Tuesday, September 7, 2010
The White Mountains and our first Moose sighting
The White Mountains greeted us with a big climb and a steep, slippery descent: Mt. Moosilauke. The meaning of this name has nothing to do with "moose" or "lake", but we saw our first moose there! As we neared the top of the mountain and the alpine vegetation zone we heard some scampering in front of us. It was a young moose, and he was freaking out. He was running in circles and grunting. We had heard that moose will usually just scamper off if they see people, but this one was crazed and the vegetation on both sides of the trail was too thick for him to move through. Eventually he just went the other way and we discovered that the reason for his behavior was that there was a couple coming down the trail towards us, so he felt trapped. All ended well, and we got a nice picture of a moose's butt.
Moosilauke wasn't nearly as difficult as it is made out to be, but the Whites as a whole are. Our hourly pace slowed from 2.5-3 miles an hour to 1 at times. The trail requires a lot of hand-over-hand scrambling that is more like rock climbing than hiking. It was certainly something different!
The real bummer of the White Mountains was our time spent in Lincoln, NH. We had to spend three nights there because Day Tripper had an abscessed tooth and the only dentist for miles around wasn't there on the weekend. So we just sat around impatiently. Fortunately she cam back early from Cape Cod just to take care of us- picked him up at the hotel, opened her office at 7 pm, and gave us the thru-hiker rate.
After leaving Lincoln we were eager to get into the heart of the White Mountains. It was a blessing in disguise that we were delayed a few days because that allowed a storm to pass. Bad weather in the White Mountains is a lot worse than bad weather in a lot of other places on the trail because a lot of the trail is above tree line and exposed. We had great weather across Franconia Ridge, followed by a few days of light rain. The day we summitted Mt Washington was VERY wet and windy but tolerable, especially because Mt Washington is the 2nd highest peak on the AT and has the "worst weather in the United States". It holds the record for the highest recorded wind speed anywhere on land in the world. Somehow, miraculously, as soon as we reached the summit the sky cleared and we had a great view of New Hampshire and Maine. Some people claimed that we could see all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, but that looked like a mirage to me.
In addition to surviving the terrain of the Whites, we survived the AMC. This organization, the Appalachian Mountain Club, is responsible for maintaining the AT through the Whites. Thru-hikers refer to them as the "Appalachian Money Collectors" because they charge a fee for using the shelters. That's fine with me- it's just $8 per person per night and I guess it is a high-use area, so whatever. The real annoyance was the hut system. There are numerous mountain huts along the trail that people pay $100+ per night to stay at. Through certain stretches there are no camping spots because you are above treeline They allow you to do work for stay, which basically meant washing dishes, etc to stay there for free. We couldn't complain because it is a privilege to stay in the huts for free, but at the same time thru-hikers would rather not stay there, we were just forced to. Long story short, we were treated pretty rudely in some instances, and it would be beneficial for the AMC to build more shelters in the White Mountains so thru-hikers and rich weekend hikers could be kept apart and get more of the experience they want.
Mentally, the White Mountains were very difficult and that was magnified by the fact that we took time off in the real world to go to a wedding. They were hard physically, but we were well-rested so we managed to trudge through them. And, up to that point, were the most beautiful spot on the trail and overall a good experience, until we got to Maine. Maine takes the cake as our favorite spot, and I will write more about that later. Right now I have to go eat lunch because my hiker hunger is back full-force and I only have a few more weeks to eat whatever I want without feeling guilty!