Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Appalachian Trail Symphony: Days 47-53 (Mozart in the Woods)

Day 47 - (7/27/16) 7.5 miles (Kinsman Pond Shelter to Liberty Springs Campsite)

I hiked through Franconia Notch today, which I visited as a kid, although the "Old Man in the Mountain" is not there any more.  I hiked 5 pretty easy miles down to the road and had to go into the town of Lincoln to resupply, but was worried about how to get into town as it's 5 miles away.  Luckily I ran into a Southbound hiker near the road who was in the same boat as me and we decided to hitch into town together.  Luckily it all went smoothly.  He told me there really isn't anywhere to resupply until after the White Mountains end and you get near the town of Gorham, so I decided to get 7 days worth of food and my pack was packed probably as heavy as ever now.  We got a ride back to the trail, and I still had 3 miles and nearly 2000ft to climb to get to the campsite and it was already 5pm, when I like to think about finishing my hiking for the day.  That hike was tough, but I made it to the site around 7:15pm with about an hour of daylight left.  That hiker also told me that the Franconia Ridge, which I'll hike tomorrow, was the best experience he's had so far, so I'm looking forward to it.

Day 48 - (7/28/16) 10.3 miles (Liberty Springs Campsite to Galehead Hut)

The Trail along Franconia Ridge
The Trail along Franconia Ridge the other way
Quite a day today!  I got up early again and was on the trail by 7:15am.  I wanted to get over the Franconia Ridge, which is all above treeline, before thunder and rain came in during the afternoon, as the forecast predicted.  First I got up to Little Haystack Mtn at 4800ft where I got above the treeline.  It was a beautiful view with Franconia Notch to the west and Mt. Washington and the other whites to the east.  Then it was a beautiful 2-mile hike along the exposed ridge, which was thin and rocky, over to Mt Lincoln, at 5089ft, and Mt Lafayette, at 5263ft, each higher than the next.  There were also a couple of fighter jets making maneuvers overhead and of course a lot of noise.  I realized that I've heard on almost all tall summits the same bird as I first heard and transcribed on Mt Greylock, a m2 down (sometimes M2), M3 down, followed by a dotted triplet repeated note (like the timpani in the scherzo of Beethoven's 9th).  I think I'll have to use that for my "summit music".  Clouds started rolling in though, and I made it to a shelter.  Another hiker told me about these huts that the Appalachian Mountain Club has here in the whites and each night they let 2 AT hikers do a Work-For-Stay.  They are huts that people can stay at for like the price of a regular hotel ($100+ per night) but can only be hiked to and are way up in these mountains.  But they have running water, some electricity, and serve dinner and breakfast.  The work-for-stay means you do like an hour of work, like washing dishes or sweeping, in exchange for leftovers and floor sleeping space.  I was debating whether to just stay at the shelter or risk hiking in a storm (about 3 miles) and not getting a WFS spot and having to then hike another 4 miles to the next shelter.  He told me they even have some vegan food!  So I decided to go for it.  It did rain a bit for the last 1.5 miles or so and I heard thunder in the distance, but I made it and got a WFS spot!  It turned out to be a very good decision.  I had to wait until everyone else finished eating, but then we (there was one other WFS) got to feast on leftovers.  It was past 7pm and I hadn't eaten since lunch.  I had 3 plates full of black bean enchiladas, rice and black beans, peas, and salad, plus 2 bowls of soup and a granola dessert.  That hit the spot!  We just had to work a little in the morning.  The hut is really nice and so are the people working here, college kids or recent graduates.  I hope to do at least one more of these hut stays.  One of the great things so far in the whites is that bugs haven't been a problem at all!  One of the guests at the hut I met is also a composer by the name of Andy Teirstein and actually went to Bennington College back in the day, where I taught the past two years!  I crossed the halfway point of my hike today while on the Franconia Ridge.

Day 49 - (7/29/16) 11.8 miles (Galehead Hut to Ethan Pond Shelter)

I got breakfast leftovers of just oatmeal at the hut, and put in my work of cleaning the stove burners.  Then I headed out, worrying it would rain or thunder, but luckily it didn't all day.  It started off very cloudy and overcast, and for the first summit I was hiking through a cloud, but it cleared up in the afternoon and ended up being a very nice day of hiking.  Except for a big ascent to start the day up South Twin Peak, everything was downhill or, for the last 5 miles, pretty flat which was very welcome!  I hiked most of the day with two middle-aged guys, one from NY who runs ultra-marathons, and the other a dentist from Germany.  I find it interesting that when passing me on the trail, older people say "Hi" or "Hello" or some similar greeting, as do I, but almost all younger people under my age don't say a greeting but go right to asking "How's it going?"

Hiking through clouds
Day 50 - (7/30/16) 9.3 miles (Ethan Pond Shelter to Mizpah Spring Hut)

View of Mt Washington from Mt Webster
View of Crawford Notch and Mt Willey
Only 6 miles to the top of Mt Washington now, the highest point on my hike at 6288ft!  I visited as a kid with my family by car, but I don't remember too much, except being so scared that Dad would drive the car off the side of the road and tumble down the mountain!  I caught my first good glimpse of it today on the top of Mt Webster, with it's treeless grey top with buildings and towers which reminded me of Valhalla in a production of Wagner's "The Ring" Cycle that I saw on DVD.  It's hard to believe I've made it this far!  I hiked down into the Crawford Notch and then up to amazing views over it on the Webster Cliffs.  I'm doing another hut WFS at Mizpah Spring Hut tonight.  Crawford Notch was down at 1200ft and the hut here is back up at 3800ft, so I'm most of the way up to Mt Washington now.  3rd straight day without phone reception, and Diane must be worried and wondering where I am.

Day 51 - (7/31/16) 11.8 miles (Mizpah Spring Hut to Madison Spring Hut)
At the summit of Mt Washington!

Tuckerman's Ravine
Crossing the Cog Railway on Mt Washington
What an amazing and exhausting day!  I waited around to get leftovers from breakfast, and then set out to hike.  I wasn't sure how far I'd get today because the weather forecast said it would probably rain late morning/early afternoon.  So I headed to the next hut, called Lakes of the Clouds, which lies just below Mt Washington, and there I'd see how the weather was.  My hike there, about 4.5 miles, was up above the treeline and beautiful, but it was overcast and got chillier and windier as I got to the hut, which was also incredible.  I put on all my warm clothes, ate lunch, and the skies started to show a little blue, so I decided to head towards the summit, passing the sign that says "The area ahead has the worst weather in America."  I went off the AT a little bit because I wanted to go by and see Tuckerman's Ravine.  It was like walking on the moon.  Just rocks everywhere and views out in every direction.  I made it to the top of Mt Washington, I couldn't quite believe that I'd made it to the to highest point in New England on foot!  I passed 400 miles during the hike as well.  Being at the top brought back some memories, or seeing the Cog Railway and its tracks that disappear down the mountain, seeing the surrounding mountains while going up the road, probably the first time I'd been up on a big mountain with views like that.  The summit was pretty crowded with people who drove up and I still couldn't get phone reception!  I didn't stay very long at the top, but did get a picture of myself at the summit sign as proof.  Clouds started to roll in and I still had a ways to go, so I headed out, hiking in and out of clouds with beautiful views and terrain everywhere.  It was very exhausting, though, and my knees were really hurting.  I also went about 1/4 mile down the wrong trail before realizing it, and I mean down so I had extra hiking to do back up.  I also nearly fell on the rocks once, but somehow regained my balance and landed on my feet, fortunately.  The rain never came and I made it to the Madison Spring Hut and was lucky to get another WFS.  I'm really thankful for them, these huts have been a really nice surprise on the trail here.  The crews, mostly college kids, have been really cool to get to know a little, and it makes me kind of wish I had heard about these jobs during my college summers.  I also met a Brazilian girl at the hut yesterday and had an unexpected conversation in Portuguese which was cool.  
Lakes of the Clouds Hut (on right)

I survived hiking through the place with the worst weather in America, Mt Washington!

Day 52 - (8/1/16) 8.8 miles (Madison Spring Hut to Junction of Lost Pond Trail and Wildcat Ridge Trail)

Hiking through a cloud, from cairn to cairn
As close as I'll get to walking on the moon
I'm definitely glad I made it over Washington and the ridges above the treeline yesterday.  Today was a down day.  I had a ton of leftover oatmeal at the hut and did my sweeping work before heading out around 9:30am.  It was already overcast, and the first thing was to summit Mt Madison, but the mountain was mostly in the clouds with only one side with a view, almost framed by clouds even from above.  Then it was a long descent down through clouds, which made it seem like I was hiking the same stretch of trail over and over again because of the low visibility.  It started to drizzle too, and luckily I made it down to the treeline.  My body was not feeling very well, though, especially my knees and ankles, but I was happy to get off all the rock hopping and back to soil on the ground.  I was determined to do a light day today, although there are not shelters or campsites anywhere on this stretch of trail.  It rained pretty much the rest of the day, but luckily I made it to Pinkham Notch where there was a welcome center at the trailhead and I was finally able to find some kind of shelter from the rain.  The wildcat mountain is up next for tomorrow, so I hope the weather and my body feel better then.

Day 53 - (8/2/16) 18.2 miles (Junction of Lost Pond Trail and Wildcat Ridge Trail to Rattle River Shelter)
Another rare self-portrait, up near Mt Washington

Looking down into Carter Notch from the Wildcats
I woke up extra early this morning and was hiking around 6am.  I felt much better than yesterday and the weather was better too with no rain and partly cloudy all day.  First was a big ascent up the wildcat mountains, then another big one up Carter Dome.  But I felt good and was making good time, so I decided to shoot for the shelter just 2 miles from the road into Gorham so I can get into town early tomorrow morning and spend a lot of time there.  It was 18 miles, my longest day of hiking, in 13.5 hour, but I made it somehow!  I did have a nice almost banana-peel-like fall on a wooden board that was wet and not quite flat.  My feet flew out from under me and I landed right on the board on my butt, made worse by the 25 pounds or so on my back.  I had a bunch of near falls today, especially on slick rocks, but luckily essentially I'm done with White Mountains now!  They were beautiful, but really hard!  Because I was going so far and fast today, I don't think I enjoyed the views and hiking as much as I should have.  But now I know I can pull off a big day, even through tough terrain, if I need to.  I'm almost to Maine now, and just 300 miles left to hike!  When I got to camp, it seemed like everything of mine is beginning to fall apart: a shoelace on my boot broke, my lighter died yesterday and my waterproof matches won't work, my Mushroom Masala pack leaked all over my pack inside, and my right boot is beginning to fall apart, and one hiking poll has poked through its rubber foot.  As a result, I had to eat cold Mushroom Masala and rice for dinner, which was not good at all.  I think this trail has helped me become more flexible and trusting that things will become clearer as I get closer to them if I just take things step by step.  You can't plan everything exactly too far ahead, but I know that even things I'm worried about on the trail ahead have a way of working out as I get closer to them if I take them a step at a time (literally too.)  

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