443 miles in – Gorham, NH (part 2)

Giving myself a high-five because I have officially finished the Whites! Hell yeah!

The group I stayed with in Hanover was aptly named “The Black Hole”. They had earned this title due to their tendency to suck people in. A group of 6, 17 at their largest, I had heard both good and bad things about them. All fun, welcoming people, they had annoyed some by showing up at campsites and taking all the spots. Dr. Mantis Toboggan, an aspiring med student,  was the first I ran into. We chatted for a minute before he sped ahead of me. Next were Cash and Songbird, a young couple from Kansas, were next. We encountered each other at a raging river, the rocks far apart from each other. I saw it and didn’t even try to hop across on the rocks. I took my shoes off and waded through the river. Songbird was trying to cross on the rocks, so I helped across. As I was putting my shoes back on, I dropped my sock and it was immediately grabbed and taken by the current. Thankfully, it got caught on a rock right next to Cash, and he delivered it back to me.

I then met Family Size, a large 20 year old from Germany. When I arrived at the shelter I met his friend Peanut Pan. They had stayed together ever night on the trail, having travelled over together from Germany. Finally, Tea Leaves arrived at the shelter about a half an hour after me.

We hiked together out of Hanover, going 16 miles to the Trapper John shelter. The train for the next 2 days was not terribly difficult. The day I left Trapper John shelter I got a late start, not hitting the trail until 11am. However, I managed to do 19 miles that day.

I passed the Omelette Man about a half a mile before I camped that night. I had been hearing about him from hikers going South for about 2 weeks. The next morning I decided that, rather than pass up on such an amazing opportunity, I would walk back to his tent and enjoy breakfast there the next day, leaving my pack at the campsite.

I had heard stories about the man who spent his days in the woods making omelettes for hikers. When I arrived at his tent the next morning I bore witness to a sight that could only be found on the AT. There was his tent, housing jugs of water and juice, his radio was playing music and he had bananas hanging from the nearby trees. When I arrived he asked how many eggs I would like in my omelette, informing me almost as if he was challenging me that the current record holder had eaten 24 eggs. I decided that 6 was enough for me.

After having eaten my fill and spent my time, I walked back to my pack and started the hike for the day. Aside from being poorly marked, the first 7 miles were a breeze and I knocked out half the day before lunch. Then, it was on to Mt. Mousilake.

This mountain was a tough climb, 4 miles of steep incline to the top. The promise of a 2 miles stretch above treeline drove me to the top, however slow I was. I couldn’t have imagined what I saw. The 360 degree view was breathtaking. To the north was Mt Washington, to the south we could see what we had already hiked.

When I arrived at the shelter that night, I was one of the last ones to show up. Because Mousilake is one of the most frequently summited mountains in the US, not only was the shelter full, all the tentsites were taken. I decided this would be a good night to try my hand at cowboy camping. Cowboy camping is when you sleep on your sleeping pad on the ground, no tent or tarp above you. I was happy to have done that, because the stars were breathtaking and the sunrise was even better.

When we went into Lincoln the next day, we decided to enjoy ourselves at the McDonald’s. I ordered a meal and claimed a table next to an outlet so I could charge up my phone. As the others arrived, I was shocked. The average number of sandwiches was 8 per person, between the 6 of them they had ordered 50 sandwiches, not to mention the sides. I was witnessing hiker hunger at its worst.

Then the climbs began.

Before getting to The Whites, I was averaging 2-3 miles an hour, hiking. However, as soon as I hit The Whites, that number fell to about a mile and a half per hour. This was not only due to the tough climbs, but also the fact that the trail had gone from packed dirt to scrambling over boulders. The Whites were strange. Every 7 miles or so, there is a “hut”. Day hikers pay about 130 dollars per person to stay in these guys. This will get them one bunk in a bunk room with 7 others, a 3 course meal, and a toilet. No showers, no privacy. Thruhikers are allowed to do “work-for-stay” at the huts. For about an hour of sweeping, dishes, or whatever other chores the crew doesn’t want to do (I cleaned out a freezer), we get leftovers from the guests’ meal and are allowed to sleep on the floor of the dining room. These huts are almost like summer camp for adults. The crew is overly loud and comical, putting on skits in the morning to teach the guests how to fold their own blankets. The strangest thing was the weird classist vibe. The paying guests were served a huge, 3 course meal, while us dirty thruhikers looked on in hunger. Once the guests had eaten their fill, we were allowed to eat the leftovers. Throughout our stay in The Whites, I mostly went from Hut to Hut.

Climbing out of Crawford Notch, after resupplying, a thunderstorm began. It was slightly scary, being exposed on the top of a mountain with lightning above. The trail turned into an ankle-deep stream and I gave up on staying dry. Occasionally, the trail will become wooden planks. These often save your feet from mine, but cane hazardous in their own way, since they can be incredibly slippery. As I was coming up the notch, I slipped on one and slammed my knee into the corner. Thankfully, I was not badly hurt, only bruised.

I came across a group of 5 men, a father and son, uncle, and two cousins. We exchanged some words and then they informed me that a member of their group had twisted his ankle and wouldn’t be able to make it to the next hut. They had an extra bunk and if was mine if I wanted it. I accepted of course, and that night was treated like a human being!

I did work-for-stay at Lake Of The Clouds Hut. A mile and a half from the summit of Mt. Washington, the highest summit in the Northeast, it lived up to its name, shrouded in fog the entire time I was there. When we woke up there, we had Mt Washington to summit that day. It was 5am and the forecast predicted 100% chance of thunderstorms at 8am, so by 6 we left the Hut to try to make it over the summit before the storms began. Peanut Pan and I decided to hike together. As we set off, we passed a sign almost immediately warning us that Mt Washington had the worst weather in America, and that we should turn back. But we kept hiking. We reached the summit, but we didn’t stop to take any pictures. The weather station on top was eerie, looming out of the fog. We were the only ones out there that early, and it was almost surreal being alone up there. As we hiked down from the summit, we made a safety plan. I taught Peanut how to use the SOS button on my inReach GPS locator.

The original plan that morning had been to hike 15 miles into Gorham, climbing Washington in the morning, stopping for lunch at Madison Spring Hut, climbing Madison, and descending into Gorham for the night. The rest of the Black Hole passed us on the way to Madison hut, and when we arrived, they had already left for Gorham. As soon was we arrived, it started pouring rain. We decided that rather than go back out into the rain, we could would do work-for-stay at the hut and go into Gorham the next day.

The next morning, we woke up and began our hike. Peanut left before me, and I decided to hike with two women, Planner and Brown Sugar, hoping the company would keep up my pace. We set off with Sasquatch bringing up the rear.

Sasquatch is a 34 year old Alaskan park ranger, trained in wilderness first response. He and I had been running into each other every night for the last 10 days or so. As we set off for Madison, Brown Sugar was in the lead, then Planner, then me, then Sasquatch. We started to go up almost immediately, and as we did, the wind increased. I did my best to keep up with Planner and Brown Sugar, but they pulled ahead relatively quickly. I asked Sasquatch if he wanted to pass me, but he declined.

As the wind picked up, I could feel myself getting colder. Before that day, I had never hiked wearing more than my usual tank top and shorts that I can be seen in in almost every photo, save when my armpits were chaffing and I was wearing sleeves to prevent that. Hiking over Washington, I wore a rain jacket instead of a shirt. To go over Madison, I knew I would be colder, so I decided to keep my leggings on that I wear usually as pajamas, and wear my tank top under my jacket for extra warmth. Ugh, that was stupid.

The first thing I noticed was my fingers. They went numb. I told Sasquatch and he suggested I wear a pair of socks as gloves. I didn’t have any dry pairs, so I used a wet pair, and they were good enough.

My trekking poles got caught between two rocks, a common issue. As I went to pull it out, the wind picked up and blew me over. I tried to grab my pole to keep me upright, but the pole bent at a 90 degree angle.

I kept hiking, the poles much more difficult to hang on to without the use of my thumbs. The wind was blowing too hard to move quickly. Every few feet, I had to stop and crouch to anchor myself and prevent getting blown over. I feel multiple times, blown over. At one point, I fell and Sasquatch said, “there goes your pack cover.” It had blown away, I never saw it again, its probably somewhere in Vermont.

Having already lost 2 items to the mountain, I was not having a good time. I started to stumble frequently and catch myself rarely. I realized I wasn’t wearing enough clothing. I yelled my issue to Sasquatch and we went to a boulder pile, trying to use it as a windbreaker. I had packed my clothes on top, thinking I might need to access them quickly. I opened the bag but for some reason I wasn’t able to dress myself. I put on my flannel shirt, then my down jacket over that. Sasquatch zipped it for me. I then put on my rain jacket and hat. Sasquatch started to force feed me a Clif bar. I found out later that I had gotten mild hypothermia and he was using his responder training on me. A 30 year old German hiker named Sweetheart found us and we all started hiking together. It took 3 hours to get below treeline and I was crying for the majority of that time. I thought I was going to die.

As we hiked on, Peanut appeared out of the fog. When he had gotten to the treeline, he had stopped to rest. When planner and Brown Sugar passed him, they told him that I had fallen behind, and he waited for me to come by. When more time passed, he had gotten worried, dropped his pack, and come to find me. The four of us hiked off the mountain together.

When we got below treeline, we found a spot and stopped hiking. I was functioning strangely, I just didn’t know what to do next. As soon as we got below treeline, the weather changes drastically. The sun came out, the trees blocked the wind. I didn’t gain feeling back into my fingertips for a couple hours, and they were white as paper.

After that, I took two days off in Gorham. I later found out that the winds were 70-80mph, the temperature had been 20 degrees. I don’t know if Sasquatch really saved my life, but it feels like he did.

I hiked the Wildcats, the last 20 miles of the Whites, and now it’s off to Maine!

-Shiver

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