Thursday, August 23, 2012

Appalachian Dreams - Part II

Cascade Brook
By the time my Lonesome Lake dinner ended so had the rain. I ambled down the Cascade Brook Trail on my way to the notch. I got mixed up a couple times on which way to go because everything along the river looked like a trail. It was stunning how much of this area still showed signs of the devastation from Hurricane Irene. Even one year later, the rocks and dirt lining the brook looked like they’d been scoured clean by a torrential flood. One section was missing a bridge that had simply been wiped out by the fast flowing wave of debris. Still amazed by the awesome power of nature I reached the base of Mt. Liberty - my final climb of the day.

The front that had moved through had brought noticeably cooler temps. I was grateful for this on my last, brutal, 2 1/2 mile climb out of Franconia Notch to the Liberty Springs tentsite. The seemingly never ending trail eventually did and I pulled into my final pit-stop at about 6:30 pm. 12 ½ hours after I started. Not bad for a 27 mile hike! I found an open tent platform, changed out of my wet hiking gear and set about putting up my hammock. It went up surprisingly fast and even more surprisingly didn’t come crashing down when I climbed into it. I ate a couple pumpkin cookies that I bought at the hut, drank my recovery shake and settled in for the night. A very LONG night!

Franconia Notch
Apparently, in addition to the hammock, I should have also brought a sleeping bag or, at the very least, some sort of pad that would have insulated me from the shock of the 40 degree temps that are found, at night, at 4000 feet above sea level.  Despite putting on every stitch of dry clothing I had, the air (which constantly circulated around my now suspended body) chilled me to the core - leaving me shivering and teeth chattering. Sadly there was no sleep to be had this night. As every hour I was forced to get up and do jumping jacks just to get the blood flowing again!

It was during an hourly “walk-about” that a head stuck out of a nearby tent. And, instead of yelling at me for disturbing its slumber (which I fully expected) it offered me some spare pieces of clothing (a jacket and some wind pants) to use to line the bottom of my hammock. I thanked it profusely. Or, at least I think I did. Who knows what kind of words came out of my frozen and quivering lips! I returned to my ice palace with the new “liners” in place. It wasn’t ideal, but at least it took the edge off. Nevertheless, it was still a very miserable evening below ridgeline.

Ruins on Lafayette
Later that morning, when the dawning sun spared just enough light to see, I decided if I wasn’t going to sleep I might as well hike. So, I packed up camp and returned the borrowed clothing. The lender must have had the same idea as he was also up and about. We chatted a bit before I hit the trail and it turns out he was a thru-hiker too. He’d finished half the AT last year and came back again this year to complete the route. I wished him well, thanked him again for his offering (this time in a clear and decipherable voice) and headed to the ridge. It was 5:30am.

One of the fun things about being first on the trail is that you get to clean up ALL the spider webs that had been spun the night before – with your face! And, since I’m typically an early riser, it happened so many times over the course of the trip that it was like I had a permanent hair net. The ridge run was a blur and by 7:30am I had crested Lafayette (sigh, another high peak covered in clouds) and headed back down to one of my least favorite portions of the AT - the 6.6 mile (ha!) Garfield Ridge “trail” to Galehead Hut.

Top of South Twin
As noted previously here this section of trail is LONG, wet and full of PUD’s (pointless ups and downs) so I won’t belabor the point this time around. Eventually I found my way down this river of a trail to Galehead Hut, gratefully dropped my pack on the front porch and ducked inside for some lunch. It was 11:00am. When I returned, soup in hand, I started up a conversation with a hiker who looked like someone had just run over his puppy. He was pouring over a “Thru-Hikers Guide to the AT” looking for someway around the .8 mile section of hell we both would tackle next!

The forlorn thru-hiker had started in Georgia in March but was having a rough go of it now that he’d reached the White Mountains. He was from Great Britain and was “completely unprepared” (his words) for what the trails of New Hampshire were dishing out. And, the fact that he was carrying a 40+ pound pack didn’t help matters much. I tried to encourage him the best I could but he remained much the broken man when I departed for South Twin. I sure do hope he made it!

Clouds Lifting
The trail from Galehead to the summit of South Twin is one of the toughest 8/10th of a mile of trail I’ve ever done. In that short distance the elevation gain is approximately 1500 feet. That’s a 35% gradient – straight up! That being said, I’d much prefer to climb it then descend it – having done each twice. So, after my lunch break at the hut, I summoned the strength to hammer this section and found myself at the top in less than a half hour! With the smooth and flowy Twinway Trail ahead, I had a newfound spring in my step as I motored on towards Zealand Falls.

At this point, as if on cue, the clouds started to give way and I was granted my first real views of the trip. The entire Pemigewasset Wilderness opened before me like a storybook and I could see across Owl’s Head to the Franconia Ridge where I’d been just a few short hours before. As I turned left and headed over Mt. Guyot I bid a fond farewell to Franconia Notch and set my sights on Crawford Notch and the Ethan Pond campsite.

Pemi Wilderness
By the time I reached the Zealand Falls Hut I was getting pretty tired. I had logged 19 miles for the day and 46 miles since I last slept. It was 3pm and I was ready for bed. So, I made the decision that instead of pushing on another 5 miles through to Ethan Pond (as originally planned) for potentially another disastrous night’s sleep (or, god forbid, another 13 more miles to Mizpah) I’d “suck it up” and stay at Zealand for the night. I was the best decision I made all trip!

Zealand Falls is one of only two huts in the AMC system that I’d never stayed at before – with Lonesome Lake being the other. So, I was very relieved when the hutmaster told me he had one bed remaining and it was mine, if I wanted it. I gladly paid the man, shucked off my wet gear and settled into my tippy-top bunk (in no time flat) for some much needed shut eye. The dinner bell woke me some two hours later and I hobbled over to my place at the family-style table for some food and face-time with my fellow hut mates.

Relaxing at Zealand Falls
The gentleman directly across from me at the table was yet another thru hiker who (like me) had decided to splurge on the comfort of the hut. He had also recently come to an even bigger decision. He was going to leave the trail before completing his journey. Like many others, he had started in Georgia in early March and was just too beat up to continue - having just taken a nasty fall at North Kinsman. His plan was to grab his car, which I gathered was close by (for some reason), and drive up to Maine. He would summit Katahdin as his way to cap off the trip then drive back home to Pennsylvania. He seemed at peace with his decision, but I couldn’t help but think, “Man up! You’re just ONE state away”!

The evening was spent hanging out by the Falls and listening to a talk given by three “work-for-stay” thru-hiking women who were discussing the how’s, what’s and why’s of their respective AT experiences. They hadn’t known each other prior to starting at Springer, but somehow came together at some point along the trail and hiked as one ever since. With so many hikers and so many stories, my head was spinning in a sea of information. I ambled off to bed early knowing that I’d have to make up some ground in order to reach the Osgood tentsite (some 26 miles away) by the following night!

Zealand Notch
The following morning I was up early (as usual) and, although it pained me to miss my hut-style breakfast, I knew I couldn’t wait until 7:30am to start my “marathon” day. So, I wisely hit the trail promptly at 5:00am (headlamp on) and made my way over the route I had originally planned to cover the previous afternoon. Thankfully the Ethan Pond Trail was an easy go, and the first 6 miles went quickly. I hit Route 302 at 7:30. I was back on track!

Climbing the switchbacks out of Crawford Notch to the summit of Mt. Webster gave me pause, but I reached Mizpah Hut by 11:00. With clear skies ahead, and the possibility of some fantastic views on the ridge, I had a quick lunch and was back on the trail in a flash. I excitedly scrambled up Mt. Pierce and past tree-line for the first time all day. And what I saw when I reached the top took my breath away! Literally.

View North From Pierce

No comments:

Post a Comment