Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mount Washington And Beyond

Appalachian Trail, White Mountains, NH – 8/19/12 – Lake of the Clouds Hut to Valley View Campsite – 7.6 miles

Faint light through our dungeon window awakened us early.  We were out of our bunks by 6:30 a.m., washed up, prepared and ate our breakfast in the LOTC dining room.  We had a minimum of 7 miles today and expected it to be slow going, so no time to waste. 

Stepping out into the chill, we turned our faces towards the trail and stopped to marvel:  blue sky, a lacy wisp of cloud over Mount Washington....

...and a cottony blanket of clouds down over the valley.  Can you see where the name “Lake of the Clouds” comes from?

Another interpretation of "Lake of the Clouds"

The first big pile of rocks to climb today was Mount Washington, carefully choosing our footing across a boulder field with only rock cairns as guides.  I say “first” because pretty much all day was the same, above tree line navigating one boulder field after another.  The good news was the clouds dispersed for a wide-open blue sky and we could see for miles and miles in every direction…all day long.  This was quite a gift because Mount Washington is famous for having the “worst weather on earth”.  Today there wasn’t even a noticeable breeze.  For me the expansive views definitely made the rocky terrain worthwhile. 

Saying goodbye to Mount Monroe and Lake of the Clouds Hut

I took a dozen photos looking backwards as we climbed – this is Judy and Mount Monroe and a tiny LOTC

Most of the rock cairns featured a chunk of quartz larger than my head

Ugly but necessary equipment towers on Mount Washington – can you believe it was hard to get a cell phone signal?

We were ahead of most folks getting to the summit, i.e. the cog train and driving tourists had not yet arrived.  Sadly, the snack bar was also not yet cooking.  There’s a hospitable hiker lounge on the lower floor with tables and chairs, outlets for recharging things, and most importantly, bathrooms and showers.  We hung around for an hour or so waiting on sandwiches from the snack bar, threw away trash and did one last edit of pack weight, tossing out a little bit of food.  We briefly considered riding the cog railway down and back up the mountain, but the fee ($62) and the time involved made us say no.

Here the AT changes from the Crawford Path to the Gulfside Trail, more presidential summits ahead.  Overheard remark from a female hiker ahead of us:  “Next is Mount Clay?  That one must be named for those people who lost a presidential election.  Come on, let’s go climb Mount Romney!”

Standing on the cog railway tracks

Click on this photo to enlarge it and see the cog train ascending Mount Washington, with Lake of the Clouds Hut (shining roof) and Mount Monroe in the center background

The women ahead of us (the Romney joke) mooned the train as it went past, a tradition amongst AT thru-hikers and apparently anybody who feels like it.  The conductor shook his fist at them and yelled, maybe threatening to arrest them later?  How would he identify them?  Well, it is a family train…We just smiled and waved politely as it passed us.

We’re going over all those mountains

Do you see a trail?  Neither do I.

Typical character of the trail today.  Most intersections were well signed, but the only indication of trails was rock cairns leading off in different directions. 

Mount Clay – once again the AT skirted around the contours while a side trail went to the summit. 

Judy was cool with summiting Mount Washington, but the relentless boulder fields did not improve her opinion of New Hampshire as she continued to be extremely cautious and uncomfortable.  Fortunately she is very strong physically so she just sucked it up like a pro and kept going.  I felt more confident with the rock surfing than on the first day and the climbs were not as extreme, but I still didn’t want to foolishly twist an ankle.  We moved slowly enough not to get hopelessly exhausted, but as the day wore on the rocks got more challenging and we grew weary.  One mile per hour was our top speed.

During one rest stop I stepped on one of my new hiking poles and bent it, had to fiddle with it and readjust to keep the proper length.  Once you’ve bent a pole you can’t really trust it.  (Once back home I returned it to REI, walked out five minutes later with a new set of poles.) 

Huge hunk of quartz on the trail

Mount Washington over Judy’s shoulder.  From there the AT follows the ridge line in a huge semi-circle to the right, so we could see Mount Washington all day and even the following day.

A little outcropping fun near Mount Jefferson

Interesting ridge lines

Hobbit-esque patch of stunted trees near Israel Ridge

A rare AT blaze – the yellow blaze represents Gulfside Trail

Near Thunderstorm Junction – here the AT skirts the contours of Mount Sam Adams.  Some clouds were beginning to form, the hour was getting later and we were ready to be done but still had a couple of miles to go.  A few thru-hikers passed us, mostly young guys moving at high speed, not what you want to see at the end of a tiring day.  Our goal was to score two guest bunks for the night at Madison Hut, our only hope since they don’t have emergency shelter like LOTC does.

Madison Hut at last – and Mount Madison, the rock pile behind it, which we will have to deal with in the morning

No room at the inn for us, but we got to say hello to some fellow travelers we’d met at LOTC.  So what are our options?  A campsite about a half-mile down the Valley View Trail…down meaning straight down, steeply down, ridiculously steeply down.  By now my tank of optimism was running low, but Judy was perked up because we were again below tree line and the Valley View Trail was enclosed by thick woods which made her feel safer.   

After a lifetime of descent we found the side trail to the campsites, small spaces strung out along the still-steep mountainside.  There was one fellow at a neighboring site who we chatted with briefly.  He was wearing jeans, didn’t have a tent, was trying to cook some foil-covered objects, said he was a grad student just out for some fun for the weekend.  As we went to set up our site Judy commented that she hoped we didn’t wake up dead.

A little hiker humor there, folks, everything was fine.  He was a nice young man.

Alpine glow sunset on the mountain with the privy in the foreground.  We go to the nicest places.

Our site was very quiet, peaceful and secluded.  Judy and I agreed that we were happy to skip the hut social scene.  It felt great to take a bird bath and change clothes completely from the skin out, a little cleaned up for our last night on the trail.  We cooked, ate, toasted Day 3 with a little brandy.  I fell asleep to the babbling sound of the nearby creek.

“Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible…The reality of your own nature should determine the speed.  If you become restless, speed up.  If you become winded, slow down.  You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion.  Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself.”  ~Robert M. Pirsig, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”

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