Throughout the pre-hike planning process and as you make your way north on the Appalachian Trail you are reminded regularly by YouTube vloggers, former thru-hikers, guide books, other resources, and reputation that the White Mountains of New Hampshire are both one of the major highlights of a thru-hike and one of the most formidable challenges – essentially, beauty and beast. With this background in mind, I finally entered the “Whites” this week. The anticipation was one of the major reasons I found the entry into Hanover to be somewhat of an emotional experience.
At the end of this week I was neither disappointed nor surprised by what I found – the hiking was (and is) tough – definitely harder than anything else we have done (although the stretch of vertical climbs/descents in southern New York was a foretaste even if the elevation was considerably less than one finds in the White Mountains). The climbs up the major mountains were long and tough – requiring multiple-hour efforts, some clever hand over hand work, and some tricky rock surfaces. If there was a surprise it was Mt. Garfield – a very vertical climb and descent with seemingly more large, angular rocks requiring a slower pace to maneuver through and up – and even more so coming down, where at one point the trail was also a stream. As promised, the Whites can be a beast. In fact, somehow my 61year-old body has avoided serious injury as well as muscle or joint pain, but the steep descents have left me with some modest knee pain on my right side.
There is beauty as well though. While we have had too many afternoon thunderstorms lately, I did enjoy much better than average weather in probably the two, best-known areas of mountain beauty – Franconia Ridge (on many writers list of the most beautiful hikes in America (if not the world) and the first half of the “Presidentials” (a series of peaks in the White Mountains named after U.S. presidents and other famous Americans). In addition to the mountaintop and ridge top views, there have been waterfalls, mountain streams, geologic features and much other natural beauty.
I don’t think words can do justice to the beauty and while (like pictures of the Grand Canyon) photos do not properly capture the amazing scenes, there are photographs that accompany this post to help exhibit the beauty of the Whites. (And there are videos of many of the scenes of Franconia Ridge, the southern Presidentials, and other great scenes at my YouTube channel).
Early in the week I had some great “trail magic.” As I walked into a shelter site to complete my 15 miles for the day and setup my tent, a man and his daughter asked: would you like a cold beer or Coke. Obviously, I thought he was kidding but I noticed that the only other person present was holding a beer bottle, so it quickly became apparent that magic had arrived. After enjoying a cold beverage they pulled out bacon, double cheeseburgers, chocolate eclairs, watermelon and chocolate milk. Because there were only three hikers present, we had to have multiple treats – it would not have been right to disappoint these trail angels. (Interesting fact: the trail Angels were father-daughter. They had completed a thru-hike in 2015 – the daughter was ten years of age at the time!)
This week concluded at a mountain hut (Lake of the Clouds, located just below the summit of Mt. Washington) maintained and serviced by the Appalachian Mountain Club where upwards to 100 people stay in bunks and are provided dinner and breakfast. Thru-hikers often have a chance to stay at these huts on a “work-for-stay” basis – for an hour of work (sweeping the floor, washing dishes, etc.) a few hikers each night can sleep on the floor and have dinner (after the paying guests are finished). I was able to do this the ending before I finished the climb to Mt. Washington.
Next week – over Mt. Washington, finish the White Mountains, and onto Maine.
Last modified: August 14, 2018