8: Garfield Shelter to Ethan Pond Shelter
Today was hard.
It was hard from the moment I woke up, my hips and calves and knees aching. It was hard when I had to decide to get out of my sleeping bag, the sun shining straight into my face at 5:45am. It was hard when we immediately went downhill, rock scrambling down a waterfall. Literally.
We saw what I believe to be an angry adolescent bird.
We climbed up South Twin, which wasn’t terrible. We sat in the sun and wind and ate.
We went down, which was ok.
You can really see how the trail is made in this picture below. Dirt and plants have a shallow, tenuous hold on the great granite slabs below. Footprints from the last 90 years (or more?) have eroded the dirt down to the rock. It’s no wonder trees blow down so frequently here — to hold on, they spread roots against prevailing winds, building up strength in one direction. A strong wind change and suddenly everything is different!
We stopped for water at Zealand Falls Hut, which was nice. (We also stopped at Galehead Hut in the morning for water and snacks.)
We kept going downhill, and then we had 6 miles of FLAT.
It was pretty, it was good trail, but I just wasn’t here for it.
I’m annoyed that everything is so hard. And it’s not that I hate hard stuff, but I’m just over it. The views are all huge and amazing but it’s the same thing as yesterday, only I’ve walked 15 miles. It’s not a good headspace to be in. I like to enjoy hiking— it’s still my vacation, after all! But I’m not enjoying the whites very much. Maybe we’ll slow down a bit and take more breaks. That will probably help my knees and feet, which are constantly aching. Maybe I’ll save the Wildcats for another trip. I don’t know what I’ll decide yet, but right now I’m pretty set on sleeping late tomorrow. I’m exhausted.
Trip total: 93.3 or so
MVP: taking off shoes and putting my feet in the water
9: Ethan Pond to Lakes of the Clouds Hut
There’s nothing for it but to walk. There’s no other way to get out of the woods except to walk, and that’s the exact thing we’ve been doing, so we might as well continue on.
From Ethan Pond we had a long downhill to Crawford Notch. Bent started talking to Gardner, a thru-hiker, but I was antsy and wanted to hike alone, so I passed them and flew down the trail.
I got to a parking area and started on the short road walk when a man approached me.
“Are you a hiker? Are you hiking the AT?”
“Oh, well, I’m sectioning the AT.”
“I’m feeding hikers down there, let me feed you! I’m Fresh Ground, and I’ve been doing my Leapfrog Cafe.”
Well boy, did my eyes light up. I met Fresh Ground in 2016, when I sectioned Hot Springs to Fontana Dam through the Smokies. He came in to the shelter, the one just south of Newfound Gap, late at night with another hiker named Mustard. He entertained us with stories and in the morning, he made me a fresh ground cup of coffee while we watched the sun rise through the snow-covered trees.
Fresh Ground in 2016
There are some people who don’t do a whole lot, but they leave a huge impression on you. Fresh Ground was that for me that trip. And he was for me again this trip.
I went down to his cafe, which was a couple of folding tables and a ton of food and a few chairs. He made me an omelette just the way I like it. While he was cooking, Bent made it down and joined me but chose banana pancakes instead. We sat and talked with Fresh Ground, enjoying his company and his trail magic.
Everyone always says trail magic comes when you need it most. As a woman of faith, I believe that to be true. Today is just another point of evidence for that.
There’s nothing worse than not enjoying the thing that makes you feel the most like yourself. It’s depressing. Fresh Ground is a trail angel. He changed my entire mindset. He fed me, gave me water, walked a bit down the trail with us. It is truly amazing, the people who come into your life when you least expect it and need it most.
We started up Webster Mountain with lighter hearts and fuller bellies. The climb was long, but only really tricky in a few places. There were some incredible views.
We walked through an alpine bog.
And made it to Mizpah Hut, where we stopped for water, soup, and a break.
The entire day was uphill for the most part, and a good chunk of it was above tree line as well.
The trail was… really ok! After the deep depression we were in yesterday, it was nice to be ok with the level of pain we were currently experiencing.
And even though the AT was closed for a section, which meant we had to go OVER mt Monroe instead of AROUND it, we were still ok.
We made it down to Lakes of the Clouds Hut, and asked for a work for stay. It’s supposed to be just for thru hikers, so we…stretched the truth.
After the paying guests had eaten, we helped ourselves to all of the leftovers and ate with the Croo, in the kitchen. These AMC huts are staffed by young adults, who hike up all the food for the Hut and their own personal stuff for the summer season. They cook, do educational tours, change linens, all that sort of thing. And they can choose to feed thru hikers in exchange for some chores.
We washed dishes, wiped down shelves, swept the dining area, and deep cleaned tea pots.
And tonight? I’m sleeping on the floor, with a toilet and running water. Feels pretty fancy! (The toilets are still just holes in the ground, but they have stalls and toilet paper, so it *feels* legit.)
I also learned that the creepy bird we’ve been hearing is most likely a White Throated Sparrow, and the giant puffy angry bird I snapped a picture of the other day is a Grey Jay, and they are VERY friendly.
It’s been a good day. Tomorrow: MT WASHINGTON!
Trip total: 107.9
MVP: Fresh Ground
10: Lakes of the Clouds Hut to The Barn
Sleeping on a dining room floor may SOUND glamorous, but you don’t even know the half of it. First of all, people pee at alll times of the night, so the bathroom doors are constantly slamming. Secondly, some weirdo guests stayed in the dining room after the lights were turned out, reading by headlamp and like…watching us sleep or something. And thirdly, guests get up at 4:45am to talk about wanting coffee and discuss which trails they were hiking today, and they do it right next to your head. One couple decided to play Bananagrams at the table I was sleeping under.
So anyways, Bent and I sat up, looked at each other over the table between us, and decided to pack up. We were packed and on trail by 6am.
The climb up to Washington isn’t terrible but it’s kind of long. The views were amazing, and it was neat to watch the Hut get farther and farther away.
And shortly after, we arrived at the top of Mt Washington. For all I’ve heard about it, the wind was calm and we were the only people there. It was pretty neat.
I walked around the side of the visitor center and found a chair. I relaxed, chatted with some other hikers, and ate (of course).
After a nice break, Bent and I set off. This time, the downhill was rocky and slow.
We had to cross a snow patch. I had chatted with a hiker who warned me about it. He seemed to know what he was talking about and said he climbed up over it, instead of walking through it. So when Bent and I arrived there we tried that, but couldn’t find a good path. Then we tried going below it. Same problem. So we gave up, risked life and limb, and slowly crossed the snow.
Around the side of Mt Clay and Mt Jefferson, then up and over Mt Madison. Seen here as a realistic depiction of a villain’s lair.
It was as terrible as it looks. Did you know the whites were formed with like some volcanic activity or something? I know that, because these rocks were SHARP. I scraped every part of my leg multiple times. I eventually started bleeding.
And eventually we were back in the tree line. The trail was steep for the first couple of miles, but eventually leveled out some. Not until we navigated more blowdowns, of course. There’s nothing like climbing over a tree while losing 4 feet of elevation at the same time.
A million water crossings and we were in the home stretch. And at Pinkham Notch, just as we were coming around to the parking lot, who should call out to me but Fresh Ground!
FG made us grilled cheese, hot dogs (with toasted buns!) and even made us fresh cut french fries. Truly amazing.
He had given me a hugely motivating talk the other day, to push hard to finish this section after the Wild Cats, but Mt Madison killed me. Every single inch of me below the waist was on fire — from muscles to tendons to blisters to sunburn to scrapes and cuts. I just couldn’t do it. FG said as soon as he saw my face at Pinkham Notch he knew I just didn’t have it in me. And I really didn’t. Ever the amazing trail angel with a true servant’s heart, FG gave us the encouragement and food we needed, and helped me clean the blood off and finish the trip happy. Even if I didn’t do all the trail I wanted to, I still accomplished a lot. Everyone we talked to today asked where we came from and where we were going. “Wow, that’s a really big push. Tough trail!” Even the Lakes Croo said that. They were right. And I could feel proud of having survived, I guess.
We called The Barn hostel for a ride, and planned for the next day to be relaxing before a long, long day of travel.
I do feel good about what we accomplished. That was 122.8 miles of the hardest trail I’ve ever done. I can’t say that I love The Whites, but I can say I’m proud of how I hiked it. And when I come back to finish the Wildcats and the Mahoosics, I’ll plan 8-10 miles per day 🙂
TRIP TOTAL: 122.8
MVP: Fresh Ground’s french fries!!
LVP: Mt Madison can fall apart and turn to gravel for all I care.