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