Day 50: Lincoln, NH to Garfield Ridge Shelter (10.2 mi)
I didn’t really sleep in like I wanted, But lazed around in bed for a while. We went downstairs to the continental breakfast and had a bagel with vegan cream cheese (I had bought some at the farmer’s market store yesterday). Last night while doing laundry we did more of a pack shake down to make sure we weren’t carrying weight we didn’t need through the White Mountains. We filled a box full of stuff we decided to send back to Cindy’s house to use for the second half of our trip.
It was a rainy morning so we decided to really take our time leaving so we could get on trail after the rain. Today would be our biggest day of climbing out of Franconia Notch and up onto Franconia Ridge. The next three days look like they will be great weather, with temps getting into the upper 80s, but the weather changes here quickly. We lucked out majorly yesterday and avoided all the rain when it was supposed to pour on us.
The rain let up so we packed up our room quickly. We hitched a ride with two other hikers (Hummingbird and Scrapbook), and got to the trailhead at about 10:30 am. We still had 1 mile to hike on a blue blaze connector trail to get to the AT.
The first few miles up our ascent were wet because the rain had caused streams in the trail. Luckily though, it was not raining on us. The climb was long. Very long. We messed up our routine by eating the continental breakfast instead of our breakfast smoothies so we were a little dehydrated. I was loving the feel of my brand new Hydrapak hydration system!
We took a much needed break at the campsite at the top of the main climb and filled up with water. We met another flip flopper, Recall, and a section hiker, both older-ish men.
We finally got to the ridge and we were in and out of cloud coverage. The foggy summit was really cool and beautiful in its own sense. Then the sun came out more and more and we kept getting more views all around us! It was spectacular! We were having so much fun and took a lot of pictures up on the ridge.
The descent on the north face of Mt. Lafayette (the third and last summit of Franconia Ridge) was steep and difficult. It lasted quite a long time also. I slipped and fell at one point, ugh.
Then we climbed Mt. Garfield and I was able to give a strong effort up that climb. It wasn’t too technical and I could push pretty hard up. The shelter was only about halfway down the descent, which wasn’t too technical either. Both sides of Mt. Garfield were steep and rocky, but manageable.
When we arrived at the shelter it was a total zoo. There was a caretaker running around and said there were 70 people tenting and sleeping in the shelter area! There was a camp group, a large group of weekend hikers as well as section and thru hikers. We set up in the shelter and went to the food area where we made Daiya mac’n’chz (which I will be glad to never have again once off trail!). Just as we were in the middle of trying to boil water, our fuel ran out!! I asked if we could borrow any fuel from anyone and a weekender gave us his fuel because he was done with it and getting off trail tomorrow. He has only boiled water in it once! What a savior!
As we were eating dinner we were sort of observing a camp group from the periphery and I had a very strong feeling that the group was from Camp Glen Brook (the Waldorf affiliated summer camp in NH I worked at from ages 18-20). I just had a feeling. The lingo being used was all so familiar but could very easily be any Mew England camp. Finally, I asked if they were Camp Glen Brook and they said YES! They were the falcon group (15 year olds) and one of the girls (the one making dinner), Jera, remembered me! She was “nurse Katy’s” daughter and was 3-5 years old when I was there! She said she remembered me and that she has seen me in pictures and thought she recognized me while she was cooking beans and rice for the whole group. I couldn’t believe it! It was so fun to talk with them and see Jera as an adolescent. It warmed my heart and filled my bucket.
The 2 bear boxes for such a crowd were TOTALLY full, but somehow Fresh Feet fit our food in there. The shelter was super crowded but ear plugs saved me from the snore fest. We got to bed a bit late, but great day overall!
I LOVED the Franconia Ridge and think it is my favorite part of the AT!
Day 51: Garfield Ridge Shelter to Stealth camping at US route 302 (17.5 mi)
We got a pretty early start today, up at 5:30 and on trail by 6:30. The very beginning of our hike was a very steep and technical downhill nicknamed “the waterfall” (for obvious reasons). So we trudged through the waterfall/trail with soaking wet feet and I even had to sit down and use my hands to get down a section so my butt and bottom of pack got totally soaked. I just kept telling myself it was better to be wet than to slip and fall.
After the descent and some flat-ish parts we arrived at Galehead Hut and took a quick break with some other hikers. We met another girl flip flopping named Noodle and a NoBo guy named Crockett. Fresh Feet panicked that he had left our tent poles at a campsite a few days ago. He emptied out his bag and lo and behold found the tent poles - PHEW!
We began the very steep 1 mile climb up South Twin Mountain, but it wasn’t too technical and I could walk without using my hands most of the way. The summit was in a cloud and the ridge walk after was pretty cloudy and rocky/swampy. I would argue that NH has more mud than VT!
We got to Zeacliff overlook and took a quick break and checked the weather as it was our only spot for cell service for a long time. Fresh Feet also checked his text messages as he is very anxiously/excitedly awaiting to hear from his cousins who are planning on meeting us out here (but have been pretty stealth about their plans or whereabouts).
We descended off the ridge to Zealand Falls hut where we planned to make afternoon smoothies and take a longer break. The descent wasn’t too tricky, but it was sort of steep and rocky and my knees were starting to hurt from all the descending. I chatted with a very curious tourist family about what I was doing and finally got to the hut.
When I got there, Fresh Feet told me that one of his college friends, Val, had tracked us on our GPS tracker and blog and had come to the hut bearing fruit and cheer! It was such a total surprise to see her at the hut and she had cold watermelon and strawberries which totally hit the spot! I don’t know if I’ve ever had so much watermelon in my life! It was so perfectly juicy and sweet. It was so fun to chat with her and I couldn’t believe she was able to figure out when and where we would be so easily from tracking us, but she is from Gorham, NH, so she is quite familiar with the area. She then offered to take out our trash, which is always such a nice treat - especially because we had the empty fuel canister and the presidential ridge tomorrow.
We left Zealand Falls Hut with full hearts and very full bellies. To our surprise the trail was SO EASY for about 3 miles. Totally runnable, but we were both too ful from our fruit buffet and smoothies, but we covered ground quickly. We took a nice break with our shoes off and dried out our wrinkly feet and put on fresh socks.
Then the last two miles to Ethan Pond Shelter (where we had planned on staying) were a total swamp/marsh/wet/mud pit/boardwalk disaster. I ended up getting both shoes/socks totally soaked.
We got to Ethan Pond Shelter and decided we wanted to push on. It was 5:10 pm and the terrain had been relatively easy and the weather was good, so why not make as much forward progress as possible before hitting the presidential range? At the turn off to the shelter, Jamie dropped his pack and went the quarter mile down to the shelter to check and see if his cousins were there. I waited with the packs on trail and snacked. He came back shaking his head and exclaiming how extra depleted he was energetically because of all the anticipation he has held all day about maybe getting to see them on trail. Each time he heard voices or saw other hikers he wondered if it was the cousins.
We descended down 3 miles to the road where there was a stealth site right before the footbridge over a shallow river at the base of a huge mountain we have to climb tomorrow. Jamie hiked up trail a quarter mile to a spring to fetch drinking water and I bathed and washed a few items in the river. When he came back I made dinner while he washed up. We had tofu scramble burritos in the rest of our tortillas on the little footbridge - the ledge was a nice bench (beats soggy log sitting by our tent). Another hiker we have been leap frogging with, Roadkill, arrived and set up camp with us in the stealth area. Tomorrow he will try to summit Mt. Washington because it is only 12.4 miles away and the weather looks perfectly clear for tomorrow. The weather seems iffy the next day, so we may summit tomorrow as well if we are feeling good and making ok time. The weather is tricky up there and can change extremely quickly, so we will need to capitalize on good weather. Mt. Washington is famous for having the worst weather in America. However, we don’t want to rush through the White Mountains because being up on the ridge has been both of our favorite part of the whole AT so far.
Day 52: Stealth camping at US route 302 to Lakes of the Cloud Hut (10.5 mi)
We started the day with a big climb up Mt. Webster. It was a bit scrambly at the top and was quite windy. We skirted around the side of it and got some excellent views and summited Mt. Jackson, which had a large rocky outcrop area on top. We then walked for a few miles in a very marshy area with a lot of rock hopping over mud pits and boardwalks. We finally arrived at Mizpah Hut where we relaxed for lunch. I was very tired and just didn’t have much energy today.
We pushed to Lakes of the Cloud Hut along a ridge and had wonderful views, not much wind at all and a lot of sun. It was actually pretty hot and I got a little sunburned on my arms.
Once we arrived at Lakes of the Cloud Hut we saw Sawyer and Elizabeth!!! (Jamie’s cousins, who hiked out here to hike with us for about a week or so). It was so exciting to see them!
We hung out at the hut area and Fresh Feet and I were able to sign up for “work for stay.” The AMC has a program with the huts in which thru hikers help the hut croo with miscellaneous chores after they serve dinner to the guests in exchange for a floor spot in the dining room and leftover dinner. Work-for-stay is pretty coveted and many people don’t get to do it, but I had been chatting with the previous hut croos about their vegan baked goods and they said that a croo member, Amanda, at Lakes of the Clouds Hut is vegan and she came up with some of their vegan recipes. I made the Amanda-vegan connection upon arriving at the most popular of the huts and Amanda begged the hut master to let us stay for Work-For-Stay even though it wasn’t quite 4:00 (it was 3:54!). They let us because we bonded over being vegan, which was great because the other option was pay $10 to stay in the rat infested “dungeon” (our buddy Roadkill got there a little later and had to do that!). Sleeping at the summit would have been very cold and windy and the only option was below the railroad tracks, which didn’t really seem like a good option.
The options for camping above tree line are pretty limited considering the weather could turn at any moment. We are right at the base of Mt. Washington so we will summit first thing in the morning and walk along the presidential ridge, which is known to be quite technical and a lot of scrambling, but spectacular if there is good weather. Tomorrow’s forecast is calling for light rain in the morning and risk of thunder storms around 2:00 pm. Not ideal.
Leftover dinner was a lot later than we had anticipated (8:30 pm ish?) but it was absolutely delicious! So many vegan options - thanks Amanda!
The only issue was the “work” part started at 9:00 instead of 8:00, so we weren’t finished until close to 10:00 pm. Fresh Feet and I washed dishes. There were 4 jobs (clean the stove, two people to wash dishes, and clean the freezer in the basement by “the dungeon.” Work-For-Stay isn’t finished until all the jobs are done so we had to go down and help Tar with the freezer job at the end.
We set up our sleeping pads and bags on the floor of the dining room and got decent sleep considering how late we went to bed.
Day 53: Lakes of the Cloud Hut to Osgood Tentsite (10.7 mi)
We woke up in the dining room of the hut at about 5:10 am and packed up our belongings. We left and were on trail by 6:40 am with the two cousins! Sawyer’s trail name became “Squeeze” (like the water filter) and Elizabeth’s trail name was “El” or “Eleven” (Stranger Things reference).
The 1.4 mile rocky climb to the Mt. Washington summit was relatively easy and quick. We had great visibility the whole way up and when we got to the summit we had the entire summit to ourselves, which is a complete rarity. Usually the summit is full of tourists who drive up from the auto road or take the train up. I have heard stories of long lines just to take your picture with the summit sign at the top. We also not only had the summit to ourselves, but we had total visibility and clear skies! It was pretty remarkable because the summit of Mt. Washington is famous for being in a cloud about 362 of the 365 days of the year. We kept saying it looked like Mordor in LOTR because the top was always in a dark cloud when we looked back at it the rest of the day, and it was a total lifeless boulder field. We got so incredibly lucky to get up there before any clouds came in.
Mt. Washington has extremely unique weather patterns and it can be extremely dangerous. To have good weather on the summit is almost unheard of. We were pretty happy to start our day out this way! It was rather windy though, with the wind speed being 34 mph, so we didn’t hang out too long up there. We needed to walk across the entire ridge, summit Mt. Madison and get down from that mountain before the thunderstorms rolled through (which was predicted to be 2:00 pm.)
The beginning of our ridge walk was so incredibly windy. It was blowing my poles over and causing me to fall. we endured such strong winds for an hour or two. We looked back and the summit of Mt. Washington was already back in its cloud for the day.
We took a short break on a big rock out of the wind to eat some snacks mid morning.
We arrived at Madison hut (7 mi from Lakes of the Clouds) and we got to eat the leftover oatmeal from breakfast. It hit the spot! We did a little shake out of El’s backpack and redistributed some of her weight primarily to Fresh Feet.
Mt. Madison summit was only 0.5 mi from the hut, but it was PA rock jumbles all over again. We had a total boulder field for the next 2.5 miles down Mt. Madison and along the ridge as well, so we weren’t moving too quickly.
We finally got below treelike before any weather had come in, and had a long steep descent to a campground. We ate snacks and had smoothies and decided to push on another two miles now that the terrain was easy. Just as we were tightening the straps of our packs we heard thunder and decided the safest and more fun thing would probably be to set up at the campsite instead of push on and get totally wet. We set up our tent on a platform for the first time and Squeeze and El set up their hammocks. The storm blew in after we set up, so nothing got wet!! The rain was light and didn’t last long either.
We made dinner and hung out for the evening.
Day 54: Osgood Tentsite to Pinkham Notch (4.8 mi) Near-o day
We slept in a little, it didn’t rain overnight so rain fly was totally dry by morning. The walk to Pinkham Notch Visitor Center was SO gentle and easy compared with what we have been dealing with. It flew by and we did it in pretty much one stretch.
We got to Squeeze’s car and had no cell service so we couldn’t load a map for directions to get to Alex Ziko’s house (friend of Jamie’s from college). We picked a direction and headed to Gorham. When we got there (about 35 min drive), we realized Alex’s house was the other direction! We turned around and headed towards the tiny mountain town of Jackson, NH.
We got to his house mid morning and he was at work, so we did all our “town chores.” We planned out the next section (which we changed from 4 days to 5 days), showered, charged devices, hung out our tent to dry, washed camp dishes, and did laundry. Then we went to North Conway for lunch at the Local Grocery which was DELICIOUS! It was a natural foods grocery store with a yoga studio and cafe attached. The cafe had so many delicious vegan options! We ate a bunch and then headed to IME and EMS to look for new shoes for Fresh Feet. Yesterday, 0.6 mi from Osgood Tentsite, he stepped on one of many jagged rocks and the bottom of his shoe broke in a way I’ve never seen before. He called Hoka and they will replace the shoes, but he needs something in the meantime. He finally settled on getting the Brooks Cascadia 12 trail runners (same exact shoes I am wearing). The options were a bit limited, so this was the best he could do.
We then met up with Ziko for dinner in town at a pizza spot that had a vegan pie! Fresh Feet and I polished off a large vegan pizza and it hit the spot. We had a good time catching up with Alex for dinner as well.
Then we headed back to Ziko’s house and did a thorough pack shake out with Elizabeth & Sawyer. Then we got the maps out and made a plan for them so they could still hike with us, but skip the Wildcat climb and Carter Notch section.
We visited with Alex, and went to sleep in a bed with sheets and a pillow! Yay!