A Rude Awakening: The White Mountains part 1

August 9, 2018

Day 48: Jeffers Brook Shelter to Eliza Brook Shelter (16 mi)


Omg. Today was my toughest day yet! There were so many layers that made today hard, tense, and pushed me to my limits.


I woke up at 5:00 am and got ready in the shelter before all the dudes began to stir. Lucky me, I started my period! Uggggh! AND it started to rain! Today was supposed to be totally clear. It was light rain, but enough to make everything slippery. I waited around until the rain let up, and left around 7:15 am.


About 10 minutes into my walk my cramps hit me hard. I took aleve, but I knew it was too late. This climb was long, but the north side (our descent) was the treacherous part.


The climb was supposed to be the easy part! I struggled so much early on in the climb because I was dealing with so much pain from my cramps. I was just barely putting one foot in front of the other, sternum strap cinched and no hip belt.


I took a break while two other hikers were getting water at a stream crossing, just to not be alone in my misery. I cried a little as I sat there in pain and discomfort knowing there was no bail out.


I pushed on, up the very steep and rocky path. Eventually, Fresh Feet came back without his pack and offered to carry my pack for a little until we got to where he dropped his pack. It was a solid 5-10 minutes of easy walking without my pack, and it did help. At this point the aleve may have been kicking in some because I felt a little bit stronger and was in less pain, but still couldn’t use my hip belt (which pressed on my uterus in the most uncomfortable way imaginable!).


Fresh Feet took a little bit of my pack weight in his pack until we got near the summit, when I took it back because I was feeling better. The cramps came and went in waves and I was starting to feel good toward the top.


Mt. Moosilauke is a GIANT hill. Very long and steep up and very long and steep down. By far the biggest climb/descent we have had thus far. The summit sits at nearly 5k feet high (tree line is at about 4,200 ft high) and has grassy fields on top. Unfortunately, we hit the summit in a total cloud (again), so no view for us, BUT AT LEAST IT WASNT RAINING! And the clouds added an eerie ambiance that was fun in its own way. The winds at the summit were so strong they were pushing both of us around and it was very tough to walk with such intense and strong winds. I had no interest in spending any time at the top because I knew if I stopped even for a little bit I would get cold extremely quickly. The temps were chilly and the wind was ferocious.

We finally ducked down into the forest again and were shielded from the wind, but the long and tricky descent was still to come. We descended for 2 miles before it supposedly got “hard.” I thought those first 2 miles were tough! The rocks were very slippery and I was slipping a lot and had to take it slowly and cautiously. We took a break on trail where there was a sign for Beaver Brook Shelter. We didn’t have extra energy to go 0.3 mi off trail to the shelter to sit on a dry log to eat our snacks, so opted for the wet rock on trail.

After this spot, the descent got real. I can barely even describe it because I have subconsciously suppressed the memory of this part of the traumatic descent. It was terrifying for me. Absolutely terrifying. I was so tense the entire time, barely putting one foot in front of the other. The rocks were so steep, long, slippery and right on the edge of a rushing waterfall the entire way. I think the sound and proximity of the gushing waterfalls created an extra layer of stress and anxiety that lingered in the background causing my full body to be tense. It took us so long to get down. There was a moment where I just didn’t even know if I could go on. I know I didn’t have a choice, but I sat down for a little bit and just froze.


Once we were down, we got water for smoothies and ate snacks and took a break, but it was 3:00 pm and we had only covered 8.4 miles! We still had 7.6 to go! Now I understand why most people do 10-14 miles in the Whites. Everyone’s pace is just dramatically slower out here.


We pressed on, knowing it was going to be a very long afternoon. The elevation profile didn’t look that tough, but the terrain was anything but easy. There were not two steps in a row that I could take normally. Literally every single step was off camber and involved some sort of obstacle. The flatter sections are sometimes more difficult than the mountains due to the mud pits, root and rock jumbles and miscellaneous other toe traps.


About 5 minutes into the climbing after we had descended Moosilauke I belly flopped on a boulder. I think I had relaxed slightly since we were done with the hard part of the day and my toe caught a root and sent me flying forward and I landed on my belly on a boulder with both legs hanging in the air and both arms not able to touch the ground. Once the momentum had me going forward the weight of the pack made it impossible to stop it from happening. The fall really shook me up. I felt like puking and I started to really sob. I was so shaky.


I finally started to walk again, trepidatiously, and slowly made forward progress. I slipped and fell a SECOND time, and was pretty shaken up from it and the tears came out again. This was going to be such a long day. My progress was just so slow and emotionally I was rocked. My cramps were coming back and the aleve was wearing off. I took more aleve, and grappled with the fact that we still had 5 miles to go and it was 5:00 pm already. Everything seems to take twice as long in NH.


I finally started to feel some strength and confidence come back and was able to make a good effort and push up Mt. Wolf. Uphill climbing is my friend out here. Maybe because I’m much less likely to fall and I can relax and push myself harder with more rhythm and comfort.


It was starting to get dark and we still had a ways to go. The terrain started to get a little more gentle and I was able to walk the last 1-2 miles more quickly and confidently.


We got to camp at 8:10 pm. It was dark and the shelter was full. We were expecting rain beginning at midnight and lasting throughout the day tomorrow. We did our camp chores in the dark with headlamps as fast as we could. No time to rinse in the brook so I used a wipe to half clean my muddy self.


Once we were laying in the tent I let it all out. I had a good cry. I was so tense so much of the day that my body needed an outlet and it all came out in tears. I think the high cortisol levels (stress hormone) from persistent sheer terror highly effected my nervous system today.


I was finally able to go to sleep but it was 10:30 pm and I needed to get an early start. The rain forecast for tomorrow looked like light rain possible in the morning, with heavier rains and possible thunder storms in the late morning/afternoon. The first 4 miles of tomorrow would be the Mt. Kinsman peaks and I had heard they were hard and required some scrambling. We were much advised not to do these mountains in the rain, but we didn’t really have a choice. Mt. Kinsman was going to be our first introduction to what the rest of the white mountains would be like at the top; rock scrambles up and down and not to be done in the rain.


Day 49: Eliza Brook Shelter to Lincoln, NH (9 mi)


I woke up and heard the nearby brook and assumed it was raining and asked Jamie for his umbrella to go pee. He brought to my attention that it wasn’t raining! We had been expecting rain since midnight and throughout the morning with potential thunderstorms in the afternoon. I was elated that it wasn’t raining, but we didn’t have service to check the weather to see any updates on when it would rain. 


Still got an early start and I was on trail by 6:30 am. I knew South Kinsman would be a tough climb and descent, and would be an example of what is to come for the rest of the white mountains. I was a bit traumatized from yesterday still and felt the need to cover as much easy ground as possible in case it started raining and I needed to take the hard parts extra slow.


I pushed up the early part of the climb quickly. I felt good. It began to get pretty technical with about 1.3 miles left to the summit. It involved a lot of poles in one hand to better scramble. I didn’t put them away because I was using them quite a bit as well. I also got pretty accustomed to using the trees and roots to climb on.


Finally, I made it to the summit and we were in a total white out cloud, which was cool in its own sense, although no remarkable views (which is what this mountain is known for). We then continued to the descent, which was also quite challenging and involved a lot of the same moves as the ascent.


We made it all the way down with NO RAIN! Yes!


We stopped at Lonesome Lake hut JUST as we felt a few drops fall on us and went in and asked for some water. We ended up drinking our afternoon Soylents, Fresh Feet got a coffee, and we chatted with one of the croo members, Eddie. He explained how the hut systems in NH work a bit more and that we would have vegan fare to look forward to at Lakes of the Cloud Hut in a few days.


As we finished our smoothies, the rain let up completely and we pushed on for the remaining 3 miles. It was a MUCH gentler descent and easier trail than anything else we’ve had since entering NH. Some of it was runnable! The river crossings involved some tricky stone hopping, but I made it across with dry feet and not too much hesitation (improvement!)


We got to the interstate and had to walk 1 mile off trail on a bike path to a visitor’s center parking lot in hopes of hitching a ride into town. We got a ride without too much waiting from a nice local couple.


We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express which felt like absolute luxury. After we showered, we walked to The Purple Tomato (the farmer’s market store) and got delicious vegan sandwiches, kombucha and other snacks. Headed next door to the post office and got our boxes (thank you JODI AND ERIC! Omg yummy small amounts of dried fruit, vegan cookies, cards for each of us, and gummie bears - SO THOUGHTFUL!!) I also got a new water resovoir and hose systems or free from Hydrapak, as well as some other replacement odds and ends from Amazon.


Later we went to dinner at the Gypsy Cafe, which had an entire vegan dinner menu! We ran into Grandma Shorty and Plod Along there. They are such a nice couple and it made us so happy to see them! Fresh Feet and I shared the veggie potstickers, kale salad and a coconut cream linguine with tofu. We were stuffed!


Afterwards we went across the street to a brewery, Jamie got a beer and pretzel bites and I caught up a little on the blog (which is so hard to keep up with after such long days and such infrequent cell service these days)! We listened to a musician play, which was a nice sound treat!

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