Eventually I got up and descended back below tree line. The trail was rocky and much steeper than the side I came up on. I was going very slow partly because of how steep the down was, but also because I was passing droves of day hikers. At the bottom of the mountain I came to a parking area at Kinsman Notch where I met up with "NutterButter". She needed to resupply in town so we hitched a ride down into Lincoln New Hampshire. We ate breakfast at a place called Peg's, she did her shopping and then we stopped at the White Mountain visitor center so I could get mauled by an enormous stuffed animal.
We hitched back to Kinsman Notch and spent the rest of the day hiking to Eliza Brook shelter. It was the last shelter before the start of the hut system. The huts are lodges where people spend close to a hundred dollars to stay and be fed, thru hikers have the option of asking if they can work for stay. I was a little concerned about the huts because I had heard stories of people being turned away and then had to tent on a dangerous ridge. I set up my tent, chatted with a bunch of other thru hikers also at the shelter and then called it a night.
I got up at dawn and started hiking. The trail went slowly uphill and wound around a little pond where I was hoping to see a moose.
As soon as I left the pond the trail changed. It shot straight up, I know I've said it has gone up lots of times, but this was different. It was almost rock climbing, but in short bursts. I would lift my leg up as high as it would go, get a grip with not much more than my toes, stand, then repeat. And then repeat again, and again. This went on longer than I had ever done before. By the time I got to the top of South Kinsman Mountain I was spent. I sat up top with several other hikers and regained my composure, which often looks like I am sleeping.
Next I walked along a ridge over North Kinsman and then down the other side. I came to my first hut at Lonesome Lake. It was a little shocking to see because I was still in the middle of nowhere, but there was basically a rustic hotel in front of me. I went inside and sat down at the benches in the dinning area. A couple of thru hikers told me that they were giving away left overs so I better go get some. The care taker generously gave me a plate of turkey and I gobbled it down immediately. I strolled down a little path to Lonesome Lake where there where a few people around a beach area. The weather was absolutely beautiful and I wasn't going to waste the opportunity so I stripped down to my shorts and dove on in. The water felt glorious. It was just the right temperature, a little cold with scattered warm spots. I dried out on a wooden dock next to the lake and then gathered my gear and resumed hiking.
I came to Franconia Notch where I was planning on meeting "NutterButter" again. I saw her at the lake so I figured she couldn't be more than ten or twenty minutes behind me. I sat down and took a little nap, but soon realized something was wrong. She should have showed up already. I sat a little longer just to be sure that I wasn't over reacting. Still no "NutterButter". Crap. I got up and hiked back the way I came from. I passed a few thru hikers I knew and asked if they had seen her and they said they hadn't. Crap. I hiked back to the spot where I napped and then continued on a bit further. The parking area for Franconia Notch was about a mile from the trail and I headed that way. The trail turned into a paved path and about a half mile down I see "NutterButter" walking towards me looking miserable. She said she started talking to a bunch of day hikers and must have gotten on a different trail. She ended up at a parking lot, but had no idea where the AT was. She walked down the road a bit and happened upon a park ranger who drove her to the Franconia parking lot. All in all it was an hour that was pretty scary. I thought that I was going to find her on the side of the trail with a moose eating her face.
She really wanted to just call it a day there so we hitched into town and went to a hostel run by an awesome guy named Chet. He lets thru hikers crash at his house and only takes small donations. It was filled with south bounder who I had never seen before. I set up my tent on his back lawn, crawled in my sleeping bag and dreamed of Lonesome Lake.
I woke up before dawn, packed up and "NutterButter" and I hitched back to the trail. The morning was overcast and gray with occasional drizzle. The trail out of Franconia Notch went steeply uphill to Liberty campsite which had the last water for many miles. I filled my bottles with the cold spring water and pushed on. I continued going up and found myself in the clouds. I came to the top of Little Haystack Mountain and was bombarded with mist blowing past me.
Shortly past Little Haystack I climbed above tree line, but was totally clouded in. I was on Franconia Ridge which was hailed as an amazingly beautiful spot, but I couldn't tell. All I could see was the fog all around me.
Then, in cleared.
It was like Moosilauke, but better.
The clouds just made the whole ridge line magical. I felt like I should have seen William Wallace emerging through the mist with claymore in hand yelling "Freeeedom!" and then cutting my head off.
Unfortunately the ridge only lasts for two mile, but I made sure to go slow and lollygag as much as possible. Before I knew it though I was descending down below treeline again with grin stretched across my face. It was incredible. Breathtaking. Awe inspiring. All of the things you think it will be and so much more. I loved the day I got, it wasn't perfect and sunny, it was dramatic and rough and beautiful.
The trail took me up and over Mount Garfield and then up to Galehead Hut. I waited for ""NutterButter" to show up and then we went inside and asked if we could do a work for stay. They said no. It was very late and we decided to go on for another couple miles and find a camping spot wherever we could. The trail went up over South Twin Mountain and then on a ridge at high elevation. The sun started to dip below the horizon when I saw another tent set up on the side of the trail. I found a spot nearby that could fit our two tents and we quickly went about making camp. It wasn't long before the first crack of lightning sounded and the rain started. I'd like to say that I slept right through the storm and I probably would have if it wasn't for the fact that water was coming in my tent somehow. I think that it was bouncing underneath and coming up through the mesh. Whatever the cause, I was getting wet. I tried my best to prop things in a way to prevent some of the splash or curl up so I wasn't laying in a puddle. Let's just say it sucked and leave it there.
At day break it was no longer raining and I had no desire to linger in my tent. I packed up, confirmed with "NutterButter" that her night was bad also, and set out. The storm had passed, but it was still incredibly windy. I crossed over Mount Guyot (Gee-Oh) and had to really struggle to maintain my balance at points. As the trail descended the wind became less of an issue, but by the time I made it to Zealand Falls Hut I was definitely ready for a break. As soon as I walked in the hutmaster asked if I was a thru hiker. I told her I was, expecting to be thrown out. She said she had tons of left over food and I was welcome to whatever I wanted. I just about shed a tear I was so happy. Food, lots of food makes almost anything better. I told her about our experience last night and she was appalled that the staff at Galehead turned us away. After filling my belly and resting I set off again feeling much better.
The trail followed a river for several miles and was really nice and flat. I stopped at Ethan Pond shelter and took a nice long nap in the late morning and then kept plugging along. After the pond I descended into Crawford Notch and then up the other side. The wind started to pick up again and when I started to climb a spot called Webster's Cliffs I could see rain clouds coming towards me. I picked up my pace, but again I was rock climbing. No joke, rock climbing. I made it to the top of Mount Webster with hail raining down on me. I picked up my pace a little more. I went along a ridge, over Mount Jackson and could feel the temperature plummeting. I picked up my pace a little more. I was almost jogging when I walked into Mizpah Hut. I went inside and sat on a little bench by the door. All the guest were at the tables eating their dinner and being merry. I was a pop sickle. One of the staff came over and offered me a cup of coffee. Then one of the staff's little kid brought me a bowl of hot pumpkin soup. I was told that if I wanted I could sleep on the floor with the other thru hikers that were doing the work for stay. Wow, what a difference. I didn't even ask for a single thing, but they made me feel so warm and welcome. I slept like a rock.
I set out early in the morning in a cloud of mist. According to my guide once I left Mizpah Hut I would be above tree line until the next day. All well and good, but the wind was howling and it was fricking freezing, not really freezing, but darn cold. The wind was so strong that I was going from tree cover to tree cover and then resting a bit. I could look out from my little stand of trees and see the wind driven mist flying past at incredible speeds. Eventually I was up high enough were there were no more trees for a wind break and I had to just push through. The wind was so strong that I had to lean against it in order to not be blown over. The trail thankfully went around Mount Eisenhower and Monroe and when it did it offered relief from the wind. At the base of Monroe was Lake of the Clouds Hut, or as my frozen brain called it, Lake of the Houds Clut.
I sat in Lake of the Clouds drinking coffee for a few hours. I was told the weather forecast was calling for clear skies so I was trying to wait out the morning clouds. The reason I was waiting is because Lake of the Clouds is only a mile from Mount Washington. Mount Washington is where the highest wind speeds in the universe have been recorded. People die trying to climb Mount Washington and i can see why. Around noon the clouds started to break up a little bit, so I set off.
The weather was already much different. It was still windy, but nothing like it was when I left Mizpah. Also there were crowds of people. I was seriously in a traffic jam as I walked up to the peak. There was a group of about twenty people in front of me who stopped every five minutes only to start right back up again so there was no way to pass. I took a chill pill and looked around. The clouds would part ever so slightly and give a quick glimpse of my surroundings. As I crested the peak of Washington the wind was again howling. There were people everywhere. It was crazy. I knew one of them though.
I sat with my father in the lodge at the top for a few minutes, but I felt very overwhelmed by the amount of people. He brought me some food for a quick resupply and then walked with my back to where the trail heads back down. I forwent the picture with the Mount Washington sign because there was a line and I was getting cold. I gave my pops a hug and headed back into the clouds and down the mountain.
It didn't stay cloudy for long though.
The clouds started to break up and before me was a landscape slowly being revealed.
I left Mount Washington behind and continued down the trail with a stupid grin on my face the whole time because everywhere I looked was a ridiculous amazing sight. Boulder fields and grass and mountains and blueberry bushes. The trail started to enter the boulder fields and I started to have flashbacks to Pennsylvania. Not in a bad way though. I slightly zoned out not really focusing on one thing in particular and let my feet pick their way through without my intervention. My body basically said "I got this" and did it's thing. I flew through the rock fields like they weren't even there. I rounded a corner and saw my destination laying at the base of Mount Madison, Madison Spring Hut.
I got to the hut nice and early and was the first thru hiker to arrive. I was approved for work for stay and was told to come back after dinner. I sat outside in the sun and soaked in the rest of the day. I went to sleep that night feeling very content.
When morning came I headed out and started up Mount Madison.
Madison was the last big mountain of The Whites and as I descended along it's spine I felt a twinge of sorrow that this section was coming to a close. It has been incredible to put it lightly.
I met my father in Gorham New Hampshire and now am preparing to enter Maine.