb in his range, and today’s ascent of Kinsman Mountain was another rough physical challenge. I spent much of today using my hands and feet to scale up or down giant boulders and stony scrambles. Poles are absolutely 100% necessary, but sometimes need to be put aside for literal rock climbing up 10 foot tall slabs of smooth granite. It’s no wonder New Hampshire is nicknamed the Granite State.

But the feeling of accomplishment and rewards at the top make it all worth it. Many times today, I felt like I was in the breathtaking scenery of Montana or California. This is why I came to hike this trail, this is the gift of mountains and hiking I have been waiting to receive. All the crap of Pennsylvania is worth it, to get here and see this. I cannot wait to hike the presidential range next.

Side note, I visited my first AMC hut today. The 8 resorts that sit atop the presidential range along the AT are some of the biggest highlights to this trail. They are full-service resorts with electricity, plumbing, housing, food service, and more. They are costly but also offer many “work for stay” options for thruhikers passing through that cannot afford the $75-100 per night fee. I’ll speak about these huts more when I return, but let me just say this first one (Lonesome Lake Hut) was a stunning work of architecture and lodging up in he mountains. Like Granite Park/Sperry Chalet in Glacier National Park, or the Swiss Alps lodges they are styled after … these huts are a magnificent sights to behold and unforgettable sites to visit.

But not yet. I’m on a break. After my short day today, I hopped off trail at Franconia Notch and starting my side trip to Allentown for our good friends’ wedding. Not much to say here except the Planes, Trains, and Automobiles that will got me there. For those who care … when I reached Franconia Notch, it was a 1 mile walk to The Flume Visitor Center for Franconia Notch State Park. From there, I called for a $10 shuttle to the town of Lincoln, 5 miles away. Then I bought a ticket on a coach bus to Plymouth, 20 more miles south. Then, once in Plymouth, I rented a car and drive to New Jersey. A friend from college lives here that almost did this whole hike with me, so he graciously offered to put me up for the night and hike some of the NJ missed miles with me tomorrow. After that, I’ll drive down to Philadelphia on Friday to pick up my wife and then drive to Allentown. It’s a long commute for a wedding – But that’s what you do for people you love, even if they decide to wed each other right in the middle of your damn life’s goal. Jk Sarah and Jack, can’t wait to see you crazy lovebirds tie the knot!

I’ll post more on my day hikes this weekend if/when they occur, otherwise I’ll talk with you all on the official progress early next week.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)

  • Start Mile: 1809.0
  • Start Time: 06;45
  • End Mile: 1817.8
  • End Time: 12:15
  • Miles Hiked: 8.8
  • Miles to Go: 373.1
  • Lodging: Friends’ home in NJ

Day 111: Eliza Brook Shelter

Day 111. I really need to stop letting other hikers intimidate me with what they say is difficult. Was Moosilauke easy? No. But was it a big scary mountain that would be so difficult that it would take up my whole day? Definitely not. A hiker a couple days ago said he would have paid $1000 to slackpack Moosilauke, had he known it was an option. That almost scared me into doing the same, but after some soul searching this morning, I decided to just take it on head first per usual. And I’m glad I did.

Climbing up was not that bad, just a slow steady ascent with a few sections of rocky stairs and scrambles. Nothing I’m not used to by now. But, I will say this … going down was steep as hell, and unfortunately slick from rain and very slow going. Nothing I couldn’t handle, but going up and back down the other side took me almost 5 hours. At 1.5 mph, this was much slower than my usual speed, and let me tell you about the fun that awaited me at the top.

Reading the weather report this morning, today was supposed to be in the mid 70s with clear blue skies by 11am. Of course, we all know the joke mountains make of “weather reports”. When I reached the nearly 5,000 foot summit at 11am, Moosilauke laughed at my predicted forecast. Instead of warmth and sun, I was met with clouds, cold, and WIND. Oh that wind!

About 1 mike from the top, the trail comes out from the tree cover and onto a grassy bald with a winding rock path to the top. I kid you not, when I stepped out, the temperature instantly dropped 20 degrees. With no trees to block the wind, it came barreling over the top of the mountain at speeds of at least 30 mph. I was knocked over multiple times as I scrambled to layer up, afraid I’d lose hold of my rain jacket and watch it fly out of sight in a matter seconds. I had some windy balds in North Carolina, but this was far worse.

Fortunately, I loved it. Hell, it was fun to climb that last mile, with minimal visibility and bitter cold air biting at my face. There were huge rock cairns to lead the way (meant for when the summit is covered in snow), and I finally reached the iconic orange signpost at the top. Another hiker named Speedy was with me, so I was able to get some photos from a distance that expressed my true feelings at that moment (above).

A couple hundred feet after the summit, we entered the tree line of cover again and the wind immediately stopped. It’s such a crazy phenomenon, weather in the mountains. Then, as if mocking me, about 15 minutes into my descent, the sun came out. Within a half hour after that, the clouds were burned away, the clear blue skies took over and the day heated up. A little late, but still welcome.

The very steep climb down was strenuous, as the rocks were mostly still wet. I fell for just my 2nd time since March 1st, trying to walk down the wet steps, but fortunately I landed softly on my hands behind me. I’m going to call that just half a fall, since I caught myself in that crab-walk position without hitting my butt. The rest of the way was done very slowly and meticulously, though a few more close calls and slips took place. The trail fallows a beautiful stream of waterfalls down nearly the entire way to Kinsman Notch at the bottom. I stopped a few times to marvel at it, and if the temp was a bit warmer, saw plenty of nice pools that would be great to take a quick dip in.

About 100 feet from the bottom, I smelled the sweet aroma of BBQ’d meat and knew what was likely waiting for me … Trail Magic! Yep, a canopy was up and a 2003/2006 thruhiker named Whispers was grilling up burgers and dogs. There was beer from the local brewery, snacks, grilled meats, and chairs to unwind in. It was a very welcomed surprise and hit the spot.

Originally (due to the scary intimidation stories), I thought I’d only do Moosilauke today. But it was only 2pm when I left the magic, so I decided to hike on and officially enter the White Mountain National Forest. The next 7.6 miles were a tough climb up and down Mt. Wolf to the Eliza Brook Shelter. It is not a steep mountain, nothing compared to Moosilauke or the upcoming Presidential Range, but it was tough nonetheless. My going was slow again, as I traversed huge rock boulders, giant mud pits, and countless fallen trees (new from last night’s storm, by my guess). There were sections I could not get up without using my hands, and sections I could not get through without walking far around. I nearly went calf-deep in a mud pit that looked like a 1 inch puddle from above. Nope, tested it with my pole to be safe, and it just kept sinking and sinking. I hope this is not what the entire white Mountains bring, but if so, it certainly will be a new chapter in the adventure.

It’s kind of like a real life video game. The first level is steep climbs, the second level is rocky terrain, the third level is muddy trails, and the 4th level is all three at once. I’m on level 4.

Oh, quick side note. I met my first Southbounder today. He started at Katahdin on May 29th and is staying at the shelter tonight too. We swapped advice for the next few days in each direction over dinner. This will become a nice bonus of knowledge gathering in the weeks to come as I meet more.

I will reach Franconia Notch tomorrow morning, a day ahead of schedule for the wedding. Since I have the extra time, I’m going to drive down to NY and do some of the miles I missed back in May on Thursday and Friday. I also have a day on Monday while driving back up as well. I don’t know how much of that section I’ll be able to get done, but I’m going to try and chip away at those 100 miles I skipped over to meet Happy at Bear Mountain on time.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)

  • Start Mile: 1792.2
  • Start Time: 08:00
  • End Mile: 1809.0
  • End Time: 17:45
  • Miles Hiked: 16.8
  • Miles to Go: 381.9
  • Lodging: Eliza Brook Shelter

Day 110: Glencliff, NH

Day 110. Well, I didn’t wake up at 4:30, but the other fellows in the shelter did, so I was awake by 5am and cooking breakfast by 5:30. In the end, it was for the best, as it was another hot and humid morning and the storm on the horizon was definitely going to hit at some point today. I just hoped it would be after I reached tonight’s hostel.

Leaving Hexacuba Shelter, it was another couple miles up to the summit of Mt. Cube, which had some great views backwards to Smarts Mountain from yesterday. You could just stop barely make out the fire tower on the horizon, which was a nice reminder of how far I’d gone in just half a day. At the top was a nice rock scramble (that would be pretty tough when wet), then a casual descent through the woods.

Even though it hadn’t rained yet, the humidity was so high that some of the rocks were still slippery from moisture. I climbed down slowly, with a couple slips too close for comfort. One section at the top was really impressive though, as it had a 2 foot wide strip of white quartzite running through the middle of the boulder face. And coincidentally, it led you in the right direction for the trail. Whether Trail maintainers designed it this way or not, I laughed to myself … because at 30 feet long, it is the single largest white blaze on the AT! See the photo below.

After coming down from Mt. Cube, my excitement started to perk up. I mentioned to my shelter-mates this morning, that a very famous Trail Angel might be waiting for us at the base of Mt. Cube. Along a dirt path called Cape Moonshine Road, is historically where “The Omelette Man” awaits hungry hikers all summer. A native from Glencliff, he is said to be there every M-F from 8-5 with a large setup of drinks, snacks, chairs, and (you guessed it) omelettes. Ready to order egg breakfast was the only thing on my mind by the time I reached the dirt road at 9am.

But, alas, I was an unlucky Sharkbait. As you can see in my photo above … no Omelette Man. Just a whole heck of mosquitos eager to prey on me while I ate my boring trail mix instead. Reading this, you may think, “awe, he didn’t get eggs but had a nice snack anyways, that’s good.” But let me tell you, those good ole’ raisins and peanuts were eaten in bitter cold spite, solely to fuel me onward. Every handful was looked at with painful sorrow, and every swallow was done with reluctant force. It was a sad snack. And it was even worse 8 hours later when I learned from others that he DID show up, but not until around noon. He apparently has limited omelette hours during non-peak hiker days??

Once my pity party was over, the last 8 miles of the day were fairly flat and manageable. This now being my 2nd day in a row doing sub-20 miles, I was feeling pretty good and reached the Route 25 crossing to Glencliff before 1pm. There isn’t much to this “town”, except for a really nice hostel: The Hikers Welcome Hostel.

This hostel is a very popular place, owned by a hiker named Packrat and managed daily for him by former hikers. This year, the caretakers are Brooklyn and Bisquick, two thruhikers from the class of 2017. When I arrived, they showed me around the facility, which is pretty impressive for a hostel. The main house has a common room with chairs, tables, TV, movies, kitchenette, and tons of food. Mostly for sale, but also plenty of freebies. And the free stuff is just dropped off by random locals wanting to support hikers. A big box of smoked chicken and ribs was brought in yesterday, 2 boxes of hostess apple turnovers a day before, and today I witnessed a random gentlemen walk in and drop big bags of chips and cupcakes on the table for the taking. I’m not big on freeloading out here, but this is everything a hiker needs to have a nice affordable evening off.

Then out back is a shower house and bathroom. It’s sort of a rudimentary setup, with short walls and just a canvas top. In three connecting stalls, you have everything that requires water: shower, laundry, and toilet. As you can see below, it’s nothing fancy, but they all work well and the shower was hot so I had nothing to complain about.

Lastly, the bunkhouse is a brand new and very large barn built next to the main house. The old bunkhouse is in the main house hut only holds about 8 people tightly. This spacious building, though does not have electricity, houses closer to 20 people in new and comfortable beds. Not just a wooden plank to sleep on, but an actual soft bed. As hostels go, this is pretty darn luxurious.

Around 5pm, they shuttle everyone in to the one convenience store in town for dinner and/or resupply. It’s basically a 7-11 but with a small deli in the back. I picked up a sub for dinner, a few random items and a turkey sandwich for tomorrow’s lunch. It’s only 25 miles to Franconia Notch, which I should be able to do in 2 days, so I thankfully don’t need to carry much food.

The only concern, really, is what lies directly ahead of me … Mt. Moosilauke. At nearly 5,000 feet, it is the tallest mountain since Virginia and it is a BEAST. The climb up is nearly 6 miles of steep and rocky terrain, and the climb down is near suicidal. You descent is twice as fast and thus twice as steep. Many people will wisely do this mountain in reverse, getting a slackpack to the other side and hike back here. That way, you can avoid going down the steeper side. But I haven’t decided. It is costly to stay here 2 nights and pay for 2 shuttles. And truthfully, I have the time this week to go very slowly. Even if I only do that 8 mile mountain tomorrow, I will still be on schedule for my wedding break.

Pretty steep, right? Right. I’m leaning towards just going over it normally, but I’ll wait and see what the weather looks like tomorrow, and how my feet feel when I wake up. Oh, speaking of weather. I did beat the rain today, but it hit HARD around 4pm. We even had a tornado siren go off and a crazy heavy rainfall for about an hour. This is by far the worst storm I’ve been in out here, and am very lucky/happy to be indoors for it. I hope everyone else out there is safe, I can’t imagine what it must have been like for anyone hiking over Moosilauke today. Yikes.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)

  • Start Mile: 1777.4
  • Start Time: 06:30
  • End Mile: 1792.2
  • End Time: 12:45
  • Miles Hiked: 14.8
  • Miles to Go: 398.7
  • Lodging: Hikers Welcome Hostel