Day 128: Gorham Zero Day

Day 128. Although I technically hiked 3 miles today along the Carlo Col Trail to the Success Pond Rd, those don’t count towards my AT completion. Since my total miles (that count) are zero, I guess today was a Zero Day. But that’s just fine, as we typically have a day of goody town hijinks on our adventure trips anyway.

We woke up this morning to the anticipated rain and thunder around 5am. It didn’t last too long though, clearing up around 10am. We arranged a shuttle to get us at noon and then headed down the blue blaze trail. However, after a few hours of rain, it was completely different than what Max and I recalled from our reconnaissance walk the day before. This trail follows a creek downward, and the lower we got, the faster flowing and river-like it became. Where we never had to cross anything under water before, we now had multiple areas that forced us into ankle high water. It’s amazing how quickly the creeks rise here! No leisurely stepping over rocks this time, instead we had to ford the river in a half-dozen places (photo above).

The trailhead empties out on an old logging road, barely accessible by car and not heavily maintained. It had gravel paving, but not much. The shuttle was able to get through to us, but we had a slow commute back to the Rattle River Hostel, with lots of pothole swerving and off-road-like maneuvering. It was fun, and tomorrow I’ll need to take it again to get dropped back to where I left off.

We were back by 1pm, so we went to explore the town for the rest of our day. This provided us with a great lunch from a BBQ food truck, a round of made-up frisbee golf, a round of real miniature golf, and dinner at an amazing restaurant. Saalt is its name, and it is incredible. The head chef (Liz) trained under Julia Child, and has a menu that is truly Michelin restaurant worthy. I will never be back here again, but that 40-ingredient lasagna is almost worth returning. Yum!

After dinner we went back to the hostel and played a rousing game of Settlers of Catan, hung out with the other hikers, organized gear for our early morning departure tomorrow, and then crashed. These guys are flying home tomorrow, so they won’t be able to hike the Mahoosic Notch and Arm like planned … but I don’t think that bothers them too much. We had a great time hiking what we did together, and I’m once again reenergized to keep on and reach the end. Almost there!

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1909.6
  • Start Time: 10:00
  • End Mile: 1909.6
  • End Time: 12:00
  • Miles Hiked: 0.0 (+3.0)
  • Miles to Go: 281.3
  • Lodging: Rattle River Hostel

Day 127: Carlo Col Shelter

Day 127. Well, today went a bit differently. I’m not sure if the trail was significantly worse for them, or if the guys were too worn out from yesterday’s hike, but we didn’t go far today. The main obstacle of the morning was Mt. Success, a 3,500 foot mountain with some pretty steep sections of climbing. We reached the top sometime around noon, meaning our pace was a slower 1 mph compared to yesterday’s 2. We were still a couple miles from our mid-point of today’s hike though (the Carlo Col Shelter), so I pushed the crew further and we eventually reached the campground at 2:30. Then we discussed our situation, everyone’s feelings, and our options.

Side note, we crossed into Maine after coming down Mt. Success! I didn’t realize it at the time and didn’t see the signpost calling it out, but I’m officially in my final state and on my way to Katahdin. Woot!

The fatigue in my friends faces was a bit worrisome. We still had plenty of time to hike the 4.5 miles to the next campground (Full Goose Shelter), but the weather was becoming more of an issue as well. The heat was intense, the steep rocky sections were slow-going, and thunderstorms were on the horizon. With 3 more climbs up Goose Eye West Peak, Goose Eye East Peak, and Fulling Mill Mountain still to come in the day … the crew decided to audible the trip again.

On my own, I would not be as concerned, but there were two real problems with visitors to the AT that concerned me:

First, if we go on, we start tomorrow’s hike with Mahoosic Notch and the Mahoosic Arm. The Notch is considered the “hardest mile on the AT”, as it requires maneuvering under, over, and through giant boulders at a snail’s pace. You literally have to throw your poles and bag through a narrow rock gap, then squeeze yourself through, then slowly navigate to the next hole. It’s a 0.8 mile section that takes thruhikers an hour to complete, in good conditions. Following that, is the climb of Mahoosic Mountain known as the Arm. This is one of the steepest climbs, as the trail rises 1500 feet in 1 mile. I’ve read countless stories of hikers breaking bones, getting lost, and even dying in this section of trail in bad conditions. There is no phone service if needed, and no exit point to civilization if something goes wrong. Doing this trail if it has rained in the past few days even, creates a water slide of life-threatening proportions. And we have 90% chance of rain and thunderstorms from 5am to 2pm tomorrow.

Which brings up fear #2, if we don’t make it over the Arm and down the steep descent to Grafton Notch at the bottom, we may not have another way to get off the trail. The guys all have flights to catch on Saturday and we need to get them back to the car in Gorham by tomorrow night. With the change in pace today, I’m finding it hard to believe we could finish the 4.5 miles today and have much left in the tank to do the 10 tomorrow needed before dark. It’s obviously doable, but adds significantly more risk.

So, with those very real concerns in mind, we discussed our situation, options, and preferences. I won’t call anyone out, but let’s just say some of us wanted to take on the challenge while others wanted to avoid widowing their wives. We scouted out a blue blaze side trail that leads from this shelter off the mountain and made the wise decision to stay here tonight, hike out the 2.5 miles from here in the morning, and get picked up at the trailhead below.

In truth, this was a smart decision, but also an enjoyable one. With a whole afternoon together sans-hiking, we hung out, caught up on each other’s lives, went for a swim in the river, and ate dinner in comfort. We then stayed up late into the evening storytelling and laughing with Gandalf and Much Obliged who wandered in later. We stayed up until nearly midnight (another record for me on the trail) and I spent the final moments lying in front of the shelter just staring at the stars. It was a nice Nero Day for me in the woods, and none of my friends died on the trail … win win.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1904.4
  • Start Time: 09:00
  • End Mile: 1909.6
  • End Time: 14:30
  • Miles Hiked: 5.2
  • Miles to Go: 281.3
  • Lodging: Carlo Col Shelter

Day 126: Gentian Pond Shelter

Day 126. What a great day. After the sh*t show of yesterday, with all it’s painful falls, today was a cake walk … for me, at least. For my faithful friends, perhaps not so much. When asked how difficult this section of trail was, I told them it was extremely nice. With 10 being the hardest, it was a 2 or maybe 3 out of 10. Seriously, after what I just finished in the Whites, today was amazing. When I asked Aaron the same question back, he replied “this is the hardest hike I’ve ever done”. So, yeah, there’s the AT in a nutshell for ya…

I loved today. And I am extremely impressed that my warrior crew of hiker friends that have traversed Glacier Park, Yosemite, Denali, North Dakota, and more were able to join survive hiking the AT with me (so far). We knocked out a fantastic section on some beautiful trails, speckled with rocky ups and downs of course. But we ended at a gorgeous campsite next to a lake, high up in the mountains with a clear view to Independence Day fireworks going off in the town of Gorham, 12 miles away.

The weather was hot, surpassing 90 degrees at the day’s apex, but the shady cover of the green tunnel protected us and provided cool air for the majority of the day. The summits at Mt. Hayes and Cascade Mountain were spectacular, providing clear views from high up to the White Mountains in the south, in a dazzling display of blue skies and golden sunlight. They were tough for my comrades though, so we rested often, drank lots of water, and kept a slow and steady pace. Actually, our pace was close to 2 mph, so not even that slow. Like I said, good terrain and great day!

When we got to our campsite at Gentian Pond Shelter, Max and I scrambled up a side trail rocky cliff to a plateau area overlook, and searched for a stealth campsite there we could all enjoy. Unfortunately, it was too small for 4 people so we moved over to the tenting area of the shelter.

Side note, I highly recommend solo hikers scramble up to enjoy that stealth spot, it was awesome for one tent or hammock.

These are elevated wooden platforms for camping next to the shelter, so we picked one of those for camp instead. Adam and Aaron set up their (very small) 2-person tent for the night, while Max and I hung our hammocks from fir trees next to it. We spent the rest of the night enjoying a lot of great conversation, food, whiskey and laughs. I haven’t stayed up past 10pm in months, and as tired as we all were after 8 hours of hiking … it was totally worth it.

The 3 of them … whose temporary trail names are the collective “Los Tres Gatitos”, wanted to write tonight’s blog. But after a hard day of hiking and a hard night of drinking, their journal entry dreams slipped to instead being a quick Siri-dictated string of anecdotal one-liners expressing their inner-most thoughts and vague memories. I have a feeling we’ll add these to the end of each night’s post while they are out here, as it’s pretty funny to watch in person. Here’s their own words to describe the first day of their AT hiking experience…

An oral dictation of the day’s events, as transcribed from Los Tres Gatitos…

  • It was a 3 out of 10 for some but a 12 out of 10 for others.
  • Blisters rampant on us, but Mike was a stud
  • Their were too many things to carry and only one solution presented itself, give it to Mike
  • I didn’t know we were going to hike through Degaba
  • We looked for wildlife but only saw one very impressive thing
  • Lots of horse flies
  • Aaron’s heart nearly exploded, flew out of his chest and landed on the trail
  • We had to execute an emergency medical procedure
  • My toenail is near falling off
  • Also, Max has slightly less skin on his head than when he started
  • Luckily there is not much blood flow through there
  • But sitting here looking at the stars, drinking whiskey, and hearing fireworks in the distance makes it all worth it
  • Happy Fourth of July y’all
  • Peace out

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1892.6
  • Start Time: 08:30
  • End Mile: 1904.4
  • End Time: 18:30
  • Miles Hiked: 11.8
  • Miles to Go: 286.5
  • Lodging: Gentian Pond Shelter

Day 125: Gorham, NH

Day 125. I am so happy today ended at a hostel, because that hike sucked. I was so proud of the fact I had only fallen once so far on this journey, back in North Carolina, but not anymore. Today I fell 3 more times, and all 3 were very hard and very painful falls coming down Mt. Moriah. One minute I’m slowly walking down a sheer and wet rock slab, the next minute I’m lying down on the ground. It was the Mt. Mariah Massacre. Fortunately, the only thing broken was a hiking pole and the only thing bruised was my ego … but the pain is all over.

The broken pole threw my rhythm off, which is likely why I fell two more times. But the steep, smooth, wet boulders called a trail aided heavily as well. It was just a combination of too many hazards at once, and weary legs that simply had been beaten and battered for too many days in a row without rest.

I loved the White Mountains for their beauty, but I hated their terrain. With such dangerous and difficult hiking this past week, I’m honestly glad to be done with them and move on to what’s next. Nice huts, nice views, awful hiking. My video above is full of smiles and jubilation, but don’t let that fool you, I was not always a happy camper at the end the day. And if not for stopping at a town and hostel today, I would be another unhappy camper tonight.

Fortunately, I did get to recover though, and at a great place. The Rattle River Hostel is a very nice and well-managed hiker B&B right on the trail in Gorham, NH. After the Mt. Mariah Massacre, I needed a shower and bed and I got both. In truth, the last 2-3 miles were quite nice on the AT, but I was checked out mentally by this point and didn’t stop to enjoy the well-groomed trail, the river flowing next to it, nor the inviting swimming holes within it.

I JUST WANTED A DAMN SHOWER.

For 3 days straight, I had sweat completely through my hiking clothes, and I smelled awful. You know it’s bad when you can’t stomach your own stink. The hostel owners must be used to this by now, as the entry room has a shower in it, and you must clean up before going further inside the house. It felt great.

For the next couple hours, I got to work fixing my gear. I called LEKI to get a free replacement part shipped ahead to me on the trail, then soaped up my sleeping pad to find the bubbly sign of the hole. Both problems now appear to be fixed, which is a relief. Then I worked on the above video and lounged in the yard waiting for my friends to arrive. If I didn’t have people coming to hike with me here, I’d definitely take a Zero Day. I think most people do.

Side note, I caught up with some old friends here! Charley Horse, No Need and Mr. Perfect all zeroed here today. I haven’t seem them since Massachusetts.

Around 4:30, a rental car pulled up, and 3 of my hiking buddies from Minnesota piled out. We 4 did a weeklong backpacking trip in Alaska a few years ago, and I am so happy they could come join for this adventure too. We did a quick Walmart run for me, then had dinner in town (Mr. Pizza, excellent food), and capped off the night with some beers and strategic planning. The next 3 days are going to be difficult, as southern Maine is also no joke, but they are up for the challenge.

Side note, less than 300 miles to go. Woot!

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1880.0
  • Start Time: 06:45
  • End Mile: 1892.6
  • End Time: 13:50
  • Miles Hiked: 12.6
  • Miles to Go: 298.3
  • Lodging: Rattle River Hostel

Day 124: Zeta Pass Stealth Campsite

Day 124. For the first time since March 1st, I’m sleeping alone in the woods. I don’t subscribe to this practice normally, as I believe there is safety in numbers in case something goes wrong, but it couldn’t be helped today. In truth, it’s actually quite calming … when I don’t hear large noises outside my hammock tarp. I’m not worried about bears, if that’s what you’re thinking. In general, I believe I practice pretty good bear safety in the woods and don’t fear a possible encounter. I hang my food away from my tent, I rinse off any strong body odor before bed, I make lots of noise, etc.

No, the threats out here that scare me the most are animals or trees running into my hammock. A big dumb moose could trample me without even realizing it. And a widow maker (a dead tree that falls on your tent) is even scarier. Looking around the trail as I walk, it seems trees are falling over every day. A strong wind, to a poorly rooted dead tree, pushed in the right direction, is what concerns me. I’ll be sleeping with one eye (and ear) open tonight, just in case.

I’m stealth camping because I couldn’t get a work for stay at Carter Notch Hut. It was a grueling long day of hiking, and I got there st 4:30pm, only a half hour after they start accepting hiker requests … but no dice. Two southbounders had beat me to it and I was turned away. I spent most of the day hiking with the people I met last night (Michigan, Snapper, Irish, and Beach Bum), but they either stopped at Pinkham Notch or planned to go further than me, so I thought I could secure a spot easily. Oh well. This is the smallest and most remote hut, so I was not too thrilled about squeezing into a sleep spot with a lot of other people anyway. But the dinner menu looked good. Mmmm, pizza…

So I moved on and by 6:30 I had to stop, as I was simply too tired to go any further. After today’s hike, I was exhausted and hiking the full 7 miles to the next shelter was not happening. So, I strung up my bed at the first nice place I found, a spot near the very slow moving creek at Zeta Pass just below Carter Dome. It’s not great, but it at least has water, and I need lots of water tonight.

Today’s hike was great, but again extremely difficult. After leaving Madison Spring Hut around 6:30 this morning, I immediately climbed up my last Presidential summit: Madison. He was a tough bastard, with a 600 foot climb over half a mile and all huge rock boulders (what else is new). But the real struggle was getting down. It’s straight down 3000 feet to the base over just 3 miles. Of course on the same rough rocks for most of it, but since you finally pass below tree line again, also adding narrow winding corridors though the trees. That 3.5 mile stretch from the hut to the base took me 3 hours. Painfully slow, quite literally.

At the base of Madison it was another 4 to Pinkham Notch, but this was relatively flat and nice terrain. I did this section quickly, stopping only to read the dozens of signposts directing me where to go in this maze of hiking trails. At the end was the other big AMC hotel, the Pinkham Notch Visitor’s Center and Joe Dodge Lodge. It was nice, but not nearly as nice as the Highland Center. They have a much bigger outfitter and a quick order deli, but everything is pretty expensive. In the basement is a “hiker packroom”, which is a big open area with tables where dirty, smelly hikers can relax and dry gear away from the other guests. It also has dehumidifier fans blowing, in case you need to dry off gear, which is nice. But I didn’t feel like being a 2nd class citizen, so ate my pre-packed lunch in the large dining room instead. No one seemed to care.

I skipped visiting the detached Lodge, as it was well past noon and I had a very difficult climb ahead of me. Coming out of Pinkham is the ruthlessly unforgiving Wildcat Mountains. The Wildcat peaks are a series of rough climbs without rest, which forces you up 2000 feet in 2 miles to a ski gondola at the top. Then, as your reward for getting there, you are immediately given another 400 foot rocky climb to the Wildcat Summit. And by the way, by this point in the day, I was back within the clouds and saw nothing. Just moisture-laden rocks and steps to somehow climb up. I was later told by Michigan that this climb is the steepest on the whole trail. Not sure if that’s true, but it sure felt like it today.

This is when I finally reached the last AMC Hut, nestled steeply in between and down from Wildcat Mountain and Carter Dome. No work for stay, darn. Oh well, as Happy would say, “Could be worse, could be raining.” I met up with Michigan and Snapper again who were outside the hut and we all climbed up begrudgingly to seek stealth spots beyond Carter Dome. There actually was a really cool place at the top of Carter, whose summit is a rare flat and rock-less clearing. But the trees here were too small and weak to hang from. So I went down the other side to Zeta Pass and called it a day. On the bright side, today’s extra 3 miles will make tomorrow’s hike to Gorham shorter. I am meeting 3 friends there from back home that are coming to hike southern Maine with me, and don’t want to arrive too late in the day.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1863.7
  • Start Time: 06:30
  • End Mile: 1880.0
  • End Time: 17:30
  • Miles Hiked: 16.3
  • Miles to Go: 310.9
  • Lodging: Stealth camp at Zeta Pass

Day 123: Madison Spring Hut

Day 123. Let’s start with last night. That impending storm in yesterday’s forecast? It came in full force around 3am. The crack of thunder was so loud that it shook the ground and woke me from slumber. I’m fairly certain lightning struck within 100 yards of the hut, and I was awake for the day after that boom. The storm continued to crash and below until 4:30, and I actually had a nice time watching it from inside the security of the dry hut.

I slept on the floor in the dining room, which wasn’t bad at all except for the mice. Actually, I’m convinced it was one mouse. One persistent, hungry, devilish rodent who now owes me a new sleeping pad. At some point in the night, this tiny bastard decided to nibble on my sleep setup and put a hole in my air mattress! Around the same time the thunder woke me, I realized I was lying on a now deflated pad very uncomfortably (thus the ease of my waking). I know it was him because as I sat watching the storm and cursing what could have caused my strife, he came back multiple times for more. I shooed him away time and again, but he kept coming back. So … sorry PITA … I stabbed him with my hiking pole, golf swung him into the wall, and brushed him out the back door. He wasn’t dead, but he was wounded and limped away to his evil mousy lair. While there, I yelled that he better think long and hard about the sins he committed during the night while he is in recovery … or if come back to finish the job. Match point, Sharkbait.

The weather took a while to clear up, but it eventually did and made for an amazing day of presidential summits and views. I left Mizpah Falls at 6:30 and entered a very wet, foggy and extremely windy climb upward. The first peak I got to was Mt. Eisenhower, which I chose to skip the blue blaze up to. Given the weather, I didn’t see the point of adding more rocky ups and downs to see nothing. The next peak was Mt. Monroe and that one I did go up. Not because I chose to, but because the actual AT section was closed and hikers were forced up and over the summit instead.

A few miles later, I strolled into Lakes of the Clouds Hut. This is the largest hut maintained by the AMC, and it sits just below Mt. Washington. Almost 100 people can stay there a night, and it is massive in size. But I didn’t know that until I almost ran right into it. The cloud cover was still so thick, I had no idea it was in front of me until it was 20 feet from me. I took the photo below a second later and then headed inside.

The Hut works the same as the others, just on a larger scale. A few other hikers came in behind me and we all took a break together, enjoying the Hut’s cold pancakes and coffee leftover from breakfast for $1 each. A nice $2 second breakfast. During this time, I met Much Obliged, a section hiker who stayed at Zealand Falls with my sister the night before. He and I decided to hike together for the day and headed back into the clouds and wind towards Mt. Washington.

Side note, before leaving, I walked around back to sneak a peak at “The Dungeon”. This is a storm shelter in the basement of the hut which hikers can sleep in for $10. I’ve read about others sleeping there before, but always with horrible reviews. Now I know why. When I opened the giant cast iron door, I was greeted with a damp, foul smelling cellar about 8 feet square. Two wooden bunk beds were crammed in the corner that appeared to be at least 50 years old, and barely able to support there own weight. It was dreadful. If this were the Middle Ages, it would make The Rack look like a friendly massage table. There is not enough money in the world to pay me to spend 10 minutes in there with the door closed, let alone sleep overnight! That room should be the subject of Stephen King’s next novel.

As we hiked up Mt. Washington, it began to slowly warm up, with brief spotting of the sun for seconds at a time. It didn’t clear by the time we reached the top, but you could tell it was on the horizon. The summit of Washington was a bit surreal though, as a thruhiker. There is both a road and railroad (“the cog”) track that carries visitors to the summit, which has a gift shop, cafeteria, weather radar, and an old hotel called The Tip-Top Room. This was just for show, as it’s a relic from a time long passed, but it is preserved well for visitors to peruse.

I waited in line behind a swath of tourists that all took vehicles up in order to capture the same photo next to the summit sign that I wanted. I don’t blame them for how they enjoyed this landmark, but I felt very out of place, as if I was the one that did not belong. I climbed thousands of feet up to photograph my reward … and being there with hundreds of tourists just didn’t give it the same feeling of accomplishment.

But a hiker never turns down a chance for hot gold, so I grabbed a $3 hot dog at the cafeteria, then headed back down the other side of the highest peak in the White Mountains.

And that’s when the clouds finally broke. Over the next few hours, it slowly cleared to beautiful blue skies and sunny weather. It was fantastic! The picture now painted in front of us reminded me of the scenery in the movie A Princess Bride. Much Obliged had a laugh at that, as he remarked the trail usually reminds him of the Fire Swamp.

I could see the whole range by noon and it was breathtaking. In front of me lay Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Adams, the 3rd and 2nd highest mountains of the Presidential Range. As mentioned yesterday, the AT technically hikes around these summits, but you can blue blaze up them and back down to meet the trail again on the other side. To celebrate my good mood from the change in scenery, I decided to hike both summits. Although neither were too impressive at the top, being mostly too rocky and buggy to appreciate, the views were still worth it. I snapped some photos at each (below).

When Much Obliged and I arrived at Madison Spring Hut (just on the other side of Mt. Adams), it was only 4:30pm. Perfect timing to ask for Work For Stay. We both got a spot, then hung out with guests and other hikers who came in to join our WFS group later. For some reason, the croo was in an especially good mood and granted WFS to 5 of us. This hut only holds 40 people, so I was shocked but pleased at the kindness. I’ve never heard of that many WFS hikers at once. Two others came in late, asking as well, but they were politely turned away. Generosity can only go so far.

We swapped stories outside while the guests ate dinner, and I learned that the other hikers have been following me since Georgia. They started just a few days after me and hoped to catch up with the guy leaving small, custom “Hello My Name is” stickers in the registry books. It’s always fun when you catch someone whose name you’ve seen in the books for months, so we had a nice night all getting to know each other. I met Irish, Beach Bum, Michigan, Snapper, Sticks, and Perfect English, who all knew of me already. That was neat.

I did dishes again tonight for my chore, while others had to clean the oven, organize the spice rack, stir the compost pile, or clean the dining room. The hut got a lot of work out of us, but eventually we all finished and watched an incredible sunset together over the ridge (above). Then, when they shut off the lights at 9:30, we setup beds in corners of the dining room and immediately passed out. Although my sleeping pad still has a hole in it, I learned my lesson and am sleeping on top of a bench tonight. Hard and uncomfortable, but free from R.O.U.S.’es.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1851.9
  • Start Time: 06:30
  • End Mile: 1863.7
  • End Time: 16:30
  • Miles Hiked: 11.8
  • Miles to Go: 327.2
  • Lodging: Madison Spring Hut

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