Day 152, 7/30/15
Start: Lakes of the Clouds Hut
Finish: Pinkham Notch
Miles Hiked: 14.8
Miles To Go: 319.4
Overall Miles Hiked: 1869.8
Since we were sleeping on the floor of the dining hall we needed to be out by 6:30a.m. so the guests could eat breakfast. Rock Boat, Jeopardy and I were more than happy to get an early start on our day, we had heard from several hikers the night before that today’s trail would be some of the hardest on the whole trail. Immediately after leaving Lakes of the Clouds is the ascent up Mt. Washington.
At 6,288ft, Mt. Washington is a huge tourist attraction drawing hundreds of visitors every day during the summer months. Tourists have a number of options on how to get to the peak. They can hike up to the summit from any number of trails, drive all the way up and park in a parking lot or even take the Cog Railway to the summit. Sometimes thru-hikers have to wait 30 minutes in line just to get a picture next to the summit sign. Since we left so early, Rock Boat, Jeopardy and I were the first three up to the summit. We had the top of New England’s highest peak all to ourselves!
The weather on Mt. Washington can be extremely dangerous at times, the peak has never been above 72 degrees, the highest wind speed ever recorded was here at 231 mph and it is enveloped in fog 300 days of the year.
Another unfortunate fact is that since 1849, 155 people have died here, most due to hypothermia or skiing accidents. If unprepared, a hiker can get hypothermia up here any day of the year. Mt. Washington and the surrounding peaks are above tree-line on the A.T. for 18 miles. A lot can change in 18 miles and there is no refuge from the wind or rain. Luckily for us, this morning was absolutely beautiful and we have now managed to go 4/4 with great weather on major summits in the Whites. I know several hikers who were clouded up on each and every one of their summits in the Whites, I feel quite fortunate. We spent some time on the summit and made special note of the poster in the visitor center that included the names, dates and circumstances involving the many deaths on these peaks. After leaving the peak the A.T. follows the rockiest ridge-line I have traveled thus far and takes hikers over Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Madison. A wrong step on any of these descents could easily result in tragedy; it happens every year.
We took it slow but still took a few minor falls and ended up with some small cuts and bruises. After several hours, we had finally descended low enough to where we were back in the trees. I immediately felt better since I didn’t have to battle the 40 mph winds or sun any longer. I was the first to make it down the 3,000ft descent off Mt. Madison. It had rained heavily on me for the last two hours and I was wet and hungry. Right where the A.T. comes down into Pinkham Notch is the Joe Dodge Lodge. The Lodge offers bunk spaces to vacationing families as well as dinner and breakfast options. Bunks are pretty pricey so I was mainly interested in trying to snag a free meal. I was in luck, a hiker had called in and said he was going to miss dinner and, since he had already paid, wanted his meal to go to a thru-hiker. I gladly accepted the free meal and asked if there would be any way to get in Rock Boat and Jeopardy who should be coming in soon after me. The girl behind the counter asked if I was a thru-hiker and if I had come all the way from Lakes of the Clouds. She understood how hard the hike was and was happy to offer Rock Boat and Jeopardy free spots among the vacationers. Unfortunately, Jeopardy was too late but Rock Boat arrived just in time and we gorged ourselves on salad, carrots, fresh bread, potatoes and meatloaf. After dinner, we hiked across the street and made camp. Today was by far one of the most demanding. Physically I’m beat up pretty bad and my gear suffered some damage as well but nothing serious to prevent me from hiking up the dreaded Wildcats tomorrow.
Day 153, 7/31/15
Start: Pinkham Notch
Finish: Imp Campsite
Miles Hiked: 13.1
Miles To Go: 306.3
Overall Miles Hiked: 1882.9
We walked back to the Joe Dodge Lodge in the morning in hopes of pressing our luck on scoring a free breakfast. Once again, we were in luck and had our tabs picked up by some friendly day hikers we had met earlier on Mt. Washington. Thanks again guys! After we had finished up we made it back to our campsite and broke down our tents. We had slept on the shore of a lazy river and the first mile took us along it’s shore and around the pond it emptied into.
As soon as we cleared the pond we started climbing up Wildcat Mountain peaks E and D; my god was it steep. On the way up, I ran into 3 different groups of day hikers who had intend to clear the mountain but instead, after only 2 miles, turned around because of how difficult it was. There was one section that went straight up and even though it was only 20 feet, it literally took me 5 minutes before I was able to make it up. On top of peak D is an observation tower and gondola shuttling tourists from the bottom of the mountain to the peak.
We heard there was food at the bottom of the mountain via the gondola but we decided to press on and distance ourselves from the crowded mountain top. Up next were peaks C and A and they were just as challenging as the rest of the Whites.
We regrouped at Carter Notch Hut, the last of the huts in the Whites, and ate lunch. Already at the hut was a southbound thru-hiker. He congratulated us on making it this far – we congratulated him and asked him how his hike has been thus far. He didn’t answer immediately and when he finally spoke it became very apparent he would be lucky to make it out of New Hampshire. We tried to give him a pep talk but he had all but given up and kept saying how horrible and demoralizing Maine had been. Oh well, only 20% make it for a reason. We moved on and made the steep climb up to Carter Dome. When Rock Boat and I reached the summit, we were greeted by a mother grouse and her chicks. I’ve heard grouse since Georgia but this was the first I’ve seen.
Five more miles of hiking brought us to Imp Campsite where I was forced to set up tent on a tent platform, not the best scenario for my style of tent but I made the best of it. We will be out of New Hampshire soon and I keep reminding myself to enjoy these days because there are not many left. Other than my physical pain, I feel great and have been hiking strong.
Day 154, 8/1/15
Start: Imp Campsite
Finish: Gorham, NH
Miles Hiked: 8.1
Miles To Go: 298.2
Overall Miles Hiked: 1891
We were out of food again and had intended on resupplying in Gorham just a few miles away. The trail into town was mostly downhill and easy. Rock Boat and I secured the last two rooms at the White Mountain Lodge and Resort. Right on the trail and at $30 a night and included breakfast, you can’t beat it. As I waited on the shower to open up, I called home. I won’t get into specifics but it became immediately apparent that I would not be hiking tomorrow and needed to come home as soon as possible. In the blink of an eye my attention turned from how many pizzas I planned on eating tonight to booking a flight home. When I got off the phone I broke the news to Rock Boat. He, Jeopardy and I have developed a strong friendship over the last few hundred miles – the news left everyone speechless. With only two and a half weeks and less than 300 miles to go, this was a hit to the guts. Within the next hour, I arranged a three-hour shuttle from the hostel to Portland, Maine for the morning, a hotel room for tomorrow night and a flight out the next morning.
The next several hours were very strange. The thru-hikers around me busied themselves with tomorrow’s hiking plans oblivious to my situation, I just sat on a chair and chimed in when called upon trying to act normal. In truth, I suddenly felt like an imposter; a hiker no more. If I could have left that instant I would have, the thought of everyone else but me carrying on with their dream in the morning made me sick. I retreated to my room and listened to music while I stared at the ceiling tiles. I only got up once to say a final farewell to Rock Boat. In the morning, I leave for home. I do not know if/when I will ever be able to make it back to the trail. My dream was to be a thru-hiker, to complete the journey in one calendar year. There is nothing wrong with section hiking it over several years, my hat goes off to section hikers because it’s an amazing feat no matter how you get it done. All I can say for sure is that this has been an amazing experience and I will never forget the people I met or mountains I climbed. Thank you all for supporting me every step of the way – as soon as I have an update on my trail status I will let you know.