It's true, New Hampshire is pretty fantastic. After a week or so of grueling hiking in Southern Maine, I crossed the border into New Hampshire in July of 2015. Of course it's all a matter of opinion, but I thought southern Maine was the most difficult hiking on the AT. Once we entered the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the terrain was still very difficult, especially in the Presidential Range, but the trail seemed a bit more groomed.
I was still hiking around Mismatch, Skunkbite, and Lux. Skunkbite had hiked from Georgia to Vermont a few years ago and was finishing his AT by hiking from Maine to Vermont. As you can probably guess, he earned his trail name by getting bit by a rabid skunk while sleeping under his tarp during his first AT thru hike attempt a few years ago, requiring rabbis shots and hospital visits. While hiking in southern Maine, Skunkbite and I met a day hiker at one of the shelters who had a passion for the AT. During our conversation, the day hiker asked Skunkbite,
"What are you going to do after you finish the AT?"
Skunkbite replied with all seriousness, "I want to sail around the world."
I loved that answer.
|Skunbite at shelter in Maine|
|Resting in the town of Gorham|
Before long, my knee felt just about back to normal, and just in time. The trail meandered over the Wildcat Ridge, 4,000 ft peaks. The weather was absolutely perfect, one of those clear crisp sunny days where you just feel happy to be alive. Mount Washington was in view, in fact in crystal clear view, although stormy weather was predicted to arrive the following day, the day I was to summit Washington.
By this time, I was hiking solo again. Lux, Skunbite, and Mismatch were all nearby on their own independent schedules. The clear skies from the day before were replaced by howling winds and clouds the morning I was to hike over Mt. Washington, the 6,228 ft. monolith with the world's highest recorded wind speed at 231 mph. I was camped just below Madison Hut off a side trail just below tree line. My first attempt to hike up to Washington ended in a retreat back to camp as there was so much fog and wind I could only see from rock cairn to rock cairn. I was too scared that I might get lost which one does not want to do up there in bad weather. After resting under my tarp for a couple hours, I decided to just go for it, especially since weather was not supposed to improve for several days. It seemed like now or never.
|A couple enjoys the view north towards the Wildcat ridge. I was on my way up to find camp near Madison Hut, 6 miles shy of Mt. Washington summit.|
|Fog and wind hiking up Washington|
|A line for summit photos on Mt. Washington|
That evening, Mismatch, Snow, and I along with several other hikers were fortunate to secure a spot for a "work for stay" at the Lake of the Clouds Hut, a few miles south of Mt. Washington. The Hut system in the White Mountains serves backpackers who make reservations beforehand to stay there. Many backpackers will plan trips where they hike hut to hut, for a price, but also for a nice combination of mountain scenery combined with a little comfort and camaraderie at the end of the day. For thru hikers, the huts offer an opportunity to escape the elements for a short while, perhaps a chance to buy some coffee or cookies, and sometimes a chance to spend the night in exchange for a little work. While at Lake of the Clouds, we were asked to wash dishes after the hut cooking crew served dinner to the paying guests. Not only were we treated with a comfortable place to spend the night, but we were given dinner leftovers, as well as treated with one of the most amazing sunsets I have ever seen in my life.
|Sunset at Lake of the Clouds Hut|
|Saying goodbye to the Whites from the top of one of my favorite mountains on the trail, Mt. Moosilauke. The trail visibly changed to gentler terrain south of this mountain.|