Thursday, August 23, 2012
New Hampshire's White Mountains
I came down out of the mountains to a bit of road walking towards Gorham, NH. At the intersection of US2 and North Road sits White Mountain Lodge & Hostel. A wonderful New England lodge that has been beautifully maintained and converted into a hostel catering to AT thru hikers.
I limped in with a sore heel and surrounding tendons that had been bothering me for a while. They took all my dirty laundry, gave me loaner clothes, showed me the common room with a big TV and a shelf of DVDs, a fridge full of pizza and Ben & Jerrys ice cream, and a bunk with a real mattress and clean linens. A shuttle took us twice daily to the local super Walmart for resupply. The freezer had ice packs.
Heaven. I never wanted to leave.
Eventually, I had to get back on the trail and I was excited to head into the White Mountains. I crossed Mt Moriah and the Carters over the next two days, and hit the first of the AMC huts at Carter Notch as it started raining.
The huts have bunk rooms, a full kitchen, and a young staff known as the Croo. They cater primarily to folks who hike in, maybe spend a couple of nights, day hike in the area, and hike out. Some will hike hut to hut across the Whites. A bunk and two meals can run north of $100 a night.
Thru hikers generally can't afford such luxury.
On the other hand, once the trail ascends above the tree line, there are few good options as one has to drop below the tree line to camp. And so the huts offer work for stay. Hikers are asked to do some menial labor. In return we get to eat the leftovers from dinner, and roll out our bags in the dining room. Each hut only allows so many to do this, and I got the last slot at Carter Notch.
The next morning, I traversed the Wildcat Mountain Range. In the rain. A tough climb to three peaks along a ridge line, and a long, tough descent down slippery rocks into Pinkham Notch. Along the way, I managed to slip, fall and break a hiking pole that was wedged behind a log.
Two breaks and a replacement part in 400 miles convinced me that either I was too hard on poles, or those light-weight, carbon fiber poles are too light for this terrain. Choosing to believe the latter, I bought a pair of Lekis that weigh twice as much, and hitched back into Gorham to mail home the remains of the old poles. Once there, it was too easy to call White Mountain Lodge again...
And so I did. After a comfortable night, with lots of food and ice for my ankle, they delivered me back to Pinkham Notch for my ascent into the Presidential range
I managed to get work for stay at all the huts in the Presidentials. The weather was outstanding, and the views were to die for. A nearly perfect transit. Nearly, because I summited Mt Washington on a Sunday, and it was crawling with tourists who had driven or ridden the cog train up. I had to stand in line to get to the summit...
Once out of the Presidentials, the ranges dip below treeline along ridges between summits. Here I stayed either in established campsites, or found my own, and visited the huts for lunches - bowls of homemade soup, baked goods and coffee.
When I descended the cliffs into Franconia Notch, I went into Lincoln to pick up my bounce box, do laundry and resupply. I stayed at Chet's Place. A hostel with the ambience of a 60's hippy crash pad. Grateful Dead on the tape player, graffiti on the walls and beater bikes to ride around town.
As has become routine for me, I took a zero to ice my feet and knees. A northbounder had recommended heel cups to alleviate my achilles pain, and I found something promising at the drug store.
Over the next few days, I summited the Kinsmans, Mt Wolf, and the last of the biguns, Mt Moosilauke. With only a few foothills left of the Whites, I was looking forward to the Green Mountains of Vermont.