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