Walking on the Moon

Tuesday, August 26 – Sunday, August 31. NH25, Glencliff – Lake of the Clouds Hut. (Mile 1851.0 since Springer Mountain and only 334.3 miles to Katahdin)

I’m afraid there are no pics nor videos in this post, as wifi doesn’t seem to be available in these parts of New Hampshire.

I’ve recently been a little jaded about my hiking and have really been ready for the end. While that remains my goal, I have been absolutely knocked out by New Hampshire. Somebody further south said to me that the moment I step above the trees in New Hampshire will be the moment that I’ll realize why I’m hiking the AT. I’m always a little skeptical of such hyperbole, yet they were right.

We had chosen to take the opportunity to slackpack over Mt Moosilauke in order to save our knees, particularly as the Hikers Welcome Hostel was a cheap and cheerful place to stay for a second night. It would be fair to say that we were all a little intimidated by the mountain’s reputation, yet we were carrying packs considerably lighter than usual and the difference when carrying such a depleted pack was so liberating.

We had chosen to hike up the steeper side, from north to south, as the easier south side was likely to be gentler to walk down. As we walked, views started to unfold and we really appreciated our lighter packs.

There were about 20 people at the top, many of whom I knew, and we all sat around in the sun having lunch for about 90 minutes.

Walking down with Lighter Knot, I had my 30th fall on the way down, slipping on a root and, with my bear-scaring whistle in my back pocket, I really hurt my backside.

During the day, I’d remarked to Lighter Knot that it would be great to be able to slackpack all the way to Maine and an idea started to form. I suggested that we could offer to pay somebody, say, $250 each to manage this and that, with a team of 4, it could prove to be an interesting proposition to an impecunious hiker.

We recruited 2 women staying at the hostel that evening, Tee Bird and Trillium, while Trillium came up with Shepherd, a terrific young guy who already spends his time both hiking and helping hikers. Consequently, we were all able to shed some weight to leave in Shepherd’s truck. This wasn’t going to be a complete slackpack, as we couldn’t meet up again with Shepherd for a couple of days, so we needed a couple of days of food, along with most of the rest of our gear. My pack became a far more appealing proposition at 30lbs and, while it wasn’t as great as the day before, it was appreciably more comfortable than my everyday burden.

This was certainly another eye-opening day, with a steady climb up South Kinsman Mtn leading to spectacular views all around.

Trillium was struggling with her knees all day and Tee Bird hiked with her for most of the time, while Lighter Knot went ahead to meet up with some friends and I hiked alone. We finished an 11 mile day at Kinsman Pond Shelter and, to my dismay, the pond itself was the water source and, once I’d collected it, the water looked suspiciously like a urine specimen. Very unappetizing! Mind you, I filtered and cooked with it and everything tasted fine, though I’m guessing my standards may have slipped a touch lately.

The 4 of us were able set up our tents together in a clearing and, New Hampshire being a pay-to-stay state, we had to hand over $8 each to the caretaker.

It had been my best days hiking so far on the entire trip, with plenty of clambering hand over hand, a style that I became quickly comfortable with and one that greatly overcame my fear of the White Mountains.

That record only lasted overnight, as the following day blasted aside everything that had gone before.

Franconia Ridge links a number of consecutive peaks, including Mt Liberty and Mt Lincoln, yet it is something that I have never experienced in my life. As we climbed higher, we suddenly emerged above the tree line and the sight truly took my breath away. I knew It was coming up and I had seen pictures, though nothing prepared me for the sheer excitement that I felt.

It was like being a kid again and I unashamedly giggled like one. It looked like a moonscape and I was an astronaut. In the vernacular of today, OMG. It was harsh, it was spectacular, with 360 degree views in abundance, and it simply overwhelmed me.

On the top of Mt Lincoln, I got sufficient signal to FaceTime Diane, so much did I want to share the moment with her.

On the way down, I was with Trillium, who was getting a little scared and, with the wind gusting so much that it was pushing us into the rocks, it was a tricky climb down.

We were eventually able to reach our destination, a stealth camping site at Garfield Pond that also sourced water from the pond, though this time it was the right color. It was also the coldest night I’d experienced since the Smokies and cooking in the cold and the dark was not a happy moment for me.

The cold night was something of a shock and it was still all cold weather clothing in the morning. We were aiming for another stealth camping site, just after Zealand Hut and first had to negotiate Mt Garfield. This was quite an uphill scramble, though my newfound confidence over the rocks was certainly helping and I could feel my hiking improving with each day.

Once more, I spent quite a bit of the day behind Trillium, who continued to struggle with her knees, particularly after such a hard day the day before. Consequently, we had a fairly slow pace, though managed to achieve our goal. Lighter Knot was also suffering with his knees after the previous tough day.

We got to one of the New Hampshire huts that hikers can, well, beg for food by asking for “work for scraps.” I got there first and the young lad in charge put me to work in scrubbing a filthy baking tin that looked like it had never seen soap before. I really tried but made a scant impression on the grime. He seemed quite happy and gave me cold oatmeal (I’d already had hot oatmeal) with raisins, followed by potato soup, both of which I dispatched with alacrity. I also bought a couple of chocolate chip cakes and woofed them down as well.

We found another great stealth camping site, already with several fellow hikers set up and spent a far warmer evening cooling and relaxing.

The next morning was the easiest day thus far in New Hampshire. It was pretty much downhill all the way and we were only going about 8 miles to meet up with Shepherd again. We were planning to find a motel to clean ourselves and our clothes up.

Straight after we started, I reached into my pack and dropped my Ibuprofen all over the trail. Not wishing to kill any unsuspecting critters, I scrambled around on the trail to make sure each one was recovered.

A spectacular trail magic was set up at the bottom and I enjoyed, among many things, 2 fried eggs. Marvelous!! We found Heike, a middle-aged German hiker we’d seen before and she came with us to find a motel. The three girls shared a room, while Lighter Knot and I had a room each.

Shepherd was so patient, taking us down into the village for a late lunch, then taking us to a grocery to re-provision. Back at the Seven Dwarfs Motel, we set about washing our clothes in the sink, which was something of a new thing for me. I may have over-soaped everything, as it all seemed a bit slimy when I hung it all out to dry, though all was well with it in the morning.

Today was looking to be a rough one, with a very steep climb onto the Presidential range accompanied by a lousy weather forecast. Once more, I was invigorated by the hiking, yet the clouds closed in near the top and all views disappeared. In the end, we were slogging along, in about 30ft visibility and made the Lake of the Clouds Hut by 3.50pm for another satisfactory 11 mile day, albeit I broke one of my trekking poles in my 33rd fall, damnit!!.

The spring has returned to my step and I’m hiking better than ever, though I now expect to finish a few days later than I had hoped. I feel more secure hiking in a group and am looking forward to a few more slackpacking days in the coming days.

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3 thoughts on “Walking on the Moon”

  1. Hi again
    Steve
    Glad the views “up top” are so worth the hike , it certainly would have been a kick in the teeth if it had been hard walking and then disappointing views !
    With any luck your kit ( and your body) will last the distance ! The loss of a pole must be a bit of a ” bugger” !?
    Sounds like the combination of slack packing , and hiking with some company , is the way to get over this last section – keep it up !

    Reading with interest and in awe –

    Steve G.

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