Life in the Whites

 The “Moose” was behind us and our conquest of the White Mountains had begun! Mark and I hitched into town and took advantage of the decadent offerings of North Woodstock. We drank much beer and ate Little Debbies by the box. As we gorged in front of the store, we met a couple in their 60s who had been bicycling cross country. Mark and I were amazed at their adventure as much as they were of ours. We were in familiar territory, our stomping grounds. Just up the Trail a piece was Gordon Pond, our “training camp”. Mark and I spent many weekends on that modest little beaver pond building our backwoods experience. Yepper buddy, our old friends, the Whites, were all around us now and we celebrated their existence with Budweiser!

    Everything changed when we hit the Whites. The biggest change was the weather. It got cold, especially at night. Much of the hiking was above the treeline so the wind was always a factor. The terrain was sometimes grueling and always exhausting. Below the treeline, the forest just off the path was impossibly dense with scuffy pines. Ahh, but the views were outstanding. The White Mountains are beautiful as well as imposing and every turn in the Trail offered sweeping vistas of this wilderness. Another feature of this region was the AMC’s Hut System.

     The Appalachian Mountain Club’s network of huts are nestled in the mountains along the vast selection of hiking trails. Some of these huts are located in extremely remote locations requiring all the supplies to be hiked in by the croo using HUGE backpacks. If one were so inclined, a week long trek in the Whites could be made with just a day pack! Hopping from hut to hut is expensive but still a value! Back in Massachussetts we stayed at Bascom Lodge on Greylock, the first AMC hut going north. The “croo” sent a messege to the huts ahead espousing our greatness as “hired help”. We utilized this valuable recommendation and worked at three more huts as we hiked the Whites. We always had a great time when we stayed at a hut. Lonesome Lake Hut was no exception.

   After the grind up Kinsman, it was just a short downhill through the thick woods to Lonesome Lake. After signing on to the croo and having the obligatory hiker gorge of candy bars, we went to work on the water pump. It was pouring out when we huddled around the malfuntioning device. After sealing up a couple of leaks and starting the pump to flow, the water system was up and running for a few hours anyway. We helped with the cooking, the dishes and, in the morning, sweeping out the rooms. We were well fed and clean when we continued through the White Mountains.

    A walk above the treeline is always a treat. 360 degrees of eye popping views made walking difficult as the feet stumble along without visual guidance. More than once I hit the Trail after being tripped up by an unseen rock as I gawked like a tourist at the vista before me. Falling is a fact of life on the AT and also a source of entertainment. Mark and I even kept score with a game we called “Stumble”. We established a point system based on the severity of the fall. Ultimately, Mark won as I was always tripping over something. Looking back on the entire expedition, it is hard to believe neither one of us broke any bones!

     The Trail to Galehead Hut was pretty strenuous. At times we had to scramble on our hands and knees over the rocks. Mt. Lafayette provided magnificent views of Franconia Notch and the Pemigewassett Wilderness. We got to Galehead, ate heartily, worked diligently and later, slept fitfully! The next day we were back on the Trail and enjoying the Zealcliffs. We strolled into the camp at Ethan Pond early so we acted like lazy white trash and hung out at the shelter.

    The AMC also supervised a system of caretakers throughout the Whites. They could be found at many of the campsites in the White Mountains. These mostly young folks lived at the camp spots and collected fees from the hikers. They also helped to maintain the trails and sites. They are a spirited bunch that made the most of their lifestyle. It seemed to me they were having the time of their lives. It was the end of the season for these caretakers and we got showered with leftover food they didn’t want to pack out. The local chipmunk family ate as well as Mark and I did that evening. I watched as one chipper stuffed 5 peanut M+Ms in its mouth!

     The next hut we stayed at was “Lake of the Clouds”. It is also known among the hikers as “Lake of the Crowds”. The night we stayed, the hut was hosting orientation for a flock of college chicks. Yow…! We nailed a spot on the crew and got to work serving those very girls (food). It was a good thing the shower ran cold that evening, yeah buddy.

   There was rime ice starting to form on the rocks as we approached Mt. Washington. Mark and I have been here before and we were familiar with this mountain and its reputation for bad weather. The ice in August along with the unexpected wind blast made for some spectacular tumbles. Again, no broken bones! At the summit we browsed through the “observation gift shop”, ate some candybars, mailed letters from the mountaintop Post Office (postmarking the letters “Mt Washington”), and acted like a pair of pointy haired gomers! We ended up hitching a ride down the auto road and into Gorham. Mark and I decided to cut off more Trail as September was upon us and we still had all of Maine to walk. Besides, we’ve crawled all over this region before and we’d probably be back often since our homes were within 4 hours of these mountains.

…continue the expedition, read: Out of Gorham and Into Maine [link]