I can’t imagine what it must do to a person to grow up in New Hampshire. You mature in an environment where trails are more vertically oriented than horizontal. You never expect to walk on dirt or pine needles! Roots, rocks, and mud will do just fine. Want a fun day activity? Find your nearest boulder field and go a-scrambling for the day! For a westerner, the northeast is a nightmare. Kyle and I like to refer to it as stupid hiking. You have to spend every single moment focusing your mind and your muscles on foot placement. And all this to climb to the top of a 4,000 foot mountain? No thank you!
But I’m too harsh, as hard as it is, it is beautiful country. It’s amazing to be back above treeline, on ridges and in pines, surrounded by springs and cool breezes. The climbs up may be hard but once you get to the top it’s totally worth it! It’s the climbs down that aren’t. One of the most frustrating things about the trail in New Hampshire is that the quality of trail slows you down, not the elevation change. Going down takes you SO long because you are constantly navigating twenty foot slick rock walls, rock jumbles, and the occasional ladder. You get to the top in the desired two miles an hour but it takes you twice as long to descend and once you get to the bottom your knees feel like they belong to a ninety year old. So what do thruhikers do as they hike? Swear a lot under their breath.
Since getting into the Whites Kyle and I have been harboring a bit of a grudge agains the AMC – the organization that maintains the trails here and the shelters and huts. We have been hiking through states for months with free shelters and campsites and relatively nice trails, all maintained by volunteers. Then we get into the Whites and everything costs money and is terribly spaced out. At one point it was thirty miles to the next shelter. The shelters and campsites are now eight dollars a person, which can add up fast when there is two of you and it takes you ten or eleven days to hike through the whites. The Huts, which are extremely fancy shelters that are closer to hostels than anything else, are very expensive, ranging from $75 to $120 a night. Clearly no thruhikers are staying there. Huts do offer a work for stay, but only to the first two thruhikers to show up after four o’clock. When you are hiking in a bubble of twenty five other thruhikers the chances of getting a work for stay are low. Stealth camping (camping off trail at an undesignated sight) is illegal. So this leaves you with very few options.
However, it’s not only the thruhikers that are paying to enjoy the Whites. Crazy northeastern tourists flock to the Whites to enjoy their beauty. A number of them actually hike the trails, seeing things like the Presidential Range and Mt. Washington. Some drive up the road to the summit of Mt Washington. And others pay sixty five dollars a person to ride the Cog up the mountain. The Cog. A thruhikers antithesis. Imagine it, you’ve just summited one of the most famous mountains on the trail after hiking some 1,700 miles. You are overjoyed that the weather wasn’t too bad on top and are now hiking down the mountain on your worn out trail runners when suddenly, against the horizon you see a belch of black smoke. Cresting the ridge on its own special, well oiled little track comes the Cog. A coal-powered, old-fashioned engine carrying twenty or thirty tourists to the top of Mt. Washington so they can get out, stretch their legs, buy a snack at the snack bar, look at the clouds, and head back to the bottom. It’s no wonder that the following series of photos is an important tradition among thruhikers.
And the Whites are crawling with toursists. As a thruhiker you are practically a tourist attraction and if you stand still long enough you will attract a crowd. This happened to Kyle and I after we had made our big climb up the first Wildcat Peak. We were taking a break up at the top at a picnic table by the gondola when, what appeared to be a wedding group, began to pile off. Kyle and I watched them out of the corner of our eye and we were just starting to pack up when a couple wandered over. We began the typical Q&A, when did you start? How long have you been hiking? Where do you get food? Are you carrying a gun? Soon we had a few more and a few more and finally, when Steph and Simon crested the hill they found us giving a full on seminar to a group of twenty people.
All in all our experience in New Hampshire was incredible. It was so hard but so rewarding. We got to stay at the Lake of the Clouds hut with a group of twenty other thruhikers, all doing a work for stay. Kyle, Steph, Simon, and I did a Q&A with ninety six hut guests. Kyle and I hiked a twenty mile day over Moosilauke and Kinsman, two huge mountains and ended our day with a beautiful sunset. We had great weather on both Franconia Ridge and Mt Washington. We got through the Whites in a good amount of time and headed into Maine feeling excited… little did we know Southern Maine would almost put us over the edge…