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Leaving Eliza Brook Shelter, I found myself at the foot of a 3,000 foot climb called South Kinsman Mountain. Good God, what a climb that one was. Once you reach the top, you descend a couple hundred feet, and then climb back up the North Kinsman. The Kinsmans got fairly dangerous at points because of how steep, brutal and absolutely relentless it was. All you can do is suck it up though, because it’s definitely not the last.
After the Kinsmans we made about a 6 mile descent, right before having to climb up another gigantic mountain called Liberty Springs. I think that’s what it is called… my book doesn’t really make that quite clear. It doesn’t matter, because it was still a really crappy, 2,600 foot climb at the end of the day. If you’ve ever worked out your lower body so hard that it shakes when you’re finished, then you know how I felt once I reached the top. It reminds me of a story, actually. I played college golf for two years, and every year we had workouts during the offseason. If you think that’s funny, you obviously don’t play golf. The physical trainer for the football team was lucky enough to work us out. Anyways, I can remember working out particularly hard one morning at about 6am (about five hours too early for a college student), and I was planning on going back to my dorm room on the second floor before heading to my 8am class. My legs felt like a wobbly bowl of jello, and on my walk up the stairs, my legs gave out and I literally fell down a small flight of stairs. I don’t think anybody saw me though. Now to bring you back to the hike, I’m glad my legs didn’t give out climbing that mountain. That would just be a tragedy, because I would’ve definitely been seen by my hiking friends… as I tumbled down the mountain.
Once we all reached the top, we got to attempt our first stealth camp. If you’ll remember from my previous post, we were forced to stealth camp because of the way the Whites operate. If you don’t stealth camp, then you are forced to pay ridiculous prices in order to stay at established campsites or huts. We reached a flat spot on top of the mountain, near where our illegal Stealth Camping Guide mentioned, and found some spots to set up. Now, let me describe to you the dilemma that I and anyone that camped with me faced. My tent is large, and bright yellow. It’s kind of difficult to be stealthy when you’re as bright as the sun. Imagine if the Marines tried wearing bright yellow camo. It just doesn’t work. Regardless, I’d be doggoned if I was going to pay to camp. We figured to just try to get up early before any rangers were out. We did have something fantastic to look forward to in the morning though: the Franconia Ridge. I’d say from just about every single Southbounder or previous thru-hiker you talk to, the Franconia Ridge is their absolute favorite, and it was something that I’d been looking forward to for a long, long time. I could remember looking at pictures of it before leaving for this trip. It was quite amazing seeing all of the pictures, and then actually being there yourself just a few months later. Here are some pictures of things that I saw right before hitting Franconia.
We were all so excited to be climbing up Franconia Ridge. Like I said, you just have never heard anything negative about the 2 mile long exposed ridge line. We were promised beautiful, 70 degree weather… much like what we’d already been experiencing in fact. We were absolutely, completely blessed by our weather up to this point, and the forecast was promising to stay similar in the foreseeable future. I was, however, beginning to deal with some pretty serious heel blisters. You never realize how painful they can be until you’ve got ‘em, and you’re trying to climb up or descend down steep mountains. I was literally walking at about half of my normal speed, and it kept me way behind my hiking friends. My solution for most things on the trail was, you guessed it, duct tape. I had ran out of my own, but luckily Cheeks had some very stylish tape for me to borrow.
The Franconia Ridge was just as advertised. Fantastically beautiful. Awe-inspiring. Not too many hikers I met believed in the things that I did concerning faith or religion, but when I hit the Whites my internal question was, “how can you see something like this, and not believe in God?” The Franconia Ridge consists of Little Haystack, Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Lafayette, and there is just no way pictures can do it justice. I realize that is somewhat of a trite expression, but seriously. No justice. I’ve been to some very pretty places in my life. Scotland, British Columbia, Yellowstone… this blew them all out of the water. No comparison. Ok, I’ll stop babbling and just show you the pictures. This first one is the full Franconia Ridge looking back at what I’d just walked. You can see the trail following the top of the ridge.
Left to right: Yours truly, Atlas, Cheeks with her eyes closed, Chickadee, and Lobster.
So we’d finished Franconia Ridge, high on life and loving every second of what we’d just seen. It got even better when we reached the bottom, and had a couple of unexpected surprises. We reached Zealand Falls Hut to rest for a few minutes. My friends sat down outside for a second while I walked in to get some water. There was one guy in there, cooking away like a mad genius. I started with the obligatory howyadoin’s, and I sat down at the end of a long bench to enjoy some cold, refreshing water.
“Are you a thru-hiker?” he asked me. Depends… are you about to sell me something?
“I’ve got some extra food if you want it. You can also have one of those brownies on the plate if you want.” Sweet! He asked for which kind of soup I wanted, and I picked the more delicious sounding one. “Hey, would you mind if I told my friends outside that you have some extra food?” I made sure to tell him there were only four outside. He said sure, and I strolled outside with an extra bit of swagger. I sat down right in between Cheeks and Atlas, and said, “I’m about to be ya’lls best friend. Guess what I just did?” They stared back at me with quizzical looks on their faces. “Got us some free soup. And brownies.” I like to think that I was maybe their hero that day. Lobster and Chickadee joined us and so all five of us ate hungrily at a table inside, chatting away with the cook and so thankful for the good food. We all clinked glasses and I listened to everyone talk about how much they loved me and I was their best friend. When we were all nearing the bottom of our soup bowls, I suddenly felt very obligated to do something for our new friend.
“Hey, we can wash our dishes for you and put them away… I mean we really appreciate the food and all, it’s the least we can do.”
“Oh yea man, I won’t object to you doing the dishes!” Notice that he said the dishes, instead of your dishes. He started giving us directions about the way they washed, sterilized, dried and put away all of the dirty dishes. We looked at the dirty mound piled high next to the sink, and then at each other. All of a sudden all of the love my friends had for me disappeared, I could see it in their eyes. In all seriousness though, we didn’t mind doing them at all, especially with all five of us working assembly line-style.
We left Zealand Falls Hut with many thanks, and headed on towards our destination at Crawford Notch. This might be where one of our biggest blessings happened. There’s a good six mile stretch of completely flat terrain. You don’t realize how much of a blessing that really is until you’ve walked for a few days in the Whites. Not only was it flat, but there were no rocks. I believe I did those six miles in about an hour and forty five minutes, which is basically a slow jog. All five of us cruised down to Crawford Notch where there was a road, and we all intended on hitching into town to resupply. I can specifically remember saying out loud, “You know what sounds good right now? A soda.” As we started hitching besides the road, a car pulled over and two former thru-hikers offered us some donuts and sodas. Ask and you shall receive! Lobster and Chickadee needed to go to the post office, and so Cheeks, Atlas and myself hitched in separately.
We actually got a ride from someone who worked at the Lake of the Clouds Hut, which was the only hut that we intended on trying to stay at because we had kept hearing about how thru-hiker friendly they were supposed to be. It was also only a few miles from the summit of Mt. Washington, and was a good place to stay if you wanted to hit Washington early. He told us all about the hut, the rest of the Whites, and other random things. When we told him we wanted to stay at Lake of the Clouds, he said that it shouldn’t be a big deal at all, just try and get there around 4pm or so and you’d have a great chance at getting a work for stay. Atlas then mentioned that he has a full-sized guitar that he’s lugged around for the entire trip. Our driver’s eyes went wide. “Are you serious? You know what, if you tell them that you have a guitar, they’ll let you stay. We do a musical skit that explains to the people staying there the rules of the hut. If you can sing a song, then you’re a shoe-in. Especially if all three of ya’ll get involved… maybe some percussion or acting or something?” I’m not usually into doing skits or whatever, but I figured if that’s what it took to stay under a roof for a night, then so be it. He dropped us off at a grocery store near a Dairy Queen, so obviously we hit up both of them. Also, while we were at Dairy Queen I saw my first Maine license plate!
We had a tough time hitching out of town but finally found a ride from a couple of local hippies blaring some Nirvana. I loved hitching into town to resupply, and then coming back to the trail and camping near the road, because it allowed me to buy things that I could eat or drink that night and not have to pack it around. My go-to was a quart of milk and a couple of peaches. We got back to the trailhead, and that’s when I noticed what we would be climbing in the morning. We stealth camped at the base of a massive climb called Webster Cliffs. It looked like I would probably need rock climbing equipment. Although I was not necessarily looking forward to that climb in the morning, we had found a wonderful campsite near a brook, where we made a nice campfire and Atlas serenaded us into the night.
In my next blog post, I’ll talk about our awful Lake of the Clouds Hut experience, Mt. Washington, getting lost in the Whites and some awesome trail magic in Gorham!
-Walk and Eat
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” -Ecclesiastes 3:11
Jimme “Walk and Eat” Jackson recently walked, ate and blogged his way through the Appalachian Trail. Check out his posts and his many awesome pics right here.
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