Homer's Travels: Appalachian Trail: Lincoln, NH To Pinkham Notch

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Appalachian Trail: Lincoln, NH To Pinkham Notch

🐻 x 6
UPDATED 12-05-2020

The words of the week are Vortex and Brutal.
  • A Vortex is a trail town that sucks you in and won't let you go.  Lincoln, NH was a vortex for me.  
  • Everyone I talked with in the Whites used the same word to describe the trails: Brutal.  I can't come up with a better word.  The trails were truly sadistic.
The difficulty of the trail during the last five or six days was several orders of magnitude greater than what I've experienced on the Appalachian Trail (AT) or any trail I've hiked.  Parts of the descents were potentially life threatening where a trip or slip could lead to a serious or lethal head injury.  I questioned and still question if this was worth the risk.  But … for some reason I hike on.

On my way to Mt Lafayette.
Day 167 - To reduce the amount of food I was going to have to carry I decided to slack pack the Kinsman Notch to Franconia Notch segment of the AT.  This would be my first slack pack.  Slack packing is hiking without a pack.  You carry only water, water treatment, and snacks.  You still walk the distance but you are carrying a lot less weight.  Since this was my first time I would be doing a relatively short day to feel out how much easier it actually is.

It turns out that it really doesn't make it that much easier.  At the start I felt less stress on the joints which was welcome.  What it didn't do was allow me to hike faster.  Half way through I realized I was going to get to Franconia Notch at or shortly after sunset.  The rest of the hike was a forced march down a rocky trail in a race against the fading sun.  Needless to say my first slack packing experience was not very fun and stressful.

On the way down from North Kinsman Mountain my left knee began to hurt.  Eighteen hundred miles and now my knee starts to hurt.  At this point I started to ask why I was doing this.  Had my body reached its physical limits?  Was it time to go home?

I arrived at a parking lot just as the last light of the sun was fading.  As I pulled out my phone to call a shuttle a car pulled up and asked if I needed a ride to Lincoln.  I said sure and they took me back to my hotel.  Trail magic.

I called the Wife to talk about my thoughts.  She encouraged me to keep going.  I was not totally convinced that keeping going is the right option but continue I will … for now.

The mountains go on forever.
Day 168 - I was supposed to continue hiking today but decided to risk not making it to Katahdin in time and took another zero day to let my knee rest.  Lincoln turned out to be my vortex, sucking me in and not letting me go without a struggle.  (Looking back with hindsight I probably didn't need that extra zero day and I was just looking for an excuse not to hike.)

Even panoramas can not capture the sweeping views.
Day 169 - I made it out of town.  My shuttle dropped me off at Franconia Notch and I headed up Franconia Ridge.  It was a beautiful day and the views once you got up to the top of the ridge were awesome.

The climb up Little Haystack Mountain, Mt Lincoln, and Mt Lafayette went well. The difficulty started when you descended Lafayette.  The rocky descent slowed me to a crawl and the knee pain returned.

After one last climb and decent of Mt Garfield I arrived at Garfield Ridge Shelter.  It was a ten mile day and I got there just before dark.  It was a cold night with a frost advisory.  I stayed warm in the shelter.

There was a hiker there without a tent.  He was planning to sleep under the shelter but we convinced him to move in with the rest of us in the shelter.

Yes, fall colors are making an appearance.
Day 170 - My goal was the Ethan Pond Shelter around fifteen miles ahead but I knew I wouldn't make it.  There was only one climb. But I learned that in the Whites the descents were the hard part that slowed me to a crawl.  Sure enough, the descent from South Twin Mountain sucked the life out of me.

I stopped after less than ten miles at the Zealand Falls Hut.  The huts are run by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC).  They are beautiful cabins/lodges with running water, some solar electricity, and food.  They are also expensive.  Fortunately the AMC offers a few spots for thru-hikers to work for stay.  I washed dishes and was allowed to eat cold leftovers and to sleep on the floor once the paying guests went to bed.   The food was excellent.

Along they way to my first hut, as I climbed a steep rocky trail, I was passed by a girl in a pink tutu and a guy.  They were practically running down the hill.  I silently cursed their young, fearless bodies.  I would later find out that they were volunteers at the huts racing the White Mountain Hut Traverse a forty-nine mile race going from hut to hut.

A few of the hut volunteers went out overnight to raid, and steal the mascot from, another hut.  These volunteers seem like a fun bunch.

That night the stars were out in force but once again it was too cold to loiter around staring at the stars.  I slept well once the class of middle schoolers finally quieted down.

How many colors do you want?
Day 171 - I was told that the Ethan Pond Trail, which the AT follows, was going to be an easy hike.  I've learned to take these comments with a grain of salt.  Nevertheless I planned for a longer day.

I left the hut and soon joined the Ethan Pond Trail.  Wow.  The trail was smooth and rock free.  It climbed slowly over seven miles or so.  I blazed through this section averaging over two miles per hour for the first time in a long time.  I was bummed when the trail returned to its rocky ways.

The extra speed gave me time to climb Mt Webster and Mt Jackson in time to arrive at Mizpah Springs Hut.  I decided to shell out the fee and get a bunk and hot meal here.  After eating a great meal I went to bed early.  My bunk room in this three story hut was empty.  It was nice to have a quiet and warm place to sleep.

The sun is struggling to get through the clouds.
Day 172 - This was going to be a big day.  I was going to knock off most of the Presidentials today.  I was getting ready to leave before breakfast when the cook (the hut cook rotates through the hut's four "croo" members and is also the person in charge that day) asked if I wanted some pancakes to go.  She bagged up four pancakes and I put them in my pack for later.

The day started foggy and cloudy. There were hardly no views for the first five miles.  I stopped at the Lake of the Clouds Hut to use the privy and to refill my water.

I'm heading for those mountains.
As I climbed up Mt Washington, the highest of the Presidentials, the clouds cleared out and the sweeping views returned.  At the top it was crowded.  You can drive or ride a short two car train up to the top.  The line in the restaurant was too long for me to get anything so I bought a magnet and started back down the other side of Mt Washington.

The next six miles were a slow, rocky slog up, down, and around mountains.  I snapped off another trekking pole and smacked my right knee on a rock in the process.  I was able to repair my pole somewhat but my knee bruised and would hurt the next few days.

The Madison Springs Hut at the base of Mt Madison.
I arrived at the Madison Springs Hut.  I ended up paying a small price for cold leftovers and a space on the floor.    The food here, like all of the huts, was excellent.  This hut was also full of kids.

I shared the floor with two non-AT hikers.  One girl was doing the forty-eight mountain challenge doing the forty-eight tallest mountains in New Hampshire.  She was curious about the AT and we shared our hiking experiences.

The view from Mt Madison.  That is fog in the valleys.
Day 173 - I got out early and headed up Mt Madison.  The climb up was rocky and slow but relatively short.  The views this day were gorgeous.  The forty-eight mountain challenge girl joined me here briefly.  We said our goodbyes as she headed back the way she came and I took the AT down the other side.

The way down was brutal.  I felt like I was constantly starting to fall.  I'm not sure if my sense of balance was working properly.  I averaged a half a mile an hour down this rocky, sadistic trail.

Part ways down I ran into Tarzan and Sista' who had flip flopped (jumped north to Katahdin and then hiked south).  We chatted a while before my struggle to get down the hill continued.

Despite the yellow arrow, the Appalachian Trail is not the Camino de Santiago.
The trail finally calmed down and I started to make up some time.  I was maybe a quarter mile from Pinkham Notch when I approached a bridge over a creek.  The bridge was wide, flat, and had no railing.  My thoughts were elsewhere when my foot caught on a rock.  I was going down hard.  I thought I would land on the bridge but then realized I was going over the side. At some point while I was diving head first off the bridge my leg hit the edge of the bridge which caused me to flip.  I landed flat on my back in the rocky creek bed.  My backpack cushioned the fall - it felt like I was landing on a marshmallow.  I ended with a nasty bruise just under my right knee and abrasions on the back of my right hand and right shoulder where I probably hit a rock.   I was lucky.

I got to the Pinkham Notch visitors center and called a hostel for a pick up.  At the hostel I found George who I hadn't seen since Harper's Ferry.  She'd been stuck in the hostel vortex for twelve days.  We hugged and smiled our way through our reunion.  She had flipped at Kent, CT and would be heading south … eventually.  She was not only completing her AT but also hiking home to North Carolina.

Day 174 - I expected to be sore from my fall when I woke up but the swelling near the bruised calf had gone down and, while stiff, I was not as achy as I thought I would be.

I chatted with George about people we knew in common. Ruckus quit after cracking some ribs wrestling.  Salamander succumbed to home sickness at the one thousand-four hundred mile mark and had quit.  Jug and Phoenix ran out of money in the Shenandoahs.  Day Glow and Lumberjack realized they were fighting more and quit before it could hurt their marriage.  I was both surprised and saddened that I had survived them all.   

I took the hostel's free shuttle to Walmart for resupply.  I changed my plan slightly adding a day.  I'm not sure how easy or hard it will be.  I'm hoping it will be a little easier than what I just went through.  Southwest Maine is not supposed to be easy but I can't imagine anything harder than the Whites.

Pictures can be found in my 2019 Appalachian Trail Google Photos album.

Total Distance: 1,872.6 Miles (3,013.6 km)
Section Distance: 69.1 Miles (111.2 km)
Section Elevation Up: 22,961 ft (6,998 m)
Section Elevation Down: 23,098 ft (7,040 m)

Note: The extra blue line pointing to Lincoln was due to me
forgetting to turn off my GPS on my slack pack day.

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