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The Beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire

2011 August 6

In mid July, we made it to New Hampshire and that’s when we started seeing a trickle of SoBos (That’s trail code for South bound thru-hikers. We’re called NoBos). As we hit the High Huts region of the Whites, we started to encounter them with much more frequency. It’s both a good and a bad thing at the same time. The bad part is that you are both competing for a relatively small number of tenting and shelter spots. Up until now we have only had to contend with other NoBos, which isn’t much of an issue since you generally know who is ahead of you and behind you and you can plan accordingly. SoBos throw a whole new dynamic into the mix, since you have no idea how many there are and when they will be at “your” planned tent site. If you get someplace that’s already full, then you should move on to the next designated camping area to reduce impact. But that could be miles, and we’ve already established that everyone is trying to hike fewer miles through this area.

However, it really was a lot of fun meeting up with SoBos; they are a completely different breed of hiker. Starting in Maine and heading south is “the hard way” to hike the trail, and it’s much more solitary. By comparison, only about 200 hikers begin at Katahdin while somewhere near 2000 start at Springer. Personally I think most of them have a screw loose, but hey I realize I’m a pot calling the kettle black. Anyway, it is also really fun to meet SoBos because they’re so…. energetic. We remember how that was–we used to take side trails to great views and interesting spots and love to talk gear with every hiker we met. Now that we are “seasoned,” we have a 0.3 mile rule–if it is any more than 0.3 mile off the trail, we aren’t visiting it. Unless it’s food-related, of course.  Also, since the SoBos are really just at the beginning of their hike, they are still honing their gear and routine and they have a ton of questions for us “veterans.” We typically have a lot of questions for them too–we usually grill them on trail conditions, water availability and resupply options further up the trail. We wish we’d run into southbounders earlier on. It sure would have been nice to swap stories and information throughout the trail.

One of our favorite things about New Hampshire is the high hut system. High huts are enclosed and manned cabins located in the White Mountains. The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) built them and employs people  to cook and serve food, clean the place (including stirring poo in the privies when necessary), and hike in fresh food from town and hike out the trash they cannot compost. It’s no wonder these places are expensive to stay in. In fact, we saw a slight 18-year old girl wearing a wooden slat backpack loaded down with the week’s trash, heading in to town. It had to have weighed almost as much as she did. Much respect.

The huts are pretty slick. For thru-hikers, they are like an oasis in the mountains. Most folks at the huts are on planned weekend or week-long hikes. Since we’re just passing through, we have no idea what day we’ll be there and therefore can’t make reservations for the busy huts. The White Mountains are tough and rocky, and that takes a toll on a thru-hiker’s mileage. Luckily, when you come across a hut you can stop in and buy a bottomless bowl of soup, some fresh bread and fill your water bottles. If it’s close to the end of the day you can also try to “work for stay”, which gets you a night’s sleep on the floor in the common room, leftover dinner and breakfast after the guests are fed in exchange for helping set the tables, wash dishes, or sweeping up in the morning.

We only stayed at two of the nine huts, Galehead Hut and Lakes of the Clouds Hut, but we visited all of the others so we could sample their soup. A tough job, but someone’s got to do it. At the Lakes of the Clouds hut, Muggle gave a talk on the Appalachian Trail to a hut full of eager ears as part of our work for stay and I helped move a gigantic generator. All-in-all, a pretty good deal for a warm place to sleep and two meals! Due to some crazy weather on Mount Washington which kept us from hiking, we ended up zeroing at Lakes of the Clouds hut and stayed two nights on a work for stay basis. The “croo” as the hut staff are called, was very helpful and welcoming… all in all it was a very good experience!

Lakes of the Clouds Hut in the White Mountains

During our time at the Lakes of the Clouds hut, we met a SoBo named Mace (so named because his hiking partner accidentally maced him with bear spray), who had just had a terrible day. His gear was giving out on him, and he had gotten lost on the wrong trail for several hours. That night, a lady who had two reservations in the hut (which include an actual bunk and all you can eat dinner and breakfast) let the staff know her son had cancelled at the last minute and she would like to donate one reservation to a thru-hiker. We all agreed Mace should get it, so he ate his fill and slept peacefully for a night. Trail magic is awesome even if you aren’t the recipient.

Because of our skip ahead, we have also left the bubble we had been hiking with and met up with a bunch of hikers that have been moving faster than us and we haven’t seen in a while. It was probably Pennsylvania or earlier when we last saw Cactus Jack and Bud Heavy–they have an end date close to ours so we’ll be pretty close to each other for the remainder of the hike–so it was good to catch up with them. We also caught some new NoBos we’ve never met before. They probably whisked past us during one of our town stays. Both Uli and Curmudgeon were hiking pretty strong until they caught the dreaded hiker malady: Lyme Disease. To top it all off, it got far enough along they also exhibited Bell’s Palsy, losing control of parts of their face until they got treatment! How crazy is that?

Once we finally boogied out of Lakes of the Clouds, we decided to hike the entire Presidential Range, skip over the Madison Springs hut, and hike into Pinkham Notch. That put the biggest part of the Whites behind us, AND got us into a hostel we kept hearing great things about in Gorham: The White Mountains Lodge and Hostel. Unfortunately that meant a climb over Mount Madison. We thought after Washington it would be smooth sailing, but Madison is just a jumbled pile of nasty rocks. The wind was blowing so hard we were immobilized at times for fear of getting blown over! But with great patience and care we successfully held our ground and slowly made headway over and down the mountain to calmer weather below treeline! It was a crazy day, but we ended up in a warm bed in Gorham. We both slept like dead people.

The White Mountains hostel was a really nice place to stay. The entire house was open to hikers, with the owners living next door and coming over to cook breakfast and dinner, and generally take care of the place. Had we not been absolutely worn out we would have enjoyed it immensely. It was very casual, and in a nice peaceful setting right on the AT. We would both highly recommend it, and we plan to stay here when we come back to hike the Whites in better weather.

Hiking out of Gorham we had hoped would be a bit easier. However, we were met with more crazy terrain. We had been so focused on the Whites we had neglected to even talk to any SoBos about what lie beyond! Up through the southern part of Maine we were climbing almost directly straight up, over, and then back down the sides of mountains on bald rock faces, grasping at roots, rocks or anything securely fastened to the earth. It was rough hiking!

Early on we met a past thru-hiker that said: “The AT passes through 14 states. The first 11 are training wheels for the last 3.” That pretty much sums up our experience with New Hampshire. It was terrible, but it was great at the same time. New Hampshire definitely left it’s mark on us–mostly in the form of cuts, bruises and serious foot pain–and we have already agreed to come back to see this state again. But for now. . . MAINE!

Until then, happy trails!

2 Responses leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    August 7, 2011

    Wonderful stories. Try to climb more horizontally…you make me nervous.

  2. Rob R permalink
    August 11, 2011

    You guys are my hiking heros! The White Mountains look like quite a challenge! Thanks so much for posting your adventure!

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