Dear Herm’s Hikers,
To paraphrase the words of Rod Serling from the famous TV show, “Open the door and walk into another dimension where high is low, up is down, wet is dry, valleys are mountains, and summer is winter. But don’t stop walking just yet, for you have just entered the Alpine Zone.” Cue to the music from the theme of The Twilight Zone.
Greetings from Glencliff, New Hampshire, and the Hikers Welcome Hostel, the gateway to the White Mountains. The hostel is an old farm house and barn, dating from 1832, with Phat Chap and Uncle Walt as the main caretakers, both who look like roadies from the Grateful Dead. But it’s a great stop on the trail with friendly service, comfortable bunks and lounging quarters, and a few stores and restaurants in the village of Warren, just down the road. Everything an AT hiker could ask for. Even some good conversation was on hand last night as the bunkhouse debate centered on religion and miracles. It seems some of the younger hikers (The Youngbloods) who label themsleves agnostics and doubt the existence of both. With age comes experience, and with experience comes the wisdom to acknowledge both. I would like to hear their comments when they become Greyhounds. Geez, am I getting old here or what? Never a dull moment on or off the trail.
My, oh my how things have changed in a week. Last week in Vermont, water was becoming scarce. Water sources at some of the the shelters were drying and becoming nothing more than mud holes. The prehistoric mud swamps from last year that sucked the boots right off your feet were now just damp earth (Well not quite damp, but you get the picture.) I did see one mud hole on the trail that still looked menacing. Testing the site, my hiking pole sunk over two feet in the ooze. I expected to stir up a floating backpack or hiking boots, remnants from an unfortunate hiker who happened to step into this AT quicksand. Water quality at some of the springs and creeks could be judged by the frog factor. More frogs in the water usally meant less water and less water quality because all of the amphibians in the area were gathering at that site. Coming into Hanover, NH last weekend, I had hoped to spend the night at the Happy Hills shelter before a short hike into town the next day. My plans were drastically changed when I found the water source to be a muddy stream bed and a moist spring about the size of a 5 gallon bucket. Already low on water (just a few gulps in each bottle), I had to walk over five miles to the next water source. That day Happy Hills was not a happy place. But the trail is like the weather, keep hiking and conditions can change within a few steps, or more like a few hundred steps.
And speaking of conditions. With each passing day, I grow older and the mountains grow bolder and colder. Coming north, there was Moose Mountain at 2,290 ft., Smarts Mountain at 3,230 ft., Mt. Cube at 2,911 ft., and then, the big one to date (drum roll, please.), the first mountain in the Great Whites, Mt. Moosilauke at 4,802.
Hiked to Smarts Mountain in beautiful but hot weather. Teamed up with 3 German hikers and a couple from Texas (Hobo and Variable. Yes, Variable is a math teacher.) and climbed to the ridge which we thought was the summit. When we saw the fire tower on the next peak, we knew that were were standing on the ridge, just another false peak on the AT! Half way to the summit, thunder boomed around us in the valleys below. Climbing at times hand over hand, I double-timed it up the steep and rocky trail to reach the safety of the old fire warden’s cabin which was the shelter. Just as I reached the cabin and threw off the backpack, day beacme night as storm clouds raced over the mountain. Seconds later, the wind howled and the rain blew sidways. Rain quickly turned to hail and then sleet. I said a silent prayer for my hiking partners who were still hiking up the side of the mountain. The storm lasted about 15 mininutes, and was followed by clearing, cool weather and a picturesque sunset over the west mountains. A group of us with cameras climbed the fire tower to enjoy Mother’s Nature postcard evening. A few days later, my luck held as I hiked to the hostel and just missed another heavy thunderstorm with hail. Yes, my fellow hikers, prayers are being answered out here. Thank you Herm and the angels above!
Today I treated myself and slack-placked Mt. Moosilauke. Slack-packing is where you don a light packpack and usually hike back to your starting point. In my case, it was from Kinsman Notch to the hostel, a distance of about 10 miles. What a joy to be hiking without 33 pounds on my back. I was as quick as a cat! For the first 2 miles, I hiked the Cascade Trail which runs alongside the waterfalls. That alone tells you how steep it was. It was straight up, hand over hand climbing with rebar siderails at some of the more steeper sections. But it was scenic, and it was slippery because it was right next to the falls. In addition to all of the moisture, it started to rain. Just a light shower that grew heavier as I climbed higher. About a half mile from the summit, I met a fellow hiker who said “put on your Goretex,” and I was glad that I did. At the summit which was a large bald area with some grass, wildflowers, and scattered rocks/boulders, the wind was howling, the rain was blowing sideways, and the fog and clouds raced across the summit to create a whiteout, reducing visibility to about 50 feet. Following the cairns, mounds of piled rocks, was the only way to follow the trail. Moutain hiking at its best! Simply awesome! Oh, what a feeling! Breathtaking! Exhilirating! After hiking about a mile across the summit, I reached the relative calm of the treeline. Thrity minutes later, I was hiking down the mountain in sunshine. By the time, I reached the bottom of the mountain and walked to the hostel, it was hot and humid with the temperature in the low 80’s. All in a day’s work on the AT!
Tomorrow it’s some relatively sane and calm hiking farther into the Whites, In a day and a half, I should reach the “huts” run by the Appalachian Mountain Club. The huts are self-sustained lodges that provide beds and meals to hiking tourists. They are literally little motels on the trail. It should be some great hiking with terrific views above the treeline and some great meals. Next week looms Mount Washington at 6,288 feet, the highest peak in the Northeast. Can’t wait to summit!
Time to get some sleep for tomorrow’s hike. Looking for good weather and a great hike. As always, keep me in your prayers. Hike with your angels and hike in peace!