The Appalachian Money Club

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Condutor speaking: Ah yes, ladies and gentlemen, to our left here we have the ilusive thruhiker. Sometimes these creatures will travel from as far as Georgia all the way to Maine. You can usually pick them out thanks to their rather ragedy appearance, strong stench, and nice legs. Now, I do have to warn you, thruhikers do have some strange habits. You will often find them hitching in and out of towns, cooking and brushing their teeth wherever they so choose, and when they see the cog they seem to have a strange response. So if you watch closely…
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Ah yes, there we go. The mooning of the cog. This behavior is very typical of your average thruhiker.

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…

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As Edward Abbey said, "An indoor life is the next best thing to a premature burial."

18 thoughts on “The Appalachian Money Club

  1. I’m sorry that you had a difficult time negotiating the White Mountain trails. New England, in general, is a rocky place, and those of us who hike there a lot have shared the pain of descending rocky trails. It’s not clear from your piece whether you are serious about the need for the Appalachian Mountain Club to “clear” the trails. I hope not. Would you really want to hike on a flat, smooth trail? There are plenty of converted railbeds in the Midwest! And did your preparation for thru-hiking not warn about the difficulty of the Whites? Those of us who choose to hike there (I’ve hiked all the 48 4000 foot peaks in New Hampshire, although I am currently living in the Midwest for work) curse the rocks but love the hikes. The AMC takes a lot of heat for the prices they charge, but overall they do great work. Between 4 and 5 million people visit the White Mountains each year (Yellowstone and Yosemite each get about 3 million; these stats are from the National Forest Service and NPR). Can you imagine what the countryside would be like without the composting toilets and latrines at campsites and huts? More detail is here:http://www.outdoors.org/lodging/campsites/campsites-faq.cfm Finally, the AMC does not “control” the White Mountains. That sign you are pointing to is from the White Mountain National Forest. They “control”–ie, regulate–where camping is and is not permitted. I hope you enjoyed your thru-hike, and that you will continue to hike on trails more to your liking.

    1. I think your statement “curse the rocks but love the hikes” hits the nail on the head. I wrote that post in the moment, in the whites, out of frustration and after around 1600 miles of hiking!! The whites were incredible, I realize that now and Kyle and I frequently tell people they were our favorite part of the trip! My goal with the blog was to tell people who are going to thru hike or who were following along what we were experiencing and at that point in the hike that is what we were feeling. Everything changes once you have some distance and some time to put on those rose colored glasses! I would go back to the whites in a heartbeat because it is truly one of the most epic places on earth! I just wouldn’t do it after 1,600 miles of hiking first, it is a very hard end to a very long trip 🙂

  2. first of all, spelling errors like “illusive” rather than the properly spelled “elusive” does not do much to endear you to us poor bastards that grew up in New Hampshire. Nor does the improper use of the word…AT thru hikers are not elusive. Second, we like the trails here. Many of us hike in all seasons so it’s not always stepping over rocks and roots. And just as I cannot speak for all Granite Staters, I know you cannot speak for all westerners in your claim of our Northeast trails being “stupid hiking.” Hiking it is, rather than walking, which is what many of us refer to the same outing out west. And our gain of 4,000 feet – or 5,000 or 6000+ is comparable to the western 10,000 peak when the trailhead is located at an elevation of 6,000 feet or better.

    Methinks you must have tripped on those roots and hit your head one too many times.

    1. ouf, scathing criticism for the spelling errors (I just struggled to spell criticism there… not one of my strongest skills). Over all your comment is scathing and apparently you missed the sarcasm and snark that this post was meant to be! The whites were frustrating, most thru hikers will agree with me, but at no fault of their own. With distance and time from that experience I of course realize that they were any amazing, unique and beautiful place where I would love to hike again, just not at the end of a very exhausting 1600 mile trip. When people ask us what our favorite part of the trail was, I always say the whites! I am sorry you discovered this post and that I have never written a follow up post clarifying what a little distance and time did for my AT addled brain 🙂

  3. Clearly you based your half serious observations on the same misinformation A.T. thru hikers have been spreading up and down the trail for decades. I’d like to see a follow up article based on the actual USFS-WMNF (not the AMC) backcountry policies. For example, just because the USFS has restricted camping to designated sites near shelters and huts to prevent sprawling damage doesn’t mean camping at undesignated sites elsewhere is illegal.

    1. Thank you for realizing it was half serious! Now i hope you can realize it was also half momentary frustration and word vomit. If you look at my above comment on will’s comment you will see that some distance from the AT and the crazy hardness that is the whites has allowed me time to appreciate that experience and the east coast trails for what they are!! I have also worked for and currently work for restoration groups so I fully understand the impact stealth camping can have!

    2. I shall grant you your wish and write a follow up article, apologizing for making so many new englanders mad!! Never my intention and the “facts” I stated were in fact just thru hiker grumbles, but that is mostly what I had to go off at the time, that and my experiences! I also apologize for using the term “stupid hiking” and applying it to the whites! It felt stupid to our poor thru hiker bodies at the time but it will forever stick in my mind as incredible and unforgettable… clearly that could never be stupid 🙂

  4. Stealth camping isn’t illegal, just have to be below treeline, 1/4 mile from an existing shelter site, and 200 feet off the trail. And in my PERSONAL opinion, you can thank the thru-hikers who camp out 6 inches off the trail right at tree line, not only for this rule, but also for the need to pay $8 to help finance a shelter caretaker to go around and educate people on why camping right on the edge of the trail is a terrible thing to do, as well as help fix, or at least off set the damage being done by these people.

    Just a former caretakers $.02

    1. I agree, thru hikers are a huge problem. Half of us are idiots that know almost nothing about camping when we start out!! When I wrote this post I was fresh out of the whites, poor, and pretty much done with thru hiking all together. I was ready to be off of the east coast and its incredible rocky trails!! Please forgive my moments of frustration! Given distance and time and nostalgia I loved the whites, I loved new hampshire and I would love to come back and hike it again! This time on a bigger budget and not after 1,600 miles!!

  5. It is legal to camp off trail in the Whites as long as you are 200 feet off the trail!! I live and hike her and there are plenty of legal places to camp.

  6. Once you’re done with your thru-hike, why don’t you come back to NH and volunteer some time to fix those trails?

  7. What a ridiculous post. So you’re complaining because the trails here are steeper and rougher than out west? Are you out for a leisurely stroll or a hike?

    1. Ha! That was exactly what I was complaining about! Of course in retrospect I think I have learned a lot about the different kinds of hiking one can do and that yes, it might just be fun to find a really rough and tumble trail and take it on! The sense of accomplishment and badassness that comes from hiking the trails that exist in the northeast, that is certainly impossible to find elsewhere in the country and with some space from the AT I have come to realize that. Of course you have to realize my position at the time, 1,600 miles into a hike, having just gone through some significantly less scenic but still very rocky states and then to find the trail just get increasingly more and more difficult to navigate, your days get shorter and shorter in terms of mileage… it can be very frustrating! You feel like you want to fly but all you can do is carefully pick your way along the trail, rock hopping like a billy goat! I never wanted the AT to be a leisurely stroll and it wasn’t, it was a hike thru and thru. It taught me a lot and I would love to come back to the whites at some point, just not at the end of a thru hike!

  8. Do you have an address where I can send you a bill? I spilled water all over my keyboard and computer that owned by my employer from laughing at the “mooning the cog” part.

  9. Way to leave us on the edge of our seats….. Sorry about your experiences with the money issue and the trails. I would be one of those people asking you a million questions. Hope you plan to have a small symposium when you finally come back for a few days. Would love to hear first hand about all you have discovered and endured. love me

  10. Not the best picture of the Northern States….glad you had the beauty of the countryside to offset some of the dreadful trail conditions. Remember to breathe and focus as you complete these next few days. You two are almost there and, Sally Bennett told me tonight, that Mt. Katahdin is an amazing climb. Something to look forward to.

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